New York magazine
The Accidental Tour Guide Image Credit: New York magazine
The Accidental Tour Guide Image Credit: New York magazine

The Accidental Tour Guide

Laura Lippman—novelist, reporter, and Baltimorean—on her city’s many lives and layered literary myths.

Christopher Bonanos

BALTIMORE IS A city where they give directions according to what’s not there anymore,” Laura Lippman says, quoting an old newspaper colleague of hers named Linell Smith. Lippman ought to know because she, apart from several years away in her 20s, has spent her entire adulthood in town. She was a reporter for more than a decade at the Baltimore Sun, and in the past 22 years has set 23 crime novels and thrillers in and around the city. Her latest book, Lady in the Lake, takes place mostly downtown in the mid-’60s, and today she and I are headed out to find some places that used to be here.

Baltimore is layered with loss. It was a factory town with aspirations, one that was built to house nearly twice its current population with great civic imagery to match— the Beaux-Arts monuments and crab houses, Pimlico races and rowhouses with white marble steps. If you’re searching for Lost Baltimore, the city you find depends on the one you were thinking about beforehand. John Waters’s tacky-aluminum-TVtray city is one, where the fringe people are the soul of the place. Barry Levinson’s ’60s diner doofuses, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s radicalblack-intellectual father, Russell Baker’s down-and-out Depression-era white folks, Anne Tyler’s eccentric families—they all pass one another on the streets in the city of the mind. So do the people who live in Edgar Allan Poe’s Baltimore and H. L. Mencken&


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