Many home movies I find tell a false narrative of American culture. It’s not that the images are lies, just not always complete. According to most 8mm films I have, everyone is always happy — maybe a crying child every once in a while or a funeral here or there –but the frames are generally  filled with carefully chosen scenes of the good life. Shots of  beautiful vacation spots. celebrations of marriage, happy birthdays, smiling all-American kids waving and smiling from parade floats and electric train sets. (OMG the electric train sets on these films)

An image of Bedford Falls from“It’s A Wonderful Life” emerges rather quickly on home movie reels

But this reel I found was a bit different. It tells the story of downtown Baltimore in the summer of 1966. You can see the full reel here, but the film below is a snapshot of the seedier part of Baltimore. A place known as “The Block” —  400 block of East Baltimore Street. Actually it’s more then just one block, but I can’t explain why Baltimoreans…Baltimoreites…Balties(?) call it what they call it.

In the early 20th century this part of town was reserved for burlesque houses like The Gayety that featured Vaudeville acts like George Burns, Abbott & Costello, and Phil Silvers (just to mention a few) and old school striptease artist like the famous Gypsy Rose Lee and Blaze Starr.

But by the 50s/60s that scene gave away to something a bit more hard core and Bedford Falls  gives way to Pottersville. According to this view of the city, Baltimore’s George Bailey Baltimore never existed. I remember this world in the early 70s. Strip clubs seemed to be everywhere in larger cities. X rated movie houses advertised in the local paper. Not the alternative press, the main stream news papers of even small towns, I remember carrying adds for adult movies right beside adds for Benji and The Love Bug.

I know this kind of stuff is more available to us today than ever before, but some how or another it seemed to be more out in the open back then. Is this just my imagination?


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