The House of Poe to reopen May 24

(Courtesy of Poe Baltimore)
(Courtesy of Poe Baltimore)

Here’s good news for anyone worried that Edgar Allan Poe’s old residence in Baltimore would never reopen — oh, nevermore!

Closed — except for a few special events — since 2012, the 2½ story brick building is welcoming the public back in this Saturday.

“Tis some visiter,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door – 

Only this and nothing more.”

– “The Raven”

This isn’t the first time Poe’s Baltimore house has come back from the dead. Built around 1830, the building was almost torn down in the 1940s, but a group of dedicated fans saved it and eventually turned it over to the city when maintenance costs grew too much.

Although the city still owns the house, which is a National Landmark, it will be managed now by a recently formed nonprofit called Poe Baltimore. Along with new carpeting and fresh paint, the house also has an updated mission: To celebrate, explore and protect the legacy of Edgar Allan Poe in Baltimore.

Kristen Harbeson, president of the new organization, says, “We’re interested in everything: the musical legacy, the theatrical legacy, the literary legacy, of course — the mysteries, the drama, the gothic and the science of Poe.”

It’s a small house, set up to allow visitors to experience the five rooms largely by themselves. Harbeson highlights Poe’s traveling desk, where he composed letters, poems and stories. “We also have a telescope that belonged to his foster father,” she says. “Poe was very scientifically minded. There’s a lot of biology and astronomy that informed his writing.”

(Courtesy of Poe Baltimore)
(Courtesy of Poe Baltimore)

Poe lived in this crowded house with his aunt, grandmother and two cousins from 1833-1835, when he was in his 20s. “He had a hard time finding a place where he really belonged,” Harbeson says, tempering the tragedy of the author’s life considerably. “He was just beginning to get a sense of himself as a writer who could make money. This was where he started all that. Some of his very earliest writings were composed in this house.”

For instance, while living here, he wrote “MS. Found in a Bottle,” which won a literary contest that helped establish his career. He would go on to write some of the most famous poems and short stories in American literature, including “The Raven,” “The Fall of the House of Usher” and one of the world’s first detective stories, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

“This is where he slept,” quoth Harbeson. “This is where he dreamt. This is where the fantastical lived.”

It was here, too, that he fell in love with his cousin Virginia, whom he married when she was 13.

“I was a child and she was a child,

In this kingdom by the sea.”

– “Annabel Lee”

I keep hoping Harbeson will tell me she’s seen blood trickling down the wall or heard a tell-tale heart beating under the floorboards.

“I’ve been in the house in the evening and during the day,” she says, “but you know, I’ve never been particularly sensitive to the spooky world.” She’s not ruling out the possibility, though. “I’ve worked in museums a long time, and I can’t think of anybody who would categorically deny anything spooky has happened.”

In Harbeson, Poe and this town have found a fan as devoted as the black cat. “When I’m describing Baltimore, I’m describing Edgar Allan Poe. They’re both endlessly fascinating. There’s so much to find out. They’re complex. I love them both.”

Where: 203 North Amity St., Baltimore. The Web site notes that “the Edgar Allan Poe House National Historic Landmark is located in a challenged community. When the House is open to visitors, there is adequate security in and around the House.”
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays.
Cost: $5 for adults, $4 for seniors (65+), active military with ID and students (ages 13 to 21) with ID. Children 12 and under are free when accompanied by an adult.

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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