This past January 19th marked the 198th birthday of Edgar Allan Poe; miss L and I chose to celebrate with a wild throng of fellow Poe fans at the annual celebration put on by the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore, Md. I was held at Westminster Hall, an old church downtown that now functions as a rental space and a tourist site because Poe's dead body rests in their graveyard. It's a great space for a small performance; large enough to hold a couple of hundred people, but small enough that there really weren't any bad seats. The stained glass windows and general environment lent an air of gothic mood that added to the whole evening.
The Poe Society set up a small exhibit in the balcony level; it was small but fun, showing off locks of hair of Poe and his wife Virginia, as well as copies of magazines some of Poe's stories first appeared in. The Baltimore-Washington Beer Works was there, selling glasses, mugs and hats tied to their Raver Lager (The taste is Poetic). And movie director Mark Redfield was there, selling and signing DVD's for his film The Death of Poe (I bought one, but haven't watched it yet).
The event itself was built around live performances of two of Poe's short stories: "The Facts of the Case of M. Valdemar" and "Berenice". The first was a bit of a surprise; although a bit of a Poe fan, it's not one I've read too many times. It's an odd, macabre story about what might happen if someone is mesmerized a moment before their death. The story was one of Poe's most popular during his life. It became widely copied and distributed as a scientific paper in Europe, making many believe that Poe's strange story was really fact. It took several interviews to convince the public otherwise.
"Berenice" is an early tale of Poe, and is a story that lays down the foundation for a lot of Poe's macabre tales: an unreliable narrator with a strange, dark obsession and grisly details. I imagine it was performed in honor of the Baltimore Poe house, because the tale was actually written when Poe lived there.
The performances themselves were fun. The actors played it a little bit serious, a little bit campy---very appropriate for the crowd and the event. Between acts they gave away doorprizes---two large cakes with Poe's happy face on them as well as a copy of Redfield's DVD. The whole shebang closed with an actor portraying Poe and performing dramatic readings of some of Poe's work in verse. I have to give it to the crowd; I expected some of them to bolt at the idea of poetry, but everyone stayed, listened and really seemed to appreciate the poetry as much the stories. It was nice to see, since that was Poe's true love.
In two years time we'll hit the 200th anniversary of Poe's birth. I'll be curious to see what the Baltimore Poe House---as well as other Poe sites in Richmond, Charlottesville, and NY City----will do to honor the dark poet America. Who knows....it might be a good time for a road trip vacation.