Museums off the beaten path

April 02, 1993|By Daniel M. Amdur | Daniel M. Amdur,Contributing Writer

Does the thought of spending the afternoon examining dinosaur bones seem slightly prehistoric?

Do the vibrant reds and sparklings golds of Gauguin leave you blue?

Do the long lines at the National Aquarium make your head swim?

If the answer to these questions is yes, then it's time to leave the same old museums behind and head off the beaten track to take a look at the area's lesser-known exhibits.

From the largest light bulb ever manufactured to Queen Victoria's thermometer, there are many interesting sights away from the hustle and bustle of the city's larger museums.

For those interested in very old drugs, there's the B. Olive Cole Pharmacy Museum at 650 W. Lombard St. in Baltimore.

A room upstairs in the small brick headquarters of the Maryland Pharmacy Association contains a variety of apothecary odds and ends: old opium pipes; a bottle of Dr. Kilmer's Kidney, Liver and Bladder Cure; and, of course, the queen's thermometer.

But downstairs lies the real treat -- a well-stocked reproduction of a late 19th-century pharmacy.

Stepping into the restored pharmacy, visitors are faced with hundreds of antique medicine bottles nestled on the shelves of towering wooden cabinets.

"Some of this stuff, I don't even know what it is," says Richard Baylis, the association's drug utilization director. However, he is more than happy to identify scores of potions and elixirs, such as Powdered Chinese Nut Gall, Dr. Guild's Green Mountain Asthmatic Cigarettes and, tucked beneath the Hendlers Ice Cream sign, a small bottle of Arsenous Iodide (Arsenic) dating back to about 1906.

"It was used to prevent venereal diseases for awhile," says Mr. Baylis, pointing to the "Guaranteed by the Food and Drug Act" label on the bottle.

The museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors should call to arrange a free tour; (410) 727-0746.

Bright spot

If you're looking for something to brighten up the day, Dr. Hugh Hicks is more than willing to illuminate the complete history of the incandescent light bulb for you.

With more than 10,000 light bulbs on display and a good 50,000 more in storage, Dr. Hicks, a dentist in his other life, owns one of the largest and most comprehensive collections in the world. His numerous displays contain early incarnations of the light bulb, a bulb from the torch of the Statue of Liberty, a headlight taken from the car of Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler and the world's largest and smallest light bulbs.

The smallest bulb, the size of a pin head, must be viewed through a magnifying glass, while the largest, a 50,000-watt monster, is the only survivor of 23 that were made about 1928.

"I started collecting when I was a kid, when I would go into a hardware store and buy them for a nickel," recalls Dr. Hicks. "To me it's unbelievable the value all of this has taken on through the years."

Through purchases and donations, Dr. Hicks has acquired quite a collection. His favorite acquisition is a 1920 tungsten bulb he took from a Paris subway during a trip there with his wife in 1964. After seeing the unique bulb and deciding he just had to have it, Dr. Hicks inconspicuously reached up and unscrewed one of the bulbs in a series. But as soon as he unscrewed the one, the whole tunnel went dark.

"Everybody started screaming and I tried to put it back in, but it wouldn't go. So I grabbed another one and took off. I thought my wife was going to leave me after that," he says, laughing.

The tungsten bulb, along with the rest of the collection, can be viewed by appointment seven days a week, free of charge, at 717 Washington Place. Call (410) 752-8586.

A darker side

Going from the light into the darkness, the next stop on our tour is a small, innocuous brick house at 203 N. Amity St. in Baltimore. It is, of course, the Poe House.

Opening for the season tomorrow, this historic residence was Edgar Allan Poe's home from 1832 to 1835, crucial years in the author's literary and personal life.

According to Poe House curator Jeff Jerome, Poe lived in the cramped three-story house with his grandmother, aunt and cousin Virginia.

"This was not a happy time for the Poe family," says Mr. Jerome. "They were very poor."

However, it was during this time that Poe was discovered by the literary world after winning a $50 prize for his story "Manuscript Found in a Bottle." Here among the cramped quarters and steep spiral staircases, Poe also fell in love with his cousin, whom he later married.

Although there are many artifacts in the house, it is the character of the house itself that makes this a must see. Under the knowledgeable direction of Mr. Jerome, the myths of Poe's life are separated from the facts, and a visitor can almost hear the faint scribblings of the author as he wrote "Berenice," a story of mutilation and premature burial which was Poe's first exploration into the horror genre.

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