After living the last 6 months out of a suitcase, I have finally put down stakes once again, this time in Baltimore, Maryland. One more year of grad school in a Master’s degree in writing to enjoy, but what will really be enjoyable is how after the stress of moving boxes dissipates, I’ll be settled in a glorious city famed to be home of one of America’s Literary legends, Mr. Edgar Allan Poe.
A perfect synergy. Perhaps I will wander the same streets that Mr. Poe did, drink in the same watering holes, and find myself injected with some kind of literary spark here in Charm City. After all, surroundings and environment seep into one’s writing. The local dialect (it’s pronounced Ball-dee-more). The way people communicate in a certain unrushed and friendly way. The old brownstones and the turn of the century opulence in the architecture. The mild climate and the Chesapeake Bay breezes. All of this informs writing.
How can I not be influenced by the famous statue of Edgar Allan Poe that’s one block away from my apartment? That statue sits in the Gordon Plaza of the University of Baltimore on Mount Royal Street just off of North Charles. In it, Mr. Poe is seated, though poised as if about to get up. His head is turned to the side and looking down, as if listening to something faint or beautiful. One of his hands is raised slightly, as if asking someone nearby for just a minute more to sit. The other hand grasps the arm of his chair. His right leg bends beneath him, the left is slightly extended, though still bent at the knee. He is wearing a long trench coat and his characteristic mustache, his hair is long and wavy.
The first time I saw the statue, it confirmed that I had indeed put down my stakes in the right place, a new apartment just blocks from this inspiration. Mr. Poe, sitting there, as if about to spring into creative action, and me, walking the brick lined streets of Poe’s hometown, where he dreamed up such great stories as “The Cask of Amontillado” and penned great poetry like, “The Raven.” Even the NFL team here pays its respect to its hometown hero, one of America’s literary legends: the hard drinking, drug-addled, mad genius, raven-writing Edgar Allan Poe. Yes, this place will no doubt influence my writing. Just look at that statue.
Enter: a horrible December day in which the weather channel has warned there will be a “wintery mix.” outside. Classes have been cancelled. My assumption that Baltimore has a “milder” climate than my upstate New York hometown is proved incredibly wrong. So I stay inside, drink my morning coffee at home and peruse the internet for everything Poe and Baltimore. I have nothing else to do. To my dismay, I discover these hope-squashing truths:
1) Poe didn’t spend much time here. He spent equal if not more time in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Richmond, Virginia; New York, New York and the outskirts of London, England.
2) It is widely agreed that he wrote “The Raven” in New York City.
3) And worse, he wrote the poem specifically to be a popular success.
4) He barely used any drugs, and drank only sporadically.
5) Re: #4: Much of Poe’s bad boy rap comes from the work of a literary rival, a Rufus Wilmot Griswold, who sought to destroy Poe’s reputation after he died.
I also found out many cities can claim Mr. Poe, as he never really settled anywhere, never put his stakes down in one place. Richmond has an Edgar Allan Poe House. Philadelphia has a National Historic Site dedicated to him. New York City has a plague commemorating the writing place of “the Raven.” And although his paternal family lineage is here in Baltimore, and both his grandfather and father were prominent citizens of the city, Baltimore can’t claim to be the Edgar Allan Poe hub. So why, in my mind, is there this grand Poe – Baltimore connection?
Perhaps because days before Poe died, he was found in Baltimore, on the cobblestone lined streets of Fells Point, by all accounts severely intoxicated or drugged or in some other way inebriated and incoherent. Poe’s cause of death is still uncertain. A list of possible culprits from Wikipedia reads: “alcohol, brain congestion, cholera, drugs, heart disease, rabies, suicide, tuberculosis, and other agents.” I found out that while Poe did die in Baltimore on October 7th in 1849 at a hospital then-called Washington Medical College, other than that there seems to be much mystery around Poe’s death. For one, he wasn’t living in Baltimore at the time, but was a resident of New York City. He had left the city of Richmond Virginia bound for his home in New York a week before he was found in Baltimore. That week in between Richmond and Baltimore is unaccounted for. Additionally, when found in Baltimore, Poe was not only way out-of-sorts, but also not wearing his own clothes. For a man reputed for his fashion sense, this was highly uncharacteristic. To cap the mystery, all medical records of his final hospital stay, including his death certificate, have disappeared.
My initial conclusions, which certainly deserve more research, were this:
- From 1831 to 1835 Edgar Allan Poe did live in Baltimore during the infancy of his literary career.
- His first published short story, “MS. Found in a Bottle” was published and presumably created here in Baltimore.
- He did, for certain, die in Baltimore.
Even with such few facts I still keep a Poe- Baltimore connection in my head. I want to have faith that I can did I stroll the same neighborhoods as Poe did, and drink at the same Pubs he did. One redeeming tidbit I did uncover is that the bar Poe was discovered outside of back in 1849 still stands in Fells Point, and is also still operational. This gives me hope, perks me up. Perhaps it is worth going down there, even in the “wintery mix,” to order up a strong drink, to be in the same place Poe once was, and see if I can glean some inspiration from that.
Born and raised in Upstate New York, Barry earned a BA in English from Cornell University in 2001. His professional career has taken him here and there but he never lost his passion for writing. In 2012 he stepped away from the world of corporate finance and went back to school to pursue his Masters in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. He currently works as a Consultant to an Online Media Company, is a featured artist for BubbleFish Designs, and lives in Baltimore, Maryland.