Baltimore does not belong to one writer. Instead, this southernmost of northern cities belongs to many, from Francis Scott Key, who penned the words to the national anthem after watching the bombardment of Ft. McHenry during the War of 1812, to Anne Tyler, a contemporary writer who captures the quirkiness of Baltimore and its inhabitants in novels such as The Accidental Tourist.
Famous Baltimore Writers
During the past two centuries, Baltimore has been home—sometimes only briefly—to writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, H. L. Mencken, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Upton Sinclair, Gertrude Stein, Dashiell Hammett, and Russell Baker, the New York Times columnist who recounted his Baltimore years in the Pulitzer Prize–winning Growing Up and its successor, Good Times.
Mount Vernon: Book Festival & Top Literary Sites
Perhaps the most fitting place to explore remnants of the city’s literary history is the Mount Vernon neighborhood, which hosts the annual Baltimore Book Festival each September. The two-day event celebrates books, writers, publishers, and storytellers. Begin in the heart of Mount Vernon at the Washington Monument, where the hearty can climb 228 steps to catch a glimpse of the Baltimore skyline and the lovely parks, museums, and homes surrounding the memorial.
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Across from the monument entrance, at the corner of East Mount Vernon Place and South Washington Place, is Mount Vernon Place Methodist Church. Built in 1873, the church sits on the site where Francis Scott Key died in 1843. A plaque on the exterior of the church notes his death. On the other side of the monument, on West Mount Vernon Place, are two important cultural institutions, the Peabody Conservatory of Music and the Peabody Library. The library has more than 250,000 books, the oldest dating to 1470. Its marble court is often called the most beautiful room in Baltimore.
At 716 North Washington Place near Madison Street is the former hotel, The Stafford, where F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, stayed while she was being treated for mental illness at Johns Hopkins University. Fitzgerald later lived in a town house at 1307 Park Avenue, a few blocks west of the hotel, where he finished his classic novel Tender is the Night. Today a plaque notes the former resident.
Nearly three blocks west, at 12 Madison Street, is the 19th-century home of John Pendleton Kennedy, a best-selling novelist of the 1820s whose works many believe helped invent the myth of the Old South, a world of gentility and knights without armor. A congressman and Navy secretary, Kennedy also oversaw the creation of Baltimore’s Peabody Institute.
A block south of Kennedy’s home is the Maryland Historical Society Museum and Library of Maryland, at 201 W. Monument Street, which contains the original manuscript of "The Star-Spangled Banner." East of the historical society at 704 Cathedral Street, H. L. Mencken, the "sage of Baltimore," lived on the third floor with his wife, Sara Haardt. The iconoclastic Mencken, one of the most influential journalists of the early to mid-20th century, was well known for his razor-sharp political writing and literary criticism. He also wrote a monumental study called The American Language.
Other Notable Baltimore Literary Sights
Three other important literary sites lie outside Mount Vernon. They are the H. L. Mencken House, at 1524 Hollins Street in Union Square, where the locally revered writer spent much of his life; it is currently closed to the public. The Poe House, at 203 N. Amity Street, is where Poe lived briefly in the early 1830s and wrote his first horror story, "Berenice"; the house is open to the public. More easily accessible (and in a better neighborhood) the final resting place of Edgar Allan Poe, the Westminster Cemetery and Catacombs, at West Fayette and Greene Streets. Poe’s monument was donated from pennies collected by Baltimore schoolchildren in the 1930s.