Scottish rebel William Wallace looks out over Druid Hill Reservoir.
Scottish rebel William Wallace looks out over Druid Hill Reservoir. (J.M. Giordano/City Paper)

"Play fortresses/ of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash./ Four storeys have no windows left to smash,/ but in the fifth a chipped sill buttresses/ mother and daughter the last mistresses/ of that black block condemned to stand, not crash."- Edwin Morgan, "Glasgow Sonnets"

Baltimore, Maryland and Glasgow, Scotland are both tough towns, it's true, and people not from these towns love to say so. They both speak English, but not to everyone's liking—vowels get teased but the accents are so developed that some English literature has been translated into it. They're cities on rivers, the Patapsco and the Clyde, that belonged to the same empire for about 50 years until they belonged to different empires. They each used to build a lot of ships. With those ships and those rivers both cities made a lot of money off tobacco and cotton, which, everyone agreed, had a great profit margin since there was no need to pay the fieldhands' health insurance or even wages. Money came down those rivers for a long time, and for a long time in both cities only a very few people saw much of any of it.


Now that most industry has gone away, Baltimore and Glasgow, cities of about the same size, are living with similar questions of how the economic and political schemes that have sapped their communities' health and wealth can be replaced with new ones that don't. What would it look like if we all had the means to be citizens of Baltimore, accountable to each other, and not just customers or captives of Baltimore? The name Glasgow is supposed to come from Gles Chu, a Gaelic phrase meaning "dear green place"—a nice vision to work toward, at least.

Baltimore has American problems, Maryland problems, Baltimore problems, your problems. But it has some problems that Glasgow has been working on for a long time, too, such as, for example, the privatization of the future broadly considered. City officials' abiding preference for what sounds like a "good deal for the city" over a fair or just deal. And homicides, which Glasgow has cut by 58% over the last 10 years.

Anyone following what the group United Diverse Artists has called our city's "artpartheid" might hear a rhyme in the history of Glasgow circa 1990, the year chosen by the European Union for it to serve as European Capital of Culture. In the run-up to the festivities, a group of artists and writers organized under the name Workers' City and dedicated themselves, through publications and demonstrations, to "challenging the logics of public-private interests" guiding the city's redevelopment. Glasgow's inspiration in those years was Baltimore, and other American cities with silver-bullet revitalization projects like the Inner Harbor.

Workers' City had none of it: "There is widespread acceptance that [the city's plan for the celebration] has nothing whatever to do with the working- or the workless-class poor of Glasgow," they wrote in a manifesto, "but everything to do with big business and money: to pull in investments for inner-city developments which, in the obsessive drive to make the centre of the city attractive for tourists, can only work to the further disadvantage of the people in the poverty ghettoes on the outskirts." Sound familiar? Workers' City faded away, but the conversation has not.

Or we could go back further, to 1913, when the Mayor of Glasgow visited Baltimore. The mayor was impressed with our city, but offered a modest suggestion. "There is one thing which we have in Glasgow which should be the rule in American cities," he said. "We have municipal ownership of public utilities."

"What, the fuck are you talking about?" the Mayor of Baltimore must have replied. "We're trying to get people to move into the city, not out of it. Now if you'll excuse me I need to hop on this streetcar that goes to Roland Park and nowhere else."

Glasgow and Baltimore go way back. No matter where you are in Baltimore, you're never too far from somewhere Scottish. Some of our place names sound directly borrowed from Scotland (Barclay, Dumbarton, and Argyle are all streets in Glasgow) and others are Scottish-inspired, or pseudo-Scottish, like Loch Raven, Druid Hill, and Waverly. These names weren't picked by popular vote. Baltimore was never a Scottish-American city the way it was at one time a German-American city or that it is an African-American city. Before cumbia and reggaeton, bagpipes and bodhrans did not fill the air of Highlandtown, despite its name, and where the pupuserias and taquerias are now were not chip shops and haggis eateries (haggiserias?). Maryland was an English colony, not a Scottish one. Most of the Scots who came to Baltimore in its first two hundred years were poor and all they had the right to name were their kids and their dogs.

And yet there were always Scots in high places around Baltimore, just as there were in England's "internal colony" of Scotland itself, with its rowdy indigenous clans, its rich natural resources, and its pastures eagerly seized and parceled into manors—and later, golf courses.

Take Robert Gilmor, for instance, the Scottish-born merchant from whose name we get Gilmor Street and Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray was arrested. Historians credit Gilmor with establishing American interest in the East India Company, the joint-stock enterprise that served as the British Empire's advance guard. His business ventures traced a constellation of colonialism that joined Baltimore to the British Isles, the European mainland, India, and the Caribbean. In 1806, while the East India Company administered the Indian subcontinent as a "company-state" and enjoyed a brisk racket running opium to China under a gun barrel-enforced monopoly, Gilmor became the first president of the St. Andrews Society of Baltimore, a philanthropic fraternal organization still active today.

And before him there was George Buchanan, the Scottish physician appointed one of seven commissioners to plan "Baltimore Town" at its founding in 1729. Buchanan bought up more of the land around his father-in-law's estate north of the city and renamed it all Auchentorlie after his own family's manor near Paisley, just east of Glasgow. A fossil of that name remains in our Auchentoroly Terrace—pronounced Auken-TROLLEY; don't get it twisted—but you can still visit Auchentorlie Street off Dumbarton Road in Glasgow. And Fulton Street, not Avenue, too.

So why not more Irish names in Baltimore, or more of the staid Puritan ones found in New England cities like Boston?

Baltimore's Scottish decoration probably has as much to do with the peculiar meaning Scotland had for people in the 18th and 19th centuries as it does with the advocacy of proud heritage groups like the St. Andrews Society. The romantic landscape of the Highlands, the noble savagery of kilted warriors, the primeval (or even magical) connection of Scots to the natural world—in Britain, these associations became a kind of cultural shorthand for Scotland among people with no ancestral connection to the Highlands at all, many of whom were the same people helping to destroy authentic Scottish communities through the enclosure of common land and other favors of the British imperial project. What happened was not a genuine elevation of Scottish culture, but the creation of what some scholars have called a "mystique" that distorted Scotland into something exotic and alluring and safe. Cultural appropriation is another way to say it, and it's deadly.

The mystique made its way up the Patapsco. The upper class men who made up the landowning gentry and city fathers of Baltimore were as hard under its spell as any of their contemporaries in South Carolina or Jamaica. A version of the sentiment led George Buchanan's nephew, Nicholas Rogers, to rename Auchentorlie Druid Hill after the mystical shaman figure of ancient Celtic culture. (If only Rogers, and the many unrecorded people bonded to him, could have seen the real magic Sisqo and his friends would conjure up two hundred years later under the name Dru Hill.)


As the bizarre and self-serving tastes of the very rich often do, the Scottish mystique filtered down to average people as well, which might be how Snake Hill came to be called Highlandtown and certainly how the Waverly neighborhood got its name. Sir Walter Scott's series of middlebrow historical romance novels set in the Highlands, beginning with Waverley in 1814, were among the most popular books of the 19th century in the English-speaking world. Enslaved people lived and died on at least three plantations bearing the name Waverly or Waverley: one in Mississippi, one in South Carolina, and one in Marriottsville, Maryland.


Like a tartan stripe stitched to the flag, the fictions of the Scottish mystique became our truths. Popular representations of Scotland were consumed so widely in the United States that they became part of how Americans understood themselves, whether they had Scottish ancestry or not, and in some cases, how Americans invented themselves. When the founders of the Ku Klux Klan reached for a symbol that would look back to a mythic, unspoiled white tribalism and forward to the spectacle of terror, they dog-eared the pages of Sir Walter Scott's narrative poem 'The Lady of the Lake' about the traditional Highland practice of cross burning. And yet the very same book could be found on the nightstand of Nathan Johnson, free black man and conductor on the Underground Railroad in New Bedford, Massachusetts. It was from another clan, the heroic Douglas clan of Scott's poem, that Johnson drew his suggestion for a new name for his lodger, a fugitive from Baltimore named Frederick Bailey. "Since reading that charming poem myself," Frederick Douglass later wrote, "I have often thought that, considering the noble hospitality and manly character of Nathan Johnson, black man though he was, he, far more than I, illustrated the virtues of Douglas of Scotland." Adding the extra "S" made the name Douglass' own, and made the Douglas clan one more white family to whom he owed nothing.

The Scottish mystique is far from ancient history. The most vivid recent example, though, is still "Braveheart," Mel Gibson's Oscar-winning 1996 film about the 13th-century warrior Sir William Wallace. You remember: Like a Highland Cliven Bundy, Gibson's Wallace leads an insurrection of affable clansmen against the troupe of fey cuckolds, company men, and beta male elites trying to suppress Scottish freedom and Scottish libido (as rendered in the full definition of our leading man's Harlequin Romance-novel brawn and mane of chestnut hair). The movie is a hell of a good time and, historically, frothing with what in Scotland they call "pish."

Baltimore has a statue of William Wallace, sword aloft, overlooking the reservoir in Druid Hill Park. Our Wallace is less sexy than Mel Gibson, but less anti-Semitic, too. Twelve thousand people gathered to watch the St. Andrews Society dedicate the monument in 1893 as evidence "that here the admiration which the world has for Scotland's patriot and martyr has been given practical expression."

If it seems odd that Wallace is celebrated here as a freedom fighter when the English executed him in 1305 as an insurgent and a terrorist, maybe it should. And maybe, in a few hundred years, the city of Glasgow will respond in kind with a monument to the Baltimore branch of the Black Panther Party (who also sought to liberate an "internal colony"). Glasgow can appreciate this kind of irony. In 1986, anti-apartheid activists persuaded the City Council to rename the street where the South African consulate had its offices Nelson Mandela Place, like a stand-in stamp of liberated territory for the imprisoned leaders of the South African freedom struggle. And a big middle finger to the white supremacist regime.

"While we were physically denied our freedom in the country of our birth," Mandela told Glasgow in 1993, after his release from prison, "a city 6,000 miles away, and as renowned as Glasgow, refused to accept the legitimacy of the apartheid system, and declared us to be free." The city's "moral authority," Mandela said, "has provided a unique leadership of the anti-apartheid movement in Britain and indeed of the entire movement worldwide."

For all the fabricated Scottish place names in Baltimore, one block of the city resembles the real Glasgow so closely that I'm convinced some magic portal or transmogrification of materials is at work there. The block is glamorous in the original, Scottish definition of the word to mean enchanting or bewitching; it "casts the glamour," Sir Walter Scott might have said. And before you accuse me of falling prey to the Scottish mystique, I'll tell you how to travel there so you can see for yourself.

Begin at the William Wallace statue, on the land that became Auchentorlie during Baltimore's first era of gentrification (by the gentry). Walk up the hill to Swann Drive and one of Druid Hill Park's few, hectic entrances accessible on foot. After crossing Druid Park Lake Drive, make your way to Eutaw Place and head southeast toward North Avenue and the water. When you reach Whitelock Street, cross and make sure you're on the left-hand side of Eutaw so as you walk you can take in the houses on the other side, with their gables, witch turrets, and sooty white and red clay-colored facades that roll in and out like waves. A chilly, sunny day when no leaves are on the trees is best.

The only way to know you're back in Baltimore is when you reach the end of the block and the name on the sign reads Ducatel Street, not Monkscroft Avenue, Low Crescent, Bearsden Road, Maryhill, Balmore, Govan, Auchentorlie, or Fulton.