In Baltimore, even those who aren’t aspiring writers or horror fans like myself feel a unique attachment to Edgar Allan Poe. In the early 1830s, the writer lived briefly in Baltimore with his cousin and wife-to-be Virginia and his aunt. Although his time in Baltimore was brief, he is said to have done some of his best writing here, and was buried in Baltimore’s Westminster Hall and Burying Ground after his death in 1849.
The brick city home where Poe and his family resided is now the Baltimore Poe House and Museum. Located at 203 Amity Street (yes, I always loved the fact that Poe’s Baltimore address reminds me of a pea-soup-spitting horror movie), the house is open to the public at various times throughout the year.
The Poe House
I have toured the Poe House several times over the years – first as a child on a high school field trip, later as a college student, and another time or two as an adult. While the artifacts in the house itself are very interesting, it is the colorful and mood-setting history shared by the curator and the melancholy feel of the place that I remember most from these visits.
The house is well-preserved and quaint, but as a writer you cannot meander through the rooms and not feel some of the dark and tragic outlook that made Poe so talented seep into your bones a little. At least, I can’t.
The grave where Poe is buried with his cousin-wife and aunt is within walking distance of the Poe House. I have also visited the grave over the years.
The most interesting bit of lore surrounding the writer’s grave is the Baltimore Poe Toaster. In 1949, exactly a century after Poe’s death, a mystery person began appearing at Poe’s Grave each January 19th. Carrying a cane, the mysterious visitor would drink a toast and then leave a bottle of cognac and three red roses at the gravesite. The bottles of cognac left over the years are part of the display at the Poe House.
The mysterious Poe Toaster has gathered his own following over the years. Many Baltimore locals would gather to witness this tradition. My college advisor, who was also a freelance journalist, was one of them. He told his students colorful tales of the cold nights he lurked at the Poe Grave, awaiting the Toaster.
There has been speculation that the Mystery Toaster passed the tradition on to someone younger in the late 1990s.
Sadly, the Poe Toaster has not been spotted since 2009.
Poe’s most famous work is arguably “The Raven.”
When Baltimore acquired the team that is now the Baltimore Ravens years ago, there was much hoopla about selecting their name. The “Ravens” won hands down, as a tribute to the writer who, although here only a short time, left much of his mystery here in our hometown.
The original raven mascots for the Baltimore team were named “Edgar, Allan and Poe.” Poe is the only one remaining of the original three.
As a Steelers fan, I like to quote Poe’s famous raven and say that the Baltimore mascots chirp “Nevermore” when they discuss when they’ll knock my team out of the playoffs. Lee and everyone else around here say they’re actually telling me when my team will have another Superbowl win. Which of us are closest to the truth varies year to year.
Over the years, the Poe Toaster was known to leave notes as well as cognac and roses. As I was researching this post, I learned an interesting tidbit from this article:
The article reports that:
“The toaster occasionally leaves a note with his tribute. In 2001, shortly before Super Bowl XXXV, he puzzled the town by revealing he was not a Baltimore Ravens fan in this message: “New York Giants. Darkness and decay and the big blue hold dominion over all. The Baltimore Ravens. A thousand injuries they will suffer. Edgar Allan Poe evermore.”
Of course, he was wrong. The Ravens beat the Giants 34-7.”
Maybe the hometeam IS on to something with those Ravens …
The Poe House in Trouble
The Poe House is always just a short drive from my backyard. But it is something I tend to think about more often when the air gets crisper and the Halloween displays start showing up in the stores. I had been thinking about doing a post on the Poe House for a while now, but kept putting it off.
Then I received this week’s “Funds for Writers” newsletter, which included a call for submissions from Literary Landmark Press. I clicked on the link and learned that the Poe House has lost funding. While the building itself is protected as a historical landmark, this could very well mean the demise of the public’s ability to tour the house and all the educational opportunities it has offered Baltimore locals and visitors over the years.
A “Spirit of Poe” anthology is being published, with proceeds to go to preserving the Poe House. The publishers are seeking horror submissions. Unfortunately, the October 1 deadline is looming, but if you have an appropriate piece on the backburner that is seeking a good home, I’d encourage you to submit it. This is a paying market and your piece would be going towards a wonderful cause.
I’d also encourage readers to order the anthology. It promises to be a great read for the spooky season, and you’ll be helping to preserve a wonderful tradition in Baltimore.
I would hate to see “Nevermore” become what is said about this historic landmark.