With the Garden of Eden tattooed on his back and a spread eagle with cupie dolls inked on his chest, Tattoo Charlie was a walking billboard for his business. "I’m completely covered with tattoos", said Charlie J. Geizer, the 73 year-old Baltimore native who claims he’s known world-wide as “Tattoo Charlie.”
The story goes that Charlie got his start in the tattoo business in 1915. As a youth he worked in traveling carnivals and circuses. “Just natural” is the way Charlie says he learned to tattoo as he followed he old sawdust circuit decorating Midwestern forearms with heart-enclosed Moms and rebel flags on southern biceps.
In the years that followed, Charlie operated shops in San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Cleveland, and New Orleans before settling back in Baltimore in 1939. A 1971 news article quoted Charlie as saying; “At that time and during the flourishing war years there were four other tattooists working in Baltimore and kept busy by a steady influx of sailors, soldiers and marines.” The other tattooists Charlie mentioned may have included Antone Aguiar, George Rogers, Bob Roy, Frenchy and Sailor Youlee.
Tattoo Charlie got a lot of press through the years but at the time of the 1971 news article, Charlie’s was the last surviving tattoo shop in Baltimore. According to Charlie the others left in 1953 when the city’s health department passed new sanitation and licensing regulations. In a 1956 news article Charlie stated that his competition was leaving because of the new heath regulations and the fact that the city raised the age limit to get a tattoo from 18 to 21 years. Charlie was proud that he stuck it out in Baltimore while weaker men moved on or gave up the trade.
Tattoo Charlie died in 1980.
I am happy to report that Tattoo Charlie’s place at #421 East Baltimore is still in operation. Drop in and say hello.
Originally published by the Tattoo Archive © 2006