Thursday, December 22, 2005

Miracle Whip On West 34th Street,
Hampden, Baltimore, Maryland

O Little Town In Baltimore...
Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light...

There is a street in Baltimore that has been over-the-top for several years now: hubcap christmas trees, crab reindeer sleighs, pink flamingos and a lot of Grinches. The community of Hampden calls it "Miracle on 34th Street," and it draws quite a crowd every Christmas season. Located in the 700 block of West 34th Street in Hampden, Baltimore, Maryland, there is a website available to give you all the facts:

CHRISTMASSTREET.COM - Hampden, Baltimore, Maryland - The Miracle On 34th Street - The Miracle Of Lights - MERRY XMAS!

Yesterday, I drove up Route 95 to take in the gaudy glory of it again. I took about 83 photographs, but I won't subject you to all of them. You can click on any image to see it in a larger format. After you've seen about twenty of these houses, your eye grows jaded with the splendor of it all:

Welcome to Baltimore

This is Cafe Hon located on Main Street in Hampden. It has an old-timey feel with home cooking on the menu. "Hon" is a word adopted by Baltimore by the nature of it's speech. John Waters, director of Pink Flamingos and other notable movies (and a native of Baltimore) once wrote an article about the waitresses in his town who called everyone "Hon," as in "Honey." In truth, everyone says "Hon" in Baltimore. It became a cult word and now there is even a "Hon Fest" held every year in Baltimore, sponsored by Cafe Hon: HonFest 2005!!

Cafe Hon's menu

A trio of Hon's. Hon's have evolved into women with huge beehived hairdo's, cat eye sunglasses, glitter, hot pink feathered boas and leopard print anything.

Including the bathroom at Cafe Hon:

As I walked the few blocks down Main Street toward the light festival, I started shooting store front windows. There seemed to be something "unique" in every one of them:

I loved this pizza shop. The neon pizza slice had this light blue steam in neon that would rise up at each interval. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to catch it on film. Hey! It was cold out there! I love the drawing of the pizza underneath it with red circles and green squiggles. Green cheese?

I wish I had tried to shoot this without the flash. It looked like a turd Christmas tree. When I stepped back a few steps to see the name of the shop above me, it looked like it said "Eat Elvis." When I stepped back even further, I could see the shop is named "Fat Elvis." I don't know which is worse. I think I prefer "Eat Elvis," myself.

Festive? No?

This was fascinating. A crab window display. For those not in this area, Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay area is know for it's natural resources of crabs. The little red lights around the window are crabs that were blinking. The crab in the center of the window photographed "solid," when it truth it was a neon piece, completely reflective in orange.

Welcome to the 700 block of West 34th Street

Baltimore does not grasp that old adage about always removing one extra piece of jewelry before you leave the house.

When I saw those inflatable Santa appear this August, I told myself, "I just know someone in Hampden is going to have that on display this year." There were many. I even saw miniature versions of them. There were some teenagers discussing this item while I was standing there. One rocket scientist offered up his opinion that the inflatable dropping "snow" down worked on the principle of "static electricity."

...and our first Grinch house. I don't know why the Grinch is so popular with these people. This is the only one I am showing you, but the inflatable showed up again and again. One house had a Grinch manger...well...several did. Note the white angel made out of bicycle wheels.

You are going to have to enlarge this one and really study it. I tried photographing it from several angles. It didn't have a good side. What you are seeing is a crab sleigh pulled by crab reindeer, also hauling Old Bay cans. For those not familiar with Old Bay, it is a spice made in Maryland and used on seafood dishes, but particularly when you are steaming crabs. I was very disappointed as this house used to always have a crab and Old Bay christmas tree and that wasn't up this year.

A side view of all of the inflatables, gee gaws and clutter that make up this spectacle.

Probably the most popular thing to see: The Hubcab Christmas Tree.

There was also a crab tree in this yard with wrenches for claws, and if you really study the can at the bottom? It's a Natty Boh (National Bohemian) beer can cut in the shape of an angel. National Bohemian. Baltimore's beer. Also, the ever present Old Bay cans.

I don't care if it rains or freezes, as long as I have my electric Jesus.

You can't see this from the angle it was shot, but the figures have these big plugs coming out of their backs. I loved the decorated palm trees next to the manger. It's Christmas? Let's get lit.

I think this was supposed to be "Teddy Bear's Picnic." The little children loved this one the best. It was in front of this display that a father told me all his little son could say was "Lights. Lights."

I hedged on putting this one in, but this woman had the most amazing hair. It was real Baltimore hair. She had this marcelled waved white strip right down the center of her head, as you can see. Later, when I was viewing this picture in editing, I realized her hair matched her coat. She actually walked into the shot and kept apologizing to me for the slip up. I told her it wasn't a problem and that any woman wearing fur was "ok" in my book.

How much can you cram into a small space? A lot, apparently, including a windmill. This was the entrance to the steps that lead up to a suspended train track that runs above your head, and a porch full of trees and toys and Santas and maybe even Jimmy Hoffa's body...I don't know. It was all there.

This one had Taz, the Tasmanian Devil on the roof.
Do not ask me. I do not know.

I threw this one in, because I was fascinated by all of the glitz combined with a chain link fence. To top off the je ne sais quoi of it all, a man hired as a butler opened the door, checking for guests, and he waved at me. This, when just a few doors down, the neighbors were having pizza delivered. Green cheese?

"Remember when I let that escaped lunatic in the house, because he was dressed like Santa Claus?" ~~ Homer Simpson. D'oh. Great house: Santa Homer, a manger, a Santa Claus, the America flag, probably some pizza in there somewhere...

Another one you might have to enlarge to "get." It had a movable Grinch that had fallen, but was actually set up to be popping out of a disproportionate manger scene, which is buried under the Grinch. Oh yeah..more Santa's, snowmen, reindeer, pizza...

You've got me. I stared at this thing for a LONG time. It was like Ma nagged at Pa to keep up with the Jones' so he ripped apart the old furnace sitting out in the back yard and got his creative juices flowing. There was a lot of stuff on the porch. I looked for a refrigerator, but didn't see one. Oh yeah...this was the only decoration in the yard.

And so you cross the road at West 34th Street to walk back to your car, and you immediately see this:

I believe! Don't you?


Blogger Velvet said...

I love the Grinch.

Are you from Baltimore? You know a lot of interesting tidbits about the city.

12:10 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

No, Velvet. Washington, D.C. born and raised. I do love Baltimore though and enjoy my visits. Leaving town the night I took these pictures, I drove right by the church with Edgar Allen Poe's grave inside the gate. I should have stopped and made that my last shot. Moments lost. Maybe I'll go back and leave an inflatable Grinch on Poe's grave site.

1:21 AM  
Blogger ThaiMex1 said...

Forty-five minutes away is such a short time for distance and yet Baltimore seems to be worlds away from WDC. OUR neighborhoods should strive to be less stuffy and get into the mood as well!

Wonderful pictures, Cube, of a fantasy neighborhood and of their residents.

7:03 AM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Hon! The pics are so dazzling that I need to put on large sunglasses and tease my hair into a big beehive. I love Charm City.

7:56 AM  
Blogger MissThi said...

For all their tackiness, and repetitive themes,
the Baltimorons seem to have it better than the folks in my neck of the woods.
There are so many inflatable snowmen, polarbears, santas, grinches, and then there are the flat or three-D lighted reindeer, trees, angels, etc that as I was driving home with one of my co-workers last night, and we approached a house down the street from me he said "Wow... I thought that block of light was a town square of something." Mind you, this was the house which also highly decorated for Halloween with similar objects, and then had the inflatable Patriot waiting for the game to start. I wonder if, for the Superbowl, they'll have the entire team on the lawn.

8:32 AM  
Anonymous John said...

Wow... just, you know, wow. I love Baltimore, and you just provided all sorts of reminders of why that is. The images were wonderful, but my favorite thing was the wonderful line: "your eye grows jaded with the splendor of it all"

8:35 AM  
Blogger Megarita said...

Excellent photos! This block started the season for me. I was very weirded out by how we all were supposed to go up on people's porches, though. I grew up in the 'burbs of NYC, and we all drove past the lights, never actually venturing out of the car. I was practically in these people's houses. Glorious, though. Baltimore's unlike any other place on the planet, hon.

8:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am inspired; haven't put up all the decorations yet. Today's the day! Our new place doesn't have a plug on the porch, so no lights for us (next year for sure).

These pics prove that you can NOT have too much Old Bay seasoning. EVER. Thanks, Hon.

Oh. And now I'm sad. The old Trio's on 17th St., N.W. is no more. Lot's of "Hon" waitresses used to work there: big big hair and bigger attitude. My Dad went in one Sunday morning, the place was crowded, and one of the Hon's admonished him; "Wait a minute, Hon, and I'll clear that table." Dad said, "No, it's OK." She glared at him and chased him away from the table. Properly put in his place, she then smiled and waved him to the table and plopped the coffee in front of him. He was delighted. When he wanted more coffee he did the Dad-thing. He took the empty cup and held in on top of his head. I was dying. Guess what: she completely understood and the cup was refilled with a smile. That's a Hon for you!

9:27 AM  
Blogger taleswapper said...

Isn't gew gaws a great word?

10:49 AM  
Blogger Momentary Academic said...

I love Baltimore so much it actually hurts.

10:57 AM  
Blogger Namaste said...

my favorite is the hubcap xmas tree!

11:03 AM  
Blogger VP of Dior said...

um, wow my eyes are burning. why is b-more so damn kitschy???

merry xmas!

11:59 AM  
Blogger Lizzie said...

The Baltimore Tourism Board should start paying you. I had never considered Baltimore a destination for anything other than Orioles games, but your blog makes me want to visit just for fun. I love the last picture by the way.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

Thai: It certainly seems less stuffy, at times, but you know I'm a loyal D.C. girl.

Reya: You should definitely try and do the Hon Fest in Baltimore. You'd love it.

Miss Thi: I am always so happy to hear from my dear friend. I miss being in Massachusetts. Can you believe? Talk to me again in February.

John: It's something, all right. I don't go every year. I wish one of those homeowners would let me do their yard one year. The sad thing about it is the lack of creativity. Most of it is very garish, yes, but there's not a lot of humor and style to it. There were so many houses I didn't even show for just that reason. It's loud, but there's not much else going for it.

Meg: It's very weird about going up on people's porches. One person had their front door open, and it was equally garish inside. A few years back, they actually had an illuminated gondola that used to rock back and forth across the road. I miss that. Wonder what happened to it?

Anon: Kathy? If that's you (and it "sounds" like you,) I agree. I'll bet you're going to have fun decorating your new home.

Tales: I love those old-timey Pshaw. :)

Academic: I hear ya. I was so hoping an Arabber was going to be present on the street this year (they usually are), but I think I got there too early to see one. If you don't know what an Arabber is, folks:

Namaste: It's easily the most popular thing on the street. I like that and I miss the crab/Old Bay Christmas tree that used to be next to it.

VP: It just is, VP. Always has been. They thrive in it.

Lizzie: I try to go and Baltimore whenever I can. They have some wonderful art exhibits going right now: a Russian icon exhibit at the Walters Art Museum called "Sacred Arts and City Life," and the Baltimore Museum of Art has a Henry Ossawa Tanner exhibit. He was a famous African-American painter (most famous painting: The Banjo Player). Bill Cosby owns a lot of his work. Wish I could afford it. He did this wonderful painting of the Ascension where rather than having the angel in realistic form, he used a shaft of light. I've actually written about him before, so I definitely want to make this exhibit in the next few weeks.

1:49 PM  
Blogger Chairborne Stranger said...

Cube-that post was awesome! It was like I was in baltimore for Christmas-holy cow, you rock, girl! I loved the TP under the tree, and the hubcap tree. I think that furnace creature started out as a reindeer, but Pa forgot the antlers?LOL Anyway-your creativity alwasy amazes-how the heck do you get so many pictures on that blog? Lol

2:38 PM  
Anonymous drew said...

There are neighborhoods elsewhere in the outskirts of the District. As a Baltimore suburb, I imagine Ellicot City generally has just as much tastelessness... um, sorry... I mean ENTHUSIASM as Hampton. I don't get out there as much.

My brother amuses me with his reflections on the houses in Pimmit Hills, VA (Fairfax County between Tysons Corner and Falls Church). I haven't been out there this year, but last year it was a close contender. SLIGHTLY bigger yards, but no less "enthusiasm". They just decorate with BIGGER stuff in a bigger space.

Ah -- but I remember fondly Fort Lauderdale Christmas decorations. They would roll out insulation across their lawns, roofs and over the tops of shrubs to pretend like they were having a "white Christmas".

I'm not bah-humbug about decorations. I rather appreciate them, generally. I have just a basic roof-line lined with basic clear rope lighting and a rather prominent shrub in the front with the clear mesh-lights. I relish the dignity of a lesser display as much as the extreme efforts of the gleefully garrish.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Jamy said...

You had me laughing out loud several times. Thanks for this!

4:55 PM  
Blogger Stef said...

These are great! I definitely need to plan a visit to Baltimore soon. I'll miss the crab trees and all those Grinches, but I do want to see some of the exhibits you mentioned and visit the Walters. I really should get up there more often!

9:39 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

CS: Glad you liked it. I hope to get out more in the coming year to Washington's off center neighborhoods and do walk throughs. If I don't get shot or mugged, it could be interesting.

Drew: You had told me about that place in VA, but I never got over there. Good to hear from you.

Jamy: THANK YOU. I wanted people to laugh during this last stressful week.

Stef: I definitely want to see both of those exhibits, and I'll probably have to do it in two trips. I strongly recommend the Walters to people with small children, especially little boys, as they have a fantastic armor collection including bludgeoning tools and swords as big as a man that fascinate kids.

10:31 AM  
Blogger Lonnie Bruner said...

My wife lived in Baltimore for seven years and saw at least three car-jackings outside her bedroom window. And she never met one male who hadn't been mugged at least twice.

Don't romanticize Baltimore too much. It's lovely, but makes DC look like Columbus, Ohio.

1:41 AM  
Blogger Wicked H said...

Good Job...HON!!!

Born in Balto.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Serena said...

I forgot all about Hampden this year. I love that place!

12:36 PM  
Blogger Rhinestone Cowgirl said...

That's so funny... I was at the Hon the day before you were. :) I LOVE Hampden!

10:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i moved from baltimore this summer and looking at these pictures i was able to enjoy the mircle of 34th street again! thank you for bringing back the child in me! the lights are amazing in person and i remember going there for the last 10years and its an experience:)

11:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i moved from baltimore this summer and looking at these pictures i was able to enjoy the mircle of 34th street again! thank you for bringing back the child in me! the lights are amazing in person and i remember going there for the last 10years and its an experience:)

11:26 PM  
Anonymous starr8343 said...

i'm from baltimore md and christmas would not be christmas without goin to 34th street i've lived in crisfield md now for the pass 5 years but every christmas season i have to go back and see my city again thanks for all the good times

2:48 PM  

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