For many of us, the past 364 days didn’t add up to a great year. This year was rife with stories about political chaos, obituaries for celebrities who left us too soon, ongoing violence in Baltimore and abroad, divisive police-involved incidents and court rulings, more political chaos and plenty else. But a freakshow year like this one also gave us plenty to laugh (or least smirk) about as we pondered the present and the future. Much of the humor produced by 2016 was dark, but sometimes that mixture of doom and laughter is exactly what people need to get by. With that in mind, we give you our most-read stories from 2016.
Ed Gunts – Johns Waters Briefly Hospitalized, Misses His Own Christmas Party – Dec. 27, 2016
Impressively enough, Ed Gunts’ scoop on a health scare for beloved Baltimore filmmaker and author John Waters garnered the largest number of views of any story, despite being published with only four days left in 2o16. In case you somehow haven’t read, Waters was hospitalized with a case of kidney stones after returning from an 18-city comedy tour. His ailment caused him to miss his own Christmas Party on Dec. 23. As one guest put it, “It was a very weird Friday evening, a John Waters party without John.”
It’s likely that rash of celebrity deaths in 2016 prompted the enormous level of interest from Baltimore Fishbowl’s readers. Heralded gossip outlets (if such a label exists) and international tabloids, including Page Six of The New York Post and The Daily Mail (U.K.), picked up the story.
If it did cause any hysteria, it was probably blown out of proportion. “I am fine,” Waters wrote to Ed in an email after his hospital stay, adding, “It’s a new concept in home entertainment — the host doesn’t show up.”
Stephen Babcock — SNL’s Kate McKinnon Trying Her Best Baltimore Accent with Sturdy Barbie – Feb. 8, 2016
Everyone in Baltimore loves to see things that are so Baltimore appear in pop culture. As Steve wrote in February, the world got to see one of those Charm City traits, the “Bawlmer” accent, on full display on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Edition” segment, courtesy of Kate McKinnon.
McKinnon showed up on the fake news segment playing “Sturdy Barbie,” who didn’t make the cut for toy maker Mattel’s reboot of the Barbie collection. Here’s a good blue-collar quote from Sturdy Barbie’s appearance: “No, I’m not playing astronaut, I’m not playing veterinarian; I am – for real – clocking 60 hours a week behind the lost baggage desk at Bawlmer International Airport. And this year, I got dental and vision!”
To truly understand it, you’ll have to watch it for yourself.
Ed Gunts – New Building at MICA, Starbucks in Rodgers Forge, Rehab for Lion Bros. Building – Aug. 22, 2016
Ed’s weekly development recap from mid-August informed the world of the Maryland Insitute College of Art’s plans to erect a brand new five-story building in place of a historic three-story one in Bolton Hill. The original structure was built in 1914 and once housed an auto shop known as the Dolphin Radiator and Fender Works. MICA acquired the building in the early 1960s and used it as a center for its printmaking department until it moved to another spot on Mount Royal Avenue. The school got the OK to demolish it and start anew last year when the Baltimore Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation determined that the structure could no longer be a “contributing building” to the Bolton Hill historic district.
Rachel Monroe — Crazy Tourists From Chicago Jump in the Inner Harbor — July 18, 2016
In one of the more laughable travesties in Baltimore from 2016, a group of young tourists jumped into the Baltimore Harbor because they thought that was an acceptable and safe thing to do. The footage of the young visitors from Chicago taking a dip in the highly polluted waterway went viral. As Rachel noted, there’s a semblance of a chance that the harbor could be clean enough to swim in by 2020, thanks to the efforts of local watershed nonprofits. However, recent grades for the waterway indicate that its fecal matter and trash concentrations are far too high for anyone to advise jumping in for a swim.
Rachel Monroe — Westboro Baptist Church Coming to Baltimore Next Week — March 30, 2016
The hate-breeding Westboro Baptist Church has the unique ability to inspire the public to dislike its congregation more than the congregants dislike everything else in the world. The church, known for protesting military funerals and preaching about all LGBT-identifying humans being Hell-bound, decided to protest against Northeast Baltimore’s Archbishop Curley High School, Loyola University Maryland, the Catholic High of Baltimore and, in a separate turn, the Eastern Regional Climate Preparedness Conference, held on April 6 in the Inner Harbor. Their motivation was some mix of hatred for Catholics, hatred for the LGBT community, and hatred for science showing weather patterns shifting due to human activity.
Ed Gunts – Baltimore Lands Large Convention After Cancellation in North Carolina – April 20, 2016
Speaking of LGBT-related controversies, the stink generated by North Carolina’s passage of a law that legalizes discrimination against transgender and gay residents has twice benefitted Baltimore this year. The first time around, the nonprofit Community Transportation Association of America, decided to move its planned June 2018 conference from Raleigh to the Baltimore Convention Center to protest the controversial “Bathroom Bill,” known more officially as House Bill 2. The D.C.-based nonprofit’s decision is set to bring a major boon to Baltimore City in 2018, with over 1,000 people scheduled to book more than 2,500 “room nights” and spend an estimated $1.7 million here.
This week, another group – the Business History Conference – also decided to relocate its 2018 meeting from North Carolina to Baltimore. That conference, originally scheduled to take place in Charlotte, is set to bring another 350 tourists who will spend an estimated $120,000 on lodging, according to the group’s secretary-treasurer.
Marion Winik – I Served on a Baltimore City Jury and I Don’t Feel That Great About It – Feb. 10, 2016
In February, monthly columnist and University of Baltimore writing professor Marion Winik spent the better part of a week serving on a Baltimore City Circuit Court jury. The case involved a suspected drug dealer accused of selling crack cocaine outside the Douglass Homes projects in East Baltimore. Marion’s account of the four-day experience offers an immersive level of detail from the case and a poignant reflection on the delivery of the verdict. Without spoiling the ending, we’ll give you this snippet:
The defendant took off his glasses and wiped away a tear when he heard the verdict. His mother and brother in the back row, identifiable because they looked exactly like him, didn’t show much emotion, at least right then. All the jurors tore off to collect their last $15 daily payment, meant to cover expenses, and that was it. The slingers went back to their slinging, and the undercover cops went back to their unmarked cars and their “binos,” (cop for binoculars), and the prosecutor probably went somewhere to take down her bun and order a double martini.
Robert O’Brien — Towson White Student Union Founder in Altercation at Trump Rally – March 4, 2016
It wouldn’t be a 2016 recap without some racial controversy tied to our newest incoming president. In 2011 and 2012, Matthew Heimbach was a student at Towson University leading white nationalist student groups, one of which was dubbed the “White Student Union.” This year, Robert O’Brien noted that Heimbach made the news again as one of the Donald Trump supporters seen shoving a black protester at a rally in Kentucky. While it’s always interesting to see what local newsmakers go on to do, this one wasn’t very pleasant, nor was it surprising.
Ed Gunts — Historic Emerson Mansion, built by Bromo-Seltzer Inventor, Goes to Auction – May 4, 2016
In another one of his widely read weekly recaps, Ed Gunts wrote about the then-pending June auction for the famous Captain Isaac Emerson’s historic mansion at 2500 Eutaw Place. Emerson built an early entrepreneurial empire in Baltimore after inventing Bromo-Seltzer, a treatment for heartburn. He lived from 1859 to 1931, and in his lifetime changed Baltimore’s landscape by building the Bromo-Seltzer tower and accompanying factory on Eutaw Street, as well as the Emerson Hotel at Calvert and Baltimore streets and the Emersonian apartments in Reservoir Hill.
His mansion in the Reservoir Hill neighborhood sold on June 9 for $460,000, according to the web listing from A. J. Billig & Co. Auctioneers.
Laurel Peltier – This Baltimore Alley Makeover Should Be On HGTV – Sept. 15, 2016
Environmental writer Laurel Peltier’s September story about a vibrant makeover of an East Baltimore alley rounds out our top 10 recap. In a showing of community strength, local leader Robbyn Lewis (appointed today by the governor himself to join the House of Delegates in January) joined up with her neighbors and organizers from the Waterfront Partnership to turn a drab alley into a walking work of art. Dozens from her Patterson Park community pitched in on the effort, and artists John Collins, Briget Cimino and Adam Stab painted a series of murals in the alley to truly transform it.
In its renewed state, the alley serves as reminder to passersby and residents about the importance of properly tossing trash in the right receptacle and doing one’s part to conserve the city’s waterways. After all, as Laurel noted in her column GreenLaurel, everything that flows through Baltimore’s alleys ends up in the storm drains, many of which lead to the harbor.