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U.S. cities vie for Poe legacy

Pick a major U.S. East Coast city at random and you’re likely to find a200th birthday celebration this year for Edgar Allan Poe.

Pick a major U.S. East Coast city at random and you’re likely to find a 200th birthday celebration this year for Edgar Allan Poe.

The peripatetic Poe — author of The Raven, The Tell-Tale Heart and other poems and tales of the macabre — was born in Boston on Jan. 19, 1809. He was raised largely in Richmond, Va. As an adult, he migrated between Richmond, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York.

Befitting his difficulty establishing roots, Poe has been feted at birthday parties in those five cities this month.

Events will continue throughout the year — including new museum exhibits, performances and readings of Poe’s work, academic conferences and, in Baltimore, a re-enactment of his funeral that is sure to draw more mourners than the hasty burial itself.

The push to honour Poe dovetails with an escalating debate about the places that were most important to the author’s life and work. Fans of Poe, then, can be forgiven if they feel the need to sit and ponder, weak and weary, where best to pay tribute to the author.

“Every city has its claim to fame with Poe,” said Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House and Museum in Baltimore.

Baltimore, where Poe died in 1849 under mysterious circumstances, has his grave and a tiny rowhouse he lived in during his mid-20s.

There are also houses in Philadelphia, where Poe wrote some of his best-known stories, and New York, where he enjoyed his greatest literary success. Richmond has the definitive Poe museum.

Boston doesn't have much besides a plaque near his place of birth, but an enthusiastic English professor thinks the city should do more.

For promoting Poe, no city can compete with Baltimore, which named its football team the Ravens in his honour.

It also has the Poe birthday tradition that fascinates the public — each year, a mysterious visitor leaves a half-full bottle of cognac and three red roses at his original gravesite.

In 1875, Poe’s remains were moved to a more prominent spot in the same cemetery, Westminster Burying Ground, alongside his aunt, Maria Clemm.

There Poe's bones will stay, despite a tongue-in-cheek plea by Philadelphia-based Poe scholar Edward Pettit to dig up the author’s remains and rebury them in the City of Brotherly Love, where he wrote many of his best stories, including The Fall of the House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum.

Pettit’s immodest proposal, first aired in a 2007 article in the Philadelphia City Paper, was the opening salvo in what he calls the Poe Wars.

“I'm not crazy. I’ve never thought that the actual body of Poe was going to be moved,” Pettit said.

“But that’s the meta­phor. Philadelphia deserves the bones of Poe in the sense that it deserves to be the standard-bearer of the Poe legacy.”

 
 
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