At first glance, it seems unlikely . . . a smaller Mid-Atlantic city’s funkiest neighborhood having a direct link to the British royal family. But truth is most certainly stranger than fiction.
Baltimore’s Mt. Vernon neighborhood is the site of several apartments and other lodging places of the late Bessie Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson, as she was known before she became the Duchess of Windsor by marrying the former King Edward VIII.
When you strip away in your mind the student musicians at Peabody Conservatory, other university students and indie boutiques, it then becomes easier to see the elegant surroundings that were formative in the duchess’ life. Most of the architecture remains the same as when she lived there.
Baltimore's Washington Monument — Photo courtesy of Tamar Alexia Fleishman
Private homes, shops and many of the local restaurants retain the luxe interior details that would have been familiar to her: carved white marble fireplace mantles, pewter fireplaces, 14-foot ceilings, parquet floors and clawfoot tubs are all still fairly common in Mt. Vernon.
Back in the duchess’ day, Baltimore was most decidedly considered a Southern city. The duchess herself listed her own recipes for Maryland culinary treats in her book Some Favorite Southern Recipes of the Duchess of Windsor.
It’s interesting to note that, as she didn’t have the grand entourage and retinue that one would expect when marrying the former King of England, her recipes are very simple and often use canned shortcuts.
Prohibition-era speakeasy and still elegant The Owl Bar was patronized by the Duchess of Windsor after she returned to Baltimore as English nobility. The eyes of the owl above the bar were mechanically moved when a raid was imminent.
The faux zebra skin banquettes and bar stools dating back to 1903 were recently auctioned off, with funds benefiting a local animal charity. An interior makeover is said to have failed to be able to incorporate the vintage furnishings into the new look.
See inside the architectural mirror image of one of the duchess’ residences, as well as a rare memorabilia collection at the Duchess of Windsor Museum by appointment only.
The Duchess lived at 212 E. Biddle St., as well as 34 E. Preston St., 8 W. Chase St. and an apartment in a castle-like building at 868 Park Ave., which is now the Hotel Brexton.
There are many other locations in the neighborhood that were of importance to the duchess, including a church, places of business and theaters. All of these are within easy walking distance of each other.
For rare photos and other information about the duchess and her family, walk to the Maryland Historical Society Museum and Library.