Category Archives: Maryland

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

A friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years was coming to Baltimore. Her only tourist request was to see Edgar Allan Poe-related spots. We only had a few hours before her conference started, so the challenge was to put together a 3-hour tour (one that did not strand us on the island). The Poe House is closed until May 2015, so that left the graveyard at Westminster Hall and possibly areas around Fells Point.

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death 
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

I knew of another delightfully macabre site not far from Westminster Hall, which I thought might make for a fun surprise, and asked for a tour. And so it was that early one Saturday morning we arrived at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for a tour of the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. (Note to self – you should probably tell people why you are taking them to the ME’s office in advance.)

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Bruce Goldfarb, Special Assistant to the Medical Examiner, graciously agreed to provide a tour on his day off. The Nutshells are miniatures of crime scenes – essentially dollhouses of death – created in the 1940s by Frances Glessner Lee. She’s one of the founders of forensic science. Each scene shows a corpse in situ and students are expected to deduce if the death is homicide, suicide, accidental, or natural. The answers to the cases are closely guarded and only a few have ever read them.

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

The 18 diorama dollhouses include barns, bedrooms, living rooms, apartment buildings, suburban homes, a bar, an attic, and more, all done on a 1-inch to 1-foot scale. The craftsmanship and attention to detail are unbelievable, from printed newspapers to blood-spatter and buckshot camouflaged on patterned wallpaper to working light fixtures. The windows open, clothes are aged, and shoes just sitting in a closet are hand-beaded.

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Glessner created the scenes to train investigators how to study a room. In addition to the Nutshells, she also created models of bullet wounds – showing the impact on flesh using various distances and calibers. She used her substantial inheritance to not only create these teaching tools, but she also helped fund the creation of a Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard University. It was there the Nutshells were used until the department was disbanded in 1966. They then moved to Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore. They are still used to train investigators.

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Highly recommended for lovers of that wondrous combination of history, art, and the macabre. Baltimoreans, next time you have an out-of-town guest, take them here instead of Café Hon.

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death
Office of the Chief Medical Examiner
900 W. Baltimore Street, Baltimore, MD 21223
Phone: 410-333-3225
Website: http://welcometobaltimorehon.com/places/museumsattractions/the-nutshell-studies-of-unexplained-death
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Nutshell-Studies-of-Unexplained-Death
Documentary: http://www.ofdollsandmurder.com/
Admission: Free
Hours: Call for tour

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Bookish History in Baltimore

Geo-Poe
Geo-Poe

Geo-Poe

Tomorrow night, Next Edit Travel’s editors will be reading their Edgar Allan Poe-inspired stories as part of Geo-Poe, a “literary geo-caching adventure.” Fourteen well-known local authors will read at Westminster Hall, a spot that has been called the spookiest place in Baltimore, and the site of Poe’s grave.

It is a free event as part of Free Fall Baltimore and in partnership with Poe Baltimore, you just need to register.

Where: Westminster Hall, 519 W. Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD 21201
When: Wednesday, October 29, 7:00 p.m.
Website: http://citylitproject.org/index.cfm?page=news&newsid=150

If you are in the city to visit Poe’s grave and other literary landmarks, there are many additional bookish spots worthy of your attention. Here are a few:

Kelmscott Books

Baltimore’s largest antiquarian bookseller is located at 34 W. 25th Street (near Charles and 25th Streets) on what was once “Bookstore Row.” The name of the store is a nod to William Morris and it specializes in Arts and Crafts-related books, including books about books. With 30,000 books in inventory – from the 1600s to present – the shop offers many temptations for the bibliophile. I found an affordable signed mystery just last week. The store also has genuine bookstore cats who provide security and greet customers.

Kelmscott Bookstore Cat of Awesomeness
Kelmscott Bookstore Cat of Awesomeness

Hours: Monday-Friday, 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m., Saturday by appointment only.
Website: http://www.kelmscottbookshop.com/

The Enoch Pratt Free Library

The Enoch Pratt Free Library began serving the citizens of Baltimore in 1886, making it one of the oldest free public library systems in the U.S. The Central Library, located at 400 Cathedral Street (near Cathedral and Mulberry Streets), is also Maryland’s State Library Resource Center. It is a beautiful building with an open floor plan in the entryway that extends to galleries on the second floor. They offer patrons a children’s room, exhibits (Maurice Sendak is up now), classes for kids and adults, author events, and special collections. The library also hosts the annual City Lit Festival in April. Next time you are in there, explore the building.

Hours: Monday-Friday 10:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m., Saturday 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Sun. 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. (October-May)
Website: http://www.prattlibrary.org/

 The Peabody Library

The Peabody Library is near the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon (17 East Mount Vernon Place). Started in 1860, a few decades before the Enoch Pratt Library, the Peabody’s collection of more than 300,000 books is mostly from the 18th and 19th century with a focus on the humanities, as well as maps. Much of their collection is online, including the library’s printed catalog, Catalog of the Library of the Peabody Institute, from 1883 and 1896. If you like books, this is an incredibly beautiful space.

Hours: Tuesday -Thursday: 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Friday: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. 
Website: http://guides.library.jhu.edu/content.php?pid=205178&sid=1712833

Daytrips From Baltimore: Cross Island Trail / Blackwater Distillery

Cross Island Trail
Cross Island Trail

Many bicyclists thrive on adrenaline-fueled treks across rocky or wooded terrain, or long-distance hauls of a hundred miles or more. Not me. While I do not shun physical exertion or breaking a sweat, I’m a walker, not a runner; my workaday life offers enough white-knuckle adventure for my taste. Come the weekend, I prefer pedaling through nature at a more leisurely pace. Maryland’s Kent Island – just east of the Bay Bridge (Route 50), about an hour’s drive south of Baltimore – provides just that. (En route, Wawa store #569, off Route 50 Exit 29A, makes an ideal pit stop, offering clean restrooms, reasonably priced fuel, food ranging from prepared sandwiches to fresh fruit to every kind of processed junk, and, of course, top-notch coffee.)

Cross Island Trail
Cross Island Trail
Lunch from Wawa
Lunch from Wawa

Unlike some of the state’s more congested bike trails, Kent Island’s Cross Island Trail, an east-west route running between Stevensville and Kent Narrows, is never crowded. The paved six-mile asphalt trail is open to skating, walking, running, and biking. Its consistently flat terrain makes it ideal for families with young children, older users looking to avoid high-traffic areas, and anyone simply out to enjoy the scent of salt air and the island’s towering pines.

Cross Island Trail
Cross Island Trail

We favor setting out from Terrapin Nature Park, at the Trail’s western terminus, as the Chesapeake Exploration Center, at the eastern end, makes for an excellent mid-ride break (more on that later). A playground near Kent Island High School, about a mile out, is a welcome pit stop for small children. Farther along, the Trail wends its way through alternating patches of forest and wetlands. Use caution at the handful of highway crossings; while many drivers will stop to allow trail-users to pass, some do not.

Cross Island Trail, crab spider hard at work
Cross Island Trail, crab spider hard at work
Panorama view from the top of Chesapeake Exploration Center
Panorama view from the top of Chesapeake Exploration Center

Upon reaching Kent Narrows, grab your water and snacks and climb the spiral stairs of the three-story outdoor observation platform at the aforementioned Exploration Center for a marvelous view of the Narrows, the Chester River, and their attendant varieties of marine traffic. Downstairs, visit the indoor interpretive center, offering all manner of island life and history ranging from the ice age to recent work by local artisans (not to mention very clean restrooms). The friendly staff will be happy to chat and answer any questions.

Chesapeake Exploration Center
Chesapeake Exploration Center
Chesapeake Exploration Center
Chesapeake Exploration Center
Chesapeake Exploration Center
Chesapeake Exploration Center

Of approximately equal length, the nearby South Island Trail, running from Matapeake Park to Romancoke Pier, provides a north-south alternative to the Cross Island Trail. However, but for the fishing pier at its southern end, this trail features little else of interest, especially for children.

Trail near Chesapeake Exploration Center
Trail near Chesapeake Exploration Center
Trail near Chesapeake Exploration Center
Trail near Chesapeake Exploration Center

While there is no charge for using either trail, it should be noted that, in 2014, Queen Anne’s County instituted paid permit parking for public spots like Matapeake Beach and Terrapin Nature Park. Seasonal ($35) and daily ($5) permits are available, however, they must be purchased from certain local businesses, which may or may not be open during park hours. While I have no problem paying a fee, especially if it benefits trail maintenance and patrols, having onsite purchase points would be infinitely more convenient and practical.

Baby Horseshoe Crab, Chesapeake Exploration Center
Baby Horseshoe Crab, Chesapeake Exploration Center

***

Situated in the unassuming office park just across the street from the entrance to Terrapin Nature Park is Blackwater Distilling, makers of the fabulously smooth Sloop Betty vodka. Maryland’s first fully-licensed distillery in more than 40 years, Blackwater offers free tours and tastings Friday through Sunday. Staples like Sloop Betty Honey utilize local, organic ingredients, while the distillery also produces various seasonal infusions throughout the year.

No bathtub hooch, Sloop Betty has won three Gold Medals, including the Gold Medal and “Best in Show” distinction at the New York World Wine & Spirit Competition, while The Tasting Panel magazine awarded the vodka a 94-point rating in its July 2011 issue. So take a bottle home, and keep your drinking money local!

WAWA STORE #569
321 Buschs Frontage Road, Annapolis, MD 21401
Hours: Open 24 hours
Phone: (410) 757-2328

CHESAPEAKE EXPLORATION CENTER
425 Piney Narrows Road, Chester, MD 21619
Hours: Open year-round 7 days/week (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day and Easter); Monday – Friday 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., weekends 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Phone: (410) 604-2100
Admission: Free
Web: http://www.baygateways.net/general.cfm?id=74

BLACKWATER DISTILLING
184 Log Canoe Circle, Stevensville, MD 21666
Hours: Free tours offered Friday – Sunday, 12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Phone: (443) 249-3123
Email: akeller@blackwaterdistilling.com
Web: http://www.blackwaterdistilling.com/
F
acebookhttps://www.facebook.com/BlackwaterDistilling