Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum
History and museums
The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum, located at 203 North Amity St. in Baltimore, Maryland, is the former home of American writer Edgar Allan Poe in the 1830s. The small unassuming structure, which was opened as a writer's house museum since 1949, is a typical row home. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1972.
Due to a loss of funding by the city of Baltimore, the Museum closed to the public in October 2012. Poe Baltimore, the Museum's new governing body, reopened the Museum to the public on October 5, 2013
The brick home, then numbered 3 Amity St., and now numbered 203 North Amity Street, is assumed to have been built in 1830 and rented by Poe's aunt Maria Clemm in 1832. Clemm was joined in the home with her ailing mother, Elizabeth Cairnes Poe, and her daughter Virginia Clemm. Edgar Allan Poe moved in with the family in 1833 around the age of 23, after leaving West Point. Virginia was 10 years old at the time; Poe would marry her three years later, though their only public ceremony was in 1836. Poe lived in the house from about 1833 to 1835.
The house was rented using pension money that Elizabeth collected thanks to her husband, David Poe Sr., who was a veteran of the American Revolutionary War. The home is small and Poe's room on the top floor has a ceiling with a sharp pitch which is six feet high at its tallest point.
In the 1930s, homes in the area, including Poe's, were set for demolition to make room for the "Poe Homes" public housing project. The 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. Former displays in the Museum included a lock of Poe's hair, a small piece of Poe's coffin, some original china that once belonged to John Allan (Poe's guardian after Eliza Poe's death), and a large reproduction of the portrait of Virginia Clemm painted after her death as well as many other Poe-related images. An original 1849 obituary by Rufus Griswold in the October 24, 1849 edition of the Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper is also on display along with a reprint of Poe's original announcement for the creation of a new literary magazine to be called The Stylus — an endeavor that never came to fruition.
The Museum hosted a number of Poe events throughout the year. It claimed, for example, the largest Poe birthday celebration in the world held every January at the Westminster Hall and Burying Ground, where Poe was buried following his death in October 1849. In 2009, the curator, Jeff Jerome, planned the biggest event of the Poe Bicentennial at Westminster Hall. He held a third funeral for Poe. Over 1,200 people attended two services. The event received national and international media attention and acclaim.
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.
In 2011, City of Baltimore officials reduced the Museum's subsidy, a decision that ultimately led to its closure in 2012. After the City cut off its $85,000 in annual support in 2011, the Museum was operating on reserve funds to the amount of $380,000 in the Poe House Fundraising account.
Efforts to secure the Museum's future came from such diverse places as: the non-profit project Pennies For Poe: Save the Poe House in Baltimore, the New York City based non-profit theatre company Bedlam Ensemble's staging of The Delirium of Edgar Allan Poe, and the 2012 film The Raven.
Jeff Jerome, the Museum's curator for more than three decades, was laid off in 2012. According to the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, the Museum was closed on September 28, 2012 with no advance public notice, with plans to reorganize and re-open in 2013.
In 2013, a new non-profit organization, Poe Baltimore, was established to serve as the Museum's new governing body and operate the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum.
Poe Baltimore's Mission Statement includes that the organization "...was created to fund, maintain and interpret The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum, and to celebrate the legacy of one of Baltimore’s most famous residents. We are dedicated to maintaining the museum as a vibrant experience for the thousands of visitors who come from around the world each year, and as part of a broader mission of city-wide events and educational opportunities..."
Poe Baltimore reopened the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum to the public on October 5, 2013. Poe Baltimore is also working in conjunction with the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore.
The Poe House is a 2 1⁄2 story two-bay brick structure with a gabled metal roof. The front door is on the left side of the west elevation, at the top of a wood stoop. The house is flanked on the north by a contiguous building; the south elevation is windowless. A single gabled dormer is centered in the west roof. To the rear a two story ell projects from the south side of the main block. Its shed roof slopes to the north. The house sits on the western edge of an active low-income housing project in the west Baltimore neighborhood of Poppleton.
The house is entered through the front living room, with a dining room to the rear and two steps down. From the dining room narrow stairs lead to the basement and the second floor. Two bedrooms occupy the second floor, and stairs lead to a small attic or garret, which may have been occupied by Poe. The house retains the majority of its original woodwork.
Though it cannot be fully proven, the Poe Society alleges that the following works were created while Poe was staying in this house:
In the opening scene of episode 2, season 3 "All Due Respect," of the HBO series The Wire, two low-level members of the Barksdale Gang recall how one was once approached by a white tourist asking him if he knew the location of the "Poe House". Misunderstanding, he replies "Look around, take your pick!" The Wire chronicles the activities of the fictional Barksdale Organization based in west Baltimore, where the Poe House is located.