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Culture of Baltimore facts for kids

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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 been a predominantly working-class town through much of its history with several surrounding affluent suburbs and, being found in a Mid-Atlantic state but south of the Mason-Dixon line, can lay claim to a blend of Northern and Southern American traditions. Baltimore's culture has a distinctive flavor with several facets.


Blue crabs

Blue crab on market in Piraeus - Callinectes sapidus Rathbun 20020819-317
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.

Traditionally, crabs are steamed in rock salt and Old Bay Seasoning, a favored local spice mixture manufactured in Baltimore for decades. Southern State cooks, Marylanders insist, boil crabs and along with it, boil away all the true flavor.

Marylanders steam blue crabs, usually in water, beer and Old Bay Seasoning.

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. It is popular for cold beer to be thrown on the crabs during the steaming process, and made available afterwards.

Crab cakes

A traditional Baltimore crab cake generally consists of steamed blue crab backfin meat, egg, mayonnaise, Old Bay seafood seasoning, cracker crumbs, and mustard. It is prepared by either broiling or frying. Baltimoreans typically do not use tartar sauce on their crab cakes; most either eat them plain, or with a dash of Worcestershire sauce and often on Saltine crackers.

Soft crab sandwiches

Soft shell crabs are blue crabs which have recently molted their old exoskeleton and are still soft. Almost the entire animal can be eaten, rather than having to shell the animal to reach the meat, with the exceptions of the mouth parts, the gills and the abdomen, which must be discarded. The remaining, edible part of the crab is typically tossed in flour to which some combination of salt, pepper and Old Bay Seasoning have been added, before being deep fried or sauteed in butter. It is then placed on toasted bread, typically dressed with mayonnaise, sliced tomato and lettuce. Some Baltimoreans find amusement in watching visitors to the city stare in horror as they eat soft crab sandwiches with the crab legs sticking out the sides.


It is a common practice to serve sauerkraut with the Thanksgiving turkey. Baltimore was a leading gateway for German immigration during the 1800s. By 1863, the year President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, one in four of Baltimore's residents were transplanted Germans and spoke the tongue as their first language.

Pit Beef

"Pit Beef" refers to open pit barbecued meat most commonly served rare on a Kaiser roll, usually found at small stands converted from large sheds in and around Baltimore and the outlying suburbs. It originated on Baltimore's blue collar east side and has through the years spread all over the city. Other varieties of meat, such as ham, turkey, corned beef and sausages are also found on the menus at pit beef stands. Pit beef meat is grilled with charcoal and uses no rubs or sauces so it lacks the wood flavor characteristic of Texas Barbecue and the herbal aromas of Carolina barbecue. Baltimore pit beef uses top round and is shaved very thin on a meat slicer for serving. The typical condiments for a pit beef sandwich is a thick slice of white onion and a sauce made from a horseradish and mayonnaise commonly called "Tiger Sauce" made by Tulkoff Food Products and is unique in that the Baltimore version uses a much more significant portion of horseradish making the sauce extremely hot.

Bull and oyster roasts

These are fund-raising events held in Baltimore and neighboring counties. Tickets are sold per person or discounted by the table (seating 8-10 people). They are scheduled during the "R" months (September–April) when oysters are prevalent. The menu may consist of Pit Beef, ham, turkey or oysters, the latter being variously served fried, raw (on the half shell) or stewed with buttery milk or cream. Typically, a smorgasbord of side dishes (such as mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, green beans, cole slaw) is featured along with a fresh salad bar. Beer and wine may be purchased while standard drinks (soda, iced tea) are included with the purchase of the ticket.

In addition to the profits from tickets sales, a variety of gambling wheels are featured, such as a money wheel (betting quarters on #'s from 1-6 displayed in dice format on a plastic runner), or a plant wheel (houseplants and occasionally, wrapped baskets of a variety of gift items). At some events, 50-50 tickets are sold, the winner being awarded half of the profits of the sale, and auctions featured with items donated by organizations, local sports heroes, businesses, etc.Example of Auction Items at a Bull & Oyster Roast

Lake Trout

"Lake Trout" is actually fried Atlantic whiting. It is typically served as a sandwich with a number of condiments, such as ketchup and horseradish sauce. Lake trout is an everyday food, and is often served wrapped in aluminum foil in a standard paper lunch bag at small take-out establishments.

Chicken box

The "chicken box" consists 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 United States as an "Arnold Palmer").

Berger Cookies

Berger Cookies are a kind of cookie that enjoys immense popularity in Baltimore and surrounding Maryland. They are made from vanilla shortbread covered in a fudge ganache. Originally brought from Germany to Baltimore by George and Henry Berger in 1835, they are now produced and sold by DeBaufre Bakeries.

Polock Johnny's Sausages

Polock Johnny's
A Polock Johnny franchise at one of its locations on the Boardwalk, Ocean City, Maryland.

John Kafka, Sr. decided to specialize in polish sausage so he could use his nickname, "Polock Johnny". He created the now-famous "The Works" sauce which is sold in all of his stores. John scored his Polish sausage with little cuts which became part of the Polock Johnny logo. Today, his granddaughter, Margie Kafka, continues the business at several locations, including Lexington Market.

Rheb's Homemade Candies

Newlyweds Louis and Esther Rheb, moved into their new home at 3352 Wilkens Avenue. In 1917, Louis, self-taught, started making taffies, brittles, fudge and jellies in his basement. The candies were sold in the markets twice a week; Esther going to Hollins and Louis to Bel Air. In the mid-30s, they opened in the Lexington Market. Louis continued to develop more recipes, and Esther learned to hand-dip the centers in a smooth and velvety chocolate which they had blended to complement each piece of candy. Many people came to Wilkens Avenue to buy candy, so they converted their garage into a store. The Grand Opening took place in 1950. Nowadays, it is Rheb's main store. On Valentine's Day, outside of Rheb's on Wilkens Avenue, there is typically a long line of customers.

Lemon peppermint sticks

Lemon peppermint sticks are a treat sold at the mid-spring Flower Mart held by the Women's Civic League. These simple 'drinks' are made by cutting the top off a small lemon, cutting a hole into the flesh, and shoving a peppermint stick into it. Sucking on the stick and squeezing the lemon produces a sweet, minty, lemony drink. While mostly sold at Flower Mart, throughout summer people in Baltimore will make these treats at home or at social gatherings as well.

Natty Boh

The city's locally favored beer has traditionally been National Bohemian, commonly referred to as "Natty Boh" or "National" by locals, or "Nasty Boh" by its detractors. The beer and its mascot, Mr. Boh, are traditional parts of Baltimore culture. The historically low price and association with the city make it a local favorite.

Natty Boh was 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.

The National Brewing Company was also the "inventor" of Colt 45 malt liquor in 1963.


Baltimore is divided into several vastly different neighborhoods and regions, each of which hold their own reputation on terms of their crime rates and average income, among other stereotypes. Canton, Baltimore is well known for its young, professional population, alongside its several nightclubs and comedy clubs. M&T Bank Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards are also in the Inner Harbor's vicinity, home to the Baltimore Ravens and the Baltimore Orioles.


Row Houses

Traditional rowhouses, Locust Point, Baltimore (100 0509)
Simple row houses like these in Locust Point make up much of Baltimore's housing stock.

Baltimore is noted for its near-omnipresent row houses. Row houses have been a feature of Baltimore architecture since the 1790s, with early examples of the style still standing in the Federal Hill, Locust Point and Fells Point neighborhoods. Later row houses 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", particularly when the term "town house" is used instead of "row house." Around the city, row houses can be found abandoned and boarded-up, reflective of Baltimore's urban blight.


A tour through many of Baltimore's row house 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, East Fort Avenue, Locust Point
Marble steps, East Fort Avenue, Locust Point, August 2014

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 row houses 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 a pumice stone.


See also: Baltimore accent

Baltimoreans have a distinct way of pronouncing words in the English language. Typically, many syllables are simply dropped (e.g., Annapolis becomes Napliss). The accent varies; the accent is not as noticeable when spoken by North & West Baltimoreans but is at its heaviest when spoken by East & South Baltimoreans.


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, Irvington, 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" (/ˈhʌn/, an abbreviation of "Honey") was a common informal name for someone else. It is almost always used at the end of the sentence, e.g., "how bout dem O's, Hon?"* 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 "Baldamore" or even "Balmer", and "Maryland" becomes "Murland", "Murlan", or "Merlin." Other common pronunciations include "ool", "amblance", "wooder", "warsh", "sharr or shaow", "far", "cowny", "tew", and "zinc" (oil, ambulance, water, wash, shower, fire, 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, Maryland) as well as popular phrases such as, "my (appliance) went up" (meaning died, shortened from "went up to heaven") and "dem O's" (i.e. "them O's", referring to the city's Major League Baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles).

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 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 thick East Baltimore accent: "Cawl todaey, for your free hayome showink..." ("Call today, for your free home showing") was the most memorable line from that commercial.

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

"Hon" as a trademark

In November 2010, the term "Hon" was trademarked in Baltimore by local businesswoman Denise Whiting, for use on napkins, buttons, hats and other promotional material for her restaurant, Cafe Hon. The trademark, as stated by Whiting, doesn't prevent anyone from saying "Hon", or using it in general conversation.

On November 7, 2011, Whiting held a press conference that also featured Chef Gordon Ramsay announcing that she would be relinquishing the "Hon" trademark; Ramsay stated that with Cafe Hon, "There was a level of hatred that was almost untouchable. I've never known a restaurant to have such a huge issue." The restaurant, and the press conference that was part of Ramsay's visit, was featured on the February 24, 2012 episode of Ramsay's series, Kitchen Nightmares.

Whiting stated that the controversy over trademarking the word "Hon" had a huge toll on her business and her own health, she estimated that since it was first revealed in December 2010 that "Hon" was trademarked to her, she estimated a "20 to 25 percent drop off" in sales and that she needed to sell her IRAs just to meet payroll.


Baltimore's most enduring music legacy might be in the realm of "old school" jazz where a number of natives made the big time after moving to New York City. The same zeitgeist also applies to classical minimalist composer Philip Glass, also from Baltimore and moved to NYC.

Others that would find fame in the music business from the area would include jazz-rock composer Frank Zappa, singer Ric Ocasek of The Cars, pop vocalist Mama Cass, and Talking Heads frontman David Byrne.

Baltimore Club is a locally developed style of breakbeat.

In the last decade, several local alternative/indie bands have risen to national prominence, including Beach House, Future Islands, Wye Oak, Dan Deacon.

Depiction in television and film

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Baltimore has become a prime city for filming movies and television shows.

Barry Levinson, a Baltimore native and filmmaker, made many Baltimore-based films, including: Diner, Avalon, Tin Men, and Liberty Heights. Baltimoreans are extremely fond of Levinson's movies as his actors either use a thick East Baltimore accent or the lighter West Baltimore accent.

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 The 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.

In addition to works filmed in Baltimore, the city is also home to the Maryland Film Festival, an annual film and video festival of international scope that takes place each May, using the historic Charles Theatre as its anchor venue.

In Season 4, Episode 7 of The Tracey Ullman Show, Baltimore actor, Michael Tucker, portrayed father to Ullman's JoJo. The skit was set in a Baltimore row house. Tucker advised Ullman to "take a Liverpool accent and Americanize it." Ullman nailed the accent.

Tourist attractions

  • American Dime Museum (closed February 2007)
  • American Visionary Art Museum
  • Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum
  • Baltimore Maritime Museum
  • Baltimore Museum of Art
  • Baltimore Museum of Industry
  • Baltimore Public Works Museum (closed February 2010)
  • Baltimore Streetcar Museum
  • Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • B&O Railroad Museum
  • Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church
  • Charles Theatre
  • Contemporary Museum (suspended operations in 2012)
  • Cylburn Arboretum
  • Druid Hill Park
  • Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum
  • Edgar Allan Poe's grave
  • Enoch Pratt Free Library
  • Evergreen House museum and library
  • Fells Point Historic Neighborhood
  • Fort McHenry National Monument
  • Great Blacks In Wax Museum
  • Harborplace
  • Hippodrome Theatre
  • Historic Ships in Baltimore
  • Homewood Museum
  • Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens of Baltimore
  • The Jewish Museum of Maryland
  • Lacrosse Museum and National Hall of Fame
  • Lexington Market
  • Lyric Opera House
  • Maryland Film Festival
  • Maryland Historical Society
  • Maryland Science Center
  • Maryland Zoo in Baltimore
  • Meyerhoff Symphony Hall
  • National Aquarium in Baltimore
  • National Historic Seaport Scenic Byway
  • National Museum of Dentistry
  • Patterson Park
  • Pimlico Race Course
  • Port Discovery
  • Pride of Baltimore II Clipper Ship
  • The Senator Theatre
  • Star Spangled Banner Flag House and 1812 Museum
  • Baltimore World Trade Center observation deck
  • Walters Art Museum
  • Westminster Hall and Burying Ground





See also: List of public art in Baltimore
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