A field guide to area attractions Baltimore Museums: Inside and out

August 30, 1998

To find out how the city's nearly 40 museums are faring, we visited each one several times over the past few months. Then we rated them, using a five-star system and a 25-point checklist (ranging from whether a museum's exhibits were intriguing to how it handled crowds). Here's our assessment and some basic museum facts. We left off a few museums because they are being renovated or their hours are too irregular for easy access.

One star is the lowest rating; five is tops.

American Visionary Art Museum

**** 1/2

Brainchild of founder Rebecca Hoffberger, this young museum leads the nation in showcasing works by self-taught artists. Long-term shows are whimsical, sad, poignant, crazy. Visitors are bound to wonder: "This is art?" Never boring. Opened: 1995. Staff: 14 full time, 30 volunteers. Attendance: 55,125 paid; 70,000 total. Annual operating budget: $1.4 million. 800 Key Highway

Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum

*** 1/2

Small, bright rowhouse. Chronicles life of George Herman "Babe" Ruth as well as the history of the Baltimore Orioles and baseball in Maryland. Founded: 1973. Staff: 9 full time, 60 volunteers. Attendance: 40,208 paid; 40,308 total. Annual operating budget: $684,144. 216 Emory St.

B&O Railroad Museum

****

Train lover's dream. 19th- and 20th-century cars, locomotives and other railroad equipment, much of it lovingly restored and much housed in a grand 19th-century roundhouse. Kids can climb on things. Founded: 1953. Staff: 22 full time, 21 part time, 141 volunteers. Attendance: 91,822 paid; 94,948 total. Annual operating budget: $2.34 million. 901 W. Pratt St.

Baltimore Civil War Museum

***

Displays on Baltimore and Maryland's role in the Civil War and the Underground Railroad. Housed in restored remnant of historic President Street Station. Small, rather dry exhibit with few artifacts. Best for buffs. Founded: 1997. Staff: 1 full time, 1 part time, 10 volunteers. 1997-98 attendance: 14,570 paid; 17,850 total. Annual operating budget: $45,000. 601 President St.

Baltimore Maritime Museum

***

Three historic ships berthed at the Inner Harbor - the WWII USCG Cutter Taney, the WWII submarine USS Torsk, the lightship Chesapeake - and the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse. Display quality varies; some tight quarters. Founded: 1972. Staff: 16 full time; numerous volunteers. Attendance: 160,000 paid; 190,000 total. Annual operating budget: $650,000. Pier 3, Pratt Street.

Baltimore Museum of Art

**** 1/2

More than 85,000 objects in collection, ranging from ancient mosaics to contemporary paintings. Highlight is the Cone Collection of modern art. Major traveling exhibits. Museums like this help make a city a city. Founded: 1914. Staff: 97 full time; 80 part time; hundreds of volunteers. Attendance: 99,000 paid (members get in free); 317,090 total. Annual operating budget: $9.1 million. Art Museum Drive.

Baltimore Museum of Industry

*** 1/2

Exhibits presenting the region's industrial heritage, such as a machine shop and an 1880 press, vie for attention with the lovely harbor view. Construction keeps the building, an 1870 oyster cannery, a little dusty. Friendly, funky, great for kids. Founded: 1981. Staff: 17 full time; 35 part time; 160 volunteers. Attendance: 110,000 paid; 125,638 total. Annual operating budget: $750,000. 1415 Key Highway

Baltimore Public Works Museum

***

Everything you always wanted to know about sewage systems - and other public works - but were afraid to ask. Prime harbor location in block-long Eastern Avenue Sewage Pumping Station. Energetic but uneven. Can be odoriferous. Founded: 1982. Staff: 5 full time; 1 part time; some volunteers. Attendance: 25,000. Annual operating budget: $198,000. 751 Eastern Ave.

Baltimore Streetcar Museum

*** 1/2

The last place in Baltimore you can still ride a streetcar. Full of nostalgia for a bygone time, its docents and drivers, mostly older gentlemen who worked on the cars, love to bend your ear. Admission includes a ride. Founded: 1966. Staff: around 40 volunteers. Attendance: 5,000. Annual operating budget: $48,000. 1901 Falls Road.

Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry

**** 1/2

They did the impossible: they made a dental museum bright, colorful and fun. Houses an entertaining mix of gear, gadgets and lore associated with dentistry and teeth. On Baltimore campus of the University of Maryland. Founded: 1996. Staff: 6 full time; 3 part time. Attendance: 10,262. Annual operating budget: $600,000. 31 S. Greene St.

Eubie Blake National Museum and Cultural Center

**

Small museum dedicated to Charm City's music greats (Blake, Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Chick Webb). Fire destroyed original North Charles Street home in 1993. Has struggled to keep its dream alive since then. Some biographical information displayed. Local painters are featured in temporary exhibits. Founded: 1968 as city agency; 1994 as private charity. Staff: 3 full time; 17 part time; 10 volunteers. Attendance: 2,500 paid; 5,000 total. Annual operating budget: $300,000. 34 Market Place.

Evergreen House

****

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