Edgar Allan Poe: Down And Out In Baltimore

Poe House in Baltimore
Worth preserving
When the City of Baltimore announced earlier this year that it had trimmed its budget by eliminating $85,000 earmarked for the operation of the Edgar Allan Poe house, Poe’s legacy once again became mired in doom, gloom, and money troubles. This is the second year the city has decided not to subsidize the historic site. When reserve funds run out, which could happen within a year, the Poe House in Baltimore will close and the city will lose an important piece of its literary past.

The Poe House isn’t simply a repository for handwritten manuscripts and leather-bound first editions. Its collection also includes a fragment of Poe’s coffin and a lock of his hair, portraits of the lovely Virginia, some rare daguerreotype photos of Poe himself (he didn’t always have a moustache!) and other relics and mementoes.

Down at the heels it might be, but that’s pretty much the way Poe would have known it when he scratched away at his short stories in the attic of the house.

Poe lived in the house at 203 Amity Street (3 Amity Street at the time) for just three years, give or take, from around 1832 to 1835. It wasn’t the most distinguished time of his life, nor the most prolific. Still, you could argue that none of Poe’s hometowns has embraced him quite as fervently as Baltimore.

Virginia Clemm Poe
Virginia Poe, approximate age 15
Yes, Philadelphia has its Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site and Richmond, Va., has its Poe Museum, but only Baltimore has the Ravens (named for the poem and arguably the most literary thing ever to come out of NFL football), the house where Poe first cohabitated with his cousin Virginia Clemm (whom he would marry in 1836 when he was 27 and she 13), Poe’s grave, and the bizarre, murky tale of his death in 1849 at the tender age of 40.

Everyone knows where Poe is buried. His gravesite is in the Westminster Burial Ground about a mile from the Poe House. What’s less certain are the circumstances of his death. That it happened in Baltimore is undisputed. How it happened is up for debate.  (You could wait for the 2012 release of The Raven, starring John Cusack as Poe. It’s said to be based on the last days of Poe’s life, although it might not clarify things much.)

Here’s the best way to learn about Poe’s life and times: Set out on a literary Poe-grimage of your own. Stop in Philadelphia and in Richmond. Put Poe Cottage in the Bronx on your must-see list for later (it’s undergoing restoration now), and, finally, swing into Baltimore. This site from the city’s department of tourism will help you trace Poe’s Baltimore history and it includes a video featuring Baltimore’s own Laura Lippman, whose 1998 novel Charm City earned her the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award—named for that fellow with the house in Baltimore…for now…

Read more about fundraising efforts for the Poe House at our sister site, Tor.com.

Leslie Gilbert Elman blogs intermittently at My Life in Laundry. She’s written two trivia books and has a few unpublished fiction manuscripts in the closet to keep the skeletons company.

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