On the stroke of midnight tomorrow a bagpipe procession will lead the way to the dark recesses of Westminster Cemetery and Catacombs to where the great poet and story teller Edgar Allan Poe is buried.
There, Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House, will lift his glass at the site of Poe's grave in a traditional toast honoring the writer's 182nd birthday.
This ceremony crowns the activities of the first day of the three day event, which begins at 8 p.m. tomorrow at Westminster Hall with the group, Musica Antiqua, playing some of Poe's favorite musical selections on authentic instruments from the author's time period.
Following this presentation actor Conrad Pomerleau will stage his two-hour dramatization, "Poe in Person," a theatrical combination based on Poe's true life and his stories and poems.
Pomerleau has toured the East Coast with this piece for 12 years. Popular tales included in his one-man show are "The Bells," "The Raven," "The Cask of Amontillado" and "Lionizing."
"In his play, Mr. Pomerleau also reveals the humorous side of Poe, which few people know," Jerome says.
"We bill this happening as the world's largest Edgar Allan Poe Birthday Celebration," he says. "The celebration continues tomorrow and Sunday with special performances of some of Poe's best horror stories -- 'Berenice,' 'The Black Cat' and 'The Tell Tale Heart.'"
A lock of Poe's hair and a piece of his coffin will be on display during the three days. "This is an important fund-raiser for us," Jerome says. "The actors are paid and costumes are a major expense. I do the lighting for each story," he adds, "as well as produce and direct the various presentations."
On the agenda are two different interpretations of "The Black Cat" performed by Stacey McFarlane and Tony Tsendeas. Sheila Gaskins will be featured in "The Tell Tale Heart."
"Stacey plays the character very sympathetically and Tony has more anger," Jerome says. "As for 'The Tell Tale Heart,' Poe never tells us if the narrator is a man or a woman. Have you noticed there is something frightening about a crazed woman commiting murder? It is effective. I want to look at the body language of the audience and see 'terrified'. Sheila gets them hook, line and sinker.
"Stacy also performs Poe's first and maybe most horrifying story, 'Berenice'," Jerome says. "Poe made a bet with a friend he could write something so horrible people would believe it. And he did. The gruesome, Gothic plot dealt with premature burial and grave desecration and teeth extraction. But all this is implied in the story . . . there is no graphic violence.
"To stage this we are using antique dental instruments and teeth supplied by the University of Maryland National Museum of Dentistry."
Jerome has held the position of curator for 11 years. "I have always been a Poe fan," he says. "It is my intent to get the word out about Poe . . . acquaint people with his human side and familiarize them with his works. He was also a literary critic, editor, publisher and inventor of the detective story.
"Poe was a genius with great vision but he died at age 40 at Church Hospital in Baltimore." He laughs. "There are 22 different versions of how he met his demise. The original records are long since gone.
"Last year we did Poe's death, now we are doing his life," he says, smiling.
Schedule of events
The annual Edgar Allan Poe Birthday Celebration will be held tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday at the Westminster Hall, Fayette and Greene streets.
Celebration activities include:
* Tomorrow at 8 p.m. Mary Markey hosts Music Antiqua. "Poe in Person," a dramatization performed by Conrad Pomerleau, follows. Afterward, Jack Groves plays several Scottish and Irish tunes on the bagpipe. The evening concludes with the traditional toast to Poe at his grave. Admission: $15 per adult, $8 for those 18 and younger.
* Saturday at noon, 2, 4, 7 and 9 p.m. performances of "Berenice" with Stacey McFarlane and "The Black Cat" with Tony Tsendeas are scheduled. Admission: $8 for adults, $6 for those younger than 18.
* Sunday at 2, 4 and 6 p.m. performances of "The Tell Tale Heart" with Sheila Gaskins and "The Black Cat" with Stacey McFarlane are scheduled. Admission: $8 for adults, $6 for those younger than 18.
For more information, call Jeff Jerome at 396-7932.