Culture of Baltimore

Culture of Baltimore
Some of the more upscale rowhouses in Baltimore, like these brightly painted homes in Charles Village, have complete porches instead of stoops

The city of Baltimore, Maryland, has a working class history and, being located in one of the Mid-Atlantic States, can make claim to a rare blend of Northern and Southern American traditions. This has all come together to create a unique culture. The following are several facets of the distinctive flavor of Baltimore's culture.


Blue crabs

Blue crabs

The most prominent example of Baltimore's distinctive flavor is the city's close association with blue crabs. This is a trait which Baltimore shares with the rest of the state of Maryland.

The Chesapeake Bay for years was the East Coast's main source of blue crabs. Baltimore became an important hub of the crab industry. In Baltimore's tourist district (located between Harborplace and Fells Point), numerous restaurants serve steamed hard shell crabs, soft shell crabs, and lump backfin crabcakes. Many district shops even sell some sort of crab related merchandise.

Maryland's distinctive way of eating hard shell crabs is often misunderstood by outsiders. Traditionally, crabs are steamed in rock salt and Old Bay Seasoning, a favored local all-spice manufactured in Baltimore for decades. The crabs are eaten on tables spread with old newspaper or plain brown wrapping paper. The meat of the crabs is extracted with the use of wooden mallets, knives, and one's hands. Cold beer, thrown on the crabs during the steaming process and available afterwards, is also said to be a must.

Chicken box

Another popular Baltimore food item is the "chicken box." A chicken box is an inexpensive meal consisting of 4–6 chicken wings, served in a fast food carry out box with some kind of French fries (wedged "western fries," curly fries, or regular fries). Toppings usually consist of salt, pepper, and ketchup, although hot sauce is also popular. The item is chiefly sold at independent fried chicken shops and deli/Chinese carry-outs in the city. Chicken boxes are usually enjoyed with "Half and Half," a drink combining iced tea and lemonade (referred to elsewhere in the U.S. as an "Arnold Palmer").

Natty Boh

The city's favored local beer has traditionally been National Bohemian, or, as residents often refer to it, Natty Boh. In some areas of Baltimore, locals call it "National." The beer and its one time mascot, Mr. Boh, are considered indelible parts of Baltimore culture. The historically low price and association with the city make it a local favorite. The National Brewing Company was also the "inventor" of Colt 45 malt liquor in 1963. Natty Boh was also the long-time beer of choice for Orioles and Colts fans at Memorial Stadium. After the Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984 and the Orioles left Memorial Stadium in 1991, Natty Boh was no longer available to fans at Baltimore sporting events. In 2000, brewing of the beer in Baltimore was discontinued. However, since the 2006 Orioles season, "Boh is Back" and served at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. National Bohemian beer is currently brewed out of state by the Miller Brewing Company and is distributed to Baltimore by the Pabst Brewing Company.

Berger Cookies

Berger cookies are a kind of cookie that enjoys immense popularity in Baltimore and surrounding Maryland. They are made from vanilla wafers covered in a chocolate cream that resembles fudge. Originally brought from Germany to Baltimore by George and Henry Berger in 1835, they are now produced and sold by DeBaufre Bakeries.[1]


Simple rowhouses like these in Locust Point make up much of Baltimore's housing stock.

Baltimore is noted for its near-omnipresent rowhouses. Rowhouses have been a feature of Baltimore architecture since the 1790s, with early examples of the style still standing in the Federal Hill and Fells Point neighborhoods. Older houses may retain some of their original features, such as marble doorsteps, widely considered to be Baltimore icons in themselves. Later rowhouses dating from the 1800s–1900s can be found in Union Square and throughout the city in various states of repair. They are a popular renovation property in neighborhoods that are undergoing urban renewal, although the practice is viewed warily by some as a harbinger of "yuppification." Elsewhere in the city, rowhouses can be found abandoned, boarded-up, and reflective of Baltimore's inner-city blight.[2][3]


A tour through many of Baltimore's rowhouse neighborhoods will reveal a façade style not found in many other cities, Formstone. Introduced in the 1950s, Formstone was a modern day solution to early Baltimore brick that was so poor it needed frequent painting to keep it from deteriorating. But soon Formstone became an icon of status for many homeowners.

The appeal of Formstone was that, once installed, it required virtually no maintenance. Salesmen boasted that the insulation lasted forever and that the first cost was also the last as no upkeep or repair was required. Salesmen also pointed out that Formstone was also about one-third the cost of other façade improvement solutions. Its colorful stucco-veneer gave a stone-like appearance that could be shaped into different textures. Formstone was particularly popular in East Baltimore, where residents believed that the stone imitation made their neighborhood resemble that of an Eastern European town, which some thought had an appearance of affluence.

Patented in 1937 by L. Albert Knight, Formstone was similar to a product that was invented eight years earlier in Columbus, Ohio, and called Permanent Stone. Permanent Stone was also a veneer. In the 1970s preservationists and rehabbers felt that Formstone took away from the historic and architectural value of the homes and many had it removed. This can be a costly and time consuming process. Once removed, the brick requires a thorough acid-wash cleaning and then repointing of the grout.

Marble steps

Marble steps found along the streets of Baltimore are as much a part of the city's culture as crabs and baseball games. The use of marble for steps is due to the presence of high quality white marble in Cockeysville, a town 17 miles north of Baltimore's inner harbor by highway. Indeed, the marble found there is so attractive, stone was hauled all the way from this northern Maryland town to the nation’s new capital, instead of local Potomac marble quarries, for use in decorative construction around Washington, D.C., including the Washington Monument, and 108 columns of the capitol building. During the construction phase of the Washington Monument, that is through the middle of the 19th century, the marble gained in popularity as a decorative stone and was used omnipresently for the steps of rowhouses surrounding Baltimore's inner harbor and in Fells Point. Baltimoreans take pride in the fact that their mundane doorsteps are made from the same beautiful white marble used for the construction of the famous Washington Monument. Scrubbing marble steps has become a tradition in Baltimore. The ritual includes scrubbing the marble with Bon Ami powder and pumice stone.


Although nowadays the city is extremely culturally diverse, the lasting image of Baltimoreans seems to be the "Hon" culture exemplified most markedly by the longer established families and residents of the Highlandtown, Canton, Locust Point, Hampden and Pigtown neighborhoods. Between the 1950s and 1970s, it was common to see working class local women dressing in bright, printed dresses with out-dated glasses and beehive hairdos. Men were often dressed casually, but with a general factory or dock worker look, as many in town did indeed have such jobs.

The name of the culture comes from the often parodied Baltimore accent and slang. "Hon" (pronounced /ˈhʌn/,[dubious ] an abbreviation of "Honey") was a common informal name for someone else. Baltimore’s accent exemplifies a dialectal continuum between Tidewater American English, a southern American dialect, and Delaware Valley American English, a common coastal dialect, loosely possessing the vowel shifts of the former and general pronunciation of the latter. For instance, "Baltimore" is pronounced "Baldimore" or even "Balmer," and "Maryland" becomes "Murland," "Murlan," or "Merlin." Other common pronunciations include "ool," "amblance," "wooder," "warsh," "sharr or shaow," "dug," "couwny," "tew," and "zinc" (oil, ambulance, water, wash, shower, dog, county, two, and sink respectively). There is also a popular summertime phrase, "goin' downy ayshin" (going down to the ocean, usually referring to Ocean City, MD)

Baltimore native and filmmaker John Waters has parodied the Hon culture, as well as Baltimore itself, extensively in his movies. For a somewhat accurate representation of Baltimorese, one can look to Waters' narration spots in his 1972 movie Pink Flamingos. Waters himself used a local commercial for Mr Ray's Hair Weaves as his main inspiration. The commercial was famous around town for Mr. Ray's extreme Baltimore accent. "Cawl todaey, for your freee hame showink..." was the most memorable line from that commercial, translating as "Call today, for your free home showing..."

Some Baltimoreans believe that use of the term "Hon" has racist origins – that after desegregation, whites, particularly whites in service positions such as bus drivers and department store employees, did not want to have to address black customers as "sir" or "ma'am," so they adopted "hon" as a generic, non-reverential form of address.[citation needed]

The term has been established in the culture as it has been used for naming businesses including Cafe Hon, and for the annual HonFest.

The term "HON" recently became a trademarked term in Baltimore by a local businesswoman. Denise Whiting trademarked the term "HON" for use on napkins, buttons, hats and other promotional material to promote her business, Cafe Hon, located in Baltimore. The trademark, as stated by Whiting, doesn't prevent anyone from saying "HON"[4] or using it in general conversation.[5]

Corned Beef Row

"Corned Beef Row" is a stretch of East Lombard Street that was once the center of Jewish life in Baltimore. Today, only a few landmarks remain. Notable is Attman's Delicatessen,[6] founded in 1915, which is famous throughout the city for its hot corned beef sandwiches. The Jewish Museum of Maryland is located on nearby Lloyd Street. The museum campus includes the historic Lloyd Street and B'nai Israel Synagogues and a modern museum building with changing exhibition galleries and research library.

H.L. Mencken

H.L. Mencken

Baltimore was home to Henry Louis Mencken, better known as H.L. Mencken, journalist, satirist, and social critic. Mencken attended the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, one of the best public schools in the city. Mencken achieved iconic status for the editorial columns he wrote at the Baltimore Sunpapers. His work earned him the nickname "The Sage of Baltimore". His personal papers are held in the "Mencken Room" of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. The house he lived in for most of his life, located at 1524 Hollins Street in the city's Union Square neighborhood, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Television and film

Baltimore has become a prime city for filming movies and television shows. Many movies were filmed in Baltimore. Additionally, television shows such as NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street and HBO's The Wire and The Corner have also been set and filmed in the city.

Barry Levinson, a Baltimore native and filmmaker, made many Baltimore-based films, including: Diner, Avalon, Tin Men, and Liberty Heights.

Another Baltimore native and filmmaker, John Waters, makes subversive films that glamorize the less socially acceptable side of the city's culture. Many scenes from the 1972 cult classic film Pink Flamingos were shot in the city's Waverly and Hampden neighborhoods. Pink Flamingos was the most popular of Waters' cult films. In 1981, Waters released the more mainstream Polyester with "Odorama" and went on to make Cecil B. Demented, Cry-baby, Pecker, and Serial Mom.

To date, Hairspray, Waters' tribute to Buddy Deane Show-era Baltimore, has been his most successful commercial effort. He released Hairspray as a film in 1988. In 2002, Hairspray was produced as a stage musical. In 2007, a new version of Hairspray was released as a film. Soundtracks for both films and the musical have also proven popular. Waters is currently in the works of making a sequel to Hairspray.[citation needed]


Lacrosse is the official "team sport" of the State of Maryland and is very popular in Baltimore. City colleges with Division 1 men's and women's teams include Johns Hopkins, Loyola, UMBC, and Towson. The Lacrosse Museum and National Hall of Fame is located on the Johns Hopkins campus. The city is also home to high-school national championship legacy teams from Boys' Latin, and Gilman on the boy's side, to Bryn Mawr and RPCS on the girls side. Baltimore also has the only historically black college or university to field a lacrosse team in the NCAA. The Morgan "Bears" competed during the 1970s and 1980s, the school now has a lacrosse club. M&T Bank Stadium, the home of the Baltimore Ravens, hosts the annual lacrosse double-header events, the Face-Off Classic and Day of Rivals, which have featured several Maryland-based teams. The stadium was the site of the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Final Four in 2003, 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2011.

Tourist attractions






External links

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