It may look like a small brick row house, but it was big enough to save the memories of an entire neighborhood.
This particular row house being the birthplace of a baseball icon: Babe Ruth.
Just a few blocks from Camden Yards stands the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum. This unassuming row house holds every piece of Babe’s history, from childhood news clippings to mementos of each home run he ever hit in major league play.
The museum was supposed to be torn down by the city in the early 1970s, along with the surrounding neighborhood. But research conducted under then-Mayor Thomas D’ Alesandro III and his office came across information about Babe Ruth being born in a building on Emory Street in that particular neighborhood.
“They were doing an urban renewal project and when that happens they usually just knock everything down,” said Shawn Herne, Chief Curator of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum.
The museum instantly became a landmark once this information was found and a seemingly regular row house sitting on 216 Emory St., ended up making the entire neighborhood untouchable. Babe Ruth’s birthplace opened up as a museum for the first time in 1974, according to the Deputy Director of Babe’s Birthplace Museum, John Ziemann.
George Herman “Babe” Ruth Jr., was born in a small room on the second floor of his house. His history in Baltimore does not mirror how people remember him today.
“He was a bad kid from Baltimore,” Ziemann said, “He was cussing at age six chewing tobacco at age 7, shooting dice with older people, and winning!”
In fact, Babe was so bad, his parents had to send him to St. Mary’s Industrial School, where Cardinal Gibbons High School used to be. St. Mary’s Industrial School was a Catholic all-boys school that helped Ruth shape up. This is where his baseball legacy began.
“The brothers who ran the school used sports as a way to keep the students in check,” Herne said.
The word got out that the “bad kid from Baltimore” was a really good baseball player and the owner and manager of the Baltimore Orioles, Jack Dunn, came to see him play. Once they seen all they needed, they convinced Babe’s father to send him off to training camp where he actually became “The Babe”.
Now Babe’s birthplace is a hot tourist attraction in downtown Baltimore, especially once the season officially begins.
“We get slammed on Opening Day,” Ziemann said, “We have about a thousand fans come in the gift shops and look around the museum.”
Baseball isn’t the only sport that brings in fans.
“Opening Day for both football and baseball are the two best days of the year,” Herne said, “It’s like people are instantly interested in Babe Ruth again.”
Herne added that the museum’s biggest audiences are Boston and New York fans.
The museum still has pieces of Ruth’s official house from when Babe was still around. As a matter of fact, the first room on the right after the entrance was one of the only places in the house that hasn’t been renovated. The floorboards, fireplace, chairs and steep stairs in that room have all been preserved from when the house was made in the late 1880s.
A few of the museum’s exhibits stayed with the house and have been preserved by those working there, like the family room on the first floor. Some exhibits have been donated by both the Orioles and Yankees baseball teams. Most of the exhibits that deal with Babe’s personal life however, come from his family.
“We are very fortunate that [Babe] Ruth’s daughter Julia Ruth-Stevens, who is 96 years old, has been here to tell us a great deal about the items we have,” Herne said. Ruth-Stevens currently lives in Arizona.
Herne has helped produce a film for the museum called “Star Spangled Banner & Ruth”. The film, featured in a small, one-benched gallery on the bottom floor, is about how the Star Spangled Banner became connected to sports and how Babe Ruth was involved in that.
Ruth was pitching that one special night when President Woodrow Wilson asked the band to play the Star Spangled Banner during the 1918 World Series. That was the first time it had ever been played at a sporting event.
“It’s great to have the Star Spangled Banner, written here in Baltimore, and Babe Ruth, born here in Baltimore, connected together,” Herne said.
Mike Gibbons, the director of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, manages attractions and exhibits of both the Babe Ruth Birthplace and the Sports Legends Museum, which is right next to Camden Yards. He sees the museums as a vital piece of the surrounding neighborhood.
“These are cultural attractions used to learn about sports heritage, and they help maintain the legacy of different athletes that come through Baltimore,” Gibbons said.