When a museum has the word “entertainment” in its name, it has a lot to live up to.
But Geppi’s Entertainment Museum (or GEM, as it’s known to its enthusiastic staff) lives up to both its name and nickname. It’s a thoroughly entertaining homage to pop culture — from vintage comics to toys of the 1950s and ‘60s.
Located at Camden Yards on the second floor of Camden Station above Sports Legends!, Geppi’s Entertainment Museum is the brainchild of inveterate collector Stephen A. Geppi, president of Diamond Comic Distributors, part-owner of the Baltimore Orioles, publisher of Baltimore magazine, and a native son of Baltimore’s Little Italy.
In fact, Geppi’s childhood passions of comics and baseball have shaped the direction of his entire life.
Geppi, born in 1950, left school early to support his mother. He took a job with the U.S. Postal Service, but thought he might be able to make more money selling comic books.
He opened a small store in Baltimore, expanded that to four stores, moved into comic book distribution when he bought the business of a failing distributor, and successfully expanded the distribution business throughout North America and Europe.
Today, Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc., represents many of the top publishing companies, including DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Image Comics and Wizard Entertainment.
An avid baseball fan, Geppi also dreamed of playing professional ball. He didn’t realize that ambition, but becoming part of a local ownership group of the Baltimore Orioles in 1993, and subsequently locating his museum at Camden Yards, is just about the next best thing.
For Geppi, opening GEM has been a lifelong dream to see pop culture “in the setting it deserves,” as he notes in the museum’s vision statement.
Geppi has called GEM “a showplace of ideas, a marketplace of thought and imagination.” It’s also a heck of a lot of fun, as I found on a recent visit.
One of the premises of the museum is that comic characters, whether entirely fictional (like Archie, one of my childhood favorites) or based on figures from real life (“Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees”), have both entertainment and educational value, and play a role in youngsters’ lives that is not forgotten as they get older.
First seen in newspapers, magazines, comic books, movies, radio or television, such characters have long been effective and popular advertising spokesmen.
Each time a new form of media has emerged, as you’ll learn in your self-guided visit, new comic characters have sprung up and older, successful ones have been revived, helping to popularize products from juice, milk, soda, bread, cereal and candy, to a dazzling array of consumer products. In this manner a wide range of characters has been instilled in the American psyche.
Throughout the various galleries, you’ll see exhibits on the history and display of comic books, some of which may be among your childhood favorites. There’s also a special gallery called “Extra, Extra!” looking at newspaper comics, including early favorites such as the Yellow Kid, Buster Brown and the Katzenjammer Kids.
There are also displays of toys, many of which are smaller versions of products originally aimed at adults. As the museum explains, this has been a common pattern in toys through the generations. First there were trains, for example, then there were toy trains. Then cars and trucks were invented, followed by toy cars and trucks.
Each gallery in the museum captures a specific period or medium in American pop culture. Along with the displays, there are interactive tools for the more digitally-minded visitors, special exhibits, and events such as the annual Zombie Gras (which takes place around the same time as Mardi Gras).
In the gallery called “Pioneer Spirit,” you’ll learn about Baltimore heroes and other Baltimore “firsts,” such as the first do-it-yourself (DIY) tools created by Black and Decker and the first college for women in the South (Goucher).
There’s also a look at how the Great Depression and World War I molded a new America, how post-war America fell in love with the new medium of television (Howdy Doody, anyone?), the arrival of British rock and roll, new media technologies and today’s 24/7 global information age.
Just try walking through the museum and not grinning when you see your favorite childhood toy, cartoon, TV character, even lunch box. No matter how young or not-so-young you are, there really is something at GEM that will bring a smile to everyone’s face and a nostalgic sigh of recognition.
General admission to Geppi’s Entertainment Museum is $10 ($9 for those 55 and older), $7 for children 5 to 18, and free for kids under 5.
Visit the museum on the day of any Baltimore Ravens or Baltimore Orioles home game and admission is half price. And show your ticket stub for public transportation for that day and receive $2 off admission.
The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and closed Mondays. For more information, call (410) 625-7060 or visit www.geppismuseum.com.