Poe Museum Nevermore? 14 Sep 11

(Reuters) – Of all the U.S. cities that claim a connection to the troubled author Edgar Allan Poe, Baltimore likes to think its case is strongest.

Poe’s family is from Baltimore, his literary career began in the city, he died a mysterious death at a Baltimore hospital and his body was buried here in 1849.

But the city may soon lose a key physical connection to Poe. The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum, where the writer lived for four years in the early 1800s, is in danger of closing next year, due to budget cutbacks by the city.

“Everyone is tightening their belt,” said Jeff Jerome, the museum’s curator and only employee, who also works for the city’s planning department.

Cash-strapped Baltimore stopped funding the museum’s $85,000 budget two years ago. It now operates on funds raised privately over recent years.

A feasibility study, to be completed by December, will explore ways to make the museum self-sustaining. More likely than not, the museum will close at the end of June 2012.

Since the building is historically preserved, it will remain standing.

The museum is as modest as Poe’s living conditions when, as a poor man in his 20s, he shared the home at 203 North Amity Street with his aunt, grandmother and two cousins. One of those cousins, Virginia, would later become his wife.

Located in a public housing complex in West Baltimore, the museum is removed from Baltimore’s touristy Inner Harbor.

“This place can’t close,” Jerome said as he stood in the museum’s lobby, formerly Poe’s parlor. “It would be an embarrassment to the city to have thousands of people come to the city to see a boarded-up house.”

Poe lived in Baltimore from 1832 to 1835 before his literary life began to blossom. Today, his influence is undeniable among genres he made popular — detective fiction and psychological horror — which are embodied in films and literature. He is featured in two upcoming films, “The Raven” starring John Cusack and “Twixt” directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

About 5,000 visitors per year from as far away as China travel to the museum to simply stand in the same quarters that once housed Poe. The museum features his tiny attic bedroom with only enough room for a bed, a chair and a wash table. It is stocked with general Poe memorabilia, like portraits and his original obituary.

Baltimore, located between historically significant cities such as Philadelphia and Washington, has embraced its strange literary icon.

About $10,000 to benefit the museum has been raised through sales of a local artist’s prints, called “The Raven: Forevermore.” A local diner’s fund-raising campaign is modeled after the “Pennies for Poe” campaign held 150 years ago to pay for Poe’s burial.

On a quiet neighborhood corner in East Baltimore sits the Annabel Lee Tavern, a Poe-themed restaurant named after the final poem he wrote, which offers “The Raven Lager” and “Annabel Lee chicken salad” on its menu.

Baltimore has had to fend off challenges to Poe’s legacy from other cities. Poe wrote some of his best work, including “The Tell-Tale Heart,” in Philadelphia. He lived in Richmond more than any other city. And his greatest financial success occurred in New York City.

Those cities feature Poe museums or historical sites where he once lived. The National Park Service operates the Philadelphia house, the Bronx County Historical Society operates the house there, which is undergoing renovation, and, in Richmond, the Poe Foundation operates The Museum of Edgar Allan Poe.

Despite the competition, the Poe community is not reveling in the Baltimore museum’s struggles; it is sympathetic.

“It would be really devastating,” said Chris Semtner, curator of the Richmond Poe Museum. “Poe is America’s Shakespeare, he put American culture on the map. It would be like closing Mount Vernon or closing Monticello.”