BALTIMORE — The city where Edgar Allan Poe died will celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth with a year's worth of exhibits and events, including a reenactment of his funeral befitting the morose author.
Poe, author of “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” was born in Boston in 1809 and died in Baltimore under mysterious circumstances in 1849.
Baltimore aggressively promotes its ties to Poe, thanks in part to a mysterious visitor who leaves a half-empty bottle of French cognac and three red roses at the author's grave every year. The city also named its football team the Ravens to honor Poe.
But Poe has ties to many East Coast cities. He was raised in Richmond, Va., and described himself as a Virginian. He wrote many of his enduring works in Philadelphia and enjoyed his greatest literary success in New York. A Philadelphia-based Poe scholar, Edward Pettit, recently suggested — half-jokingly — that Poe's remains be dug up and reburied there.
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“We know that other cities are claiming Edgar Allan Poe,” Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon said Thursday. But she and other Poe boosters are confident that Baltimore's elaborate celebration will establish the city as the guardian of his legacy.
Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House and Museum, said he's been planning the celebration since he took the job in 1979. "Baltimore is going to be the leader in promoting Poe in 2009," Jerome said.
The festival, dubbed “Nevermore 2009,” will include tributes performed by actor John Astin, a Baltimore resident best known for playing Gomez Addams on the 1960s “Addams Family” TV series.
Actor David Keltz, who's been playing Poe since 1991, will perform his one-man show "POE in Person" in a two-week residency at the Baltimore Theatre Project. Keltz appeared at Thursday's announcement in full Poe regalia, looking like he'd stepped out of a daguerreotype.
The festival will also include a wine tasting — inspired by Poe's sadistic revenge tale “The Cask of Amontillado” — in the catacombs beneath Westminster Hall, a former church in west Baltimore. Poe is buried in the adjacent Westminster Burial Ground, where dramatic interpretations of several Poe stories will be produced throughout the year.
“I want people who attend these events to have fun and learn about Poe,” Jerome said. “I don't want to put people to sleep.”
Jerome said he would continue to protect the identity of the mysterious Poe toaster, even though he expects hundreds of people to gather outside the cemetery in an effort to catch a glimpse.
The Baltimore Museum of Art and the Enoch Pratt Free Library, which has a room devoted to Poe, will host exhibits. The library had a lock of Poe's hair on display Thursday, along with a poem written to Poe by his wife on Feb. 14, 1846.
Then, on Oct. 7, visitors to the Poe House will able to see what Poe's body looked like before he was buried alongside his grandfather, grandmother and brother. (A dummy will be made up to look like Poe inside a coffin.) A candlelight vigil is scheduled for midnight at his grave, and three days later, a horse-drawn carriage will bring the "body" from the house to the cemetery.
Poe died in a hospital after he was found collapsed outside a tavern, disheveled and delirious. The cause of death was never determined; historians and physicians have suggested alcoholism, cholera or even rabies.
Only a handful of people showed up for Poe's funeral. The city expects a much larger crowd in 2009.
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