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The Edgar Allan Poe House in Baltimore

Amanda, Darci, & I at Poe's HouseThose of you who have been around the blog for awhile probably remember this picture from last October when Amanda, her friend Darci, and I went down to Baltimore for Edgar Allan Poe's funeral and the chance for Amanda to meet Gris Grimly, illustrator extraordinaire and one of the speakers at Poe's funeral.

This was as close to seeing the Baltimore Poe House & Museum as we got on that trip which was a darn sight closer than we got the first time we went down to Baltimore in August for our Pilgrimage to Poe and couldn't even find the place, never mind stand outside of it to get our picture taken!  To say that the house is tricky to find is a bit of an understatement.

Well, as they say, 'third time's charm' so on this latest journey to Charm City I was bound and determined to actually tour the house even though I was going to have to do so by myself being that Amanda was up to her eyeballs in Hanna's Not a Boy's Name over at Otakon and I was entertaining myself.  At least this time I knew exactly where to find the house and lucky for me, it was open on Saturdays so off I went to the projects to pursue Poe.

Exterior of Poe HouseWhen the small duplex townhouse was built around 1830 for Charles Klassen, the property owner, it was located on the outskirts in an area west of Baltimore that didn't contain much more than the B&O Railroad.  As always goes to follow, the neighborhood built up around the house and unfortunately, it's not exactly the best neighborhood in Baltimore.  Oh okay, it's really kind of a scary neighborhood when you get right down to it and it's even scarier when you walk up to the door and read the instructions on the yellow sign that tells you to "knock on door, wait patiently, guide will answer" and then goes on to tell you to not pull any money out for the tour while you're waiting! That's another one of those things I should have gotten a picture of but at the time, I wasn't exactly thinking about it as I looked surreptitiously up and down the street while holding my camera close!

I felt like I was waiting for entry into a Speakeasy after I knocked softly on the door and waited for the tour guide to unlock it from the inside and let me in.  I certainly hoped there wasn't a password needed for entry but if there were, perhaps it would be something simple like quoting the first line from Poe's famous poem "The Raven".  I wasn't sure if my palms were starting to sweat from the warmth of the day or the wait to hear the lock turn before the door opened!  Finally an older lady - Nancy - opened the door and I was let into the front room which is now used as an office which houses the monitor for all of the cameras that are around the house, a small collection of Poe books that are for sale, a rather large bust of E.A. Poe himself, and other office accouterments.   No pictures are allowed in that room but following a small spiel by Nancy, tourists are free to "wander" around the house themselves and take pictures.

Portraits in the Poe HouseI put the word 'wander' in quotes as there's not much wandering to be done in the very small house that was once home to the 23-year old Edgar, his 73-year old grandmother Elizabeth Cairnes Poe, his 43-year old widowed aunt Maria Clemm, and her two children - 14-year old Henry and 10-year old Virginia Clemm. The family moved out to the house in the "country" which was then #3 North Amity Street during an outbreak of cholera in Baltimore. At the time, the Baltimore and Ohio train station had opened just a few blocks south of the house but other than that, the area wasn't built up at all. An interesting fact that Nancy pointed out was that the house didn't have running water when it was first built and to this day it still doesn't. Don't look for a sink or a bathtub or anything like that in the house because you won't find one!

While Poe and his relatives were living in the house, the money for the rental of the house came from the government pension that had been awarded to Elizabeth Poe's husband Major David Poe, Sr. who had served as the Quartermaster General of Baltimore during the American Revolution and which went to his wife upon his death.  Shortly after Edgar had moved out in the late summer of 1835 to edit the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond, Virginia, his grandmother, who was bedridden and paralyzed, died and the pension ceased which meant that the rent could no longer be paid and the rest of the family would have to move. Fearing that he was losing his little family, Edgar proposed to his cousin Virginia, she accepted and by October 7, 1835 Virginia and Maria moved with Poe to Richmond leaving the little house on Amity Street behind.

In the 1930's the homes in the area were torn down to make way for the Poe Homes - a public housing project - and the former home of Edgar was slated to be demolished along with the others in the area. Public vigilance and members of the Edgar Allan Poe Society stepped in and forced the Housing Authority to spare the site following an exhaustive search of city registers, deeds, and maps to prove that Poe did, in fact, live in the house.

In 1949 the the Poe Society opened the house as a historic house museum and in 1979 the City of Baltimore took control of the museum and restored the building at the cost of close to $100,000. The house is currently undergoing more renovations both inside and out which are being undertaken by the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation which is a division of the Baltimore City Department of Planning.

From the office which was originally the parlor, visitors pass into what was once the kitchen area of the house where the original base relief medallion for the Poe Monument is on display.  The monument, which resides in the graveyard of Westminster Hall, was erected in 1875 but in 1968 the original marble medallion adorning it was stolen.  The medallion, worn down by acid rain, pollution, and rough handling, eventually turned up in an antiques shop in Leesburg, Virginia where it was being sold as a Civil War tablet and was donated to the Poe House and Museum in 1978.

Poe Monument Medallion

In addition to the medallion there are display cases containing crystal and china that were purchased by a Baltimore family at an auction in the early 1920's from the Richmond, Virginia estate of John Allan - the man who raised Edgar Poe after he was orphaned at the age of 3.  The letter 'A' is engraved into the crystal so it is believed that Edgar would have used some of these items while residing in the Allan household in Virginia.

Poe House Dish Collage

A portrait of Edgar Allan Poe is over the fireplace - 

Poe Portrait in Kitchen Area

Portraits of his cousin and eventual-wife, Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe, are in a display case in front of the fireplace.  The portrait to the right is a full-size reproduction of Virginia's death portrait.  The portrait was painted in the early hours of January 30th, 1847 following her death from tuberculosis at 27 years old.

Virginia Eliza Poe Display

Next to the portrait case is a plaque taken from Baltimore's first public school which was named for Edgar Allan Poe.  The original school was two separate buildings - one for boys and one for girls.  The only building that remains standing was the one for boys located across the street from Westminster Hall which now belongs to the University of Maryland and is used as office space.  

Plaque for the Edgar Allan Poe School

Following a climb to the second floor up what can only be described as a steep and narrow staircase ...

First floor to second floor staircase

... visitors to the Poe House and Museum can go into what was once the master bedroom and look at a set of 1884 illustrations of "The Raven" by Gustave Dore that adorn the walls of the room.

The Raven

Illustrations from The Raven by Gustave Dore

In addition to the framed illustrations, there is a showcase containing a laptop desk that belonged to Poe when he attended the University of Virginia as well as a display case containing other manuscripts and information on Edgar Allan Poe's life and death. 

Poe's Lap Desk

Climbing up another even smaller and steeper flight of stairs that's more like a glorified ladder (claustrophobia anyone?) behind the fireplace in the master bedroom ...

Attic Staircase

... visitors can take a look at the small attic room where it's believed that Poe did his writing while living in Baltimore.  It was during this time that Poe decided to write short stories rather than poetry and won a $50 prize from a Baltimore newspaper for his short story entitled MS. Found in a Bottle.  The MS stands for manuscript.

Poe's Tiny Attic Room

Poe House Attic Room

The room was tiny and hot but well lit unlike the rest of the house which was very dark in most places - which made picture-taking quite tricky.  Even without the alarm and warning sign, there's no way I would have wanted to actually stand - or try to stand - in that small room and I was more than happy to just take a few pictures before backing my way down to the second floor again. Not for any good reason that I can tell you, I was starting to feel a bit creeped out at that point and I was thinking it was time to go!  I found it rather amusing that while doing some of my research for this post I came across the statement "the room is extremely atmospheric, with the close ceiling evoking a sense of the claustrophia present in many of Poe’s tales.*"  Yea baby, they had that right!

Illustrations of "The Raven"

I made my way back through the main display room, poked my head briefly into the other room on the second floor which used to be a bedroom and where there was a TV playing video from Poe's funeral in October (been there, done that) and other clips and pieces on Poe, and then I gingerly made my way back down the other stairs to the bottom floor where Nancy was happily checking in four more visitors.

Across the street from the Poe House

I smiled politely at the newcomers, thanked Nancy profusely, and then waited rather impatiently as she unlocked the front door so that I could escape the house. At that point I just wanted to get back outside into the fresh air and sunshine even if I was still standing in the middle of "the projects" and it wasn't the best area of Baltimore so that I could shake off those feelings of claustrophobic dread.

No doubt the house was very interesting and I was quite glad that I had gone to see it but there was just something about it that gave me a slight case of "I wanna get out of here and I wanna get out of here now!"  I guess that's what happens when you visit a home of the Master of Macabre. Too bad that Amanda - a major Poe fan - was tied up over at Otakon as I'm sure she would have loved it!

Oh, and may I just say that it really is simply coincidental that I wrote this post on a Friday the 13th - honest!

Comments

  1. Going there today, first time it will be open. Can't wait!

    ReplyDelete

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