Greenbelt, Maryland and Baltimore

7/29/11 – North of DC is the planned community of Greenbelt, MD. It was built by the Roosevelt administration during the Great Depression. Eleanor Roosevelt took a special interest in it and visited several times. The town was built for unemployed workers from large urban slums. People had to apply to get in and it was considered a very desirable place for poor people to live. Roosevelt was sharply criticized for these few experiments in urban planning for being socialistic. The original library was built in a community center which still stands today with wonderful bas-relief sculpture on the outside. The contemporary library was built in the the 1970s and had a brutal exterior. Walker and I later had a long discussion on why a trained architect would design such a building, especially since it is surrounded by wonderful art-deco architecture and art. We stopped by the New Deal Cafe where I bought a great t-shirt. Later, as we reached Baltimore the temperature hit 104 degrees and the humidity was off the charts. We linger in our AC motel unwilling to face the heat one more time. Finally, we dragged ourselves downtown to the Enoch Pratt Free Library. This large urban library turned out to be another gem. I spent an hour and a half happily running from floor to floor. I first scouted out sites with my small digital camera. Then I was more efficient photographing with my large, heavy 4X5 camera and tripod. After the library closed I photographed the interesting Orleans Street branch library. We then went to the famous Baltimore landmark O’Brickies for some excellent seafood. Baltimore is another fascinating East Coast working-class city. We were warned how dangerous it was but we found it to be a vital, dynamic community. It is true that it filled with eccentrics and artists. Any town that is home to Edgar Allen Poe and John Waters has to be an original. It was refreshing to see it successfully reinventing itself. After a quick after-dinner walk in the heat by the harbor we end the evening changing film and blogging.

7/30/11 – The Main library in Baltimore had so much that I decided to return again this morning. On the way we stopped at the Canton branch library. It too is an unexpected gem and the librarian explained that this is one of the oldest branch libraries in the United States. Enoch Pratt, the philanthropist who endowed the Baltimore Library system took special interest in this branch. Later, I photographed several of the special areas in the Main Library including the Chess Room, the jazz sheet music collection and the computer room. I wanted to photograph in the Edgar Allen Poe Room but is was completely booked with various groups during the time I was there. We moved on to Wilmington, Delaware where I photographed the grand but poor Main Library. Downtown Wilmington seemed very nice but the park in front of the library seemed to be a center for the poor, the homeless and the crazies. I wondered how this city worked. We drove north to Darby, PA which is a poor, family-centered, African-American community outside of Philadelphia. Founded  in 1743 the Darby Free Library claimed to be the oldest library in the nation. Tragically, it recently closed due to budget cuts. However, when we arrived it seemed open again although not on this Saturday. We ended our day by driving into the fascinating city of Philadelphia. The outlying neighborhoods were richly diverse. We drove by a park filled with African women wearing burkas next to a Vietnamese restaurant. After checking in to our hotel Walker and I gladly left our car parked and used public transportation to explore this incredible city. We ate dinner at Ginos which is one of the Philadelphia’s famous Philly Cheese Steak places. Walker got his with Cheeze Wiz. I couldn’t  handle that and went for the pork sandwich instead. We gradually realized this place is owned by a Glen Beck favorite, Joey Vento. Patriotic music was blaring over he loudspeaker and the Marine Corps Hymn keeps playing over and over while we eat. It would almost have been funny if it weren’t so creepy. We learned later that Vento had been accused of having mafia connections too. We got out of there ASAP and walked

through the evening heat on the streets of Philadelphia. Walker takes me over to historic Library Hall. I feel a deep patriotic emotion here having just crossed the country and having been to our nation’s capitol. It is interesting to contrast my emotions with the cheesy, immigrant-bashing, hyper patriotism of Joey Vento. Walker and I love this city but see some of its complexity as well. We drove to the airport and pick up my wife Ellen Manchester. She will join us for the rest of the trip.

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