September 29, 2007 — My life has Poe highlights. You didn’t know? Basically I—like enough other people to make me feel a little sick inside—find Edgar Allan Poe’s work resonating enough to barnacle it to the hull of my life with all the other accretions of memory and culture and experience that make me who I am, such as I am. I hope that analogy works decently enough. My other option was a homeless man pushing the shopping cart...of my life.
As a result, whenever Poe’s influence on the world makes cameos in my life, it stands out in bas relief. Some of those cameos are more vivid to me than others. One such was visiting his graves. Another was seeing John Astin (the original Gomez Addams) perform a live one-man show dramatizing the poet, his life, and his work. A third was seeing Richard Lewis impersonate him in an episode of the litigation-shortened A.J.’s Time Travelers show on Fox Kids. All right, that wasn’t a highlight. Just random and weird. The highlight that is the subject of this article, though, was visiting the Edgar Allan Poe statue in Baltimore.
Now, there are quite a few obvious ways that E.A.P. could have been enstatuated. Seated in a velvet reading chair pondering over a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. Struggling with an orangutan that has its hands wrapped around his throat. Comatose in a bar gutter. Kidding. I’ve actually been told that the whole Poe-drunk-himself-to-death theory is being competed against by a Poe-had-rabies theory. That’s okay with me. A rabid Poe is just as intriguing to me as a drunken Poe. Either way, Maryland still killed him. And then it named its professional football team after his most famous work. I hate us.
However, Moses Jacob Ezekiel, the sculptor of Poe’s statue, chose to petrify Poe by enthroning him...against his will. That pronoun was horribly vague. By “his,” I meant Poe’s. Actually, the pronoun was vague enough in this case to get in the way of my point. So I’m going to come back to it after the next paragraph.
Moses Jacob Ezekiel was a Richmond-born, Berlin-educated Jewish Confederate army veteran with an Italian knighthood. The last commission of his life was from the Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Association to sculpt the Poe statue for Baltimore. A fire, an earthquake, a world war, and the death of the sculptor later, Ezekiel’s statue was unveiled in 1921.
Ezekiel sculpted Poe in bronze, depicting him in a long coat, semi-seated in a small throne-like chair decorated on the sides with angels (or technically, muses, I guess). The statue is black with some green tarnishing, is set up on a concrete pedestal, and if it’s not to human scale, it’s only slightly smaller. The plaque at the foot gives Poe’s name, dates of existence, and the snippet “Dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.” It pretty much had to be that.
Now, it might seem weird to adorn the throne of Poe with angels (or to adorn it with muses only to have some random visitor dub them angels for a web site). In fact, demons and black cats might seem to be better suited. But Poe’s work is actually resplendent with angels. Israfel, Oinos and Agathos, the Angel of the Odd. The Raven itself even boasts a hands-worth of angel references. He was, after all, a master of the ethereal as well as the horrific. Now, at the time that I took the picture of his statue, I wasn’t doing it to document it for a web site, so I didn’t get the side-view angle that I should have to show you the angels. Mostly I was just documenting the fact that I existed. Horrible story, that one. But those images are probably available elsewhere on the Web for your secondhand-experience pleasure. Don’t leave yet, though, please.
Back to my earlier point, Poe seems to be half-rising from the throne in which he’s permanently a part. Like he’s uncomfortable. In a perpetual state of uncomfortability, in fact. With what? Fame? Existence? Life? His art? Doesn’t matter. I adore the sentiment as is. It’s like he wants very much to get up and be elsewhere. Or, at the very least is asking for an easier chair. This interpretation is, of course, not at all what the sculptor intended.
According to Ezekiel’s autobiography, the statue is meant to give the following impression, “As Edgar Poe was the one poet we have whose poetry does not seem to be based on anything that existed before his own, I conceived the idea of representing him as seated listening in rapt attention to a divine melody and a new rhythm in his art.” Admirable, but my interpretation is way better, stonecutter. All right, that’s not true. His stone beats my scissors.
After a brief stint of neglect in Wyman Park, the statue was moved to its present location in a plaza at the University of Baltimore School of Law where Mt. Royal Avenue and Maryland Avenue intersect. You can actually visit both Poe’s graves and his statue in the same day. Yes, actually. At a little under two miles, it’s kind of a long walk from the Westminster Church graveyard to his statue, but I did it and only had to endure the minimum number of muggings. It’s a pleasant enough setting considering you’re in Baltimore, and there’s metered parking all around, meaning free until busted by the Powers that Care. If you need to case the area better, you can totally see the statue and the plaza that is its domain from Google Map’s satellite option.
Now you might think I’m doing this next bit merely for reasons of filler, and you’d be wrong, but only because you used the restrictor “merely.” The other purpose of this bit is also to make use of a picture that’ll never itself be the subject of an O.T.I.S. article, in addition to giving insight into the way my brain makes connections. Because that’s important.
For some reason, in my mind, I always compare Ezekiel’s statue of Poe to Daniel Chester French’s statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in DC. Try it with me. Like Poe, Abe’s enthroned in a squarish chair. However, the two statues couldn’t be more opposite. Abe’s depicted regally, stately, gigantically, in expensive white marble, calmly overseeing his realm. He’s been sculpted to be worshipped, and the Greek temple that surrounds him supports this idea. Ezekiel’s Poe is small, black, bronze, adorned to a point, and Poe, instead of sitting peacefully, shifts in his seat.
One statue makes us want to venerate, the other makes us want to apologize for putting the subject through anything. It’s as if we’re pretty confident how to honor a man like Lincoln, but we’re more trepidatious on how to adequately honor the likes of a man whose gifts were such as Poe’s. Ezekiel gave it a superb go, though. Personally, I just want to stick a poker table between the two and see what kind of conversation ensues.
It’s surprising to me, but I don’t know of many other statues of Poe. Seems like there should be tons more. I know of an awkward-looking one in Richmond that’s similar in idea but oceans away from Baltimore’s in artisanship. I’ve heard tell of another in a library at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, but I don’t know anything about that one. I’m sure it’s not as cool as Baltimore's, either. And that’s not just my hatred of Virginia talking. Just my hatred in general.
More of my visits to Poe sites:
Poe's Richmond, Part I: Edgar Allan Poe Museum
Poe's Richmond, Part II: Everything Not the Edgar Allan Poe Museum
Poe's Graves (Baltimore)
Poe's Graves, Revisited
Poe's New York