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Baltimore, Maryland

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

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. Built in 1844 it is also the oldest one - predating even most of the US famous stately buildings. In 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. In 1973 the St. Alphonsus Church was enlisted in National Register of Historic Places, in 1995 it was styled "Shrine". Lithuanian, English, and Latin (Tridentine) mass are celebrated here these days.

St. Alphonsus shrine towers over central Baltimore. Google Street View.

Before they bought the St. Alphonsus shrine Lithuanians had their parish of St. John the Baptist on 308 N. Paca St. (1888-1917). That parish was later Italian and now replaced by St. Judas shrine; it is unclear whether the building is the same as in Lithuanian times.

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 less parishioners although Lithuanians drive from the suburbs. In total Maryland has 18 000 Lithuanians.

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. The three-floored building has a 1500seat events hall (2nd floor), a conference hall, a dance area, a bar, a kitchen, a pool room. Since 1978 the Hall houses a Lithuanian museum with various memorabilia (e.g. the glasses of the "Patriarch of Lithuanian independence" dr. Jonas Basanavičius, the flight logbook of the first Lithuanians to cross Atlantic ocean and worldwide pioneers of air mail Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas). 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 ethnic dance troupe, seniors club, internet radio. Unlike Lithuanian Halls in some other cities which closed down with a decline of attendances, the Baltimore one is successfully attracting non-Lithuanians as well to its hip dancing nights. On the opposite side of the Lithuanian Hall, there is a Little Lithuania Park names so after the alternative name for the entire district.

Massive Lithuanian hall with Vytis symbols. Google Street View.

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 was a US media sensation back then and F. Zappa statue became popular among foreign tourists in Vilnius. In 2010 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.

Frank Zappa bust in Baltimore is the copy of one in Vilnius, Lithuania. Google Street View.

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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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