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Happy Birthday, Edgar

(See the bottom of the post for today's contest)

Baltimore is the home of Edgar Allan Poe.  Does it hurt to say that?  Oh yes.  But they do have the body (despite my noble protest last year).  Did I really expect to have Poe's remains dug up and brought to Philly?  Not by a long shot.  I was pleasantly surprised to find so many people (well, so many Baltimoreans) would get so upset at the suggestion (I mean, two columns in the Baltimore Sun?), but I never entertained the notion as a serious one.  Poe died in Baltimore, was buried there and although it took the city some time to finally embrace his legacy, they did so and continue to honor his memory to this day. 

Still, I was a little worried of the reaction I might receive when I visited "Charm City."  Would Jeff Jerome, the curator of their Poe House, follow through on his threat to "punch me in the eye?"  I had been corresponding with Jerome by email and I was pretty certain that he held my Poe work in high esteem, that I was not just some crackpot out to get attention, that I had something to offer to the study of Poe's legacy.  But you never know.  A little part of me was leery of meeting him.  After all, Jerome was devoted to the writer of a story (written in Baltimore, I admit) in which a crazed lover prematurely buries his fiancé, then visits her grave and pulls out all her teeth.  Would anyone be surprised if I paid a visit to the catacombs beneath Westminster Church,where Poe was buried, and was never heard from again?  Would Jerome take the police on a tour of the Poe House basement, knocking on the walls to demonstrate how solidly they were put together?  Well, I would soon discover how devoted a follower he was. 

I made plans to go to Baltimore for their celebration of Poe's birthday on January 19 (next year is the Bicentennial of his birth).  Every year, Jerome organizes an event with performances, this year featuring a dramatization of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (written in Philly), an actor portraying Sarah Helen Whitman (one of Poe's many fiancés) and Poe impersonator, David Keltz.  But the real reason to travel to Baltimore on a cold winter weekend was to get a glimpse of the Poe Toaster.

Since at least 1949, a mysterious visitor has been leaving a half-filled bottle of cognac and three red878004-1298785-thumbnail.jpg
the only known image of the Toaster
roses at the gravesite of Poe on his birthday.  And this visitor has never been unmasked.  Poe fanatics flock to the cemetery and hold all-night vigils to catch a glimpse of the dedicated mourner.   Jerome has always done everything in his power to help the Toaster complete his mission, short of personal contact.  Jerome's steadfast devotion in keeping the Toaster's identity a secret begins with Jerome himself.  He has never even corresponded with him.  However, he does allow a few faithful aficionados into the Church where they can see the Toaster arrive and depart, partly to witness the event, but also to keep an eye on the cemetery to assure no revelers interfere with the tribute. 

The Poe Toaster always arrives between midnight and 6AM on the 19th.  And it is always cold.  Baltimore is bitter cold in January.  Undeterred, Poe fans show up before midnight and the real fanatics, the true-blue ones, with toes frozen and teeth chattering stay until dawn.  This year I would make my pilgrimage, join the frozen few and hopefully catch a fleeting glimpse of the Poe Toaster. 

And I was successful.  Approximately 100-150 fans showed up this year, although at its peak the crowd was never more than 75, many people arriving and leaving as the night progressed.  Of these 100 or so, only about a half-dozen of the outside revellers saw the Toaster arrive and enter the cemetery.  I was one of the half-dozen. 

878004-1298823-thumbnail.jpgTomorrow (and all week): my midnight vigil at the grave of Poe.  Meet the people who braved the cold and travelled from all over the US (from Pittsburgh to Richmond to San Diego) to celebrate Poe's birthday.  Meet a girl christened "Raven" at birth by her Poe-fanatic parents, now a lit-major college student who two years ago scaled the wall of the cemetery to try to see the Toaster.  Meet Sam, the expert watcher, who for the last five years has stood on a corner, binoculars glued to his eyes to scan the cemetery entrances, all the while filling notebooks with copious notes about the Toaster's visits.  And, of course, come back to see if Jeff Jerome did punch me in the eye when I finally met him. 

Oh, yes, and the contest.  The first ten readers who leave a comment on this post will receive a  souvenir from the Poe House in Philadelphia.  Make sure you add your email address to your profile while commenting, so I can contact you about where to send your prize (or if you don't fancy revealing your email on the internet, just send it to me at ed@omnigatherum.com)  Thanks for reading and I hope you'll come back tomorrow and all year. 

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Reader Comments (12)

Hey, Ed,

Congratulations, again, on the new site! I can't wait to follow your adventures with Edgar. It's time that Philadelphia embraced the right kind of corpse, er, practiced the right kind of necrophilia, er, well, you know what I mean...


Bob (ArtBlogByBob.blogspot.com)
January 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBob
Hi Ed! looking forward to finding out if you got punched in the nose and hearing more about your Poe adventures!
January 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStefanie
Hey, Ed:

Congratulations on the new blog. What a splendid outlet for you. I look forward to reading more about your adventures in Poe Land.

Jeff (jpwrites@sprynet.com)
January 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJ. Kingston Pierce
I'm very much looking forward to this year of excitement!
January 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTaleswapper

It sounds like you had a great time on your midnight stakeout. Have you ever done anything crazy like Raven did and try to scale the cemetary wall? I guess I'll be finding out in class tonight if Jeff Jerome's sense of humor has picked up since you last saw him.

January 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth
Bravo to this new venture. As always, your writing is compelling... and I can't wait to read about your adventures with Edgar.
January 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEvelyn
Good to see your new site.

I can't say I'm a Poe aficionado, though I did read his stories and poems many years ago. And I think I need to read them again!

This is only a year long Poe blog? Well, at least it will go out with a bang one year from now, with Poe's bicentennial.

Since Boston will be one of your ports of call on your Poe journey, hope you're going to be speaking here too.
January 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDonna
Ed - The site looks great.

Now I'll take a Poe Toaster - one that can handle 8 slices at a time. (I'm a bit Ravenous)

January 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterR.A. DiDio
I had been wondering how your adventure to Baltimore would turn out and whether we would in fact see our professor with a punch in the eye when he came back on Monday! Hope to hear more stories in class tonight!
January 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEric Donovan
Am I poster #10? Poe, by the way, is awesome. Have you heard Sylvester Stallone is wanting to make a biopic of Poe? True thing.
January 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Shipley
Congrats to all the winners. I'll be stopping by the Philly Poe House on Thursday to pick up your prizes.

And thanks to everyone for reading.

January 29, 2008 | Registered CommenterEd Pettit
I'm betting it's a shovel. Eleven of us should be enough to do the job. ROAD TRIP!

--Bob (ArtBlogByBob.blogspot.com)

January 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBob

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