The Burning Question

If you could have a conversation with one Baltimorean, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Anne Tyler, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist: I’d like to speak with Edward Bouton, the man who conceived Roland Park. It’s not for the reason you might expect—to compliment him on his vision—but because I learned only recently that he’d asked his lawyers if there were a way he could legally ban black people from living there. Somehow, the fact that he was so calculating makes it all the worse. Definitely worth having a little talk about.

Mike Rowe, TV personality: I’d take Edgar Allan Poe to Annabel Lee Tavern. We’d sit by the fireplace. I’d buy him a drink. We’d make small talk. Then, when the moment felt right, I’d ask him to scare the hell out of me.

John Waters, filmmaker and artist: Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the Baltimore woman who got the Supreme Court to remove prayer from public schools. I’d ask her what she thought of the fact that in the early ’60s one of the teachers in my Catholic high school suggested we break her windows, which gave me the rage to later make Pink Flamingos. Madalyn loved being hated, and she was eventually murdered in 1995, by a man with the last name of Waters, who had been accused of setting fire to his own mother’s wigs and then urinating in her face.

Alex Scally, Beach House guitarist: I would ask Thurgood Marshall what he thought was the best course for Baltimore going forward. I would want to get his take on gentrification and how he saw what some folks call progress in our city.

Wes Moore, writer and veteran: If I could talk to anyone from Baltimore, it would have to be Reginald F. Lewis. Mr. Lewis was a man who came from nothing and decided he could do anything. He knew the value of hard work and dedication, and it paid off! Because of his perseverance, Lewis became the wealthiest African-American businessman in the ’80s.

Sam Herring, Future Islands frontman: I’d love to have the chance to hang with Cab Calloway. My earliest knowledge of him was through The Blues Brothers as a kid. I remember even then being blown away by his voice. I’d love to ask him about where his fearless style came from. I’m curious about how growing up in Baltimore helped mold his character.

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