After holdup near Poe house, concerns about safety raised Neighbors say increase in drug activity to blame

November 07, 1995|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

For years, residents near the Edgar Allan Poe House have said the West Baltimore attraction is in a safe neighborhood and tourists have nothing to worry about when they visit.

But some now have security concerns after the robbery of eight tourists by two armed teen-agers aboard a tour bus. The tourists were waiting to enter the Poe House on Saturday.

"This is the type of neighborhood where at any time someone could do something crazy like that little number," said Gwendolyn Fasio, 40, who lives in the Poe Homes public housing development.

"This ain't a bad neighborhood, but it's one where you've got to watch your back. Be alert. They weren't."

The robbery occurred before noon Saturday as about 12 passengers on a tour sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution sat in a parked tour bus in the 900 block of W. Lexington St. less than 50 yards from the Poe House at 203 N. Amity St.

Two youths -- both brandishing handguns and one wearing a mask -- entered the bus and robbed eight passengers of $800 and possessions, said Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a police spokesman. The gunmen fled on foot. No arrests have been made.

The robbery, according to some residents, is the result of increased drug trafficking in the area in recent months. One woman said street corner drug trafficking is very noticeable and gunshots more common.

"In the past two, three weeks you can watch them selling drugs at Saratoga and Amity and all on Lexington Street," said Raynard Matthews, 29, who has lived in the area his entire life.

The aging four-bedroom, 2 1/2 -story house -- in which Poe lived with his wife and mother-in-law during his early writing years -- underwent a recent refurbishing. The house, which attracts about 4,000 visitors a year, is open Wednesday through Saturday.

Jeff Jerome, Poe House curator, said the majority of visitors are from out of town.

A spokesman for the Study Tours and Seminars department at the Smithsonian Institution said Saturday's incident would not prevent future tours to the Poe House and other Baltimore attractions.

Sam Ringgold, a police spokesman, said no drastic security details are planned, but that additional officers may be stationed in the area when large tours are scheduled.

Yesterday, on the steps of a vacant house across from Poe House, Carol Harris, 45, who has lived in the Poe Homes for 10 years, watched as several youths threw bottles at boarded houses and cars.

"This is not the part of the city that makes tour maps," she said. "These kids don't seem to care. But it's not just here, it's all over the city. I can see how people who don't live here would be scared."

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