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Some people were born in Baltimore, some people have died in Baltimore, some people had Baltimore thrust upon them!

        Frank Zappa
  Baltimore born. 1940 - 1993. Musician, music producer, etc

   Frank Vincent Zappa was born in Baltimore to Francis Zappa and Rose Marie Colimore. He was the oldest of four children. The family moved around quite a bit because his father, a chemist and mathematician, worked at various jobs in the defense industry. At one time the family lived in Edgewood, Md. as the elder Zappa worked at Edgewood Arsenal at a chemical warfare facility. Frank had a variety of childhood illnesses including asthma, this being one reason that the family moved to California in 1952.



  Frank had attended schools all over the place and probably did his class a favor by throwing over school at age l5 since he primarily distracted other students. Most of his adult life he lived in Los Angeles. Zappa was very anti-authoritarian, especially after a vice squad agent entrapped him into making an erotic recording. This incident led to his spending a few days in jail. As a musician he had a large fan cult following, but did not appeal to the mainstream as much.
  1971 was not a good year for Frank Zappa. Mothers of Invention were playing in Montreux, Switzerland when a member of the audience set up a flare that burned not only the band's equipment but the whole casino where they were playing. Deep Purple's song "Smoke on the Water" refers to said incident. Later, same year, Zappa was playing at the Rainbow Theatre in London when an audience member pushed him off the stage. The entertainer suffered severe injuries including head trauma and a crushed larynx. He was off the road for a year. In later years his interest in libertarian politics deepened. At some concert sites, he arranged for voter registration.  The words of this Zappa song reveals his political activism: Entitled "Bacon Fat"

While I was down in W.D.C.
Certain folks were not glad to see me
I just tried to get out the vote
But some little weasel must 'a dropped 'em a note
It said:
"Check out the politics
Practiced by this oaf
And if they ain't just right
Feed him Confinement Loaf."
They wanne be
Feedin' 'em
Feedin' 'em
Feedin' 'em

 Unlike so many musicians, Frank avoided the addictions trap. He was strongly anti-drugs. Frank Zappa was a productive member of the music scene until his 1993 death from prostate cancer.

George Herman Ruth (Babe Ruth)   

  Babe Ruth, born in Baltimore on Feb. 6, 1895, had a hardscrabble existence as a child. The family home at 216 Emory Street in South Baltimore was rented by Ruth's grandfather, a German immigrant. Eight children were born to George Herman Ruth, Sr. and Kate Schamberger-Ruth. Only 2 survived. His parents owned a waterfront tavern, living above the bar on Camden Street. (Ironically, this bar was located where the Oriole Park at Camden Yard stands today.) When the Babe was just 7 years old, his parents took him to St Mary's Industrial School for Boys.This was a school for orphans, troublemakers, and kids whose parents were unwilling or unable to care for them. 

  The boy spent l2 years there and rarely saw his family. He was said to be "incorrigible." Small wonder! One of the Brothers recognized Ruth's baseball talent. Jack Dunn, the owner of the then minor league Baltimore Orioles, scouted him, saw his talent and signed him. Shortly thereafter, he rose to the majors, the Boston Red Sox. He was just 19. Originally he was a pitcher, but his long-ball hitting abilities were soon noticed. He transitioned into an outfielder. His off-the-field eating and drinking were as hearty as his home run hitting.
  Like so many great young baseball stars, the New York Yankees loomed as his destiny. The rest of his baseball career is history. Less predictable was his personal life. In 1914 he married 17-year-old Helen Woodford, a waitress. The couple adopted a girl. The marriage faltered. Ruth's wife was killed in a house fire in 1929. Wife #2 was actress and model Claire Hodgson. During the early 1930's, the Babe expressed interest in managing a big league baseball team. Much to his disappointment, he was overlooked several times.
  In the fall of 1946, Babe spent three months in the hospital. Diagnosis was grim: throat cancer. Operations helped very little. The Yankees retired the famous number 3 jersey. The Babe died on August 16, 1948, in a New York hospital. Thousands of fans paid last respects to famed ballplayer who had journeyed so far from St. Mary's.

Billie Holiday   April 7, 1915-–July 17, 1959  
     (birth name: Eleanora Fagan

  There are some discrepancies in stories of Billie Holiday's childhood, possibly because there were no reliable family historians around to tell the early stories. Billie's own autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues, (pub. 1956) is said to  inaccuracies. This much is certain: The family was very poor. Billie's professional pseudonym was taken from Billie Dove, an actress that she admired, and Clarence Holiday,her probable father.  Billie's mother, Sarah Fagan, was 13 when she gave birth to Billie. Her father was not much older.

  The two lived together only a short while. Clarence Holiday was musical, playing guitar and banjo and working professionally with Fletcher Henderson in the early 1930's.Billie was raised by her mother and a variety of relatives. She was likely raped in this environment, and was often truant from school. Consequently she was packed off to House of the Good Shepherd, a reform school, where she spent 2 years. She and her mother then moved to New York City. There, a neighbor attempted to rape Billie.
  In Harlem in the midst of the Great Depression, Billie Holiday was singing for tips in various nightclubs. Billie sang the blues like nobody ever had sung before. Her voice was heartfelt because her abbreviated life was very blue indeed. The singer chose men who abused and exploited her. She began using heavy drugs. In 1947 she was jailed on drug charges and served eight months at the Alderson Federal Correctional Institution for Women in West Va. The arrest record proved devastating for her career in that her New York City Cabaret Card was revoked. (Such a punitive action is hard to fathom, looking back from the 21st Century. The number of entertainers would be severely diminished if those caught using drugs were banned from work!)
  Some older Baltimoreans might remember a small chain of sub shops called "Harley's". One of these sub stores stood at Mason and McMechen Streets. The owner Harley Brinsfield  broadcast a popular jazz radio show.  Sometimes Billie came to that Harley's shop to visit her friend.
  Billie opened her own club in 1948 under sponsorship of John Levy. By the 1950's drugging and drinking had taken their toll on the singer's health. Still, in 1956 she performed at Carnegie Hall. Billie also had made numerous recordings during her career. She made her final public appearance at a benefit concert at the Phoenix Theater in Greenwich Village on May 25, 1959. A week later she was in Metropolitan Hospital in New York with liver and heart disease. Even while she lay dying, the police came in and placed her under arrest at the hospital (for alleged possession of drugs).On July 17, 1959, she passed from this world. Her bank account was empty. Billie Holiday is interred in Saint Raymond's Cemetery, Bronx, N. Y. A large statue of Billie can be found in Baltimore on the N.W. corner of W. Lafayette and Pennsylvania Ave.

 Upton Sinclair, writer 1878-1968

  Upton Sinclair was one of those who was born here and escaped. He was born in a boarding house in the 400 block Charles Street, now torn down. His father, an alcoholic who apparently had sunk beneath his station following the Civil War, moved the family to New York ten years after Sinclair's birth. The family was extremely poor but the writer saw another side when staying with wealthy grandparents. His first novel, Springtime and Harvest, was published in 1901. Witnessing both poverty and wealth, plus later reading such writers as Jack London, led the writer to slant toward socialism. Sinclair's novel The Jungle was a vivid depiction of the Chicago meat packing houses.The novel was repeatedly rejected. Finally the author published it himself. It was a huge seller.The conditions depicted contributed to the establishment of the Pure Food and Drugs Act, after which many novelists plunged into the seamy side. Teddy Roosevelt called their efforts muckraking.

  Socialist writers were split in their support of World War One.In 1917 the Espionage Act was passed. Several socialists who opposed the war (Sinclair was able to accept it) were imprisoned including Eugene Debs. Sinclair wrote to Woodrow Wilson that it was futile to try to win democracy abroad while we are losing it at home.Upton Sinclair's novel Dragon's Teeth, 1942, dealt with the rise of Nazism. This won him the Pulizer Prize. In his lifetime he published more than 90 books.

Leon Uris  writer,(1924-2003)    Baltimore-born

  A known American author, his bestseller Exodus (1958) was translated into over 50 languages. Some of his other works: Battle Cry (1953), Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957, screenplay), The Angry Hills, Topaz, Trinity. He was the son of Wolf Willian and Anna (Blumberg).His own surname was chosen, meaning "Man of Jerusalem." Uris' father was a Polish immigrant, a paperhanger and store keeper. Uris said that his father went from failure to failure. At first it appeared that Leon was on the same path. Attending schools in Norfolk, Va. and Baltimore, he failed English three times.

At 17 he joined the USMC. The late 1940's found him working as a newspaper driver in San Francisco. Battle Cry, his first novel, had as its subject a battalion of Marines during World War II. In 1956 Uris, a war correspondent, covered the Arab-Israeli fighting. The novel Trinity was based on the writer's Irish experience.
  Uris was three times married. His first marriage ended in divorce, his second in the (probable) suicide of his wife.In 1970 he married a photographer, Jill Peabody. The couple had 2 children. This marriage, however, ended in 1989. His last novel was O'Hara's Choice (2003). Uris died of renal failure on June 21, 2003 at his home on Shelter Island, N.Y.


  The woman whom a King of England would choose rather than his throne was born in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., the only child of Alice M. Montague and Teackle Wallis. Her father lived only a year after her birth, leaving daughter and mother desperately poor and in Baltimore. Fortunately there was wealth in the family in the person of uncle Solomon Warfield. Wallis grew up with her mother totally dependent on charity. Fortunately there were socialite family connections.
  The first address associated with Wallis Warfield is 28 W. Preston St.,Baltimore. Later Wallis and her mother moved with a widow relative at a more luxurious townhouse at 9 W. Chase St. (215 E. Biddle and 222 E. Biddle are other addresses associated with the future Duchess of Windsor.
  At age 20 Wallis married a U. S. Navy officer named Earl Spencer, but left him a year later because of his insufferable drinking. In 1928 she married Ernest Simpson, a banker. The pair crossed the pond to England. Wallis made acquaintance with the man who would become King Edward VIII.

  Edward took the throne January 1936 but abdicated a year later, choosing love--Wallis Warfield Simpson-- over being king.   A double divorcee American was not considered an acceptable Queen of England.  The couple married in June 1937 when Wallis received her divorce from Simpson. In retrospect, Edward VIII's departure from the throne seems a godsend for the world. Early on, before England's entrance into World War 11, Edward  apparently professed Nazi sympathies. Perhaps he would have moderated these sympathies once Germany invaded Poland. Who knows? The couple traveled to Spain and Paris, but when war did come, these places posed hazards. Later they were safely tucked away in the Bahamas,, and eventually returned to Paris. Edward and Wallis had no meaningful contact with British royalty. When Edward died in 1972, he was entitled to be buried at Windsor. Wallis soldiered on alone in her Paris villa, isolated and at the end of her life bedridden. She died in 1986 and was also laid to rest at Windsor, alongside the man who surrendered the throne of England for her.


  1971-1996   Tupac Shakur, aka Lesane Parish Crooks, was born in New York City to Afemi Shakur, a member of the Black Panther Party. As a 12-year-old he acted with the Harlem Theatre Group. The family moved to Baltimore in 1986 where the young man attended Baltimore School for the Arts. Two years later, the family moved again, this time to the West Coast, Marin County, Ca. Problems followed them. Stepfather Matula Shakur drew a long prison term for his involvement in a robbery as far back as 1981. Tupac began selling drugs.
  In 1990 Shakur hooked up with Digital Underground and shortly after, received recognition and star status in the Rap world and in film. It is fortunate that his star rose quickly as his career was destined to be a short one (unless you count posthumous fame). In September 1994 two teenagers in Milwaukee murdered a policeman, citing one of Tupac's works as their inspiration. Later that year, the rapper was accused of sexually assaulting a woman he had invited to a hotel room.

  The trial resulted in a conviction of one of the charges and acquittal of others. Meanwhile, Tupac  got shot 5 times in a possible robbery attempt outside a New York music studio. In 1995 Shakur served several months his 4 l/2-year sentence, but was released on bail during appeal. He enjoyed less than a year of freedom. On September 7, 1996, Tupac Shakur was shot in Las Vegas. He died 6 days later, following a chilling tradition among many rap musicians:  early and violent death.
  These words are from Tupac Shakur's song "Part Time Mutha'

Meet Cindi, she's twenty-two, lives right on the dope track
Used to be fat now weighs less than a Tic-Tac
Now what's that say about, this big epidemic
This hypocritical world, and the people in it
Now speaking of in it Cindi loved to get buckwild
Fuck with a smile single file she'll bust nuff styles
That would be cool, if she was your lover
But fuck that, Cindi was my dope fiend mother
Welfare checks never stepped through the front door
Cuz moms would run to the dopeman once more
All those days, had me fiending for a hot meal
Now I'm a crook, got steel, I do not feel
So don't even trip, when I flip, with my thirty-eight
Revenge is a bitch, and my hit shake the murder rate
Word to the mutha, I'm touched



H. L. Mencken (Sept. l2, 1880 - Jan. 29, 1956)  moved with his family to 1524 Hollins Street when Henry was 3. Other than his 5 years of married life, Mencken remained at that address.  His father, August, who was of German extraction, owned a cigar factory. Mencken, sometimes called the Sage of Baltimore, was a journalist, a professional cynic and a relentless social critic. By 1906 he was writing for the Baltimore Sun.

  His work "The American Language," comprising many volumes, is a study of U. S. English. Mencken is well remembered for covering the Scopes Monkey  Trial in Tennessee (film, play, book "Inherit the Wind") where is character is portrayed as a cynical, freethinking journalist. (It is incredible to think that, nearly a century later, people have not put this issue to bed! ) Much can be inferred about Mencken from noting his list of literary influences:  Ambrose Bierce, Rudyard Kipling, Frederick Nietzsche and Mark Twain. A few quotes from H. L. Mencken:

 Conscience is the inner voice which warns us that someone may be looking.

  A celebrity is one who is known to many persons he is glad he doesn't know.

  Injustice is relatively easy to bear. What stings is justice.

  War will never cease until babies begin to come into the world with larger cerebrums and smaller adrenal glands.

  Although Mencken once called marriage the end of hope, he did marry in 1930.  Sara Haardt was a professor of English at Goucher College. Haardt died 5 years later of meningitis. She was just past  30. Mencken suffered poor health in the last 8 years of his life.  A cerebral thrombosis left him unable to pursue his main interests of reading and writing. He could still enjoy classical music and conversations with friends.  He died in 1956 and was interred in Loudon Park Cemetery in Baltimore.


Edgar Allan Poe (1809 - 1849) was Boston-born. Both parents were actors. His parents both died young: mother, Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins (1787-1811  and father, David Poe (1784-1810). Edgar was raised by Frances and John Allan. They lived in Richmond, Va. Edgar attended a school in England for several years before enrolling in University of Virginia. He accrued gambling debts, a subject of a bitter quarrel with John Allen. The fledgling writer had to quit college and enter the army to earn some money to pay his debts.  He was in the army for 2 years. He enrolled in West Point but was kicked out.

Poe, who had already published some poems, moved in with an aunt at 203 Amity Street in W. Baltimore, Maria Clemm. He then married his aunt's daughter, his own l3-year-old cousin, Virginia Elvia.  Edgar and his young bride moved to New York City in 1836. Poe sustained many losses: first, his parents, later his foster parents Frances (dec. 1829) and John Allan (1834). His brother Henry died young (1807-1831).  This forum can barely touch on the many writings of Edgar Allan Poe. His favored genre was the short story. Darkness, dementia and the macabre are keynotes of his psychological thrillers and chillers.

  Most of us have heard of the Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Raven, and Lenore. With other tales the content is hinted at by the titles: Spirits of the Dead, The conqueror Worm, The Haunted Palace. One of the darkest and most mysterious tales, though, is the death of Poe himself. The writer's wife died in 1947, prompting even heavier drinking on Poe's part. A year later he became engaged to Elmira Royster, an earlier girlfriend.

  Poe set out on a lecture tour at some time during 1849, desperately trying to earn money. On October 3, 1849, a passerby discovered him ill and incoherent on a Baltimore street. He was taken to "Washington College Hospital" where he died on October 7 without gaining full consciousness.  Some have claimed that he was wearing clothes that were not his, and that he called out the name "Reynolds." ("Washington College Hospital" was purchased by Episcopalians in 1857 and became Church Home/Hospital. The hospital closed in 1999.) Much of what we know about Poe's death is through the doctor who treated him in this final illness, John J. Moran. His stories are many and inconsistent.  In the doctor's own final years he earned a living by giving lectures on Poe's final days!

   More puzzling, a man named Rufus Wilmut Griswald, an enemy, became Poe's literary executor. He used this position to further blacken Edgar Allan Poe's reputation. Poe was originally buried in an unmarked grave at the "Old Westminster Burying Ground" of Baltimore. A quarter-century later the remains were removed to a family plot where his aunt, Marie Clemm, also "resided." The location is at Fayette and Greene Streets near University of Maryland Medical Center, Baltimore. His wife Virginia was moved there in 1885. Ever since the year 1949, in the early a.m. hours of  January 19, a sleuth visitor (likely more than one) leaves a bottle of cognac and 3 roses on the grave.

Poe's story plots gave a new meaning to the word "macabre." In Tell-tale Heart,  a narrator with an over-invested belief in his own sanity murders a man because the man's vulture-like blue eyes annoy him. Later, the murderer is haunted by guilt, believing that his victim, now dismembered and hidden under the floor boards, still has a beating heart. Police eventually come to the very room where these floorboards are. The murderer hears the ticking of the dead man's heart, louder and louder. What he actually hears is the ticking of his own heart. Eventually his self torture is such that he screams out his guilt.

The Cask of Amontillado- another story narrated by the murderer, told in retrospect. Montresor, an Italian nobleman, had been insulted by one of his peers, Fortunato. The narrator talks of his family motto: No one attacks me with impunity. The pair enter a wine cellar, where Fortunato's fortune take a turn for the worse. Drunk, he is chained to a niche in the wall. The wall is quickly sealed up. Montresor enjoys his victim's terrorized screams. We learn that the incident occurred 50 years ago. Montresor remarks that the body has remained it its wall-tomb all this time.

The Black Cat- A black cat, aptly named Pluto, god of the underworld, drives the narrator to madness. He murders his wife. The psychotic story teller admits to alcoholism and fits of rage. He hangs the cat, but the cat reappears. Eventually he kills his wife, walling her up. Later he realizes that the cat is entombed in the same wall. Poe's use of language and foreboding creates a haunting atmosphere, as usual.

Poe's sense of macabre pales by today's standard. We have now read of the gang operating in the Peruvian jungles who murdered their victims and extracted their body fat. Allegedly, each liter of fat was worth $15,000 on the black market, ultimately for use by European cosmetic companies.

One does not have to look to the jungles of Peru for macabre. One can look at the respectable north London neighborhood of  Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill, circa 1983, where a mild mannered former army cook, Dennis Nilsen, crowded for floorboard space, clogged the plumbing with body parts of young men.  Nilsen owned a cat and a dog. He had found it necessary to move from his flat at Melrose Avenue when those floorboards were filled up.  No one knows the exact total of Nilsen's victims. He probably lost count himself. He treated his bodies respectfully, washing, dressing and cuddling them until they began to turn.

In the year 2009, the 200th anniversary of Poe's birth,  the poet was much celebrated by the City of Baltimore. In 1849 his funeral could muster only 7 mourners.  On October 11, 2009 he was re-funeralized with 200 people following the hearse, and a total of over l,200 attending various funeral-related events (on the 7th, a "viewing" of Poe's body-- open casket(!!) and on the 8th, an all-night vigil. Films made from Poe's stories were shown. A panel discussion "Poe on film" was held. Suffice to say, the city was awash with Poe Fever.



From the writings:

All that we see or seem/ Is but a dream within a dream.

And the cloud that took the form/When the rest of heaven was blue/Of a demon in my view.

Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.

Deep into that darkness peering long/I stood there, wondering, fearing/Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.

And all my days are trances, /And all my nightly dreams/Are where thy gray eye glances,/And where thy footstep gleams--/In what ethereal dances,/By what eternal streams.