A birthday seemed the right occasion to mend some family fences.
So last weekend Luke Harvey Poe Jr., a hale 89-year-old who lives in Annapolis and practices law in Washington, rapped on the door of a tiny rowhouse in West Baltimore inhabited by another Poe in another century.
Were he still alive, Edgar Allan Poe would celebrate his 196th birthday Wednesday.
Harvey Poe's recent visit - his first to the house - was a long-overdue call because, as he recounted, his affluent Richmond relatives considered Edgar Allan Poe a ne'er-do-well.
One even burned a manuscript or two he gave as gifts.
In the dim view of his late grandfather, John "Major" Poe Jr., the masterful American author of haunting verses in "The Raven," "Annabel Lee" and other works amounted to a struggling "scribbler," Harvey Poe said.
Later, the grandfather would recall visits from the writer, who was his cousin. "He used to spend nights and eat my grandfather's food," Harvey Poe said.
His grandfather had little appreciation for his relative's budding talents. The grandfather was a soldier and became the police chief of Richmond. "He didn't understand the literary world," Harvey Poe said.
According to family legend, Edgar one night took a decanter of Major Poe's brandy to bed with him, drank every drop and then left through a front porch window.
Poe lived in the modest rooms in West Baltimore in the early 1830s with four relatives - including a cousin, Virginia Clemm, whom he later married. He won a short-story contest, for "Manuscript Found in a Bottle" and found a literary mentor in John Pendleton Kennedy.
He would later gain fame as a critic and author, living in New York and Philadelphia. His time in Baltimore was intermittent, although he is buried here.
In that time, he barely eked out a living in his younger years, which forced him to live in near-poverty with relatives in Baltimore after short stints at the University of Virginia and West Point.
"Starvation is the name of the game here," said Jeff Jerome, curator of the West Baltimore home on North Amity Street, now known as the Poe House and Museum. In the house is a picture of Virginia, who died at 24. "Look how beautiful she is," Jerome said, pointing to the only known image of her. Poe died soon after his wife, at age 40, in 1849.
Jerome guided Harvey Poe and his wife, Josephine, to the second floor, where he pointed out a plain wooden chair that belonged to the poet.
"It's odd," Jerome said. "It's not every day you see a live Poe sitting in a chair that belonged to the dead Poe," he said.
Harvey Poe was struck by the Spartan, unadorned home of his celebrated ancestor. "This gave a sense, more than ever before, of how poor he was," he said.
Harvey Poe's voice still gives away his Richmond roots. An urbane former Rhodes scholar who served in the Navy in the 1940s, he is the same generation as his late friend, President John F. Kennedy. No stranger to a bookish life, he holds a doctorate in philosophy from Oxford and was a tutor on the St. John's College faculty.
The Poe expert and the Poe descendant swapped stories and opinions about the late author, now considered one of America's greatest writers.
Harvey Poe and Jerome agreed that a vindictive critic, Rufus Griswold, had done much to damage Poe's reputation out of sheer spite and malice.
"He was very jealous of Poe," said Harvey Poe. "Griswold's a sad character. A lot of legends hang on Griswold's lies."
Poe's reputation was rehabilitated by critics after the Civil War. "Of course `The Raven' did help," Harvey Poe said.
His renown also traveled over the Atlantic Ocean. The creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was an admirer of Poe.
Harvey Poe told Jerome about the Poe Room at the University of Virginia, which recreates a student room in the writer's day. Thomas Jefferson, who laid out the university grounds, designed the early student rooms.
"It's a room that Jefferson built, an authentic student room the way it would have been when [Poe] was there," Harvey Poe told the curator, adding that, as the president of the Raven Society, he had organized that exhibit.
"Thank you," Jerome said. "I've always wondered who did that."
He then invited Poe back to Baltimore for the poet's birthday celebrations - an invitation he accepted.
If all goes according to a cherished Baltimore custom, an unknown man will leave three roses and a half-filled bottle of cognac between midnight and morning light near the poet's grave at Fayette and Greene streets.
The city's Edgar Allan Poe birthday celebrations will take place at Westminster Hall at the University of Maryland campus at Fayette and Greene streets. Readings of Poe's works will be performed at 7 p.m. Saturday and at 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $17 to 25 Saturday and $15 to 23 Sunday .