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Baltimore cuts off funding for Poe House
Question of the Day
BALTIMORE (AP) - Baltimore cut funding for the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum, one of the strongest links between the literary icon and the city that claims him as its own.
The Poe House must become self-sustaining by the middle of next year or it will close, curator Jeff Jerome and city officials said Friday.
The museum hasn't received any money from the city's general fund since last summer, when Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake pushed through a package of spending cuts and tax increases to close a $121 million budget deficit. Instead, it's been running on money that Jerome has raised over the years.
The Poe House had been funded at $80,000 a year, which included Jerome's salary, a security system, utilities and supplies.
Jerome has been the curator and sole employee since the city took control of the house in 1979. He had kept quiet about the looming shutdown until rumors began.
"There's been a lot of people upset, distressed about this," he said.
Poe lived in the tiny west Baltimore rowhouse with his aunt, cousins and grandmother from 1832-1835, before he became famous for his tales of the macabre. He never resided in Baltimore again, but he died in the city and is buried there.
Baltimore has long promoted its ties to Poe, even naming its NFL team the Ravens in his honor. The city held a series of celebrations in 2009 to mark the bicentennial of his birth.
Since then, Poe enthusiasts have had little to celebrate. For decades, a mysterious visitor left a half-full bottle of cognac and three red roses at Poe's gravesite on his birthday, but the so-called "Poe Toaster" has been absent the past two years.
City officials said they are not abandoning the Poe House and remain optimistic. The city put out a request last fall for a plan to make the museum self-sustaining and received four bids, planning director Tom Stosur said.
The winning bidder will be hired as a consultant to implement the business plan, with the goal of turning the Poe House over to new operators by the time its funding runs out in June 2012.
"We're getting professional help from folks who have consulted and run house museums in other parts of the country so that we get this on the right footing," Stosur said. "Hopefully we're going to come up with the right formula in the end."
Poe enthusiasts were not so optimistic.
"That place is never going to be profitable. It's the kind of place that needs public funding, that's always needed public funding to run," said Edward Pettit, a Philadelphia-based Poe scholar who has debated Jerome about which city has the best claim on Poe. A house where Poe lived in Philadelphia is managed by the National Park Service.
"What a travesty, that Baltimore won't fund the house, the site in their city of the most famous American writer ever. That is just absolutely, astoundingly stupid," Pettit said.
The modest house is notable for the cramped and Spartan conditions in which the writer lived. At the time, the family had no steady income and little food. While there's a desk in Poe's attic bedroom, Jerome explained that he more likely wrote on the ground floor, next to the fireplace. He likely composed some of his early stories there, including the gruesome "Berenice," about a man who has his beloved cousin buried alive, then yanks out her teeth.
The museum is open three days a week, four hours a day, and receives between 3,000 and 4,000 visitors a year.
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