The Oblong Sign: Baltimore’s Edgar Allan Poe Square Dedication

July 12, 2015 — When future Edgar Allan Poe historians look back on the Poe events of the past few years, they’ll have one question, “Who’s this jerk that’s always there in the photos?”

That jerk is I. Since the publication of Poe-Land in Fall 2014, I’ve been to a Poe sculpture unveiling, a Poe bust unveiling, a Poe exhibition, and—as of yesterday—a Poe Square unveiling. Even more exciting (for me), I got to be in the official press release for the latter one, as a featured author.

Baltimore has long been the city most associated with Edgar Allan Poe. They have his dust, after all, and were the first to really push Poe as a point of pride in the country. But they also have his house, one of only three remaining. What they didn’t have that many other Poe sites do have, though, is a bit of city topography named after him. No streets, no avenues, no corners, no alleys. And now they do. And it’s right in front of their Poe House.

So while the rest of the country was celebrating National Slurpee Day, I arrived at 203 N. Amity Street to find the tell-tale flurry of activity that always precedes such an event. Volunteers in black Poe Baltimore shirts were setting up tables, making signs, and putting out refreshments, all under the thin shadow of a mysterious, paper-wrapped rectangle attached to a light pole in front of the house. By the time I got settled in and introduced to everybody, it was time for the ceremony.

Some 50-75 people gathered in the street in front of the house, while neighbors watched from windows and porches. First up was a short speech by Wali Mutazammil, the president of the Poppleton Community Neighborhood Association, under whose purview the Poe House sits. I was able to talk to Wali later, and he seemed extremely proud of this strange gem of which the community can boast. After Wali, Councilman William “Pete” Welch and Maryland State Delegate Keith Haynes presented the official certification of the square’s new name to Lisa Lewenz, the administrator of Poe Baltimore and the fire beneath the event.

From left to right (not counting the kid or Edgar):
Delegate Keith Haynes, Wali Mutazammil, and Councilman William Welch.

Lisa Lewenz accepts the official certificate.
Then it was time to do some unveiling.

After a quick countdown, Councilman Welch yanked the string attached to the white covering…which misfired and merely pulled off a small section of paper like a sad kite. Fortunately, Delegate Haynes is both quick-acting and tall. He grabbed a chair, jumped on it, and snatched the sleeve off the sign like that’s what he’d been invited there to do. It was a nice moment.

And there it was, a gleaming new bit of civic signage that read, “Edgar Allan Poe Square” in reflective white letters against masque-of-death red. Sign of the Red Death was my alternate title for this post.

Speaking of signage, afterward, I got the privilege of sharing a signing table with David Gaylin, whose book Edgar Allan Poe’s Baltimore just debuted. It’s worth a grab for Poe fans and has lots of great vintage photos. David volunteers at the house, so chances are if you drop by, he might be there to sign a copy of his book for you.

The rest of the afternoon, we signed books while visitors toured the house and generally had a pleasant Poe Day. Eventually, Jeff Savoye, who’s on the board of Poe Baltimore, dropped by. If you’ll recall from Poe-land, he’s a renowned Poe scholar whose work I cribbed a lot for the book. Since then and despite that, we’ve become friends. He took me into some of the obscure crannies of the tiny house that they keep locked to visitors, like the house’s small basement and the fenced alleyway behind it.

It was a good time. Baltimore’s received some shaky press in recent years around the management of the Poe House (and even shakier press lately with the violence in the city), so it’s great to see something positive there, even if it’s just a short stretch of aluminum. It hopefully signifies much more.

I regularly get asked the question, “Which Poe City is the ultimate Poe City?” That question can be answered a few ways, but to me, a more important phrasing of it is which city is pushing Poe’s legacy the furthest today. And stuff like this will certainly put a city in the running.

So much thanks to Lisa for the invite. For all the volunteers doing, if not God’s work, at least Poe’s, and, of course, David and Jeff. Also and especially to everyone who came by, toured the house, bought books, and took part in such an “I was there”-worthy moment. Including Drew, whom I promised to mention in this post since he brought a New England Grimpendium to a Poe-Land fight. You’re awesome, man.

Oh, and I left some signed copies of Poe-Land at the house, if you want them. Consider it the latest entry in the Poe-Land in Poe-Land series.

I am not adverse to a political endorsement.