Baltimore Mythbusters

Baltimore Mythbusters

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Located about an hour's drive north of our nation's capital, Baltimore has traditionally been viewed as a less-cosmopolitan, more-industrialized step-sister of its southern neighbor, Washington, D.C. While D.C. is considered the epicenter of everything political in this country, Baltimore has long been considered an unattractive eyesore along the I-95 corridor. However, for those who venture off of the wide-lane interstate and leave behind the comfortable confines of their cruise-controlled vehicles, they may discover that there is more to Charm City than meets the eye. What tales are true and which are urban myths? These Baltimore mythbusters will help to set the record straight:

Myth/Legend #1 - The Star Spangled Banner was written in Baltimore during the Revolutionary War.

FALSE! It was written in Baltimore – urban legend is right about that – but not during the Revolutionary War (hey, if part of the statement is false, then the whole thing is false, right?). If you've ever sung the national anthem, whether at school or at a sporting event, you can thank an event that happened around the then-outskirts of Baltimore back in 1814 during the War of 1812 (if you didn't pay attention in U.S. history class back in high school, I'm not going to explain that one to you). Witnessing first-hand the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships in the Baltimore Harbor, inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the lines to the famous poem which later became our national anthem. If you check out the visitor center at the Fort McHenry National Monument, you'll be treated to an outdated but inspirational film that gives the backstory to the whole "Battle of Baltimore" and ends with a dramatic view of that good ol' Star-Spangled Banner still waving "o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave." You can then walk through the fort and get a sense of what life was like for soldiers back in the early 1800s. The grounds of the fort are also a great place for a picnic by the waterfront, and you get a panoramic view of the coming and going cargo and cruise ships that still use this working harbor. Thankfully, none of them are shooting red-glaring rockets anymore.

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Site, 2400 East Fort Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21230, 410-962-4290, 410- 962-2500, Park hours: 8AM–5PM, May 29–Sept 6 8AM–8PM; Star Fort hours 8AM–4:45PM, May 29–Sept 6 8AM–7:45PM; Visitor Center hours 8AM–4:45PM, May 29–Sept 6 8AM–7PM; closed Thanksgiving Day, Dec 25 and Jan 1; Adults (16 and older) $7, Kids (15 and under) free

Myth/Legend #2 - There's nothing like eating the legendary crabs in Baltimore caught fresh from the Chesapeake Bay.

FALSE! (Mostly) The crab is pretty much the unofficial mascot of Baltimore, and it is kind of symbolic of this city. It has a kind of rough exterior appearance, but inside it's really sweet and tender. Okay, maybe that's a bit of a stretch, but while the city is world-famous for serving up Maryland Blue Crabs, Baltimore mythbusters reveal that very few of them are actually caught in the Chesapeake Bay anymore. In fact, most of the crabs that are sold whole at local seafood establishments are shipped in from the Southern Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf Coast area. I was surprised to learn from a guy who worked at a seafood restaurant that most of the crabs they got were flown in from Texas. I'm sorry but when I think "crabs" I do not think Texas. In terms of regional seafood, it would be similar to finding out that Maine lobsters are flown in from Alaska, or Louisiana crawfish are really from Vietnam. Anyway, they're shipped alive so watch out if you're boiling them yourself – they can still pinch you. However, if you're eating a famous Baltimore crab cake or some other crab-stuffed dish at a local restaurant, just realize that the meat you're eating probably traveled farther than you did to get to the table. The crab meat may have come from Central America or even Asia, where the crabmeat-pickers work for a lot less than their counterparts here in the states. I still say there's nothing quite like eating freshly steamed crabs well-seasoned with Old Bay spices from Baltimore while drinking an ice-cold brew, even though I know they're not really a truly native dish anymore.

Myth/Legend #3 - Since Oriole Park at Camden Yards was built on the birthplace of Babe Ruth in the early '90s, the "Curse of the Bambino" has moved south from Boston to Baltimore.

FALSE! Before I debunk this Baltimore urban legend, I'll acknowledge that the Orioles' current standing is at the absolute bottom of professional baseball and their recent performance over the past decade or so may suggest that there is some kind of curse in place. But, the facts prove that you can't blame Babe Ruth for the team's poor performance. While the Orioles haven't even played a World Series game since 1983 (which they won), the stadium is actually located a couple of blocks away from Babe Ruth's birthplace, now a museum that honors the Sultan of Swat. In fact, the stadium, which opened in 1992, was the first modern ballpark to incorporate throwback stadium design elements and is considered one of the best places to take in a baseball game. So, while Boston may have thrown off the Curse of the Bambino by (finally) winning the World Series (twice), Oriole fans will have to look elsewhere for an explanation of their recent losing ways.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, 333 West Camden Street , Baltimore, MD 21201; 888-848-2473; Games: $8-$93; Tours: Adults $9, Children (14 and under) $6, Seniors (55 and over) $6, Children (3 and under) free; Mon–Sat 11AM, 12PM, 1PM, 2PM, Sun 12:30PM, 1PM, 2PM, 3PM

Myth/Legend #4 - Edgar Allan Poe is buried in Baltimore, and every year on his birthday a mysterious figure appears at his grave and places three roses and a bottle of cognac on his memorial marker.

TRUE! This is one of a handful of urban myths Baltimore can claim. Charm City is one of several cities along the East Coast that claim a strong link to one of America's most famous literary figures, and his final resting place is located in the small graveyard of a former church on the west side of Baltimore. Every year since 1949, a mysterious figure had appeared and left the symbolic roses and Cognac on Poe's grave. However, in 2010 the figure did not appear, leading some to wonder if the "Poe Toaster" has passed on and the tradition will occur, to quote the raven, "nevermore."

Note: the Baltimore Ravens are definitely the only NFL team and perhaps the only professional sports team anywhere named after a poem, "The Raven." Their mascots are three ravens named Edgar, Allan, and Poe.

Westminster Burying Grounds and Catacombs, 519 W. Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD 21201; 410-706-2072; 8AM–dusk; Outside burying grounds free; Catacombs and Westminster Hall tour: $5 for adults, $3 for children (12 and under) and seniors (60 and up)

Myth/Legend #5 - Cal Ripken, Jr.'s consecutive game-winning streak was kept alive one night in August of 1997 thanks to the grounds crew who short-circuited the outfield lights when Ripken failed to appear at the game on time because he was busy beating up Kevin Costner who was having an affair with his wife.

FALSE! Okay, Baltimore mythbusters, you have to admit that this one makes a compelling story despite its complex and convoluted nature. I first heard this tale when I was working at Oriole Park at Camden Yards back in the late '90s, right around the time Ripken was retiring, and I bought it for a while. If you think of Baltimore sports legends, two names immediately come to mind: Johnny Unitas, who played for the Colts, and Cal Ripken, Jr., who played forever for the O's. There are a couple of true elements of this story that really reel you in: the lights did in fact fail to come on during a game in 1997 (after Ripken had surpassed Lou Gehrig's record, but well before he ended his streak) and the game was postponed until the next day. Plus, Costner did know the Ripkens and even attended some games. However, online rumor sites and other sources clearly demonstrate that this legend is false.

Myth/Legend #6 - The assassin of Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, is buried in an unmarked grave in Baltimore

TRUE! This is another of the urban myths Baltimore can affirm. Interestingly enough, it's not really featured on any guided tours of the city, and it's hardly a tourist trap. I owe my knowledge of this Baltimore urban legend to a science project I did in high school that involved looking at how acid rain affected gravestones. I ended up getting a tour of Green Mount Cemetery from an old geezer who was the caretaker of the place. I remember him pointing out that one of the markers we passed was where the famous assassin was buried, and that his family wanted it unmarked for fear of vandals who might have desecrated the grave of one of America's most notorious assassins.

Green Mount Cemetery, 1501 Green Mount Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21202, 410-539-0641; Mon–Sat 8AM–4PM; Entrance is free

So go ahead, Baltimore mythbusters, give it a shot. Take a chance on one of those exits on I-95, and venture into Baltimore to discover more of the city's myths and legends – real and imaginary. You just might be surprised by what you find.

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