Wendy (here_be_dragons) wrote,

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"By the bye, gentlemen, this - this is a very well constructed house."*

As I've mentioned in the past, Connor recently became interested in the works of Edgar Allen Poe, and it just so happens there were a couple of historic sites available to us where we were living on the east coast. Of course, we decided to visit, and there is also a pretty good story involved.

Let me begin with the story. Well, with the first part of the story, anyway. It started on the day we went to the Declaration House. On the way into the city, we were listening to something on NPR (probably "Radio Times," as it's broadcast from WHYY in Philadelphia), and the guests were a) a woman who works at the Edgar Allen Poe house/museum in Philadelphia (she also dresses up as Poe and impersonates him) and b) a fellow from the Poe Society (or some such thing) in Baltimore, Maryland, where Poe is buried (there is also Poe museum/house there, too). Well, yay, I thought. A subject of interest to Connor and me, both.

After a few minutes, though, my feelings of pleasure were replaced by other, darker, emotions. First, disbelief, and then horror. The topic of discussion: the efforts of the some folks in Philadelphia to EXHUME Poe's body from where he lies in a pre-Victorian cemetery in Baltimore, and have him moved to the museum site in Philadelphia. OMGWTF?!?!?!? The guests, obviously, were on different sides of the fence in this regard. Philadelphia wants him; Baltimore has him, and wants to keep him. Basically, they debated who had the strongest "claim" on his body. Philadelphia, because he lived here (for about six years), was strongly influenced by the city, and wrote some of his most popular works here; or Baltimore, where he'd also lived, but more importantly, where he had the misfortune to die, and be interred in the city's Westminster Burying Grounds. Apparently, he's already been dug up and moved once (from the back of the Baltimore cemetery, to the front), so I guess no one thought it was that big a deal to contemplate digging him up again. Baltimore wanted to keep him in the historical cemetery (which seemed to me the only valid option); Philadelphia wanted to bury him in the empty lot next to the museum and put up a big monument. ARGH!

The program took callers who had various opinions on the subject, including one fellow who suggested that Richmond, Virginia (where Poe was raised, although not born there - he was born in Boston) really had the best claim, and THAT'S where his body should be moved.

Oh. My. God. I was totally scandalized by all this talk of digging up poor Edgar, and fighting over his remains. What next? Why not just split him up so everyone could have a piece? Philadelphia gets his head, Richmond the torso, and the rest could stay in Baltimore? Hell, while we're at it, might as well send a foot to New York, and maybe an arm or something to Boston. He has connections to those places, too. I was really upset by this discussion. (Although my other reaction was a resolve to visit his grave in Baltimore as soon as possible, so we could actually see his gravesite before any potential desecration could take place).

The only positive thing that came out of listening to this program, for me, was the knowledge that there was a Poe museum in Philadelphia, and of course Connor wanted to visit. We actually tried to visit that same day, but it turned out the museum was closed on that day of the week (Monday, IIRC).

So, the following week, on Halloween (seemed appropriate), we went into town when we knew the museum would be open, so we could see it for ourselves. We arrived that day to find a modest museum located next door to the Poe house, and the Poe house itself being maintained in a completely unfurnished state. Outside, there is a very cool statue of the Raven, and pretty herb gardens which are filled with plants mentioned in his writings. We went on a guided tour (it was just us and our guide, which was cool, although I was surprised there wasn't more traffic, considering the date). We learned a lot about Poe, and his career, and the house. Even though there are no furnishings - the NPS acquired the property several decades after Poe lived there - the house does have a few notable things: there is a loose floorboard in one of the upstairs bedrooms which, when pulled up, reveals a severed hand (the NPS does have a sense of humor). Also, the basement is obviously the place which inspired him to write "The Black Cat," with its half-constructed fireplace wall. I did notice that the "empty lot" proposed for his new burial site was actually part of the property on which the house stood, and it was a nice lawn, and wouldn't be TOO heinous should they actually get permission to move his body. Still, I cringed at the thought. It was so obvious that they were just trying to get the body so the Poe House would become a bigger tourist attraction. Crass-o-rama!

Here are a few pictures:

The house where E. A. Poe lived for about a year in or around 1843:

The house in Philadelphia where Edgar Allen Poe lived for a short time

"And his eyes had all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming, and the lamplight o'er him streaming cast his shadow on the floor:"**

The Raven!

The fireplace in the Black Cat Basement. Someone my size could definitely be bricked up in that space:

The Black Cat Basement in Poe's Philadelphia house

Connor reading from "The Black Cat" in the basement:

Connor reads from "The Black Cat" in the Black Cat Basement

I must admit, though, that I totally chickened out in one regard. I wanted to ask about the exhumation attempt, but I was so afraid that the Parks Service people would be so excited and merry about it, rubbing their hands together in ghoulish glee (and would sense my dismay), that I decided to not even bring up the subject. It was just too horrible. Yes, I am a wimp. :(

A few days later, we happened to be back in Philadelphia for something (we met some friends for lunch at the Reading Terminal Market, IIRC), and on the way home, Connor asked if we could visit the Poe house one final time. So, we swung by (it's only a few blocks from Center City), and wandered through the house again. By this time, we'd read the complete "The Black Cat" story together, so Connor was even more interested in the basement. (He even tried to push me into the fireplace, just to make sure it would be possible to hide a body inside. Nice, huh)? ;)

There were some different staff members on hand that day, and the woman giving the tours (which we just caught the tail end of) was the same woman who'd given us a tour at Independence Hall. She was really funny and friendly, so I decided to be brave and ask her about the exhumation attempt. She and the other NPS employee at the desk burst into gleeful laughter.

"That whole story was just a hoax," they told me. "Just a publicity stunt."

Oh. My. GOD! I can't believe I am that gullible! :D :D :D I was also overcome by a huge wave of relief - no one really wanted to exhume poor Edgar! YAY! It was just a practical joke! YES!!!! Not only did we all have a good laugh about this - I told them I'd heard the NPR broadcast; apparently there were several newspaper articles published about it, as well - but they promised to tell Ms. Uff (the Poe impersonator, and one of the guests on the radio program that day) that I'd been suckered into believing it. They assured me that she would get a big kick out of the whole thing.

I know I got a big kick out of it, myself. This is one of the funniest things that's happened to me in quite a while. (Well, some even funnier ones have happened more recently, but those are stories for other entries). This was a fantastic practical joke, though. I still haven't found any evidence online that the whole thing was a hoax (I'm sure it is, as the NPS people would know), so I don't feel TOO bad about believing it. I'm not the only one, after all, and they did a good job of "selling" it, what with the Philadelphia and Baltimore people going at one another in public. Too, too funny. *loves all involved* Also, I'm really glad that we decided to go back to the Poe house that day, or I might never have found out about the hoax, and could have spent years angsting about it! ;)

Oh! And I should also mention the other interesting conversation with NPS employees this day. Remember how I'd reported the strange state of the Declaration House? Apparently, I'd become famous for that, too, among the park employees in Philadelphia. When we mentioned we'd entered the Declaration House to find it dark and empty, all the park people said, "Oh, YOU'RE the ones!" LOL. Apparently, we did luck out in one regard. The house is only open very limited hours (four hours a week, or something like that), so if we hadn't found it unlocked, we couldn't have gotten in. I think the park people were happy about it - I got the feeling that someone (or a few someones) got into quite a bit of trouble, though. :D :D :D

Our final Poe-related adventure not only takes us out of the state of Pennsylvania, but it marks the first of our cross-country adventures. On the fifth of November, when we left Conshohocken to return to California, our first stop was the Westminster Burying Grounds where Poe is currently buried. (And hopefully, will remain for a long time to come).

It's an interesting little church cemetery, a bit hard to notice because it's surrounded on almost all sides by huge downtown bank buildings, and things like that. The associated church is no longer used for that purpose (it's an administration building now, IIRC), but the building is still gorgeous. The small cemetery wraps around the church, with some catacombs underneath. I've heard the cemetery referred to as "Victorian," but it was really around much earlier than that (1786, I think), and a number of other well-known people who died in the American Revolution and the War of 1812 are buried there, too. No one seems to think about them much now, though, since they're all overshadowed (figuratively) by Poe. (I didn't pay any attention to other graves myself, come to think of it. Oops).

When we arrived, I was disappointed in myself for not remembering to bring some flowers. I would have liked to have left flowers. Instead, I just blew Edgar some kisses. (He was the second dead guy I blew kisses to during the past month; the first being Ben Franklin. The third happened a week or so later, in San Antonio. Now THAT is a good story. But again, you'll have to wait for it. Bwahahahaha).

Here is the monument; Poe is buried here, along with his wife, Virginia, and her mother, "Muddy:"

Monument to Edgar Allen Poe

A couple of views of the Westminster Burying Grounds:

Connor in the Baltimore cemetery

One side of the cemetery

Here is the original site where Poe was buried, in the back of the cemetery. He was moved a couple of decades later (1875, IIRC), when the existing monument was erected. I like this marker, with the Raven on it.

Poe's original resting place

This stone slab is apparently famous - in the book of world records, or something? - but I didn't read the whole plaque to find out exactly why. Something to do with being bowed:

Strangely bowed slab of stone

The Poe monument, with the church tower behind:

The Poe monument and church tower

Thus ended our recent Poe adventures, and began our cross-country adventures.

*Quote from "The Black Cat."
** Quote from "The Raven."
Tags: connor, cross-country, halloween, historic sites, maryland, pennsylvania, photos, wtf?

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