Tuesday, August 18

Baltimore, Maryland and Edgar Allan Poe

Recent photo I took
Baltimore Poe
I have always been fascinated by what drove certain authors to write what they did, or where they were living at the time of writing such great works.  I have toured a few famous authors’ homes, or “chased an author” as I call it, including Washington Irving’s Sunnyside in New York

And we recently started a book club and along with reading books from all different genres, we also sometimes take field trips related to the current book we're reading.
For August we read two tales and one poem by Edgar Allan Poe (or more if we were so inclined). I grew up on Poe and loved his stories of lost love, terror, suspense and horror.
A few of us in the book club, The Bookworms Literary Guild, decided to take a trip to Baltimore, Maryland to visit the many Poe sites located there.
Although Baltimore has been in the news lately concerning riots and is listed on a few websites as being in the top 10 most violent cities, we found it to be a beautiful city full of culture, historical buildings and sites, harbors, ethnic neighborhoods, churches, restaurants, statues and many parks.  My nephew Anthony lives and works in Baltimore as a luxury yacht builder and assured us it’s a safe city in most areas and that we would love it.  We did.

Edgar Allan Poe 
Poe was born in Boston in 1809 but grew up in RichmondVirginia and attended the University of Virginia. His early years were plagued by the death of his mother when he was two, his first love when he was 15, his foster mother when he was 20 and finally his beloved young wife.
Last photo taken of Poe,
a few days before he died
After funding was cut off from his foster father Poe dropped out of college. Later he also was expelled from West Point, so took a job as an editor at the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. His controversial fiction and scathing book reviews boosted the magazine’s circulation seven times in seventeen months.

After termination as editor, Poe took a series of editorial positions at the leading magazines in Philadelphia and New York and supplemented his income with lectures and public readings. He won a contest with his short story “The Gold Bug” and it was a smash hit. But the publication of “The Raven” made him internationally famous (while only earning him about $15). 
In later years, during a lecture tour of the east coast, Poe engaged himself to a former childhood sweetheart (by then a wealthy widow) Elmira Royster Shelton in Richmond, but he died while passing through Baltimore on October 7, 1849—just ten days before the wedding. The cause of his death remains a mystery

Listed below are the sites we chose to visit while in Baltimore and really all we had time for.  We really enjoyed the city and I would love to plan another trip. 

The Edgar Allan Poe Statue
We started our tour of Poe sites in the morning at the University of Baltimore’s Law School, where the Edgar Allan Poe’s statue now resides.  The statue was originally dedicated in Wyman Park in 1921, but suffered neglect, vandalism and such weather erosion that the inscriptions were virtually unreadable.  Because Wyman Park was so isolated, it was decided to move the statue to the plaza of the Law School.  It was re-dedicated on October 1983. 
It’s an amazing statue. The American sculptor, Sir Moses Jacob Ezekiel envisioned Poe seated in a classical chair, adorned with images of the muses of music and poetry. Poe’s head is tilted slightly to one side, with his left hand raised as he listens to ethereal music. The original statue has a large base with many inscriptions.  When the statue was moved the base was too deteriorated so it’s now preserved by the University of Baltimore


The Raven
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary, 
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, 
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, 
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. 
~Edgar Allan Poe

The Enoch Pratt Free Library
Our next stop was The Enoch Pratt Free Library which is a public library at 400 Cathedral Street and is one of the oldest free public library systems in the United States.   Besides having a beautiful atrium and tons of books, they also have a collection of Poe memorabilia and rare books, manuscripts, original letters, photos, articles and even a lock of Poe’s hair and a piece of his original wooden coffin.  A special meeting room, The Edgar Allan Poe Room on the second floor has been dedicated to him. This is where one of Librarians’, Michael, met with us, bringing with him a large box full of priceless Poe items.  It brought tears to the eyes to actually see Poe’s handwriting, signature and the lock of Poe’s hair. Most of the items the library has were gifted to them from Poe family members.

Photo from the Enoch Pratt Free Library website page

We were allowed to view a few of Poe's letters, writings and misc. items while at the Library.

The Baltimore Basilica
Here we detoured from our Poe sightseeing because directly across the street from the Enoch Pratt Free Library is the Baltimore Basilica.  You don’t have to be religious or Catholic to appreciate great architecture or a beautiful historic building, and this is one.  The historic Baltimore Basilica, built from 1806-1821, and declared a National Landmark in 1972, was the first great metropolitan cathedral constructed in the United States after the adoption of the Constitution. 
Two prominent Americans guided the Basilica’s design and architecture: John Carroll, the country’s first bishop, later Archbishop of Baltimore, and cousin of Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence; and Benjamin Henry Latrobe, father of American architecture, and Thomas Jefferson’s Architect of the Washington D.C. Capitol building.  

The Basilica, which culminated years of architectural refinement by Latrobe, is now considered one of the world’s finest examples of 19th century architecture.  In 2001, under the leadership of Cardinal William H. Keeler  the entire church and even the domes, (which were covered years ago and remained covered because of damage and decay), were restored. 
The Basilica is a breath taking creation with soaring ceilings, multiple domes, ceiling paintings reminisce of old European art and a lower level full of catacomb style construction with arches, twists and turns and vaults (or crypts) for the final resting place of Cardinals and Archbishops.  
One highlight of the tour was to sit on the very same pew where the Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta prayed. 


The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum
Unfortunately, this museum is only open on weekends, and because our trip was in the middle of the week we were unable to go inside. There is a fee to take the tour.  Located at 203 N. Amity Street, funding was cut by the city of Baltimore in October 2011, which ultimately led to the museum closing to the public in 2012.  October 2013 the Poe House and Museum was reopened by a newly created non-profit organization, Poe Baltimore.  
In the 1930s, homes in the area, including Poe's, were set for demolition to make room for the "Poe Homes" a public housing project. The rows of government funded public housing were built, but the Poe house was spared and control was given to the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, which opened the home as The Baltimore Poe House in 1949.


The little house (originally No. 3 Amity) was built around 1830 for Charles Klassen. Late in 1832 or early in 1833, Maria Clemm (Poe's aunt) moved from East Baltimore to what was then the countryside. Living in this very small house was Maria, her ailing mother Elizabeth Cairnes Poe, her daughter Virginia Eliza Clemm, her nephew Edgar Allan Poe, and perhaps her son Henry Clemm.
Maria Clemm rented the house primarily with money from her mother’s government pension.  Edgar Allan Poe left this house in August or September of 1835, moving to Richmond, Virginia to edit the Southern Literary Messenger. About the same time, Elizabeth Cairnes Poe died and her pension stopped. Maria was quickly unable to cover the rent and had no option other than to move. Edgar, fearing that he was losing his little family, proposed to Virginia in a remarkably emotional letter on August 29, 1835, She accepted and by October 7, 1835, Virginia and Maria had moved with Poe to Richmond.
Poe's time in Baltimore:  Chronology of Poe in Baltimore
In 1979 during the house renovations, workers lifted the floorboards and found skeletal remains, reminiscent of Poe's story "The Tell-Tale Heart." These were found to be animal bones discarded into what is known as a "trash pit" or midden beneath the home.
The self-guided tour of the house includes exhibits on Poe’s foster parents, his life and death in Baltimore, and poems and short stories written in Baltimore. It also features significant artifacts including Poe’s chair, lap desk and telescope.

The Poe house was the only building saved from demolition before a housing project was built around it. 

Before leaving for our trip, I read online that the Poe house is in a less than desirable neighborhood.  We however had no trouble while walking around the house and even talked to area residents. The parking was directly in front of the house.  
It is always good to be aware of your surroundings where ever you go and to visit historical sites during daylight hours and in groups. But really that’s a good rule while visiting any place these days. Again, we had no problems anywhere we traveled in Baltimore. Another good idea is to not leave anything visible in your car for thieves to want to steal, but I follow that rule even while grocery shopping in my own neighborhood.

Marker on Poe's old grave site
Westminster Hall and Burying Grounds
The "Westminster Hall and BuryingGround" is a 
former Church and graveyard located at 519 West Fayette Street.  The site is most famous as the burial 
site of Edgar Allan Poe. The complex was declared a national historic district in 1974. Edgar Allan Poe was buried here in October 1849, following his sudden and mysterious death after being found on the street near East Lombard Street in a sick and semi-conscious state wearing unfamiliar clothes. Poe was taken to the Church Home and Infirmary on Broadway, where he died four days later. Some time after burial, a gravestone was erected at Poe’s plot in the back, southeastern corner of the cemetery, through the efforts of his relative Neilson Poe.
In July 1852, a substantial church was erected over much of the burying grounds, built upon supporting brick and stone arches or stilts to preserve the resting places of those interred below.
Because of Poe’s subsequent growing literary fame and acclaim as the 19th Century progressed following his unfortunate death, a resolution was created and fund raisers started for the erection of a new monument over Poe’s grave.  Numerous activities were held for some time by the pupils and the teachers of the Baltimore City Public Schools, one of which was called Pennies for Poe.  Even today it is tradition to leave a penny on Poe’s grave marker.

The raven and quote from the stone on Poe's first grave.  He has been moved to a location near the gate.

Poe’s old marker, inscribed with a quote from The Raven is in the back of the graveyard and in my opinion the better of the two markers.  Other Poe family members are also buried in the graveyard, including Poe’s grandfather General David Poe Sr. and his brother Henry Leonard Poe
The new monument was carved by local sculptor and stonemason Hugh Sisson, with the body of Poe exhumed and moved to the new more prominent location near the cemetery entrance gates, and was dedicated November 17, 1875 in the presence of a large concourse of spectators. Poe’s aunt and mother-in-law Maria Clemm and Poe's wife Virginia are also buried with Poe at the new location.
On our visit to Poe’s grave, there was a dead black raven near the new Poe monument which was creepy but at the same time fitting.  But it also makes me wonder how many dead ravens are found each year.  Poe did not kill the raven in the poem.......

Graves and tombs along the side of the church

Pennies for Poe was a fundraiser and leaving a penny has now
become a tradition.  Here's my penny left at Poe's grave
Dead raven next to Poe's new grave marker

The boundaries which divide life and death are at best shadowy and vague.
Who shall say where the one ends, and the other begins?
~Edgar Allan Poe

The church itself was abandoned in 1977, but in recent years, under the newly organized, non-profit "Westminster Preservation Trust", the burying grounds were cleaned up and the church was renovated for public rental use for weddings and other events and is now known as "Westminster Hall".
We had a sack lunch in the cemetery along with our Bookworms Literary Guild book club meeting and Poe book discussion.  It’s a very small walled cemetery with large mature trees and very old graves and large vaults. 
As a side note, I discover that Poe’s birthday and my husband Bill’s are the same, January 19th, both Capricorns. 

The George Peabody Library in Mount Vernon Square
Wow, this is a beautiful area and the library is like something out of a movie!  We were speechless when we walked into the huge atrium, open on all side to 5 stories of books.
The George Peabody Library, located at 17 E. Mount Vernon Place, which opened in 1878, was designed by Baltimore architect Edmund G. Lind.  Known as a “cathedral of books,” the five-story reading room is consistently listed among the world’s most beautiful libraries. Its gilded framework of cast iron and gold showcases over 300,000 volumes in the areas of archaeology, architecture, history, literature, travel, and art.

This library is just breath taking

It 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 Poe’s writings.  But in order to view these documents you must make a request ahead of time as they need to be looked up and pulled from the archives. 
The rest of the building is private or only open for events, so we only toured the library area. 

Mount Vernon Square
This square was not on our list but we happened upon it by accident while touring the George Peabody Library, which is in the area.  What great luck that was!
Diagram from a tourist brochure 
Mount Vernon is a neighborhood located just to the north of downtown Baltimore, and well worth the stop.  Designated a National Landmark Historic District and a city Cultural District, it is one of the city's oldest neighborhoods and originally was home to the city's most wealthy and fashionable families.
John Eager Howard donated the highest point in Baltimore for the site of the Washington Monument, which could be seen by ships entering the harbor. The site of the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon Square is generally regarded as one of the most beautiful urban sites in the world.  The monument, constructed of marble from three quarries in Baltimore CountyMaryland, rises 178 feet 8 inches.  Washington is depicted on the top of the Monument.  John Eager Howard died in 1827 before the monument was complete. It was his heirs who laid out the park blocks, in the form of a cross.
Mount Vernon is home to some of the most historically significant and well-preserved 19th century architecture located in the East Coast of the United States. The centerpiece of the neighborhood is the area around the Washington Monument, where stately homes face onto four small parks that radiate from the monument. The parks, which have survived almost intact, are considered to be the finest existing urban landscapes.

Vintage photo, taken by Robert F. Kniesche, the Baltimore Sun

On the northeast corner of Washington's monument sits the Mount Vernon United Methodist Church, which is magnificent and a perfect example of Victorian Gothic architecture.  Before the construction of the church, Francis Scott Key, the author of The Star Spangled Banner, died here in his daughter's home. A plaque observing his death adorns the southern outside church wall.


The Old Church Home and Hospital
We did not visit this site but it’s where Poe was taken and died the night he was found unresponsive and not wearing his own clothing. 

The original building is still standing.  A new 166 unit townhouse development known as "Broadway Overlook" was built in 2005 by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City on the old grounds of the hospital surrounding it on the south, west and north sides associated with J.H.H .  The Old Church Home and Hospital remains and is part of the complex.

An old postcard of The Church Home and Hospital
The layout of the apartments built around the hospital

Fell’s Point:
Our final stop of the Poe sites was Fell’s Point, which was established during the Colonial era.  It was named for the Englishmen who founded a ship-building company here in 1726 that would go on to produce the famous "Baltimore Schooners
Old photo of Fell's Point with the
Washington Monument in the background
Some of the first vessels commissioned for the U.S. Navy were built in Fell's Point shipyards.  During the War of 1812, Fell's Point's yards built and supported dozens of privateers which preyed on British shipping vessels.
As for Poe connections, before living with his aunt at 203 N. Amity Street, Edgar Allan Poe lived in what was known as Mechanic’s Row, in a house and alleyway in the Fell’s Point area, but those buildings no longer exist.  His brother, William Henry Leonard Poe also died here in 1831. Fell’s Point is where Poe was found nearly unconscious in a local tavern, which at the time, was converted for voting.  The tavern, known as Ryan’s Fourth Ward Polls and later as Gunner’s Hall has long since been swallowed up by development. 
Nothing remains in this area from Poe’s time but it is a beautiful area with waterfront loft apartments, harbor-side restaurants, shops, a waterfront park and walking trail. Rumor has it that Poe’s ghost still haunts the area. 
We had dinner with my nephew Anthony at the Dock Side, located at 3301 Boston Street.  It’s a wonderful family owned restaurant, famous for their crabs and Maryland seafood.  I had their Maryland crab cakes dinner, made with jumbo lump crab meat, broiled & lightly seasoned with Old Bay seasoning. I can tell you they are my second favorite crab cakes ever, second only to ones I have had along the coast of Virginia

We had dinner at the Dock Side with my nephew Anthony
(that's my daughter Alexis is in the photo too)

This is one of my favorite author related road trips, second only to my Washington Irving and Sleepy Hollow, New York visit.  I'm sure this would be a great fall trip during the peak leaf season and fall would be beautiful around Baltimore along with the cool breezes blowing in from the harbor.  
I think I'll talk my husband into a little weekend get-away, 


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Anonymous said...

Thanks for a marvelous posting on Poe, one of my favorite authors! I really enjoyed reading it. I will make sure to bookmark your blog and come back soon. Please continue your author trip writings! Melissa

Anonymous said...

I love Poe too, glad you liked the post, thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

Hello There. I found your blog using a google search. That is a neatly written article. Thank you for the post.

Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

Thanks Annie

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this impressive piece of travel writing, I have wanted to tour Poe sites for years and this has motivated me! Looks like a great trip you had!

Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

You're very welcome, hope you finally get a chance to see Baltimore and the Edgar Allan Poe sites!