Sunday, December 14, 2003

Dollar Days!

What's a good day to visit a bunch of Baltimore museums? Apparently yesterday. The Downtown Partnership was sponsoring "Downtown Dollar or Less Days" this weekend with a bunch of the museums and attractions open for only $1. This was really cool, except that it meant the National Aquarium was beyond packed.

Rewind a moment. Evelin had a daylong meeting/certification workshop in Catonsville for the free-lance résumé writing/coaching she does, which was followed by a holiday party. She also had a coworker hosting a party in Columbia that same evening. So the plan was I'd drop her off at the workshop and bum around Baltimore for the day before picking her up and heading to the parties.

No problems, I figured it'd be pretty easy to waste a day in Baltimore; the city has a lot of historic sites and museums, as well as the aquarium and I could always take a return trip to the zoo.

I started off at the Westminster Burying Ground to visit the graves of Edgar Allan Poe. Yep, graves; there is a fair-sized white marble monument/tomb with a bronze portrait of Poe at the entrance to the burial grounds marking where Poe, his wife and mother are buried. But around back is a smaller gravestone (replete with a raven carved on the top of it) marking the site where he was originally buried. His grandfather's grave is next to that site. I then tried to visit the Poe House, about a half-mile away from the gravesite, but it didn't open until noon.

Instead, I ended up at the Maryland Historical Society (MDHS) to look at the new Carey Center for Maryland Life and the "Looking for Liberty" exhibition, which quickly traces the social history of Maryland with breakouts on the side that look at defense, religion, industry, self-determination, and aritistic visions throughout the history of the colony/state. Here's where I first encountered the dollar days. I was expecting admission to be $3 or $4, but they only wanted $1, so I said, "okay."

Next up, I headed to the Fells Point Maritime Museum, which is part of the MDHS. It has some interesting looks at industry on the Baltimore docks with special attention to the Baltimore clipper schooners that were used for fast trade, including privateering, blockade running, the illegal slave trade, and the fruit trade. Here a Post-it Note covered the usual admission sign saying that entry was just a $1. I began to catch on, but figured the National Aquarium wouldn't be part of a dollar admission scheme.

I was wrong. I headed to the National Aquarium and found a huge line snaking around the construction zone that will become the Australian River Gorge exhibit in 2005. At first I thought it might be the ticket line (previous times we've been, there has been a long ticket line) and I toyed with the idea of buying a membership to the aquarium in hopes of being able to cut in line. Instead I found out, yes, the aquarium is just $1 today.

It was a 40-minute wait in line, and the place was packed inside. I got my dollar's worth out of it, but I was back outside in about as long as I'd waited to get it. The only exhibit I paid much attention to was the seahorses, sea dragons and pipefish exhibit because it is closing at year-end and these are really interesting creatures. Of course, that exhibit was just as packed as the rest of the place -- I'm surprised I didn't hear too many comments about being packed in like sardines -- and I moved as quickly as I could, just getting glimpses of sharks, rays, assorted fish, and a sea turtle on my way to the exit. Actually, one cool thing the aquarium has done was a special brochure for kids that directed them to the different animals that were in Finding Nemo: "You've seen the movie. Now, find the real thing!"

With about three-and-a-half hours before I was to pick up Evelin, I was on a roll. I started to visit the Baltimore Civil War Museum (again, part of the MDHS), but it's a small facility that I visited not too long ago, so I pushed on to the Baltimore Public Works Museum to check out the bits of old wooden water mains that are on display along with the neat exhibit that decodes the various utility access hatches and manhole covers used through out the city.

From there, I walked away from the Inner Harbor toward Little Italy and came to The Flag House & Star-Spangled Banner Museum. This was the home of Mary Pickersgill, who (with the help of her mother and daughter) sewed by hand the giant flag that flew above Fort McHenry during its bombardment by the British during the War of 1812 and inspired the poem by Francis Scott Key. The house is the second-oldest in Baltimore and while the docent was less than engaging, it was nicely restored.

I then retrieved the car from the garage and drove up to Druid Hill Park to see if the Baltimore Conservatory was finished with the remodeling job. It wasn't, so I drove around the park to the back of the zoo and got to espy a penguin through the fence. The rest of the place looked pretty deserted and it was getting dark, so I headed to the workshop site and waited (reading David Sedaris's Holidays on Ice in the car) for Evelin to finish up.

The first party was all résumé folk and a pretty nice scene. The host had two little dogs, one of which constantly would sit back on his haunches to beg (for food, petting, attention, whatever). It was really funny, especially as it made him look like an ewok. The second party had a really sweet dog, part lab, who was the pup of the host's parent's dog back in Colombia. He was so cute, and I must have spent a hour just petting him (there had been a group of kids at the party earlier who'd overfed him and helped tire him out).

Today is GH-Day ... gingerbread houses. We're not sure how many people will make the trek in the snow and ice, but Evelin invited a friend and three cousins over to decorate gingerbread houses. It's something she's done every year for the past ten or so (and she regularly made gingerbread houses as a kid). I tend to get too frustrated by trying to recreate architectural elements in candy for it be fun for me to participate, but I do like to hang around, stealing bits of cookie and candy and offering suggestions. For example, a few years ago, I pulled out the drill as a joke, but it turned out pretty handy for punching small holes into the gingerbread snowman for eyes and attaching licorice arms.

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