From Poe-centric events to sinister spots throughout the city, we have all the recs for the perfect Halloween-themed day trip to Baltimore.
If we are discussing all things spooky in the DMV this Halloween season, let’s look just a little north to Baltimore. Home of both the OG (original goth father) Edgar Allan Poe and the Ouija board, Baltimore may rival Salem, New Orleans and the spiritualist town of Lily Dale, New York as one of the U.S.’s spookiest cities. The historically haunted locale fully embraces its macabre vibe to the fullest with ghost tours and candlelit classic concerts, several spooky AF museums, Poe-themed everything and bars, restaurants and boutiques all designed for maximum fear factor.
Baltimore’s Baroque Boy
“Edgar Allan Poe persists in popular culture as both an icon and an endless source of inspiration for new generations of creators,” says Enrica Jang, executive director of the Edgar Allan Poe House & Museum, where the famous writer of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Black Cat” and “The Fall of the House of Usher” lived with his aunt from 1835-1839. Here, he composed some of his early literary successes and infamously wooed his 13-year-old cousin Virginia, whose death at a young age inspired many of his darkest and most romantic works.
Poe’s dark literary legacy casts a long shadow over many contemporary genres. He invented the detective story, and Jang reminds us that “any mystery novel you have ever read — any police procedural on television, even ‘Scooby Doo’ — has a direct line back to Poe.”
And while Poe didn’t invent the gothic novel or horror story, he excelled in these gloomy genres, making many storytelling innovations that define horror films and literature to this day.
The Poe House celebrates Poe’s legacy with the 2023 International Edgar Allan Poe Festival & Awards, a free, two-day outdoor event featuring Poe-themed performances, art, vendors and food from October 7-8. Festivities include “Poe in Comics” and “Poe Death” exhibits, a costumed Poe-rade led by professional cosplayers, performances from classical ensembles, chamber choirs, rockabilly bands and ballet troupes, as well as lectures about the writer. There are also a number of ticketed events, such as a Bloody Mary brunch, a murder mystery and bus tours to other Poe-centric Baltimore sites.
“The Black Cat Ball,” a high-goth prom night, will be held at Westminster Hall & Burying Ground, offering cocktails, hor d’oeuvres, dancing to dark wave, the “Visiter” awards (given to the next generation of dark artists following in Poe’s footsteps) and a Cognac toast, all held within a Gothic Revival church with arched, stained-glass windows and a looming pipe organ built above a catacomb cemetery. Fittingly, Westminster is where Poe is buried with two different graves — a simple tombstone engraved with a raven to mark his original burial spot and a second, prominently placed, elaborate monument with a likeness of Poe where his young wife and mother-in-law are also buried.
Poe’s legacy is felt throughout all of Baltimore. There are several places to imbibe like the famously soused author. The Horse You Came In On Saloon in Fells Point is where Poe was served his last fateful drink. Considered the oldest continuously running saloon in America, it’s now known for daily live music (although some say it is a haunted site). The Annabel Lee Tavern in the Canton neighborhood is named after Poe’s famous posthumous poem and serves up elevated pub fare in a historic pub with Poe decor. The waterfront restaurant Apropoe’s at the Marriott has harbor views, a great seafood menu, Poe-inspired cocktails and a Poe quote on the ceiling in its sleek, industrial-designed space. Want a more family-friendly treat? Try a pint of TellTale Chocolate ice cream at the Charmery or a Poe-Coconut ice cream at Baltimore in a Box.
A luring statue of Poe by renowned American sculptor Moses Jacob Ezekiel is located at Gordon Plaza at the University of Baltimore campus and is bathed in a purple light during football playoffs. Because, yes, even the football team is named after the bleak and dreary poem “The Raven.” How many other NFL teams are named after a poetic avian allusion?
“Gothic art and horror are evergreen subjects, interpreted endlessly,” Jang says. “Poe set the tone. It’s a beautiful legacy and we’re thrilled that it does not seem to slow.”
But there’s so much beyond Poe in Baltimore to raise the hairs on the back of your neck…
Shop Local, Shop Scary
In a city where the Ouija board was invented at the height of the American Spiritualist movement by lawyer and inventor Elijah Bond, we have to expect some creepy boo-tiques (all apologies). For those who enjoy conjuring the spirits of the dead, it may be worth a visit to Bond’s Ouija-decorated tombstone in Green Mount Cemetery or the plaque on a downtown 7-Eleven that marks the site where he invented the spirit board.
In the Hampden neighborhood, two neighborhood stores on the popular strip called “The Avenue” cater to the strange and unusual. Bazaar has been a mainstay of the macabre for a decade, offering taxidermied critters, articulated skeletons, framed insects and funerary antiques, as well as store-crafted candles in scents such as “abandoned hospital” and “overgrown cemetery.” The owners honor the natural world by upcycling the discarded dead (such as roadkill) and teach occasional taxidermy workshops.
The family-owned Crystals, Candles, & Cauldrons offers new age spiritual items, astrology charts and readings, as well as other workshops. Sideshow at the American Visionary Art Museum in the Federal Hill neighborhood revels in oddball novelty items with library catalog drawers full of unexpected gifts. While there, take a moment to have Zoltar (the wish-granting genie from the classic Tom Hanks’ film “Big”) predict your future. Entrance to the gift shop is free, but it’s always worthwhile to visit the American Visionary Art Museum, where the works of self-taught, intuitive artists and visionaries are exhibited.
Bazaar’s co-owners Greg Hatem and Brian Henry explain why the city is such a large-scale cabinet of curiosities:
“We have a deep pool of extremely creative and talented residents, and we tend to celebrate eccentricity in our arts scene and beyond. Perhaps a lot of the more square types are drawn to D.C. or Philly, casting Baltimore as the ‘weird cousin’ of the Mid-Atlantic urban corridor. Perhaps it’s that the cost of living is less than other East Coast cities, better for emerging artists on a budget. Baltimore is a great place to live your truth, whatever it is.”
Visiting Through Covered Eyes
Baltimore offers a plethora of museums for the brave and un-squeamish. Maryland’s Chief Medical Examiner’s Office was established in 1939 as the nation’s first statewide medical examiner system, and it remains the largest in the nation; its early focus on forensic examinations and crime scene analysis led to some innovative (and terrifying) training tools. The Scarpetta House is a full-scale model home that stages grisly murders as examiners comb the scenes. If you prefer your macabre miniature-sized, the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office also hosts the “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death,” a series of dollhouse dioramas of brutal crime scenes. In the 1930s-40s, pioneering forensic scientist Frances Glessner Lee crafted these to teach investigators how to search for clues and determine the cause of death, but they are also microcosms depicting different social classes, incomes and lifestyles in their deadly scenarios. The dioramas are still consulted to this day, and the answers to these horrible crime scenes remain under lock and key.
The University of Maryland was home to both the United States’ first operating theater and the first dental school, and offers some cringe-inducing medical history spaces. The Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry offers more than 40,000 objects on display that will cause dentophobes to grind their teeth, from barbaric early dentistry tools to George Washington’s infamous dentures. Davidge Hall, opened in 1812, is the founding building of the University of Maryland and was previously an anatomical theater where aspiring physicians could observe autopsies; many bodies were illegally procured by grave robbers. Davidge Hall also has its own collection of archaic medical instruments and tools, and its own mummified mascot, Hermie.
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A series of candle-lit “Secret Baltimore” concerts performed by the Kennedy String Quartet will cover horror-film scores throughout October at Creative Alliance and the First Unitarian Church. Baltimore Ghost Tours provides walking tours and spirited pub crawls in the Fells Point through November and in Mount Vernon neighborhoods throughout October on Friday and Saturday nights.
Want to spend a sleepless night in this haunted city? The Lord Baltimore Hotel is a historic downtown hotel that has been fully renovated — but not full exorcized. From elevators that move on their own to Mollie, the ghost of a little girl that walks the 19th floor, the hotel is considered one of the most haunted in the country.
“Baltimore operates on its own frequency,” says Amy Lynwander, co-operator of Baltimore Ghost Tours and writer of a book about local hauntings. “Fells Point was home to sailors, ladies of the night and people who came to Baltimore from all over the world to start a new life. High society lived in Mount Vernon, and some felt the need to remain to watch over their holdings. Baltimore is so haunted and spooky because of its colorful history.”
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Annabel Lee Tavern: 601 S Clinton St.; @annabelleetavern
State of Maryland Medical Examiner’s Office: 900 W Baltimore St.; health.maryland.gov
Westminster Hall & Burial Ground: 519 W Fayette St.; westminsterhall.org
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