1601–03 E. North Ave., 410/563-3404,
HOURS: Tues.–Sat. 9 a.m.–6 p.m., Sun. noon–6 p.m.
COST: $12 adult, $10 child, $11 senior
Opened in 1983, the amazing, unique, and powerful National Great Blacks in Wax Museum—built and guided by the vision of the late Dr. Elmer Martin and his wife, Dr. Joanne Martin—chronicles the indignities, tragedies, successes, and triumphs of Africans in America. It’s also a very disturbing place if you’re not ready for the incredibly graphic scenes of the slave trade (the Middle Passage) and violence against African Americans depicted in certain parts of the museum: Be warned, these are not for young children or those with delicate sensibilities.
The majority of the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum charts the course of African Americans in the United States from their African heritage to the present day, using wax figures and mannequins to depict leaders, innovators, and common Americans throughout the centuries. The museum covers major events and movements in African American culture and history, as well as showing scenes from the lives of regular African Americans, from sharecroppers to a grim urban scene of crime and violence.
One of the museum’s most-cited exhibits explains the story of Henry “Box” Brown, who mailed himself to freedom in a packing crate sent from the slave state of Virginia to free Pennsylvania in 1848; his escape is re-created here.
The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum is a labor of love and duty to history, and is not the beneficiary of a huge endowment; the wax figures, displays, and scholarship are not slick nor seamless. But there’s no other museum in America like this astonishing tribute and memorial to the struggles and achievements of African Americans, and though it’s located far from the gleaming Inner Harbor, it’s worth a visit for those who want to see how many African Americans view their role in American history.