If it weren't so close to Baltimore - a city that charges admission to see its sewer pipes and boasts the world's largest collection of light bulbs - it might seem strange that the Maryland State Police have their own museum.
Though you won't find it in any tour book, the three-room museum located next to state police headquarters on Reisterstown Road in Pikesville is one of Maryland's more entertaining shrines, largely because of its curator and tour guide, Peter Edge, whose sense of humor is legendary.
The retired state police sergeant displays a life-size model of Ronald Reagan wearing an old trooper uniform, a pig with wings suspended from the ceiling of the museum office and an old police teletype printout of random characters depicting a picture of the Virgin Mary.
"As obnoxious as I am, I'm actually very sentimental," says Edge, who became involved with the museum when he retired from the force in 1988.
Part ode to the Stetson hat and the traffic stop and part tribute to Maryland's law-enforcement heroes, the museum boasts a collection of department memorabilia that dates from the 1920s when some troopers were still patrolling the state's roads on horseback. The building, with a two-story, wrought iron porch, is itself historic, having once served as a federal arsenal and as a nursing home for Confederate soldiers.
Today, it houses an impressive collection of police badges, along with an old radio dispatch unit, Colt revolvers used by troopers from 1921 to 1982, and dozens of historic black-and-white photographs.
"It was very, very interesting," said Mark Warns of North Baltimore, who visited the museum this month with his 17-year-old son. "You learn all about the history - the evolution of the department."
As for Edge, Warns said, "He's a guy who obviously loves what he does."
Nearly every piece in the collection has been donated by spouses and children of troopers. And Edge sees an important story in each one. There are uncounted numbers of troopers' old socks and undershirts being preserved in the museum's basement because Edge didn't have the heart to tell a trooper's relative that they wouldn't be suitable for display.
With no budget from the state, Edge is always selling something - at the moment, it's T-shirts - to fund the museum's current remodeling and expansion.
"Everything we preserve is an integral part of what we've done over the years," said Ted S. Moyer, a retired state police major and president of the Maryland State Police Alumni Association.
At first, deputies
Many people - including new troopers - often don't realize that the first state police officers in the 1920s were deputies under what was then the state's new Motor Vehicle Department, Moyer said. It wasn't until 1935, when bank robberies drastically increased during the Depression, that the Maryland State Police became a separate law enforcement agency.
Other public safety agencies, including Baltimore County police and fire departments, have similar displays open to school groups and others interested in their history.
On any given week, groups of four to 40 people visit the Maryland State Police Museum. Attendance frequently doubles during the school year.
However, it's unclear whether the Boy Scouts, police officers and senior citizens who repeatedly visit the museum come to see the exhibit or to hear Edge's stand-up routine, police said.
Pointing to the mannequin modeling one of the female troopers' uniform, Edge might tell you that it's his ex-wife - stuffed and now on display.
In truth, Edge is on very good terms with his former wife, who was in the first class of female Maryland State troopers. Pictures of their two children are featured prominently in the museum's office.
After serving 33 years on the force - much of it as an undercover narcotics and vice detective - Edge has a wealth of knowledge about the department's history. For example, when he finished the training academy in 1966, each barracks had its own cook, and each trooper was required to live at the barracks where he was assigned.
A `relic myself'
"I'm a historic relic myself," says Edge, 64, a curly-haired, tattooed Irishman with a deep belly laugh.
He's more often referred to as the department's in-house character.
"Peter Edge is a Maryland State Police treasure, and there is no one who could tell of the story of this department better," said Maj. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman. "The Maryland State Police Museum is an important place for the members of our department and the citizens we serve. ... It is amazing to think we have gone from responding to calls on horses or motorcycles to being able to reach anyone in the state in less than 20 minutes in a state-of-the-art helicopter."
Of course, Edge says jokingly that he's around for other reasons. "People come in here when they're lost," he says, laughing. "I get asked several times a week: `Where does the pizza go?'"