The Washington Post

Equal Opportunity Enjoyment

No Maryland-related object is trivial in the eyes of the MdHS

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s camp chair combines two of MdHS’ passions: the Civil War and furniture.

The Maryland Historical Society doesn’t play favorites. For every blue-chip artifact — like the original 1814 draft of “The Star Spangled Banner” — the Baltimore museum presents a lesser-known side of the story. Joseph Hopper Nicholson gets good play, for instance; he’s the guy who made a hit single out of brother-in-law Francis Scott Key’s poem by setting it to music. (An existing tune, not his own.) Such sons and daughters of the Free State, and their belongings, are the true stars of the MdHS.

Main Attraction: Maryland was one of the few slave states that didn’t join the Confederacy during the Civil War. But Southern sympathy ran hot, and Baltimore wasn’t thrilled to be occupied by Union forces. Thus “Divided Voices,” a brutal account of Maryland’s identity crisis during the War of Northern Aggression. Or the War Against Slavery. Or the “Late Unpleasantness,” a euphemism of the time that obviates semantic debate. One of the less-morbid (yes, less) items on view is the war’s first blood, shed when Baltimoreans attacked Union troops on April 19, 1861, and captured forever on a shred of fabric.

Best of the Rest: “Furniture in Maryland Life” is 4,000 square feet of relaxing nonviolence. The layout suggests a zoo where rare chair breeds live in harmony with modern living room sets. Antiquers and narcissists will enjoy gazing at/into the silver collection, “Served in Style.” In “Nipper’s Toyland,” one learns the Ouija board was invented in Maryland and that porcelain dolls’ eyes follow you no matter what state they’re from. Our experience was enhanced by John Wilkes Booth ranting nearby — costumed actors guide tours and perform on Saturdays and Sundays.

Upcoming: A free holiday open house on Dec. 1; the bicentennial of the War of 1812.

Gift Shop: Mostly books. Buy a place in Maryland history instead, by doing something memorable.

Maryland Historical Society,  201 W. Monument St., Baltimore; Wed.-Sun., $4-$6; 410-685-3750. Take MARC from Union Station to Camden or Penn stations, then light rail to Centre Street.
Holly J. Morris is Express' managing editor for features.



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