Cloaked in mystery and related by blood Poe: As Baltimore goes about toasting its resident dead genius, a stranger in the crowd gets to the heart of the matter.

October 30, 1997|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Edgar Allan Poe is still dead -- but that's beside the point of Halloween, Baltimore-style.

Tomorrow night, a thousand or more souls will enter the catacombs of Westminster Burial Ground at Fayette and Greene streets. An actor portraying Poe will perform "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado." Little doubt, Poe's fractured-fairy-tale life and death (in Baltimore, Oct. 7, 1849) will be dug up again.

Short of exhuming the poet's bones, Poe groupies continue to pick through the crumbs of his life. And his death! Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead..." reads "The Tell-Tale Heart." But what was the cause of Poe's death?

Killed by rabies -- as suggested by a University of Maryland cardiologist last year? Murdered by a jealous colleague -- as spiritualists in Chicago recently declared on the 148th anniversary of his death? Dead by reason of insanity? Or simply, pathetically, strangled by whiskey?

"I think," says one unfamiliar and rare voice on the subject, "I think he was just plain drunk."

Hardly poetic, but the man might have a point. After all, he's Edgar Allan Poe III -- or, as he likes to be called, Edgar Poe. No middle name, thank you.

"It saves a lot of questions," says Poe. "That way it's easy to skip the whole thing."

The whole thing being, of course, his pedigree. Poe the writer had no direct descendants but had plenty of blood relatives. Edgar Allan Poe III -- a retired Pontiac dealer in Towson -- is Poe's great-great-great-nephew. "I think I got the right number of 'greats,' " he says.

He's from Edgar's brother's side of the family. Edgar's older and only brother, William Henry Leonard Poe (1807-1831), probably died of tuberculosis and was "entirely given up to drink & unable to help himself," his brother wrote in Baltimore in 1829.

More on Henry: "A slender young man with dark eyes, he seems to have shared Edgar's inclinations toward dreamy romanticism and debilitating melancholy, while lacking his sibling's enthusiastic vigor and compelling genius," according to "The Poe Log" by Dwight Thomas and David K. Jackson.

So, what does this have to do with Edgar Allan Poe III?

Nothing, really. His immediate family had run out of names, so they dusted off an oldie but goodie when the boy was born. Until his retirement, Poe minded his mild business in Baltimore, selling Pontiacs. Poe III has never written anything. At least nothing like "Once upon a midnight dreary ..."

But Edgar Poe is a fan of Edgar Allan Poe. They're distant family, after all.

"He was an excellent writer. I got his works."

Any originals? "I wish I did. That would be nice."

His favorites? "The Gold-Bug" and "The Tell-Tale Heart." And "The Raven," of course.

Must have been a kick when the Baltimore Ravens were christened?

"I'm really not a football fan," says Poe.

Oh.

He does enjoy hunting. Listen to his answering machine:

This is Edgar Poe. Thanks to the Second Amendment, I'm exercising my right to bear arms and am out hunting the elusive and wily Tyrannosaurus ... or unarmed criminals.

If he's on the phone, his machine says: I'm currently on the phone with various sundry people on an international level. How mysterious, how Poe-ish of Poe!

Poe's Halloween plans don't include dropping by the catacombs to pay respects to his great-great-great-uncle. He plans to be on the Eastern Shore, hunting something called sea ducks. And no pictures for this story, thanks.

To the best of local knowledge, Poe has never been seen in the cemetery.

"He may have visited," says cemetery tour director Lu Ann Marshall, "without telling us who he is."

And here's a tasty notion: Could Edgar Poe, by any stretch of the delirious imagination, be the secret soul who each January leaves three red roses and a half-bottle of cognac at the stone cold foot of Poe's grave?

"Me?" Edgar Allan Poe III says. "It's most definitely not I." For one thing, he says, it's too damn cold in January to be out sneaking around cemeteries.

Again, hardly poetic, but the man has a point.

Pub Date: 10/30/97

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