Baltimore Bookmarks

During Bookfest or any other weekend, page through the city's literary sites.

September 24, 2005|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN REPORTER

With Baltimore celebrating its annual book festival beneath the Washington Monument in historic Mount Vernon, it's a great weekend to get out and see some of the landmarks of the city's long, rich and occasionally quirky literary history. Just strolling around the square, you can see lots of them, including the incomparable Peabody Library, the brownstone where H.L. Mencken lived, a hotel where F. Scott Fitzgerald drank gin rickeys and the spot where his namesake, Francis Scott Key, died. Here's a sampling of the city's most notable spots associated with books, authors and people of letters.

EDGAR ALLAN POE / / America's first great poet, a seminal critic and the inventor of the mystery story lived in a little house that still stands at 203 N. Amity St. He won his first literary prize here, died in a hospital building that survives in a housing complex just south of Orleans Street on Broadway, and is buried in Westminster churchyard at Fayette and Greene streets.

GERTRUDE STEIN / / The doyenne of the modernist style lived at 215 E. Biddle St. while she studied medicine at Johns Hopkins University. She left Hopkins when she decided she didn't care for obstetrics. Stein found models in Baltimore for the women in Three Lives, her first published fiction. She had many Baltimore connections, among them the Cone sisters, Etta and Claribel, who amassed the splendid modern art-collection named for them and housed at the Baltimore Museum of Art. It includes a half-dozen paintings Stein sold them.

F. SCOTT FITZGERALD / / He finished his last complete novel, Tender Is the Night, here. He and his wife, Zelda, lived in Baltimore while she sought psychiatric help at Johns Hopkins and Sheppard and Enoch Pratt hospitals. He stayed and drank at the once-swank Stafford Hotel, a bit north of the Washington Monument, and drank at the Owl Bar of the Hotel Belvedere, too. The couple also lived at 1307 Park Ave., in Bolton Hill, and at a rambling old house called La Paix in Towson; only the old entrance road, now La Paix Lane, remains. He and daughter Scottie lived in the Cambridge Arms apartments on North Charles Street, where he watched Hopkins students on the lawns across the street, and thought the sad thoughts that became The Crack-Up.

Francis Scott Key // Fitzgerald's distant cousin died in a house where the Mount Vernon United Methodist Church now stands, catty-cornered from the monument. A manuscript of his Star-Spangled Banner is in the collection of the Maryland Historical Society, about three blocks west on Monument Street, and his recently refurbished memorial monument is on Eutaw Street near Dolphin Street, in Bolton Hill.

H. L. Mencken // The brilliant, iconoclastic and irritating newspaperman, critic and scholar of the American language lived for about five years at 704 Cathedral St., just off Mount Vernon Place, with his wife, Sarah Haardt, until her death in 1935. (President Lincoln once slept next door in the building that is now the Christian Science Reading Room.) Mencken returned after Sarah's death to his longtime home at 1524 Hollins St., now the Mencken House, where he would live for the rest of his life. He died in 1956.

Peabody Library // John Dos Passos, the grand but lately neglected chronicler of the first half of the 20th century, lived in Mount Washington for a time, but worked often at the Peabody, just east of the Washington Monument. No book lover should miss this library, with its six-story cast-iron stacks that might have been designed by a graduate of the Hogwarts school of architecture.

Other sites of note:

Anne Tyler's neighborhood // Baltimore's very popular chronicler of feyly dysfunctional families lives in Homeland, but finds her characters in more obscure corners of North Baltimore.

Ogden Nash's home // The American master of light verse lived for many years at 4300 Rugby Road in Guilford, where he observed that candy is dandy but liquor is quicker.

David Simon's set // He wrote Homicide and The Corner, gritty tales from the mean streets, and turned them into gritty TV. Now he films HBO's The Wire around and about town. But on Thames Street in Fells Point, you can still see Homicide's faux police station at Recreation Pier and the hangout for its cops, the recently refurbished Waterfront Hotel bar, across the street.

Frederick Douglass' legacy // The eloquent abolitionist worked in Fells Point shipyards as a slave. He escaped to freedom from slavery aboard a train bound north from President Street. His extraordinary Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave: Written by Himself recounts his experience as a slave on the Eastern Shore and in Fells Point. Now tours offer a glimpse of his time here.

John Pendleton Kennedy's home // This best-selling novelist of the 1820s lived at 12 W. Madison St. Many believe his books helped create the genteel image of the Old South. A friend and patron of Poe, Kennedy helped award Poe his first literary prize.

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