Me and Edgar Allan Poe
For the most part, I remember the first time I read something by the favorite authors of my childhood. My reading of Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Tombs of Atuan dated from around age ten, after which point I walked around with my eyes closed as often as possible in order to find secret passages. (Number of secret passages since found in this manner: zero.) I remember Isaac Asimov from one of the years Mom was going to night school to get her college degree. She handed me a book, Foundation, from one of her classes and said I might like it. She was right. Frank Herbert’s Dune happened in middle school in California. I still associate him with endless summer and avocado groves, though Stilgar would not have approved of such water-fat on a vegetable. Firestarter was the first book by Stephen King I read at a time when I honestly wondered if I, too, might be able to start fires with my mind. (Number of fires since started with my mind: zero.)
Edgar Allan Poe was different. I don’t remember when he first showed up. He’s just always been there. It’s possible my father is responsible for that. Something in my deep memory says Dad read The Raven to me a very long time ago. I can certainly imagine him relishing making the cawing noises in a dramatic fashion, but I could just be making that up. By the time Mr. Preyss in 7th grade worked himself into a frenzy in front of the class with his rendition of The Tell-Tale Heart, I had already consumed many of Poe’s stories. I loved them. When I was a kid, the only other people I knew who read Edgar Allan Poe were adults, and they looked at me kinda funny when I said I had read lots of Poe’s stories.
So it was inevitable that on a weekend spent attending Balticon 50,* I would also visit Edgar Allan Poe’s house and his gravesite in Baltimore.** I’ve been wanting to do that for years! There was no way I was going to be disappointed. And I wasn’t! The house wasn’t much to look at. So I spent most of my time trying to imagine what that part of Poe’s life was like. It was a fascinating exercise, especially with one of two nearby Deathfest guys offering running commentary that was a little less Deathfest-y and a little more blowhard-y. I especially liked the Poe House’s loft room stairs. Twisting impossibly and ridiculously narrow, those stairs were the best Poe House example of how different life was in the 1800s.
Next stop: Poe’s gravesite about a mile away from the house. Yes, it’s cool to stand where Edgar Allan Poe may or may not currently be buried. Yes, it’s pretty exciting that I had a full five minutes by myself at the gravesite to get the most perfect picture I could. No, I’m not sure why a real-life scenic raven didn’t rise up from the earth to sit atop Poe’s tombstone, but maybe it was actually cooler in Hell that day.
As a history nerd, I quite enjoyed hanging out in the tiny graveyard and reading Wikipedia articles about all the other luminaries buried there. I couldn’t make out all the names on the tombstones though, like the ones of the dozen or so people whose eternal rest is now next to the sewer pipe under the breezeway between two church buildings. Yes, that’s what I said. To picture the breezeway area, think about what the space under a broad front porch looks like. You know, the dank, weird area where the raccoons and the wasps go to live in if you choose to dwell anywhere outside the limits of the City of Washington (this is what I’ve heard at least). Light shines into that under-porch space from weird angles and never fully illuminates the corners. There, now you’ve pictured the breezeway under which numerous people might now be surprised to find they are buried. Admittedly, that surprise would probably be secondary to the shock of cogitating 150 years post-burial. Anyway, seeing those graves under the breezeway and was an excellent surreal experience to have in Poe’s graveyard.
That was tops until this happened:
In my defense, I can’t resist answering questions posed by an eager Edgar Allan Poe devotee from Australia. Hannah Raven Smith is just such a Poe disciple, and the t-shirt I was wearing might have given away my own interest in the man. I also got a chance to chat with the Poe House curator from 1979-2013, Jeff Jerome, who seemed similarly incapable of resisting the enthusiasm of Ms. Raven Smith.
The Poe House and the gravesite were all a good time and everything I wanted them to be. I highly recommend visiting!
*Balticon was freakin’ awesome. George R.R. Martin was there doing his GRRM thing, AND I SPOKE WITH LARRY NIVEN!
**I recommend against walking the last half mile from the Inner Harbor to the Edgar Allan Poe House even in broad daylight if you are alone and wouldn’t appreciate getting your possessions stolen. It probably won’t happen, but the odds seemed higher than usual. Baltimore has Uber and taxis, and those worked just fine for me!