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The Maryland Curiosity Bureau

What’s with those “The Greatest City In America” benches?

baltimore bench square.jpg
This slogan was painted on benches all over the city more than 20 years ago. Who's idea was that? (Photo credit Krishna Sharma, The Baltimore Banner)

The paint is worn thin, but the message is still there, a puzzling declaration from a foggy past. At some point in history, someone decided to emblazon the city’s public benches with the hyperbolically proud slogan: Baltimore – The Greatest City in America. Where’d this over-the-top motto come from? And how’d it end up on all those benches? Baltimore Banner reporter Clara Longo de Freitas teams up with Aaron Henkin to find the answers.

Aaron with Baltimoreans Britanae and Nicole on a "Greatest City in America" bench on Calvert Street (Photo credit Krishna Sharma, The Baltimore Banner)
Aaron with friends at a Baltimore bench
Aaron with middle schoolers Tavon, Taryn, and Avery at a "Greatest City in America" bench in Fells Point (Photo credit Krishna Sharma, The Baltimore Banner)

In this episode, we hear from:

Martin O’Malley, Mayor of Baltimore from 1999 to 2007

Steve Kearney, Director of Policy and Communications during O’Malley’s Mayoral Administration

Kurt Schmoke, Mayor of Baltimore from to 1987 to 1999

Sandy Hillman, Former Head of Mayor William Donald Schaefer’s Office of Promotion and Tourism

Aaron creates and produces original radio programs and podcasts for WYPR. His current project is The Maryland Curiosity Bureau. Aaron's neighborhood documentary series, Out of the Blocks, earned the 2018 national Edward R Murrow Award. His past work includes the long-running weekly cultural program, The Signal, and the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings series, Tapestry of the Times. Aaron's stories have aired nationally on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered.