Story and Photos by Melanie Votaw

Baltimore harbor


Baltimore is well-known as the site where Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the War of 1812. If you visit Fort McHenry – which I highly recommend – you will see a short film about the writing of this song that eventually became our national anthem. Then, you can take a walk on the grounds with a guide who will explain the history of the brick fort that defended Baltimore Harbor.

Baltimore Hotel Monaco exterior

This is just one of a number of sites steeped in history in the city. Even my hotel was historic. The Hotel Monaco on North Charles Street is centrally located because it was once the headquarters of B&O Railroad. It still has several of its original features, including intricate gold work over the elevators and two grand white marble staircases. (See review of Hotel Monaco Baltimore)

My favorite historic experience in Baltimore was a visit to the four military ships at the waterfront. The first one I visited was the USS Constellation. The original Constellation was built in 1797, but she was deconstructed and rebuilt in 1854, which is the version you will see in Baltimore. On board, you see what it was like to live on the vessel. Let’s just say it wasn’t comfortable. Even the captain’s quarters were tiny by today’s standards.

Baltimore USS Torsk submarine2

The USS Torsk is a submarine. It was my first time ever being on board a sub, and it was a bit too claustrophobic for me. I was fascinated, nonetheless. The Torsk was commissioned in 1944, and she operated from Pearl Harbor during World War II. She sank three Japanese ships in 1945, and she went on to receive citations and medals for service during the Lebanon Crisis in 1960 and actions during the Cuban Blockade in 1962. 

The Lightship 116 Chesapeake was built in 1930 and was one of the most modern ships of her time used by the US Lighthouse Service. During WWII, she was used as a patrol/inspection vessel.

My favorite was the USCGC Taney, a Coast Guard cutter built in 1936 that is known as “The Last Survivor of Pearl Harbor.” Her first port was Honolulu, where she interdicted opium smugglers. The ship was tied to a pier at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941. She came under attack many more times in 1944 and 1945, is credited with destroying four Kamikaze planes and a “Betty” bomber, and assisted in the evacuation of Allied prisoners of war off Japan in 1945.

There is a video on board of firsthand accounts of the attacks at Pearl Harbor. I’m sure it’s at least 20 years old now, but I was transfixed while watching and hearing about the event from people – both men and women – who were there. It’s stunning to be reminded how much everyone was caught off guard that day.

There is also a lighthouse at the Baltimore waterfront that you can visit for free, and the National Aquarium is adjacent to the ships.

Baltimore from Federal Hill

Federal Hill is another interesting historic site in Baltimore. From here, you can see the city’s skyline and waterfront. It’s a great spot for picture-taking, and locals walk their dogs up the hill. There are canons there and a Grand Army of the Republic monument to remind us that the Hill was once a fort that remained throughout the Civil War.

While not historical, there’s an unusual museum near Federal Hill called the American Visionary Art Museum. The definition of visionary art on the museum’s website is: “art produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself.” The galleries are refreshing, as the pieces are quite different from what you see in most art museums. Even the gift shop is quirky and different.

There are three buildings, one of which housed my favorite pieces – a large group of small, humorous kinetic art sculptures behind glass. There were buttons or cranks on the outside of the glass to make the pieces move, and it was as much fun for this adult as it was for the kids I saw enjoying the exhibit.

Not far from the center of the city is the neighborhood of Hampden, which is filled with artsy and eccentric shops and restaurants. I ate at Golden West on West 36th Street, a well-known diner that serves Elvis Pancakes, hefty burgers, and big salads. If you aren’t too squeamish after lunch (and definitely don’t go before lunch), visit Bazaar on Chestnut Avenue, a store filled with medical oddities and taxidermy.

Baltimore Museum of Art American Wing

I ran out of time and had to make a list of the historic sites and museums I want to visit the next time I’m in Baltimore, such as the Civil War Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the B&O Railroad Museum, the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, and the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum.

Baltimore is a relatively inexpensive destination in the northeast and easily added to an itinerary that includes Washington, D.C. or Virginia. For me, the history of the city held the most allure, but there’s plenty of night life, outdoor, and culinary experiences to be had. The city has something to appeal to everyone, including the kids.




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