Travel Through Time ? One Exhibit at a Time

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For a long time, there has been one “Mecca,” if you will, for comics fans, the one place that they should try and make a pilgrimage to before they died. That place is the San Diego Comic Con, the largest gathering of everything dealing with comics and pop culture.

San Diego is still a major destination for fans. But another location has arrived on the East Coast that provides another Mecca for us. It is located in Baltimore, Maryland and it is called Geppi’s Entertainment Museum.

The museum was opened in September, 2006 by Stephen A. Geppi, owner of Diamond Comics Distributors, on the second floor of a converted train station in Camden Yards. The building is just a few feet away from Oriole Park, home of Major League Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles.

The museum consists of nine rooms, eight which feature permanent displays and one which houses rotating special exhibits. When I went, the special showing focused on Disney artist Carl Barks in honor of the 107th anniversary of his birth, in an event called “Scrooged!”, an exhibit which will run until May 31, 2008.

Guests to the museum are given a map which numbers each exhibit room, and are told to visit each room in order. There is a reason for this as we will soon find out.

The first room, the largest in the museum, is home to an exhibit called “A Story in Four Colors”. This is the room that would be of the most interest to comic fans, because the entire history of the medium is traced within its walls. Almost every important comic book in history is showcased here — Action Comics #1, Detective Comics #27, Sensation Comics #1, they’re all on display.

The room traces the history of comics from their roots in the pulps and big little books to the new releases on the shelves today. Plaques on the wall spell out the developments of the art form over the decades, and provide a succinct syllabus for everyone, whether they are new or old to comics.

When you enter the second room, you begin to see why they are ordered. This second exhibit, titled “Pioneer Spirit,” begins the chronological recounting of pop culture history through the ages. It starts with the time period from 1776-1894. What toys did kids play with in the 18th and 19th century? You will find out here.

This room leads into one called “Extra! Extra!,” which traces the rise of newspaper strips from 1895-1927 and features such strips as “The Yellow Kid” and “Buster Brown”. Next, we come to “When Heroes Unite.” This covers the era from 1928 to 1945, and explains the effect of pop culture as relief from the trying times of the Great Depression and World War II years.

“America Tunes In” is next, and it spans the years from 1946 to 1960. It illustrates the rising prominence of TV and the effect it had on pop culture. “Revolution” deals with 1961 to 1970 and provides a counterpoint to the turbulent decade through its music and toys.

“Expanding Universe” takes us from 1971 to 1990, and deals with pop icons such as “G.I. Joe” and “Star Wars”. “Going Global” leads us into the present day (and, also, the museum gift shop). 

The museum is fantastic. From a historical context, it gives us a window to the past and allows us to look at the priceless treasures that were part of our parent’s childhood. From a personal standpoint, if you don’t say “I had that!” at least five times during your visit, you really led a sheltered childhood.

While the individual exhibits are spectacular, where the museum really shines is in the details. The hallways between the exhibit rooms are adorned with original artwork and classic movie posters. In the comic book room, a display was running a documentary on EC Comics and a huge bank of screens projected classic comics stories. And there are interactive kiosks where visitors can learn more about the exhibits and also answer trivia questions in a quest to win prizes.

All this adds up to one special experience. If you appreciate history, comic book or otherwise, then this museum is a must see.

The address for the museum is 301 West Camden Street in Baltimore. It is located next to the MARC train line and only a few blocks away from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Hours of operation are, from October to March, Tuesday through Sunday, 10 AM to 5 PM. From April to September, the museum is open seven day a week until 6PM. Admission is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, and $7 for students. Full details on the museum's website here.

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