We are lucky here in the DMV to be so close to the Baltimore home of one of America’s great writers, Edgar Allan Poe. Whether you’re in town to catch an Orioles game, visit the aquarium or go to a show at Rams Head Live, try to work a little history into your day by visiting Poe’s home and burial site.
Poe lived in several states in his short life (1809-1849), but we locals like to think of him as a Baltimore man. Heck, we even named our football team after his famous poem, The Raven. (And if you think a raven is a silly, nonthreatening mascot, read the poem again and you’ll be terrified the next time you catch sight of a black bird.)
The house that Poe lived in at 203 North Amity St., Baltimore, was built in 1830. The original brick structure is still standing, surrounded by both low-income housing and a fenced-off area where luxury apartments are under construction. If walls could talk.
Poe was, in fact, born in Boston, but after his father abandoned the family and his mother died, he moved to Richmond, Virginia, where he was raised by the Allan family. He briefly attended the University of Virginia, which had just been established, and then joined the Army. After leaving the Army, Poe stayed for a time with his aunt in Baltimore, and it is this house that tourists may visit and see where the legend lived, wrote and published Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems.
The house, believed to have originally been a duplex, was set to be demolished in 1938 to make room for a housing project. The Edgar Allen Poe Society of Baltimore intervened, and the half of the home in which Poe lived was preserved, and is now open to the public.
The tiny front room serves several purposes — you buy your ticket here and can shop for fun souvenirs while you wait your turn to descend the stairs into Poe’s living quarters. The first room — small, windowless and subterranean — has candles on the mantel, eerily illuminating a picture of Poe. An attendant limits the number of visitors allowed to see the upstairs rooms, as the structure was not made to withstand crowds.
On the second floor, you can see a chair, telescope and traveling writing desk that belonged to members of Poe’s family. You can climb another flight of narrow, winding stairs to see a sleeping loft, set up with furniture typical of the time — bed, chair, trunk.
It’s a small house, so augment your trip with a stop at Poe’s gravesite about a mile away at Westminster Cemetery on the southeast corner of Fayette and Greene streets. Poe died in Baltimore under somewhat mysterious circumstances. He was traveling from Richmond to New York, which necessitated a stop Baltimore. Some after he arrived in the city, he was found wandering the streets, incoherent. He was taken to a hospital, but later died.
He was buried in an unmarked grave, but years later a local schoolteacher led an effort to have his body moved to the front of the cemetery and commemorated with a marker. Thus, he now has two gravesites — the original and the new one.
Poe House, 203 N. Amity St., Baltimore, 410-462-1763; Open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday-Sunday; tickets: adults $8, students and military $6, children under 12 free; street parking.