Founded in 1938, Tattoo Charlie’s remains on the Block in Baltimore today, making it one of the oldest tattoo parlors in the United States.
“Women are the chief reason Baltimoreans with an itch for tattoos take to the needle,” The Sun reported in 1956 in a profile of Tattoo Charlie’s. Back then, the place was already in a bit of a slump. During World War II, sailors poured into his parlor – hundreds each day – to get inked up. But peace seemed to put a stop to the tattooing.
“In case war breaks out, or something excites the people, they get a crazy notion for some special design,” Charlie Geizer, the tattoo shop’s founder, told The Sun. Otherwise, it was the usual order: women’s initials, entwined hearts and naked ladies. In 1975, The Sun reported that the black rose was the newest fad in town in the art of tattooing.
Geizer, who had over 300 tattoos on his own body, was born in Baltimore and raised in Texas. He picked up the craft early, tattooing a star on his kneecap at the age of 14 and later traveling with the circus as a tattooed man. In the early days of tattoo artistry, he told The Sun, he tattooed women’s lips and eyebrows, but this fell out of fashion over time.
Over the years, other tattoo parlors came and went in Baltimore, but Charlie’s endured. In part, this may have been due to its superior hygiene standards – the city health department shut down several other parlors for spreading hepatitis and syphilis. Not Geizer. He claimed to have once tattooed the Duke of Windsor.
At Geizer’s death in 1980, the shop was taken over by his protégé, Dennis Watkins. And then in June 2008, Tattoo Charlie’s was bought by Ami James and Sam Mirkin. Today business is a bit slow, says tattoo artist Gary Clark. It’s not easy doing business on the Block – a stretch once famous for PG-13 burlesque bars, but today infamous for crime.