Edgar Allan Poe is an iconic figure in American literature. He invented the genre we know as detective fiction and he played an important role in development of the genre of science fiction.
Though Charles Brockden Brown is considered the “father of the American novel,” Poe is believed to be the first American who endeavored to live from his writing alone. Despite a decidedly difficult financial life, his literary output continues to influence culture around the world.
Now those of us who love his work have a challenge before us.
During his short life, Poe endured a bohemian and transitory existence, moving up and down the eastern seaboard. Four residences have been preserved and survive as shrines to his memory for scholars and students as well as ordinary tourists.
In fact, Poe never lived in the best known of these—the Old Stone House in Richmond, Va. I say this not to defame the site, which I have visited. The house does preserve his dorm room from the University of Virginia in addition to many other items and rare printings of his work. Upkeep of this facility is in the capable hands of students and staff known as the Raven Society.
The home where Poe resided with his wife, Virginia, and his aunt/mother-in-law, Maria Clemm, in Philadelphia is preserved as a National Historic Site in affiliation with the Independence National Historical Park.
His last home, a cottage in the Bronx, N.Y., is also part of a Historic House Trust administered by the Bronx County Historical Society.
But a fourth residence in Baltimore is endangered.
This small structure at 203 Amity Street operates as a museum and is home to the Edgar Allen Poe Society of Baltimore. It is also a National Historic Landmark. For some years its upkeep was subsidized by the City of Baltimore. Now, for the second year, city leaders decided they could not continue this financial assistance.
Their plight is understandable. Charm City officials are as burdened as any other community with difficult financial demands. I’m sure they see better use for scarce dollars than preserving a structure well off the tourist beaten track and not located in the most affluent of neighborhoods. I’ve been there, too.
As a working historian I realize not every structure can be preserved—or even deserves to be preserved. We have three other Poe shrines. What’s the harm in letting one go by the wayside?
I might be persuaded to that viewpoint were it not for two things. First, this is the place where Poe enjoyed his first literary success, winning a short story contest and attracting the attention of the public and editors who recognized his talent.
Second, if the public really values the legacy of Poe, there is no reason why they and not a government entity can’t subsidize the museum. I’m not going to mention names, but there are some big literary guns in Baltimore who could help support the project. I’m not saying they should contribute money, but they could certainly aid in the way of publicity.
That might attract a generous millionaire or two who doesn’t need another yacht or jet. Who knows, ordinary citizens might even be inclined to chip in a few bucks here and there if given the right example to follow.
And what about all the Poe societies out there? There’s more than one: http://www.eapoe.org/links.htm Join me in asking them to clamor for some public attention.