New Museum Applauds Maryland Sports History; Camden Station Showcases State 'Legends'

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 12, 2005 | Go to article overview

New Museum Applauds Maryland Sports History; Camden Station Showcases State 'Legends'


Byline: Charlie Vascellaro, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Yes, at long last, Washington has baseball. Up the road a piece, though, the white-hot Orioles are tearing up the pea patch, and Camden Yards itself is on the cusp of a new chapter in the annals of sport. That would be Sports Legends at Camden Yards, Maryland's tribute to its sporting history. It opens Saturday at historic Camden Station - and the people putting it together couldn't be more tickled.

"It's a great feeling. It's fun to be able to share this stuff," says Greg Schwalenberg, curator of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum a few city blocks from the station. He is in charge of collecting and cataloging artifacts and photographs for Sports Legends at Camden Yards.

The new showplace is a 22,000-square-foot space that celebrates all the state's sports - from the Orioles, Colts, Ravens and Blast to the Negro League Black Sox and Elite Giants to collegiate sports and even lacrosse, jousting and duckpin bowling.

It's no accident that the Babe Ruth museum is so intimately involved in its planning. Sports Legends has its genesis in the thousands of sports artifacts the Babe Ruth shrine has jammed into its basement archive since it became the Orioles' official museum in 1983 and, two years later, the official archive for memorabilia of the departed Baltimore Colts football team.

"We've been collecting these artifacts and memorabilia for so long because we knew this was going to happen," Mr. Schwalenberg says.

Indeed, it has been in the works since the early '90s. The Bambino's tiny row house at 216 Emory St. opened as a museum in 1974 but began seriously to split its seams in 1992, when Oriole Park opened at Camden Yards and Baltimore's Inner Harbor became a destination - and 60,000 visitors a year began to troop through the Ruth home's five or six rooms.

A year later, officials of the Babe Ruth home submitted a proposal for a baseball museum at the B&O's old Camden Station, a part of the Oriole Park "footprint." Since then, donations of artifacts have poured in and the concept has expanded dramatically.

"It only took 12 years for us to move in, but the delay was actually a blessing because it enabled us to expand our theme into a state sports museum," says Michael Gibbons, executive director of both museums.

Make no mistake, though: Sports Legends is not the Babe Ruth home.

"A lot of people are confused; they believe we're moving the birthplace," Mr. Gibbons says. "What we're doing is establishing a second museum under the auspices of the Babe Ruth Birthplace."

* * *

The Sports Legends museum occupies the first two floors of Camden Station, built in 1855 and abandoned by the B&O in 1971. The second and third floors remain vacant and are owned and operated by the Maryland Stadium Authority.

Once the tallest and busiest building in the city, the station served as the first major passenger terminal for the country's first commercial railroad. Its facade has been restored to replicate it as it was in 1867. The renovation cost $16 million, about 65 percent of it provided by state funds.

Museum visitors buy admission tickets at an old-time train-station ticket counter, and the first hallway leading to the exhibits resembles a train car.

On the first floor, "Babe Ruth: American Icon" explores Ruth's cultural legacy. It features displays on his early professional career as a minor leaguer in Baltimore and his major-league debut in Boston - including a section on the infamous 86-year "Curse of the Bambino," the retribution legendarily exacted on the Boston Red Sox for trading Ruth to New York in 1920 (and finally exorcised by the Red Sox's World Series win last year).

The Ruth exhibit also includes displays on the Babe's appearances and portrayals in movies.

Here, too, is one of Mr. Schwalenberg's favorite mementos: a silk kimono given to Babe Ruth by the Imperial Hotel of Japan, which he wore during a major-league tour of the country in 1934. …

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