Poepourri For you, Edgar, tale-telling and a cider salute

January 16, 1993|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Staff Writer

Let the name roll slowly off your tongue: Edgar Allan Poe.

Just the sound of those three words conjures up images of ravens, bodies and beating hearts. The name also is irrevocably linked to Baltimore.

"This city is where the world's largest Edgar Allan Poe birthday celebration is held every year," says Jeff Jerome, curator of Baltimore's Poe House and Museum. He has a persuasive argument for making such a claim.

Other cities where Poe lived may note the birthday, he says, standing in a house the author once called home, "but . . . after all, we have Poe!" Mr. Jerome says with a touch of barely repressed glee.

Poe's body is buried in downtown Baltimore at Westminster Hall, Fayette and Greene streets.

Baltimore is also the home of the Edgar Allan Poe Society, formed in 1923. "We unofficially formed in 1865 when a Poe memorial fund was started to erect a monument over his grave," says Jeffrey Savoye, the secretary/treasurer of the organization.

There are about 300 members. "They range from the mildly interested to noted Poe scholars," says Mr. Savoye, a computer programmer.

This time last year, about 1,000 people attended the celebration and annual Poe toast at the grave. Weather permitting, as many or more are expected this year, including the mysterious stranger who makes an annual visit to Poe's grave to leave three red roses and a half bottle of cognac, Mr. Jerome says.

Highlights of the weekend include the East Coast premiere of a two-hour drama called "Poe Alone . . . A Visit to the Haunted Palace" performed by actor David Keltz, musical selections on a restored 1889 pipe organ and the viewing of a lock of Poe's hair.

The apple cider toast by the curator will note "that even though it's been 144 years since your passing, your life and works continue to shine . . ."

The Poe House, 203 North Amity St., will be open Saturday and Sunday and will not be open again until mid-April, Mr. Jerome says.

Baltimore may be noting Poe's birth in a big way this weekend, but it isn't the only city to claim Poe as its own.

Richmond, Va., is the author's true home, claims that city's director of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum. "Mr. Poe considered Richmond his home," insists director Ron Furqueron.

With that point made, Mr. Furqueron adds he is good friends with Mr. Jerome and will be in Baltimore this weekend to celebrate.

"Jeff Jerome does an excellent job," Mr. Furqueron says. "He is a friend and a colleague, and it will be a great time in Baltimore." Also, he explains, the Richmond museum has recently undergone a change in administration in addition to being refurbished, so no birthday celebration was planned this year.

"But this fall, we will have a weekend festival," Mr. Furqueron adds.

Last year, a bill was introduced in the Virginia legislature to make Poe the state poet. The bill did not pass but is expected to be introduced again this year.

So let Virginians go ahead and claim Poe as their state poet, Mr. Jerome says good naturedly. People all over the world craving knowledge about Poe can only mean good news for the Baltimore Poe House and Museum, he says. "We try not to hog Poe."

It's a good thing.

Boston, New York and Philadelphia were also home to Poe at one time or another.

A Poe Cottage in Bronx, N.Y., is under renovation. Mr. Jerome thinks a few radio shows may be the extent of the celebration in those cities.

Here's why he's a slippery individual for any city to claim solely at its own: Poe was born in Boston on Jan. 19, 1809. His father, an actor from Baltimore, and his mother both died, leaving Poe an orphan at the age of 3. He was taken in (although never adopted) by John and Frances Allan, friends of his mother's who lived in Richmond.

According to Mr. Jerome and Poe biographers, Poe and Allan were never close. And Poe left home as a teen-ager to join the Army.

He was discharged in 1829 and came to live in Baltimore with his aunt, Marie Poe Clemm, on Baltimore Street. The house, which is no longer standing, was in Little Italy.

Poe left the house for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and after a short stint there, moved to New York and then returned to Baltimore.

Poe returned to a life of poverty as he tried to earn his living as a writer in the house on Amity Street.

It was in Baltimore that Poe's literary career finally met with some success when he won a literary prize for a short story.

In 1836, at the age of 27, Poe married Virginia Clemm, his 14-year-old first cousin, and the couple moved to Richmond. Eventually, they lived in Philadelphia and New York. Virginia died in 1847. Then, in 1849, Poe was found barely conscious on a Baltimore street and was taken to a hospital where he died.

"There are at least 22 different versions of how Poe died," Mr. Jerome says. But today and tomorrow, his life and works will be celebrated, whatever the facts may be.


What: "Poe Alone . . . A Visit to the Haunted Palace," a two-hour drama performed by David Keltz with before and after. Jeff Jerome, curator of Poe House, will offer the traditional toast to Poe with sparkling cider at the gravesite.

Where: Westminster Hall. Fayette and Greene streets.

When: Today, 8 p.m. Doors open at 7:15 p.m. today and 15 minutes before each show tomorrow. The event is alcohol-free.

Cost: $18 for adults. $7 for those under 18.

Tomorrow: "The Tell Tale Heart" with Dianna Diatz. "The Black Cat" with Tony Tsendeas. "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar," with David Keltz. Performances are at 12:15 p.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Cost: $8 for adults; $6 for ages 18 and under.

What: The Poe House, 203 Amity St., will be open from noon to 4 p.m. today and tomorrow.

Cost: $3 for adults and $2 for ages 12 and under.

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