Famed American writer Edgar Allan Poe came from a Baltimore family, lived part of his life in and around the city, published his second volume of poetry in 1829 and launched a literary career after winning a contest sponsored in 1833 by the Baltimore Saturday Visiter for the best short story. In addition to the only surviving home he resided in while here, as well as his burial place at Westminster Hall, various traces of his life and death can still be found throughout the city. Here are a few sites to visit to experience “Poe in Baltimore.”
The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum
Edgar Allan Poe lived with his aunt, Maria Clemm, and her family in this small duplex on North Amity Street in Baltimore —what was then a panoramic countryside — from about 1832 until fall 1835, when he moved to Richmond to edit the Southern Literary Messenger. During the period he called this two-and-a-half-story, five-room brick building home, Poe continued to compose poetry, began to write literary criticism and wrote some of his earliest short stories. A visit to the Poe House and Museum allows you to gain a sense of an actual space where Poe lived and penned a number of his initial efforts of fantastic fiction and horror, including “MS. Found in a Bottle” and “Berenice.”
The Edgar Allan Poe Collection at the Enoch Pratt Free Library & More
The Enoch Pratt Free Library is Baltimore City’s public library, the Central Library located at 400 Cathedral Street. It has been a local monument to literature and information for generations. Among its treasures is an important collection of Poe memorabilia, including rare books, manuscripts, original letters, images, biographical and critical articles, illustrated editions and even a lock of his hair and a piece of his coffin. A special meeting room on the second floor has been dedicated as the Edgar Allan Poe Room.
The George Peabody Library in Mount Vernon Square also houses some rare Poe books and a number of original letters he wrote to novelist and politician John P. Kennedy, as well as a large collection of musical settings for his writings. In addition, the Maryland Historical Society contains several Poe materials, including the only surviving copy of the first printing of “The Gold-Bug” and the original manuscript of Poe’s poem, “Alone.”
Prior to moving to Amity Street, Poe became part of Mrs. Clemm’s family unit when they lived in what was known as Mechanic’s Row, in a house and alleyway that no longer exist. His brother, William Henry Leonard Poe, died here in summer 1831 after an extended but unspecified illness. When Poe came to Baltimore in October of 1849 – on that fateful trip from Richmond to Philadelphia and New York – he went missing for several days. Responding to a note sent by a Baltimore teacher, Dr. J. E. Snodgrass, (who lived nearby) found Poe unconscious in a local drinking place that had been converted for the day into a voting place. There, an agreement was reached (along with Poe’s uncle, Henry Herring, who also lived in the neighborhood) to send Poe to Washington University Hospital on Broadway, where he would die a few days later under mysterious circumstances. The tavern itself, known as Ryan’s Fourth Ward Polls and later as Gunner’s Hall, has long since been swallowed up by development, but Fell’s Point today retains much of the charm it must have had when Poe visited. Rumor has it that his ghost still haunts the area, and perhaps even such local drinking holes as The Horse You Came in On Saloon (although there is no evidence that Poe actually imbibed there). What to know more? Take a stroll through the area with The Original Fell’s Point Ghost Walk.
Church Home and Hospital
Originally the Washington University Hospital but better remembered by the name of the later and more enduring establishment of Church Home and Hospital, this building is memorialized as the place where Poe died. Reliable facts are sketchy, and several first-hand accounts are poorly documented and even contradictory. Having been found unresponsive, Poe was initially presumed to have been suffering from an alcoholic spree and assigned to a room in the tower, where special cases were placed to avoid disturbing the other patients. In later years, Dr. John J. Moran, the attending physician, claimed that he came to think that Poe had not been drinking. The official cause of death was listed in the local health reports as congestion of the brain, a painful swelling of tissues that may be a symptom of a number of illnesses. Many theories have been offered, including the fact that it was an election day and in that violent and lawless time political gangs were known to kidnap innocent people and force them to make the rounds of the polls, whether they were registered to vote or not. (Among other details, it would account for the missing days, and the fact that he was not wearing his own clothing.) The building itself has other dark stories to tell, including a tradition of body-snatching from nearby graveyards, which at one point led local residents to attempt to burn it down. In an ironic twist, Poe’s mother-in-law, Mrs. Clemm, came to spend her final days here, and died in the same building where her dear Eddie had died more than two decades earlier.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Original Burial Site and Memorial Grave
Westminster Hall, one of the most historic half-acres in Baltimore, is well-recognized as an architectural landmark. The imposing brick church was built in the early 1850s on raised arches above the existing Westminster Burying Ground, creating uniquely atmospheric catacombs. Edgar Allan Poe, his young wife (Virginia) and her mother (Maria Clemm) all eventually found their final resting place within Westminster Burying Ground (Virginia having been initially buried in New York, and Poe and Clemm at this location, but originally in a different lot). Several early mayors of Baltimore, heroes of the American Revolution and members of the city’s elite also rest here. Group tours of Westminster Burying Ground and Catacombs can be arranged year-round for a minimum of 15 people.
The Poe Toaster
Beginning in about 1949, and repeating each year on the night of the anniversary of Poe’s birth, a mysterious stranger entered this cemetery and left as tribute a partial bottle of cognac and three red roses on Poe’s grave. The identity of the stranger, referred to affectionately as the “Poe Toaster,” is unknown. The significance of cognac is uncertain, as is does not appear in Poe’s works as would, for example, amontillado. The presumption for the three roses is that they represent the three persons whose remains are beneath the monument: Poe, his mother-in-law (Maria Clemm) and his wife (Virginia). Out of respect, no attempt was ever made to stop or hinder him. The tradition ended after Poe’s bicentennial in 2009.
Edgar Allan Poe Statue
The Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Association was formed in April 1907 specifically for the purpose of commissioning the statue of Poe, the last work of the great American sculptor Sir Moses Jacob Ezekiel. It was hoped that the statue would be ready by Poe’s centennial in 1909, but a series of problems prevented its completion until 1916, and World War I delayed its arrival in Baltimore. The statue was dedicated in Wyman Park on October 20, 1921. Throughout the years, it suffered neglect, vandalism and the effects of wind and rain, which eroded the inscriptions until they were virtually unreadable. Deciding that the park was too isolated a location for the statue, it was moved (under the recommendation of the E.A. Poe Society of Baltimore) to the plaza of the University of Baltimore’s Law School, where it now resides. It was dedicated at this new location on October 7, 1983.
Paying Homage to the Legacy of Edgar Allan Poe in Baltimore
The Poe Suite at Scarborough Fair Bed & Breakfast
The largest room at the Scarborough Fair is the Edgar Allan Poe Suite, which was inspired by the loves and works of this intriguing and romantic genius. In the suite, you’ll find paneled walls, rich plums, calming grays and luxurious velvets and sateens featured in the décor. Portraits of Edgar and his wife, Virginia, grace the walls of the room. Additional homages to Poe include the infamous bust of Pallas, from “The Raven” (1845), and a pair of devilish green spectacles from the comedic short story “Bon Bon” (1835).
What other city had the grace and class to name their NFL franchise – and its three mascots, Edgar, Allan and Poe – for a literary master and one of his most revered, macabre masterpieces, “The Raven”?
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Annabelle Lee Tavern
“Annabel Lee” was the last poem that Edgar Allan Poe wrote before his tragic death in 1849. Opened in 2007, the Annabel Lee Tavernin Canton pays homage to the great poet and the great city of Baltimore. Don’t miss a trip to this little pub-style restaurant and bar on your tour of Baltimore.
The Raven, a purple-trimmed, 99-foot-long, 28-foot-wide touring yacht, is operated by Cruises by the Bay and available for private hire. The 149-person boat is modeled after a 1900s-era steamship, but features modern comforts like a fully enclosed, climate-controlled lower deck, as well as an upper deck with a sunroof.