Camden Station is train of thought for great museum

April 25, 1994|By John Steadman

Utilizing the Camden Railroad Station, truly one of the most historic buildings in Baltimore, into the baseball complex that serves the Baltimore Orioles is an appropriate undertaking. It could be a perfect fit, a bonanza of an idea.

Camden Station, where Lincoln paused to and from his trip to deliver the Gettysburg Address, fronts the property where the Orioles play. Not to be confused with the ponderous Camden Warehouse, it's an unused railroad depot, 137 years old, that's in need of rehabilitation and a new purpose in life.

It already has been declared a national landmark, as is the nearby birthplace of baseball's greatest performer and personality, the immortal Babe Ruth. The Camden Station facility is empty, but plans are to rehabilitate the structure to house a museum documenting the entire history of Baltimore baseball -- including the Orioles, Black Sox and Elite Giants, plus highlighting the achievements of Maryland's standout amateur teams, players and coaches.

The effort is moving forward, having been granted $300,000 in 1989 and $850,000 this year by the state legislature. It's important the Orioles become a prominent part of the undertaking since it can't happen without their financial assistance.

A souvenir gift shop, selling Orioles shirts, jackets, caps, etc., would be on the premises. So also would the Babe Ruth Youth League Museum, which has 800,000 players and more than 2 million alumni. It is now based in Trenton, N.J., but wants to move its corporate office to Ruth's hometown and is ready to make a $1 million commitment to the venture.

Much of the early work, bringing it this far along, has been achieved by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Mayor Kurt Schmoke and Michael Gibbons, executive director of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, located on Emory Street. Members of the General Assembly, including Sen. Charles Smelser of Carroll, Frederick and Howard counties, Sandy Rosenberg of Baltimore and Jim "Doc" McClellan of Frederick and Washington counties, have given the project enthusiastic approval.

Meanwhile, plans are progressing for next year's celebration of the 100th birthday of Ruth. Civic celebrations are scheduled to mark the occasion. Hofstra University is conducting a three-day symposium of educators and historians to attempt to discern what made the poor kid from a Baltimore orphanage such a regal figure in the world of sports.

A huge statue of Ruth as an Oriole, the work of the noted sculptor Susan Luery, will be placed in the plaza on Russell Street. Gibbons says a visitor will be able to stop at Camden Station, frequent the facility, and then follow what will be called a "Baseball Walk of Fame" -- crossing Russell Street, past the Ruth statue, to Portland Street, where plaques of memorable Baltimore baseball figures will be erected en route to the Emory Street, birthplace of Ruth.

No city would be able to match such an appealing presentation in behalf of baseball, America's national pastime. But the centerpiece in this ambitious project is Camden Station, which would offer a baseball museum covering all aspects of the game in Baltimore and Maryland dating back well over a century.

Also proposed as an important addition would be an area to display the plaques and memorabilia of the nearly 200 men and women enshrined in the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame. Such names as Robert Garrett, Frank "Home Run" Baker, Jake Slagle, Bob Williams, Mary Ann Downey Cook, Jim Lacy, Tom Gatewood, Joe and Vince Dundee, Sammy Boulmetis, Marvin Webster, Jack Scarbath, Elizabeth "Toots" Barger and Redmond Finney are a part of the illustrious lineup.

The state Hall of Fame needs a permanent home. At present, only a few of the past Maryland heroes have their plaques in showcases located in a lobby wing at Martin's West Banquet Hall, where owner Martin Resnick donated space in a grand gesture of assistance.

Gibbons says interest in Ruth, who died in 1948, continues to increase. Almost 100 books have been written exclusively about his life. "Why in 1982 we had only 2,000 visitors to the Ruth birthplace," commented Gibbons. "Now it's over 60,000 annually. It's the gamut of professions and vocations. We had a Harvard professor stop in who was enamored with being in the very room where Babe was born. In the main, we draw rank-and-file baseball fans, young and old."

Taking the old Camden Station, the gateway to the ballpark, and turning it into a baseball museum, linking it to the Ruth statue and his actual birthplace on Emory Street, will enhance even greater interest in the Orioles -- plus the exceptional appeal it offers tourists.

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