Named after the English Queen Henrietta Maria of France, Maryland, in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States of America, is one of the smallest yet one of the most densely populated states in the nation. Regarded as the birthplace of America’s religious freedom, the state is known to be a fine mix of everything – mountains and oceans, historic and contemporary, urban and rural.
The historical Annapolis city is the state capital while Baltimore is the largest as well as the most famous city among tourists.
Maryland shares its borders with Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Virginia, West Virginia, and Delaware.
Also known as the Chesapeake Bay state and the Free State, Maryland also offers accessibility to the Appalachian Mountains, the Eastern Shore, and of course, the Chesapeake Bay.
Though the state is known to have all possible diversities to be found in the country, and, hence, also often known as the “America in Miniature”, there is a lot in Maryland that is unknown to the usual travelers. Below are some of the hidden gems in Maryland that, undoubtedly, deserve our attention and appreciation.
1. Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, Baltimore
A one-woman mission to change the future of forensic science, Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death is a collection of 18 perfect murder scene miniature replicas painstakingly created by Mrs. Frances Glessner Lee, a Chicago socialite.
Lee took inspiration from George Burgess Magrath, her brother’s classmate and the future Chief ME of Suffolk County, and reportedly was the motivation behind the popular American crime drama series, Murder, she wrote, by Jessica Fletcher.
Lee played a significant role in establishing the Harvard Department of Legal Medicine, however, the Nutshell dioramas are by far considered as her greatest achievement. The replicas cover minute details of every murder scene – bullet-holes, miniature corpses, overturned cups, and so on.
The models were acquired by the Maryland Medical School after Lee’s death in 1962 and are still used as training tools.
2. Forest Haven Asylum, Fort Meade
Established in 1925, Forest Haven Asylum was intended to be a loving and caregiving community for children with special needs. Patients at the center were encouraged to participate in developmental projects and learn job skills that not only gave them a sense of empowerment but also the ability to push their limits.
For the first few decades, Fort Haven was a haven in the true sense, but, when the funds stopped flowing in and cutbacks resulted in professional caregivers to be substituted by untrained employees, the sprawling establishment started digressing rapidly.
Children were not only abused physically and sexually but, many died due to medical neglect and related concerns. The bodies were passed down the basement morgue and buried in an unmarked land closer to the facility.
After substantial damage had been to several lives, Fort Haven was finally closed for business in 1991.
What remains today in the rustic building covered with graffiti, peeling paint, and a dreadful history. A sole headstone, to commemorate the hundreds of lives lost, has been erected in the burial ground. With places like these, why do horror filmmakers bother creating artificial sets?
3. Hell House Altar, Catonsville
Built in 1868, St. Mary’s College trained hundreds of young men for the seminary until the attendees started decreasing and it was finally shut down and abandoned in 1972. Tucked away in the woods of Patapsco Valley State Park, the main school building was destroyed in an inexplicable fire in 1997. What remains is a single tone gazebo with a large metal cross.
Locals believed that the gazebo was a center of Satanic worshipping and rituals, and, thus, the name “Hell House” came about.
Whatever was left of the school property after the 1997 fire was torn down in 2006. All that remains now are the foundations, concrete staircases, and of course, the eerily magnificent Christian altar.
4. George Peabody Library, Baltimore
Reading a book at a college library or a public library may feel a little claustrophobic, if not mundane. After all, most of these institutions are intended to isolate you from distractions rather than offering a scholarly ambiance. But, the George Peabody Library at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, is a different experience altogether, monumental even, to say the least.
Built in 1878, under the orders of George Peabody, the Library was intended to serve the residents of Baltimore. Known among the world’s finest schools of music, the Peabody Institute still graduates many of world’s best musicians, composers, and music teachers.
A huge open-air atrium is surrounded by multiple levels of the library overlooking the central area. Opulent railings and patterned marble floors decorate the interiors while a crisscross skylight keeps the giant space lit throughout the day. It is easy to see why the place has been called the ‘Cathedral of Books.”
5. Bazaar, Baltimore
This isn’t your everyday souk. Home to the annual “Hon Festival” where attendees dress up like the 1960s, Bazaar is an oddity store in Baltimore, Maryland, that features an eccentric range of relics, items, and taxidermy pieces.
Traditional medical instruments, skulls, bizarre artwork, anatomical charts and models, and costumes and props from secret societies line the walls of this small row house.
If collecting and displaying such unconventional items weren’t enough, Bazaar also produces its own range of diaphonized wet specimens, greeting cards, and jewelry crafted out of bones.
The store also conducts regular taxidermy workshops.
6. National Museum of Health and Medicine, Silver Spring
Once located in downtown Washington D.C., the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM) boasts a collection of over 24-million medical instruments, including antique equipment, anatomical and pathological specimens, and significant historical medical documents and textbooks.
However, the most significant item on display at the museum is hair and bone fragments from the skull of none other than the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, and the bullet that claimed his life.
NMHM was established in 1862 by William Alexander Hammond, a neurologist who was appointed to be the U.S. Army’s 11th Surgeon general by the president himself. The museum’s mission was to collect any item that could be of medical or surgical significance or regarded morbid anatomy.
The collection also includes several items from the Civil War, a conjoined twin specimen, and a Trichobezoar which was retrieved from a 12-year old girl who instinctively ate her hair.
7. Crystal Grottoes Caverns, Boonsboro
Allegedly, the Crystal Grottoes Caverns have more formations per square foot than any other cave known to humankind. Maintaining a constant temperature of 54 degrees throughout the year, the Caverns are the most naturally kept grottoes of their kind in the world.
Largely a natural cave, Crystal Grottoes Caverns suffered from a fire incident in 2007 but has been restored since.
Beautiful stalactites and rock formations décor the interiors of the cave, and the lighting arrangements have been nicely done. Well-kept twin restrooms and a large parking space make it convenient for visitors to tour the caves.
Jerry Downs, the owner of this small show cave, is a delightful character who likes entertaining visitors whenever he is available.
8. Elijah Bond’s Ouija Board Grave, Baltimore
There is rarely any of us who haven’t tried our luck in calling out the ghosts of our imagination and ask them various questions about our future while we wait for them to show us the answers by involuntarily moving our hands on an Ouija Board. The credit of this mysterious board that has fascinated several paranormal enthusiasts, teenagers, and psychologists goes to one man – Elijah Bond.
Ironically, Bond, who is known to have supposedly helped us humans bridge the gap between the two worlds, once laid in an unmarked grave. It wasn’t until 2007 that the remains of the ghost whisperer were found by Robert Murch, a historian, paranormal enthusiast, and Ouija Board collector.
The most befitting feature about Bond’s new gravesite in Baltimore, Maryland, is his tombstone that bears his name, birth, and death dates on one side and an Ouija Board carving on another.
9. The Book Thing, Baltimore
Life can’t get better than “The Book Thing” for any bibliophile in the world!
A quaint yet brilliant free bookstore near John Hopkins Campus in Baltimore, Maryland, The Book Thing was established in 1999 by Russell Wattenberg, a bartender who decided to create this wonderful space after overhearing local teachers complain about the lack of reading materials for underprivileged students.
Run entirely by volunteers, The Book Thing has strict policies about taking books from the store – absolutely no money can be paid, not even a cent, for anything that is on the shelves of the library. Visitors can take as many as up to 150,000 volumes each day, but, in no way, they can resell or pay for the books.
The extensive catalog of the Book Thing comprises a diverse variety of books and magazines.
10. The Enchanted Forest Pine Tree Maze at Clark’s Eliok Farm, Columbia
Since 1797, the Clarks have owned and farmed on a 540-acre farm in Howard County, Columbia, so when other farmers decided to sell their land to developers for money, Martha and Noah Clark decided to stand ground and turn their farm into a source of income.
Starting with a petting zoo, hiking and pond tours, ecology lessons, they grew on to conducting holiday events and opened pumpkin patches and fall hay rides. However, the most intriguing section of their farmland was the Enchanted Forest Pine Tree Maze – a collection of relics that were rejected or too old to be kept at the real amusement park, the Enchanted Forest.
The duo had been assembling the items since 2005 and the owners of the park obliged happily.
Now, the Maze consists Papa Bear, Mother Goose and her goslings, two enormous lollipops, and several gingerbread men.
11. National Cryptologic Museum, Fort Meade
Strangely, this museum allows you to take as many photos as you want inside, but, none outside – it doesn’t want to be found.
Tucked away in the woods at Fort Meade, next to the National Security Agency, the National Cryptologic Music is where most cryptology work is carried on today. The museum was open to the public in 1993 and is the only one of its kind in the Intelligence community that covers the history and legacy of National Cryptologic Museum as well as NSA.
Among the several captivating objects on display are a 1960s’ reconnaissance satellite, the TUNNY Cryptographic machine, a voice-encrypting phone which has been used by many Presidents, Johannes Trithemius’s Polygraphiae from 1518, and endless declassified books and texts on Cryptology.
12. Geppi’s Entertainment Museum, Baltimore
85 or 18, Geppi’s Entertainment Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, has the ability to create a feeling of nostalgia and delight in anyone who walks through the door of this one-of-a-kind museum which dedicated every inch of its interiors to pop culture and everything that resonates the true charm of the era.
Though capturing the complete essence of American pop culture may be a painstaking and almost-impossible task, Geppi’s Entertainment Museum has tried its best to honor the culture and traditions of the culture as best as it could. Life-sized Batman figurines, Pez Dispensers, stand line in line with century old comic icons.
Spreading over 16,000 square foot area, the Museum features an extensive display of the city’s earliest inhabitants from the 18th century. The exhibit gradually moves on to the 20th-century newspapers and magazines, moments and memories from the Great Depression, the evolution of Television, multimedia, and ultimately, the internet.
13. Paw Paw Tunnel, Oldtown
Named after a local fruit, the Paw Paw Tunnel in Oldtown, Maryland, was not a structure made of love and dedication. In fact, it is a by-product of riots and extreme violence.
Originally planned to be ready for use in 1838, the construction of this passageway took way too long to complete – from 1836 to 1850. The main reason for delay was the never-ending clashes between immigrant laborers who were hired to work on the project but spent most of their time fighting among themselves.
The purpose of building the tunnel was to allow boats and pack mules to travel back and forth conveniently and avoid the winding bends and horseshoes of the Potomac River. However, when the 24-foot tall tunnel finally completed, the canal space was so narrow that it could only allow one boat to pass a time and mules could not pass each other.
Now, if you aren’t afraid of the dark, the tunnel is open for exploration, all 3,000 feet of it – but, keep your boxing gloves away!
14. Lawyer’s Farm, Thurmont
If you thought Transformers was just a movie, think again!
The Lawyer’s Farm at Thurmont, Maryland, grows amazing corns as well as pumpkins, but, it is also home to a number of giant Transformer-like robots, some of which stand at the entrance to welcome you.
Initially started by Jan Lawyer, the farm is now run and operated by his children and offers tours to visitors who come here not only to see the fascinating bots but also the brilliant corn mazes and the homemade pumpkin cannons.
Lawyer, when alive, had a knack and interest of fixing things and for creating something out of nothing. His kids are doing every bit of justice to their father’s legacy, so much so, that they use the corns to create interesting mazes – like a corn Governor Larry Logan, who battled cancer.
15. Glen Echo Amusement Park, Bethesda
Originally the site for National Chautauqua Assembly, an American cultural and educational movement, Glen Echo Amusement Park has been in business since 1891. The Assembly shut down in 1898 after claims of malaria spreading in the area were reported, however, it soon opened as an Amusement Park.
Until 1968, the Glen Echo Amusement Park was home to seven different roller coaster rides. Though the Crystal Pool from the original park has been filled with overgrown trees and shrubs and the trolley car that stood underneath the neon signage has been removed, the arcade and the “Cuddle Up” teacup still remains.
One of the most notable features of the Amusement Park is the Dentzel Carousel, noted for its custom wood-carving, which has been restored to its original 1921 condition and still operates periodically.
16. National Park Seminary, Silver Springs
Back in 1887, Ye Forest Inn was established to serve as a tourist resort. By 1894, the place was transformed into a girls’ boarding school and was named the National Park Seminary. While the school had over 400 students until the 1920s, the Great Depression reduced the number significantly, leaving only 40 girls by the end.
When World War II hit the United States, the Army took over the campus and used it as a recovery facility for amputees. The campus was later used for similar purposes during the Korean and Vietnamese War.
By 1978, the compound was totally vacated, and in 1993, an arson-damaged one of the structures. It wasn’t until 2003 that a private developer acquired the property and transformed most of it into residential space.
However, thanks to the developer, some of the original historic ruins and architectural fixtures still remain and can be explored during self-guided tours of the nine markers placed around the property.
17. The Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay, Nanjemoy
If there was a concept of ship cemeteries or graveyards, then the waters of Mallows Bay would top them all.
Located off of Potomac River, Mallows Bay houses over 230 decaying shipwrecks that comprise steamboats and remnants of a wooden-hulled fleet which were constructed to serve the nation during World War I. The collection is considered to be the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, the largest in the world being Chuuk Lagoon.
While some of the sunken ships can still be seen in shallow waters, the remains have created a virtual reef of their own.
Initiatives to clean the bay were taken in the 1960s, but, research unveiled that the shipwrecks had developed and were harboring an active and flourishing ecosystem, Hence, the process was called off and the shipwrecks have been left to stay the way they fade away.
18. Grave of John Wilkes Booth, Baltimore
John Wilkes Booth was one of the greatest actors in America, but, his acting didn’t make him as famous as his role in the assassination of the then President, Abraham Lincoln, did.
On April 14th, 1865, Booth shot Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre, and, was later killed on April 26th the same year by Sergeant Thomas P. “Boston” Corbett while he tried to flee the federal officers who had cornered him.
After an autopsy, Booth’s body was buried in the Old Penitentiary, but, his remains were exhumed in 1867 and reburied in a warehouse at the Penitentiary. Like that wasn’t enough, in 1869, the body was exhumed again, and finally, Booth was put to rest at the Booth family plot in Green Mount Cemetery.
A small, unmarked tombstone marks the burial site, and instead of flowers or stones, the stone is covered with pennies – people’s way of showing him that Abe had the last word.
19. Ladew Topiary Gardens, Monkton
Regarded as one of the most exquisite gardens of its kind in the United States, the Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton, Maryland, were carefully crafted in the 1930s by Harvey S. Ladew, a rich huntsman of his time.
Inspired by English culture and design, Ladew was especially fascinated by the traditions of fox hunting, so much so, that he dedicated one section of the garden to recreate a fox hunt out of the shrubbery, and ensured that the lawn shared a border with the adjacent hunting land.
Designed as per Ladew’s wishes, the garden has 15 sections, each dedicated to special creations. The grounds are further decorated with pools, fountains, and are encircled by shaped and trimmed shrubbery formations.
The gardens, as well as Ladew’s house, is open for visitors who wish to know more about the rich man’s passion for hunting and his interesting life.
20. Vanadu Art House, Hyattsville
Named “Vanadu” after Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poetry “Kabalu Khan” about the ancient city of Xanadu, China, the Vanadu Art House was created by Clarke Bedford, a museum conservator, who dedicated all his time and energy in restoring and recycling metal objects to craft unique, extravagant art houses that were meant to be one of their kind in the world.
The remarkable art house comprises heaps of junks, historical objects, and antiques. A German-language globe, a skull, a statue of John Locke, a horned wooden owl, and a black and white striped cone are some of the interesting artworks to be found in the art collection.
Made of car parts and washing machine parts, Bedford created four fully-functional cars that are placed on the curbside of the Art House.
The most significant structure at the Art House, the Vanadu Ford, even has its own Facebook page.
21. Maryland Gold Mine Ruins, Potomac
As the rest of America fought the treacherous Civil War, a Union soldier unintentionally stumbled upon the first sign of gold while cleaning utensils. After the war ended, in 1867, mining and excavation operations began to be carried out on the surrounding grounds by the Maryland Mining Company.
Mining operations continued from 1867 till 1939, but, not enough gold could be found in the area to continue digging, even though claims of gold traces around the area are still made to date.
Today, the leftover ruins of the Maryland Gold Mine, found near the historic C&O canal, have been left abandoned and fenced off.
Though most of the evidence to prove any kind of gold mining has been removed, you could find decrepit remnants of an overgrown sealed shaft entrance, the blacksmith shop, and an old water tank.
22. Fort Carroll, Dundalk
Built in the late 1840s to defend Baltimore from naval attacks, Fort Carroll was commissioned by Robert E. Lee and was designed with a central courtyard surrounded by a concrete wall in a hexagonal shape. The walls had gun emplacements facing out.
Like many other forts built at the time, it was never put to substantial use, and by World War I, the fort and its weaponries were rendered useless. Finally, in 1921, the weaponries were removed and the fort was left abandoned.
Though the fort was used as a firing range for a short time during the World War II, in 1958, the fort was bought by a Baltimore Lawyer who had no plans for it. Over the years, the fort became overgrown and inhabited by a large number of migratory birds including seagulls.
23. Holland Island, Toddville
A lot can happen over a decade, let alone a century. And, in this case, a complete island could disappear amidst the Chesapeake Bay.
Regarded as one of the most densely populated islands in the bay, Holland Bay welcomed its first residents in the 1600s, and by 1910, the island had a community of approximately 350 islanders. The island community comprised a church, a schoolhouse, a post office, and a dozen houses. Most residents spend their time fishing in the surrounding.
Erosion started to affect the west section of the island in 1914 and the rising sea started taking its toll on the island, forcing the last family to move away in 1918.
Most of the structures were torn down and in 2010, a storm devastated the rest of the island. As of 2012, Holland Island has eroded entirely but the remains of the old town still lay under the lapping waters of the bay.
24. Mammalian Brain Collection, Silver Spring
A collection that has been assembled over 35 years depicts the evolution of mammalian brain at the Mammalian Brain Collection in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Situated inside the National Museum of Health and Medicine, the display holds over 275 brain specimens sorted as per their type and region. Among those displayed are dolphins, anteaters, African bush elephants, flying lemurs, and humans.
The most significant attraction at the brain collection is the awe-inspiring similarities that the brain matter of the various mammals has in common.
Research studies claim that the likeness of humans and other mammals in the way that their mind functions may be more similar than we assume.
25. The Horse You Came In On Saloon, Baltimore
The oldest bar in Baltimore, The Horse You Came In On Saloon, or locally “The Horse”, has been in business since 1775. But, the only bar which functioned during prohibition is known for something more than its longstanding stature in the city – a seat marked “Poe’s Last Stop” is apparently where Edgar Allen Poe had his last drink before he was discovered wandering the streets of the city aimlessly and admitted at the Washington Medical College where he died four days later.
The Saloon has seen a few restorations since its opening 200 years ago, but, the drinking spot retains much of its rustic charm, at least on the outside.
The Horse is located close to the Patapsco River docks and is a short distance from where Poe met and fell in love with Virginia Clemm, who he married at the age of 26 (Virginia was 13 at the time).
Even though the story of it being the last stop for Poe has been challenged time and again, The Horse is now an admired dive bar and hosts live music performances.
26. Mr. Trash Wheel, Baltimore
Officially known as the “Inner Harbor Water Wheel”, Mr. Trash Wheel is a one-man’s attempt to clean up the dirt from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
A former dock manager, tired of watching the junk flow by every day, decided to invent the quirky, minibus sized the water wheel whose sole purpose was to flush out trash from the harbor and out it into a dumpster. An amazing characteristic, the Water Wheel is powered by solar panels, and the trash collected is later used to generate electricity.
So far, Mr. Trash Wheel has collected over one million pounds of debris from the Inner Harbor.
You could watch the trash wheel in action via its live stream, but, if you get a chance, a personal visit is a must.
27. Herlong the Carved Dragon, Takoma Park
A joint effort by Lew Morris, his eldest daughter, and the famous woodcarver, Jim Calder, Jr, Herlong the Carved Dragon was once just an old oak tree, damaged by lightning, that stood dishearteningly at Morris’ backyard.
Morris refused to let the deep-rooted tree fade away so he looked up woodcarvers online and asked Calder Jr if he was up for a challenge. Both gentlemen decided on a Chinese-style-dragon carving, however, it was Morris’ eldest daughter who came up with a definite design and a name, “Herlong”, meaning “river dragon.”
At 16 feet tall, Herlong has been treated with a coat of stain to keep it shining, and linseed oil and boric acid to keep away termites and woodpeckers.
28. Roscoe the Rooster, Takoma Park
Roscoe the Rooster came to Takoma Park in 1989 out of nowhere and lived here until his last days. Though no one knew where it came from and how Roscoe wandered the streets of Tacoma Park carelessly and crossed whenever he wanted.
Passing cars paused for him, residents cared for him with food, water, and shelter, and animal control gave up on catching him.
Though a handful of residents felt annoyed by his presence, Roscoe was loved by the majority.
Unfortunately, Roscoe met his displeasing fate in 1999 when he was hit by a passing vehicle. Local residents came together and decided to erect a statue to commemorate their loving rooster, which was finally installed in 2000 on Laurel Avenue.
Even after almost two decades have passed by, locals still dress up Roscoe in holiday costumes. Takoma Park’s favorite resident periodically appears in local newspapers, advertisement, and pamphlets.
There is even a pizzeria named after him!
29. College Park Airport and Aviation Museum, College Park
In 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully crafted the first heavier-than-air vehicle, and tried approaching the U.S. Department of War, however, they were too slow to realize the full potential of the airplanes until 1909, when they decided to test the Wright brothers’ creation.
The need for a special facility for designing aircrafts was established after a few test flights, and, it is then that Wilbur Wright was assigned to oversee the creation of College Park Airport in 1909.
Wilbur used the same facility to train the first official military pilots, Frederic Humphreys and Frank Lahm. Civil flights started flying from the College Park Airport since 1911, and the facility has been functional ever since.
Dubbed as the “cradle of aviation, the Airport and Museum are known to have created several histories in the world of aviation.
Numerous replicas and original aircrafts are part of the museum display, including a glider and Model B aircraft designed by the Wright brothers.
30. Earthoid Water Tank, Germantown
Water tanks all around the world are drab, lifeless even, and they are meant to just store water. But, not in Germantown, Maryland. Here, a 100-foot water tank not only holds two million gallons of water but resembles the ‘Earth’ as seen from space.
The Montgomery College students in Germantown, in 1980, were asked to come up with a design for the water tank, and after a poll, it was decided that the round tank is painted to imitate the Planet Earth.
Artist Peter Freudenberg was commissioned to materialize the project, who drew reference from satellite photos from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Geographic globe image to paint the ‘Earthoid.”
Standing as a strong symbol for environmental protection, the mural has life-like white clouds, blue oceans, and green continents.