Kristen Harbeson, Poe Baltimore Board President, toasts Mayor… (Kaitlin Newman, Baltimore…)
It was a passing of the torch.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake took a swig of cognac along with Kristen Harbeson, the president of the nonprofit Poe Baltimore. The two then exchanged a stuffed raven.
The occasion was the Saturday reopening of the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum, which closed nearly a year ago after the city said it would no longer budget the $85,000 to keep it open as a tourist attraction.
Cognac was Poe's drink of choice; the stuffed bird, a tribute to his poem "The Raven."
"We have Edgar Allan Poe, a raven and cognac all before noon," Rawlings-Blake joked at the late morning event.
She said the reopening would allow thousands of visitors to continue to enjoy the landmark house and added that it was an example of how private groups can step in when cash-strapped cities can no longer afford to run important programs.
"With its reopening we are giving people a chance to walk, think and dream in the same space that Edgar Allan Poe lived," Rawlings-Blake said of the house where Poe resided for a few years in the 1830s with his aunt and young cousin, whom he later married.
Poe Baltimore was formed shortly after the closing of the house in September 2012 to look for ways to reopen the historic structure and make it financially sound. The city paid the nearby B&O Railroad Museum $180,000 to act as a consultant to help give the group a jump start.
Poe Baltimore now assumes full responsibility for operating and funding the attraction.
"This our way of introducing ourselves to the community as the stewards of the house," Harbeson said at Saturday's event.
The house is open to the public for free on weekends in October, as part of Free Fall Baltimore, a program sponsored by the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts that offers cultural events at no cost. Poe Baltimore hopes to get it on a schedule of being open in the summer and fall and closed in the winter, as it had been in the past.
Since its closing, the house has been spruced up with new carpet and a fresh coat of paint on the walls. The exhibits have been updated to share more of Poe's experiences throughout Baltimore and not just in the house.
Museum-goers will find some of the same artifacts that were there before the closing – Poe's stepfather's telescope and the desk where Poe wrote.
"Poe Baltimore has been hard at work preparing to open this house, the home of one of Baltimore's most famous residents," Harbeson said.
Poe Baltimore hopes to increase attendance and turn the house into a bigger tourist destination. Previously, attendance fluctuated between 3,000 and 5,000 visitors annually.
"It is our fervent wish that this house will continue to be a source of inspiration, of stories, of dreams and of community," Harbeson said.