About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

May 10, 2011

Memories of a Baltimore Crack House

One of the nice things about being a police officer is you can explore places that normal people fear to tread (or would get arrested if found). Back in 2001, I wanted a good view to conduct surveillance of a drug corner. So I entered this vacant building. This block has since been torn down.

#1) 1900 Block of E Eager. 1906 E Eager is the third house (with awning) from Mr. George's corner laundromat. Two short blocks North of Johns Hopkins Hospital, this corner (Wolfe and Eager) is one of the "hottest" (but hardly the only) drug corners in the neighborhood, heroin and crack are sold around the clock, rain or shine. Most of the customers are locals, but a conspicuous minority of whites drive in from the poor suburbs looking for the purer heroin found in the ghetto. This neighborhood, built around the turn of the century and featuring typical Baltimore rowhomes, formstone, and marble stoops, was all white until the 1950s, middle class until the 70s and 80s, now it is mostly vacant, all black, and very poor. Hopkins and city own most of the property. Hopkins has since torn down most of this area.

#2) The corner looks deserted. It is just 7 in the morning. But a few moments earlier, there were dozens of people roaming about. But a funny thing happens when you park a police car in the middle of the intersection, turn off the motor (otherwise the picture is blurry), and take a picture. People scatter. Note how everybody is walking away. I didn’t take in personally.

#3) Approaching the rear of 1906 E Eager from N Chapel St. I was looking for a location to observe drug sales on the corner and out of one house in particular.

#4) Most vacants are boarded up to prevent junkies from entering, or filled with too much trash and damage to let one safely enter. The rear entrance of 1906 E Eager is wide open. The first time, on official police business, I went in alone. The second time, to take pictures, I brought along a partner, just to be safe.

#5) The rear room on the first floor is what used to be the kitchen. In the northeast corner are old appliances, partially stripped and peeling lead paint, and remnants of alpine wallpaper.
#6) Another view of the alpine wallpaper.

#7) Looking southwest in the kitchen, a few more appliances.

#8) The southeast corner of the kitchen. Like almost all the metal, the iron stove top grates have long been sold for scrap.

#9) The front room is the living room. A TV and couch remain. Makes me think the home was occupied into the 1990s. The front door is on the right. It’s interesting to me that a big color TV, once somebody’s prized possession, is no longer worth anything.

#10) The front door is on the left. Vivid woodland wallpaper remains.

#11) Looking up the staircase between the rooms. One of the stairs is rotted through, but the rest are in pretty good shape. This is a typical staircase for a rowhome. It’s horrible for police. Often there’s no handrail, and you can easily be pushed down. At the top, suspects could be in either or both directions. They don’t teach you about this in the police academy.

#12) 2nd floor front room. Nice windows for surveillance of the dealers katty-corner across Wolfe St. Otherwise trash, some drug paraphernalia, a mattress against the wall, two pairs of shoes, and a nicely patterned linoleum floor remain.

#13) Looking East in the upstairs front room. A nice old heating grate, removed from the wall, hasn’t been taken to sell for scrap (or to an antique store in Fells Point). A small water bottle (nicely labeled "water") is on the floor. This water would be mixed with heroin and heated with lighter in a metal bottle cap from a 40oz bottle of malt liquor. The mixture is then injected. The only thing in these pictures I manipulated is the water bottle. I turned it so I could photograph the word, “water.” I love how it’s neatly labeled.

#14) Rear room second floor. View looking rear from the stairs. Two layers of floor cover are visible, along with purple latex gloves, and a black tourniquet to make veins bulge for easier injection. An empty container of cornstarch is on the chair. Cornstarch can be put into empty crack vials and repackaged as “burn,” or fake drugs to sell for a quick buck, mostly to whites coming into the neighborhood. Some of these whites then call the police and tell us they were robbed (always of $10 or $20). They don’t get much sympathy. Locals would know not to buy from local junkies. But selling burn is not without risk as selling burn to the wrong person can get you beat up or killed.

#15) Looking towards the front in the rear room. Mirrors and black pride posters increase the positivity and create a much nicer overall environment. Tupac, Goodie Mob, and Q-Tip. An almost empty bottle of Pepto Bismal lies on the ground, showing that indigestion can strike anyone.

#16) A poster and broken clock on one wall is just of above the bottles of piss and cans of shit neatly kept in the corner. (Unfortunately my partner knocked over that door you see on the lower right corner, tipping everything over. I'm guessing the loose door was positioned for privacy. It spilled a lot of piss and really smelled really rank after that. We left the place worse than we found it. This wasn’t low-impact policing. Sorry.)

#17) A 2000 Sears poster celebrating Black History claiming it's not just for February anymore: “Every family has a history. We celebrate yours every day, every year.” I don't think this is what they had in mind.

#18) Bottles of old malt liquor bottles are filled with piss. I have no idea if any of the plumbing worked. Probably not, but it wouldn't have surprised me if it did. Finding bottles of piss in people's home was not uncommon. Next to the bottles is a free parenting magazine and a toy box.

#19) Another view of the main lounge and work area. Given the conditions, this is not where serious drug dealers do their work. This is a place for addicts to shoot up, relax, and scheme how to come up with their next $10 hit.

#20) A few chairs are set around a collection of empty crack vials. There are also more shoes. Why all the shoes?

#21) Looking closer, there are dozens of empty crack vials. Every color of the rainbow. The legal use for these vials in for perfumes and oils. The color of the cap on the vial often becomes a sort of brand name: red tops, blacks tops, or orange tops. Other good brand names: Uptown, Bodybag, Capone, and the more generic Ready Rock. Also on the floor are candles, cigarette butts, lighters (lots of them), tin foil, and bottle caps. Heroin and coke is an ever popular mix. John Belushi overdosed on it. Sugar, in the form of candy bars and tasty cakes, can take some of the edge of the beginnings of heroin withdrawal. Or so they say.

Notice that the cup being used as an ashtray is standing and in use. The shoes are lined up. Paper is on the floor. In this disorder, there is order. But it’s almost inevitable that at some point in time they’ll burn the place down. And when that happens, you don’t want to be the neighbor next door.

Update: Here's what those first two pictures look like today (or the last time google drove through):

[If you just stumbled across this blog for the first time, consider buying one of my books: Cop in the Hood and In Defense of Flogging. Talk about great Father's Day presents. Christmas, too!]


Gotti Rules said...

Hey Pete,
Looking at all those photos is like walking down memory lane. I have always liked exploring the vacant buildings to see what is inside when I had slow periods. Even after falling through a few floors and walking on stairs that collapsed underneath me, I still enjoyed this. Luckily, I never got seriously hurt from all this.

PCM said...

The old American Brewery on Gay Street was the best! But now that's all redone.

Gotti Rules said...

That was the best! However, in the Southwest district, there was one better. It was a huge brick building with many floors. I had no idea was it was, but it was awesome going into it in the middle of the night. It eventually got burned down and bulldozed.

I always wondered why people left certain things in the house and where they are now. My wife pointed out that there is even an old school chair in one of the pictures. Where did they get that?

PCM said...

Think of the IV-drip stands that most be scattered around basements in the Eastern. Imagine the life where you're booking up Washington Street in a gown from Hopkins, pushing a IV drip stand you're attached to, thrilled that you're about to enjoy some hair-ron like never before.

PCM said...

The chair may have been from a church basement. You never know...

Rhayader said...

Hey Peter, came over here from the link you put up at The Agitator. This is actually a really interesting set of photos. Horrifying but oddly normal at the same time. I went through an abandoned trailer once in a very poor rural area in upstate NY. Other than the evidence of drug use -- which may have been there and just not apparent to a young kid like myself back then -- I remember getting a very similar impression from it.

I Googled for the "Speak of the Devil" newspaper headline, and -- assuming it's the Sun -- it looks like it was a story from September 2000 about some connection between Mount Rainier in PG County and the movie "The Exorcist".

Anyway, again, cool stuff. Thanks for sharing.

PCM said...

When I reposted the pics just now, I was thinking of googling that headline, too! (But I didn't) I thought I took the pictures in 2001. But maybe it was earlier. Hard to imagine that paper looking so new after so many months in that house.

Chris said...

Out of curiosity what was with all the lighters with no tops on them in the bottom right of the last picture?

Jeff N said...

To add to your 'then and now' series:


(link to google steet view of 1906 east eager)

If this is the same area, looks like an improvement to me!

PCM said...

I don't know about those lighters. Good question. I suspect either they were huffing or they were taking the last juice out of an old lighter and adding it to a new lighter.

I suspect the latter. I didn't know you could huff butane until I read that floggee Michael Fay burnt himself huffing butane. (But do normal non-pressurized lighters even use butane?)

Jeff, yes, good idea. It is a huge improvement. It's a huge investment. I only hope it looks as nice in a few years.

Eddie said...

These pictures remind me so much of the Lower East Side of New York City prior to the commencement of Operation Pressure Point. I was a member of the NYPD working in the Lower East Side during this time. Today it hardly resembles the drug infested hell hole that it once was. Today it is the model of gentrification and what can become of a neighborhood when the politicians use the police to clean out the ghettos for the developers. Good in principle but the decent people, the poor who struggled and gave this neighborhhood life before it became the 'in' place to live did not benefit from this gentrification. They were forced out by the yuppies, artists, and high rents. I'm curious to know if the same thing is occurring in the ghettos of Baltimore.

PCM said...

Baltimore wishes it had such gentrification. When I lived in Baltimore, a neighborhood was considered gentrified when one person moved in without an accent, decided to remove Formstone, or built a roof deck.

Even the lower-east side in the late 1980s had life a bold young person (like me) could walk through it (well, up to Ave B). I wouldn't recommend the same for much of the Eastern District.

And doesn't NYC have enough rent control and rent stabilization to protect at least some of the poor people?

Eddie said...

There's not nearly enough rent control or rent stabilization to protect the poor in the city. The vast majority of them were forced out long ago. It's easy to see this just by looking at the demographics of the neighborhood. Back in the 80s, the only time you saw a white person down there was if they were on their way to cop or leaving after copping. Any white boy you saw walking around may as well have had an Arrest Me sign on his back.

Now it's almost entirely white people. The Hispanic culture is more or less gone - the corner bodegas have been replaced with organic wine bars. I'm not saying it's a bad thing that it's been cleaned up, but I resent that developers made millions - if not more - off the risks we took and sacrifices we made to do our jobs there. What we did didn't benefit the community - it was all to clear the way for shoving the poor out so they could rent out luxury apartments for $3,500 a month.

It's not just theoretical for me - it's personal. Not only did I work in the Lower East Side for 7 years, I was born there and lived in the projects. My grandmother lived in the First House on 2nd st until she died at age 99. So when I speak of gentrification, I speak of it not only as a cop who worked there, but as someone whose life was deeply connected to a culture that no longer exists in that part of the city.

PCM said...

Those are very good points.

Do you think gentrification was an inevitable consequence of the crime decline? Was there any way to make the neighborhood safer without displacing residents?

I'm a big believer in rent control and stabilization. A person's home in not just another business commodity, especially if you rent. But that's not that way things work in our society. Developers have money (and the mayor). They make the rules.

You should write more about this. Like "Lush Life" (assuming you read that book) but real.

Anonymous said...


I think lighters put out more gas to huff or flame to cook when their caps are removed.

PCM said...

Ah, I love the Copinthehood.com database!


Anonymous said...

With lighters that have the removable metal cap, there is a plastic switch that can raise or lower the intensity of the flame. With the cap on, the levels are what they are. With the cap removed, one can move the switch to maximum, raise it, detaching it from the wheel, move it to the lower setting, reset the switch, and move it higher. This way one can create a much greater flame than would normally be allowed.

Fun trick to mess with smokers! "Got a light? Oh my God!"

Anonymous said...

Tops off lighters for higher flame for crack pipe.

Denise Guillermo said...

It's sad to see that the potential spots for a manila condo in the late 50s is now a bunch of scary blocks of drug corners in Baltimore. Looks like a ghost town to me, but they made great improvements in tearing the rowhomes down.

Clara Barrera said...

A series of apartment in salcedo village, townhouses and subdivisions is what I see in this place. Hopefully the government will see how this place badly needs renovation to be fruitful again.

Unknown said...

I noticed some people scatter too when they see a police in cheap flats in London .I wonder what they are thinking.

Unknown said...

So, standard lighters don't kick up enough flame to light crack, H, or meth, hence why butane torch is used. But if you take the top off a Bic lighter and jiggle the little black lever in the back up and down, left and right, up and down, it turns the flame WAYYY up high, also known as a crack light. It works like a charm, but burns the fluid out real quick lol.

Wee said...

The purpose of the lighters with no tops is because many of those cheap ones either have a child proof top that causes a crack smoker difficulty in keeping it lit, or it may be because that metal part gets very hot and burns your finger or it may be because those cheap ones when they get real hot will cause top to come off.
I lived in a empty house in east side Baltimore not far from there back in the early 1990's. I had a drug habit then. I thankfully changed my life and got away in 1994.i have been clean since then.

Wee said...

Actually all lighters work. Matches also work for cooking heroin. I never seen any meth in Baltimore when i was there. You need a lighter for crack.

Wee said...

Well it is not like Baltimore has the low income housing it needs. I saw a place out west that was fenced off and a bunch of those tiny houses are put in for homeless i wonder why this isn't offered in more places. I mean Baltimore has whole city blocks empty why not fence off and move people in. Not all homeless people are on drugs. When i first moved to a empty house it was because i was hiding from a violent ex who beat and left me for dead. I lost medical assistance and no more pain management and self medication became the only way out.