- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 18, 2003

Edgar Allan Poe wrote of loss and sorrow, death and haunting. He did some of that writing in the garrett of a Baltimore row house. Baltimore also is where the poet mysteriously died in 1849 at age 40. Poe’s life — riddled with alcoholism, poverty and illness — lives on in works such as “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee.” True fans can get a glimpse of how he lived by visiting the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum.

The modest row house where Poe resided from 1832 to 1835 still stands — and it is still dark and narrow, recalling a time when the poet might have thought up tales of the macabre by candlelight.

“This place appeals to young people who have read works like ‘The Telltale Heart,’” museum curator Jeff Jerome says. “They like the scary aspect. For adults, visiting here is usually about Poe, the man. They want to know, ‘Was he really strange?’ Or was he just a writer who wrote about his times and the things that happened to him.’”

The Poe House and Museum gives visitors a look at both. There are portraits of Poe and artifacts such as the lap desk he used at the University of Virginia. There are illustrations from an 1884 publication of “The Raven.” There are pieces of china Poe might have used when he lived with his adoptive family, the Allans of Richmond.

One spooky site here is a portrait of Poe’s wife, Virginia, a cousin whom he married in 1836, when he was 27 and she was 14. When Virginia died of tuberculosis in 1847, the family realized there were no portraits of her. One was commissioned soon after her death, and a print of it is displayed here. Mrs. Poe — with droopy eyelids, a vacant expression and pale, pale skin — is immortalized like something out of her husband’s poems.

“I always thought there was something strange about her eyes,” Mr. Jerome says. “But, of course, then I realized she was dead.”

The museum also has a print of Virginia Poe — painted when she was a vibrant 15-year-old — that was discovered years after her death.

The tiny museum also features videotapes to learn more about the poet and how he has been embraced as a Baltimorean. The fact that Poe died in Maryland is a fluke, Mr. Jerome says. He stopped in Baltimore on his way to New York in October of 1849. He fell ill there, and the legends surrounding his death are many.

“The popular version is he was drunk and died in the gutter,” Mr. Jerome says, “but he died in the hospital. We know Poe got ill in Baltimore, and that is where the mystery begins.”

The museum keeps the spooky aura alive with two annual celebrations. Halloween events will take place Oct. 25 and 26 and Nov. 1 and 2. The annual Halloween celebration includes the acting out of a Poe story. Local actors will perform “The Telltale Heart” this year.

“We’ve been doing Halloween here for 20 years,” Mr. Jerome says. “We have experimented with all different stories and found that not all relate well onstage. We’ll be doing ‘The Telltale Heart’ in the back bedroom upstairs. We usually pack ‘em in.”

The other big event is the celebration of Poe’s Jan. 19 birthday. On Jan. 17 and 18, actor John Astin (known for playing Gomez Addams on the old “Addams Family” TV show as well as Poe in a stage production) will narrate “The Mask of the Red Death.” The Baltimore Bach Society also will perform.

The days around Poe’s birthday are also popular at the Westminster Hall graveyard, located at Greene and Fayette streets, about 10 blocks from the museum. Each year, a partially filled bottle of French cognac and three red roses are left on the grave. Each year, “grave watchers” lurk in the shadows of the old graveyard to try to learn the identity of the person known as “the Poe Toaster.”

“We think it is a father-and-son team,” Mr. Jerome says. “It is a tradition.”

IF YOU GO:

What: The Edgar Allen Poe House and Museum

Location: 203 N. Amity St., Baltimore

Directions: Take Interstate 95 north to the Russell Street exit. Russell turns into Paca Street. Go five blocks and turn left on Fayette Street. The Poe grave will be on your left. Go eight blocks to Schroeder Street, then right on Saratoga Street and right on Amity Street.

Hours: Wednesday through Saturday noon to 3:45 p.m. April through July and October through December; Saturdays only noon to 3:45 p.m. August and September. Closed January through March and on city holidays.

Admission: $3 for adults, free for children younger than 12.

Parking: Street parking is available.

Note: The house includes steep and winding stairways, which may be unsuitable for very young children or the elderly. There will be a dramatic performance of “The Telltale Heart” on Oct. 25 and 26 and Nov. 1 and 2. Call for times and more information.

Information: 410/396-7932 or www.ci.baltimore.md.us/government/historic/poehouse.html


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