Thursday, January 06, 2011

In Hammett’s Footsteps

People generally think of Dashiell Hammett in relation to San Francisco, California, where he wrote his numerous short stories about the Continental Op as well as his most famous novel, The Maltese Falcon (1930), starring private eye Sam Spade.

But the future author was born on his grandfather’s tobacco farm in southern Maryland on May 27, 1894, and soon thereafter relocated with his family to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before moving on to Baltimore, Maryland. It was in Baltimore in 1915 that Hammett answered an enigmatic want-ad for men “free to travel and respond to all situations.” This led him to the Continental Building (now One Calvert Plaza) downtown and the local headquarters of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, where he was hired into a sleuthing post that he loved--even though it meant his being shot at, clubbed, and knifed (“I was never bored,” he would say of the job).

With the 50th anniversary of Hammett’s death coming up on January 10, Baltimore runner and blogger Patrick Maynard is busy putting together a route through the city that includes “key places” in both Hammett’s young life and later fiction. As Maynard writes in The Baltimore Sun’s Exercist blog, “Some time within the next week, I’m hoping to jog or bike through a bunch of Dashiell Hammett-related places around the city ... I’ll write about the results in detail ...” So far, his list includes Baltimore Polytechnic (“where Hammett studied for a semester before dropping out”), the former B&O Railroad headquarters on Charles Street (“The railroad was one of Hammett'’s non-Pinkerton employers in Baltimore”), and Mount Royal Station (“through which a missing character’s baggage was tracked in ‘The Girl with the Silver Eyes’”).

But he’s still looking for suggestions of sites to include. If you have any thoughts on this matter, drop Maynard a note here.

(Hat tip to Read Street’s Dave Rosenthal.)


Brian Lindenmuth said...

The most important thing to do when standing on the sidewalk in front of One Calvert Plaza is to...look up.

On the Baltimore Street side of the building are two large ornamental eagles or perhaps falcons. Many believe that those birds inspired Hammett's famous "black bird" of The Maltese Falcon.

Unknown said...

Cannot help with the route, but Hammett was one of the main characters in the historical fiction book Devil’s Garden by Ace Atkins.

In it Hammett investigates Fatty Arbuckle as a Pinkerton detective.

Great read.
Here is my review of the book: