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Baltimore, Maryland

The largest city of Maryland Baltimore is a traditional industrial city and has an old prewar Lithuanian community.

Facade of the Baltimore Lithuanian Hall

Facade of the Baltimore Lithuanian Hall

Lithuanian churches of Baltimore

Centrally located gothic revival St. Alphonsus Shrine (114 West Saratoga Street) with its three-stage 73 m bell tower is one of the most impressive Lithuanian churches in America (and higher than any church in Vilnius). Built in 1844, it is also the oldest one - predating even most of the US famous stately buildings.

St. Alphonsus Lithuanian church in Baltimore

St. Alphonsus Lithuanian church in Baltimore

In the mid-19th century, there were few Lithuanian Americans as serfdom was not yet abolished in the Russian-occupied Lithuania, limiting freedom of migration. So the Shrine has been built by the German community and used to be called "German cathedral" before being sold to burgeoning Lithuanian parish in 1917 when Germans were moving out of the district. The new church expedited Lithuanian settlement and the neighborhood received its "Little Lithuania" nickname.

St. Alphonsus Lithuanian shrine in Baltimore interior

The interior of St. Alphonsus shrine in Baltimore

In 1973, the St. Alphonsus Church was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1995, it was styled a "Shrine". It is famous far beyond the Lithuanian community as one of the church‘s German-era pastors was St. John Neumann, the first American male saint (his room is recreated at the church). Even during the Lithuanian era, St. Alphonsus shrine has been successful at attracting non-Lithuanians as well, using slogans such as „Baltimore powerhouse of prayer“. English and Latin (Tridentine) mass are celebrated here these days (with Lithuanian mass canceled in 2017). Therefore, it is easy to get in the church nearly every day.

The altar of Baltimore Lithuanian church with the Lithuanian flag on the left

The altar of Baltimore Lithuanian church with the Lithuanian flag on the left

The non-Lithuanian origins of the church, however, means that there are quite a few Lithuanian details in its impressive interior. The church‘s right side-chapel has a „Siberian rosary“ created by Lithuanians who were expelled to Siberia by the Russians in the 1940s out of meager possessions they had left: breadcrumbs and their own hair. There is also one Lithuanian stained-glass window in the sacristy. The World War 2 memorial plaque near the church's entrance has a very long list of Baltimore Lithuanians who served the USA in WW2. At the left of the altar, there is a Lithuanian tricolor and St. Casimir among the statues of the saints.

Siberian Rosary at the St. Alphonsus Shrine

Siberian Rosary at the St. Alphonsus Shrine

Like the other US downtowns, Baltimore has been affected by white flight; most Lithuanians left for suburbs as well. In 1950, Baltimore had a population of 950 000; in 2010, it was 621 000 (63% Blacks, ~2000 Lithuanians), the crime rates are high, so the St. Alphonsus shrine has fewer parishioners although Lithuanians drive from the suburbs. The massive St. Alphonsus school has been closed (the building still stands in front of the church, though nothing Lithuanian remains there). In total, Maryland has 18 000 Lithuanians.

Before they bought the St. Alphonsus shrine Lithuanians had their parish of St. John the Baptist at 308 N. Paca St. (1905-1916). That parish was later Italian and now replaced by St. Judas shrine.

Even earlier, Lithuanians prayed at what is now the Lloyd Street synagogue (1888-1905). They have acquired it from Jews and then sold it back. Currently, a Jewish museum operates there, but its exposition also includes some information about the building‘s Lithuanian history as well as an illegible Lithuanian-era graffiti on a basement column.

Lloyd Street synagogue (former Lithuanian church) in Baltimore

Lloyd Street synagogue (former Lithuanian church) in Baltimore

Lithuanian Hall-Museum of Baltimore

After the acquisition of St. Alphonsus shrine, a Lithuanian Hall was opened in the locality for secular events in the year 1921 (until 1968, the building was known solely by its Lithuanian name Lietuvių namai; 851-853 Hollins St.). The Doric design is by Stanislaus Russel and the Lithuanian coat of arms Vytis is proudly hanging above the main entrance and on the top.

Baltimore Lithuanian Hall

Baltimore Lithuanian Hall

Vytis at the Baltimore Lithuanian Hall (another one is above)

Vytis at the Baltimore Lithuanian Hall (another one is above)

Since 1978, the Hall houses a Lithuanian museum (3rd floor), which is now the most interesting place of the building for visitors. There, one may see a replica of a Lithuanian folk home, learn about the folk traditions and Lithuanian history, as well as about the history and life of Lithuanian-Americans: see the items they used in the protests against Soviet occupation, the straw figures early Lithuanian-Americans created from drinking straws (as the grass straws they used for their folk art back home were not readily available in the US cities) and so on. The museum is open by appointment and it is recommended to go there guided by someone who knows what is exhibited as the written explanations are somewhat limited.

Entrance to the Baltimore Lithuanian museum

Entrance to the Baltimore Lithuanian museum. The symbol is of Iron Wolf, instrumental in the myth of the foundation of the Lithuania's capital Vilnius

Lithuanian hut at the Baltimore Lithuanian museum

Lithuanian hut at the Baltimore Lithuanian museum

The crosses that used to symbolize the victims of January 13th (1991) massacre when brought at the protests at Washington Capitol

The crosses that used to symbolize the victims of January 13th (1991) massacre when brought at the protests at Washington Capitol

Lithuanian traditional Christmas decorations made of drinking straws in the Lithuanian museum of Baltimore

Lithuanian traditional Christmas decorations made of drinking straws in the Lithuanian museum of Baltimore

Additionally, the three-floored building has an art-nouveau-style 1500-seat events hall (2nd floor) decorated in a very Lithuanian way (with the coat of arms of Lithuanian cities, etc.). The basement has an equally Lithuanian-decorated bar and pool room, open on Fridays only.

The main hall of the Baltimore Lithuanian Hall

The main hall of the Baltimore Lithuanian Hall

Side wall of the main hall of the Lithuanian Hall

Side wall of the main hall of the Lithuanian Hall, adorned by Lithuanian ornaments and coats of arms of the Lithuanian cities

Workshops of traditional ethnic arts and crafts (e.g. Easter egg painting) are possible. Lithuanian Hall also houses the Lithuanian National Library. It has been established 1908, merely 4 years after the Lithuanian language was legalized in its Russian-ruled homeland after a 50-year-old ban. This is the oldest ethnic minority library in America. Active entertainment of Baltimore Lithuanians includes an ethnic dance troupe, seniors club, internet radio. Unlike Lithuanian Halls in some other cities which closed down with a decline in attendances, the Baltimore one is successfully attracting non-Lithuanians as well to its hip dancing nights.

Baltimore Lithuanian Hall basement bar

Baltimore Lithuanian Hall basement bar

On the opposite side of the Lithuanian Hall, there is a Little Lithuania Park named so after the alternative name for the entire district. In its center stands an impressive Lithuanian monumental composition of three crosses: two leaning ones on the side and a straight chapel-post in the center. At their feet is a land art stylized Lithuanian coat of arms.

The Lithuanian sculptural composition at the Little Lithuania park

The Lithuanian sculptural composition at the Little Lithuania park

Historically, Lithuanian Halls were typically run by secular Lithuanians who were less active (or not active) in the churches, but for decades there are no such distinctions.

Frank Zappa statue

Baltimore is the birthplace of the famous 20th-century singer Frank Zappa (1940-1993). Interestingly, 2 years after musician's death (1995) his statue was unveiled in downtown Vilnius (capital of Lithuania) by a group of fans. At the time, Lithuania had just restored independence (in 1990) and was eagerly embracing libertarianism, thus such initiative was not opposed by urban planners. The news about the statue became a US media sensation back then and F. Zappa statue became popular among foreign tourists in Vilnius. In 2008, Vilnius municipality decided to gift a copy of the famous statue to Baltimore where it has been erected on the corner of Conkling Street and Eastern Avenue. Among its sponsors were famous Lithuanians such as the singer Vytautas Kernagis, businessman Hubertas Grušnys and more. The sponsors, including the Vilnius city, are listed on the bottom of the monument.

Frank Zappa statue in Baltimore

Frank Zappa statue in Baltimore

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Map of Lithuanian heritage in Mid-Atlantic

Map of the Lithuanian heritage in Mid-Atlantic (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, DC) and western Ontario.

More info on Lithuanian heritage in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, Ontario.

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