The cover of Kathy MacMillan's book "Super Cities! Baltimore: The Awesome Inner Harbor, Crabs, Orioles, Ravens, and More!"
The cover of Kathy MacMillan's book "Super Cities! Baltimore: The Awesome Inner Harbor, Crabs, Orioles, Ravens, and More!"

After 19 years of living in Baltimore, 10 of them spent covering the city streets on a bicycle (my only mode of transportation during that time), and seven moves across the city’s neighborhoods, I didn’t think there was much left for me to discover about Charm City. Even so, I’d be hard-pressed to compile an exhaustive list of everything that makes our city the greatest. Kathy MacMillan’s done some of the work for us in Super Cities! Baltimore. I sat down to read the book with my six-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Mila, who constantly reminds me that the things we “grown-ups” take for granted could be small revelations if only we’d step out of the world-weary places where our minds dwell.

When Super Cities! Baltimore arrived in our mailbox, the first thing that drew Mila’s attention was the Chessie pedal boat on the front cover (do they still live in the Inner Harbor? I promised to take her on a ride, if so). She called it a dragon, so a short account of the sightings of the fabled Chesapeake Bay sea monster was in order (thank you, Wikipedia). On the back cover, she discovered other familiarities, like the googly-eyed Mr. Trash Wheel (“And then there’s also Professor Trash Wheel,” she informed me) and an illustration of an orange snowball in a Styrofoam cup with melted marshmallow topping. 

We settled in with the book, and I began by reading the full title and the subtitle (Super Cities! Baltimore: The Awesome Inner Harbor, Crabs, Orioles, Ravens, and More!), to which Mila replied, sounding a bit concerned, “That’s a lot to say.” The next fact that elicited a “Wow!” was Baltimore’s population by numbers (576,498). On the other hand, the city’s founding date, 1729, didn’t seem to leave much of an impression, as it was found to be “not too long ago.” What was exciting, though, were the numerous exclamation points and spotting and pointing them out throughout the text. The infamous Male/Female sculpture that hangs over Penn Station also got an incredulous “Wow, that’s tall!” comment for its massive 51-foot tall, 14-ton frame. We both concurred with MacMillan: Baltimore is anything but boring.

Kathy MacMillan, author of "Super Cities! Baltimore: The Awesome Inner Harbor, Crabs, Orioles, Ravens, and More!"
Kathy MacMillan, author of “Super Cities! Baltimore: The Awesome Inner Harbor, Crabs, Orioles, Ravens, and More!”

We studied the maps of Baltimore City, its location within Maryland and the United States, and Mila wanted to know where Serbia was on that map (it’s where I’m from and a place she’s been visiting since infancy). She observed that the United States was a big country and that Baltimore looked small in comparison, and she wanted to know, “Is our country one of the biggest countries?” I knew the answer to that one without having to look it up; this is not always the case with some of the pointed questions that come up during a random Tuesday 7:30 a.m. commute to school.

Next, we looked at portraits of the men involved in naming Baltimore. Upon seeing Sir George Calvert, Mila commented, “He actually looks a little silly.” In his profile picture, Lord Baltimore sports an enormous ruff, a long, pointed goatee, and a mustache slightly upturned at the corners, leaving me no choice but to agree with her. But when I asked her to clarify what was silly about him, I realized she was commenting on his overly serious expression rather than his old-fashioned looks. I also learned something in this section: The word Baltimore is an English adaptation of the Irish phrase baile an thí mhóir e, meaning “town of the big house.”

While reading up on the history of Baltimore, from the “Early Days” and “Colonial and Revolutionary Times” to “Baltimore at War” and “Immigrants and More War,” Mila wondered aloud, “Why is there so much about the war?” I explained that it was all part of Baltimore’s history but quickly realized that this was one of those instances where a one-sentence answer would just not suffice. On the “Baltimore Civil Rights Milestones” pages, she made the connection between the 1955 Read’s Drug Stores sit-ins in downtown Baltimore (which ended the segregation policy for all of Read’s 300-plus lunch counters) and the famous 1960 Greensboro sit-ins she learned about in kindergarten. “We want desegregated,” she told me, gesturing to show me the difference between the two, with her fists apart for segregated and fists together for desegregated. 

“[The book] is good. It has all this stuff about Baltimore. You get to learn about new things, and learning about new things is fun,” Mila told me as we made our way through Super Cities! Baltimore. I was reminded of the special places in Baltimore that I hadn’t shared with her yet. We began compiling a list of sites to visit and explore, like giving duckpin bowling a go at the Patterson Bowling Center, the oldest duckpin bowling alley in the country [Editor’s note: The nearly century-old bowling alley closed last year, but a new, smaller version is slated to open.], checking out the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower, and riding the Water Taxi around Baltimore’s waterfront neighborhoods. The last idea was met with particular excitement as she’s been a transportation enthusiast since first riding the tram in Belgrade, Serbia, in her toddlerhood. We also reflected on the Baltimore we recognized, like the Fells Point neighborhood, where we sometimes get gelato, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which we enjoy for their family concerts. And after reading about it in Super Cities! Baltimore, we recognized the Phoenix Shot Tower while driving around the city, which prompted Mila’s thoughtful suggestion of carrying the book around as a guide while traveling around the city so we could learn about all there is to see and do.

“You’re my hon,” Mila told me as we learned “How to Speak Baltimore” through comic-book-style speech bubbles. Baltimore essentials downy ocean, wooder (MacMillan: “What you warsh with: water.”), and zink (MacMillan: “Where you warsh with the wooder—in the sink.”) were all met with giggles. Another Baltimore classic, the lemon peppermint stick, received a nod (“I’ve had that before” and “I want to make that”) while reading about snowballs brought about the decision to get the skylite flavor the next time we go to a snowball stand because “I want to make my tongue blue!” The cute animal photos in the “It’s Alive! Animals in Baltimore” and “We Saw it at the Zoo” sections caused an eruption of what can only be described as cutesy sounds. 

We made a break while reading about Baltimore sports to do the Ray Lewis dance (also taught as part of Baltimore’s kindergarten curriculum). Speaking of the Ravens, “Spooky Sights” was Mila’s favorite section because the photos of the Westminster Burying Ground, Edgar Allan Poe’s grave, the Curtis Creek Ship Graveyard, and Elijah Bond’s Ouija Board Grave made it all look “like it was from 800 million hundred years ago.” I was delighted by some of the new-to-me “Baltimore Firsts,” like the first publicly supported symphony orchestra in the world (BSO), the first natural gas lights in the U.S. (1816 at the Peale Museum, and 1817 for the nation’s first gas streetlight), and the first electric streetcar in the U.S. (the North Avenue-to-Hampden line in 1885). At the end of the book, there are suggestions for day trips from Baltimore to places nearby, many of them historic. “I’m going to be a part of history,” Mila proclaimed after reviewing these. We also made some notes for possible future camping trip locations, like Cunningham Falls in Thurmont, Maryland.

“I basically liked all of the book,” Mila told me after we’d finished reading. “It felt like I was really there.” 

Ana Preger Hart is a bilingual writer and educator. She was born and raised (mostly) in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and now lives in her adoptive home of Baltimore.