- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 19, 2003

Edgar Allan Poe would have been a spry 194 years old if he were around to celebrate his birthday Jan. 19. The legendary wordsmith lived in the Northeastern United States during his short 40 years working as critic, editor and author of works such as "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Cask of Amontillado" and "The Raven" until his mysterious death in a Baltimore hospital.

A new Web site looks at his Baltimore roots and celebrates the life and writings of this legendary author through an interactive adventure sending students back to the 19th century to analyze and appreciate the man and his work.

Knowing Poe

Site address: https://knowingpoe.thinkport.org


The site was developed and is maintained by Maryland Public Television (MPT), a not-for-profit, state-licensed public TV station, under a grant from the Department of Education Star Schools program.

Creator quotable:

"We designed Knowing Poe to give students and teachers an opportunity to actively examine the life, literature and times of Edgar Allan Poe to see how his life and craft intersected as he became one of America's great storytellers. The site's interactive approach enhances the learning experience and allows users to think critically and imaginatively about a writer and the writing process," says Gail Porter Long, vice president and chief education officer for MPT.

Word from the Webwise:

The anguish-filled, creative world of Poe is exhaustively explored through engaging multimedia modules demanding a high-speed Internet connection. The site opens with a black screen peppered with white lettering, the sound of a heartbeat in the background. Poe's favorite bird, the raven, appears to beckon visitors into this creepy virtual environment.

As each page loads, a video segment featuring Poe pops up, with the help of the Real Networks. In the vignettes, he comments on everything from his belief that the poem is a rhythmical creation of beauty to his story about a person buried alive being based on a bet to a seven-minute recitation of his greatest poem, "The Raven."

Of course it is not the writer himself in these video clips, but a clever impersonation pulled off by Baltimore-born actor John Astin who may be best remembered as another inventive fellow, Gomez, the patriarch of the Addams Family.

The primary sections of the site Poe the Person, Poe the Writer and the Poe Library present a variety of interactive resources to lead students and Poe fans alike on an incredible biographical journey.

The sections' submodules, which load into new windows, include an interactive timeline comparing milestones in Poe's life and literature to world literature and the history of Baltimore, Maryland and America; a floor plan of his Baltimore residence at 203 N. Amity St. that provides access to every room and artifacts with the click of a mouse; and an educational deconstruction of "The Raven" that allows students to understand words, poetic devices and see possible meanings of certain phrases.

Two of my favorites areas, "The Bells," (found under Poe the Writer) and It'll be the Death of Me (found under Poe the Person), will take up a chunk of visitors' time.

The first provides a fantastic look at how a poem can be interpreted by different performers. Students can select a stanza of "The Bells," and hear it read by a male or female voice, with or without emotion, and with or without music and sound effects.

The second area, It'll be the Death of Me, offers a great, but ultimately unsolvable, detective game in which the player researches and offers a conclusion about Poe's demise.

With the help of some artsy visuals and a female avatar, visitors must click through various screens to eventually end up in the basement of an old library reviewing file folders. Using onscreen tabs, the player explores death scenarios such as carbon monoxide poisoning, rabies, alcoholism and tuberculosis, and must decide on the likely cause of Poe's passing.

Ease of use:

Visitors will need Microsoft Internet Explorer, version 5 or later, at least the Flash 5 and Real Player 8 plug-ins, and either a fast Web connection or patience for optimal viewing enjoyment. Those with problems can check the About this Site and Technical Difficulties sections for tips.

Don't miss:

Football fans will get a kick out of hearing select lines of "The Raven" spewed forth by members of the NFL team named after the classic poem. Coach Brian Billick, linebacker Ray Lewis, kicker Matt Stover and even the cheerleaders take some of the torment out of the famous words.

Family activity:

Folks living in the D.C. metro area can spend a day in Baltimore following the history of Poe with guidance from the site's For Families link. Start with the Poe House and Museum at 203 N. Amity St. for an overview, then admire Sir Moses Ezekiel's famous statue of the writer (at the University of Baltimore, Law Center Plaza, Maryland and Mount Royal avenues) and end up at Poe's grave, found at the southeast corner of Fayette and Greene streets in West Baltimore.

Cybersitter synopsis:

Knowing Poe displays one of the most dynamic, educational presentations I have seen. High school students will take a deep interest in the man's life. Parents should be aware that some pages contain supplemental links that will take visitors outside the site.

Overall grade: A+

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).

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