Product placement at the Poe House? Evermore

PETA may not be the right fit, but surely the author's home can benefit from other advertising

February 19, 2011|By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun

PETA and Poe? Oh, woe.

The always outrageous People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals made the always financially strapped Edgar Allan Poe House an offer last week that, apparently, the latter can refuse.

PETA officials pledged an unspecified amount of money to help keep the Poe House open now that it's lost funding from Baltimore City and is subsisting on the kindness of strangers.

The catch, though, is that the house would have to display a PETA poster, one that plays off a famous Poe short story: "The Tell-Tale Heart of a Meat-Eater," goes the ad, which features a drawing of a rather distressed Poe-like man clutching his chest. "Don't be Haunted by Bad Health: Go Vegan. PETA."

But the defenders of design standards, the Committee for Historic and Architectural Preservation, which runs the house-turned-museum, demurred, saying ads aren't allowed on the building.

A pity, especially since I suspect that poor Poe, who struggled financially for much of his life, wouldn't necessarily be averse to a little product placement. He was a writer for the mass market rather than the academy, after all, dashing off what he could sell to stave off the bill collectors, so he might not have been offended by a bit of commerce if it meant survival — his own, or that of the house in which he lived for three years.

So maybe not PETA, but surely some other interest group or company could be persuaded to donate funds in exchange for a little discreet advertising?

But before we dispense with PETA as a potential Poe House sponsor, I must say the group's ad is so ridiculous that it's actually quite wonderful. Poe and veganism is such a mixed metaphor, such a never-the-twain meeting of time periods and cultures, that it has a certain genius.

Or maybe PETA is even more clever than I suspect: Do the don't-eat-animals folk know, for example, that the only completed novel by the famed short-story writer, "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket," was a characteristically gothic tale of stowaways on a whaling ship that turns into a nightmare of mutiny, mayhem and … cannibalism?

Better that than caged calves or abused chickens, perhaps?

Maybe there are other groups or companies more acceptable to the Poe House protectors that could provide financial support to the house and museum, which is threatened with closure unless the $85,000 it lost in city budget cuts can be raised.

Here's an easy one: What about Courvoisier, Hennessy or Remy Martin? One of them could sponsor another dying bit of Poe-iana, the mystery-clouded ritual in which someone leaves (or used to leave) three roses and a bottle of cognac at the author's gravesite on the anniversary of his birth.

With the so-called Poe Toaster skipping the last two birthdays, including the 202nd on Jan. 19, this is an obvious sponsorship waiting to happen. I'm talking paid admission to Westminster Hall, souvenir T-shirts, specialty cocktails, pay-per-view broadcasts!

Speaking of liquor, maybe we can get a bidding war going with another purveyor of Poe-related spirits. Is there anyone more associated with amontillado that Poe? And yet they've been selling that stuff for years without paying a penny to the guy.

I see sherry tastings, while visitors make their way through some creepy, crypt-like space, following various Mason symbols and ending up, of course, in a gift shop. There, they can buy their very own bottle of Montresor's® Cask of Amontillado.

These tie-ins, though, pose a slight problem, given that some believe Poe died of alcoholism. Awkward!

Which leaves us with the ultimate corporate rescuer. This should go without saying … but hello? Anyone home at the Baltimore Ravens?

Surely the football team has done a great deal to keep Baltimore's association with Poe a part of everyday life, making claims by Boston, Richmond or Philadelphia that the wandering writer belongs to them seem like just so much wannabe nonsense.

So, c'mon Ravens, step up. And if you partner with Under Armour, as you have so often in other ventures, we won't even need a new slogan.

Protect this house!

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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