As I wrote in my previous post, the folks at the Poe House seem to know that they are going to get some odd questions. In fact, they hand out a sheet listing some of the unusual questions visitors have asked. They include: Why is the paint peeling, why does the Poe House have that “old” smell and is the house haunted? (Poe’s grandmother died in the house, he did not). I think some (many?) visitors to the Poe House are hoping to discover something a little creepy; I suppose we all have a somewhat morbid curiosity when it comes to Poe. Another sample on the curator’s question list asks about the basement. The sheet reassures you that the basement is mostly used for storage and that “there is nothing mysterious or weird in the basement.”
The Poe House is very old, built around 1830. You enter into a small parlor, which serves as a greeting area/gift shop. The staff (two people on the day we where there) meets you there, telling you a little about the house and what you’ll see. You can then walk into an area that was the kitchen and features several displays about Poe and his wife. You then proceed up a very steep flight of stairs. To the left is a small room with chairs where you can watch a video of local TV coverage of the Poe House, including reports from Westminster Hall (the site of Poe’s grave) where a mysterious visitor brought cognac and rose every year on Poe’s birthday. Last year (2010) was one of the first years that the visitor did not appear. With Poe’s birthday approaching, it will be interesting to see if someone else picks up the tradition.* Like other things in the Poe House the videotape (yes, videotape) is very, very old. I am sure the curator would love a donor to come in and help. Some of the displays are getting worn, with letters missing. But somehow, I kind-of liked the quirkiness of the whole thing, like the writer himself. Across the hall from the “TV room” is another room with more information about Poe’s life. These displays do not shy away from controversies surrounding the writer, including his marriage to his teenage cousin and contemporary critics of his work.
From this room, you can take another super steep staircase (see previous post) to Poe’s bedroom. It’s hard to believe that five people lived in this house. It’s also hard to imagine getting any writing done there, but the House says that during Poe’s time living here, he switched from writing poems to short stories, even winning $50 prize from a Baltimore newspaper for the best short. There’s information about that in the displays on the second floor. As we left, my friend Nancy and I were able to ask the staff about the place that Poe died. As you may know, there are dozens of theories about how Poe died. He died at Washington Medical College, which is no longer in existence. However, the man at the Poe House said there is a sign on a building in Fell’s Point in Baltimore that marks the spot of the hospital. I’ve probably been by many times and never stopped to look. I will put it on the list for a future nerd trip. After the Poe House, Nancy and I took a quick trip to Westminster Hall (right near my office, actually) to see Poe’s grave. I’ll write more on that in another post.
*P.S. A few weeks after I wrote this post, there was an article in the Baltimore Sun with the grim news that the Poe house was facing serious financial troubles due to the probable withdrawl of city funding. Here’s a link:https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/editorial/bs-ed-poe-house-20110208,0,4164482.story
There is now a campaign “Pennies For Poe,” which seeks to raise money to preserve the Poe House. The “Pennies for Poe” idea harkens back to movement in the 1870s started by local school teacher to raise money for a monument for Poe’s grave (I’ll write about a Nerd Trip visit to Poe’s grave in later post). For more information, check out https://penniesforpoe.com/
P.P.S. In 2011, the Poe Toaster did not show up on Poe’s birthday. Here’s an article from the Baltimore Sun. https://articles.baltimoresun.com/2011-01-19/entertainment/bs-ae-poe-toaster-20110119_1_poe-toaster-jeff-jerome-poe-house
P.P.S. In the years since this post was written, there have been efforts to get the Poe House back on its feet. In 2014/2015, it opened on a limited basis. Check the website for the latest information: www.poeinbaltimore.org