Bicycles, beads and barbed wire

February 05, 1992

Every May the faithful trek to La Crosse, Kan., for the annual Barbed Wire Festival. There are wire-splicing contests, an awards banquet and exhibits at the 5,400-square-foot Kansas Barbed Wire Collectors Association Museum. Collectors haggle over various types of wire, with the rarest going for $300 for an 18-inch piece. Before the fun is over, many of these collectors also plunk down $100 for a pamphlet identifying 622 kinds of wire.

Two other barbed wire museums exist in the United States. Then there is the International Club for Collectors of Hatpins and Hatpin Holders, not to mention the Association for Gravestone Studies. There are so many hobby organizations that Frederick appraiser David J. Maloney Jr. has published a 370-page "Collector's Information Clearinghouse: Antiques and Collectibles Resource Directory."

Even in this recessionary economy, people keep spending money to see and acquire things that are really dear to them. Quilting workshops in Paducah, Ky., home of the Museum of the American Quilters' Society, are booked to capacity, as are the river town's hotels and motels. Beads also have become big business, as a peek into the two Baltimore shops specializing in them confirms.

We mention all this to underscore the importance of special-interest hobbyists and their activities for Baltimore's tourism and economic health. An example is the League of American Wheelmen, which publishes a popular national bicycling magazine. It is good to have its headquarters near Federal Hill. But it would be even better if that group selects Baltimore for its planned national bicycling museum. That would direct streams of new visitors to the city. Once here, many of them would tour such established transportation exhibits as the B&O Railroad Museum and the Streetcar Museum.

Now that another attempt to revitalize the Howard Street corridor is beginning, especially with the new light-rail line providing access to that one-time retail hub, we have another suggestion: How about converting one of the Howard Street buildings into something resembling the old Torpedo Factory of galleries and workshops in Alexandria, Va.? Such special-interest use seems ideal. It could strengthen Howard Street's revitalization.

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