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Baltimore love stories for book lovers -- Mencken, Poe and Fitzgerald

With Valentine's Day approaching, it's a good time to review some of the literary love stories that have been set in Baltimore. In an article in the latest issue of the Sun magazine, reporter Jill Rosen highlights the relationships of H.L. Mencken, Edgar Allan Poe and F. Scott Fitzgerald -- all three of which ended in tragedy. Here are excerpts from that article.

-- Sara Powell Haardt ... understood Mencken's commitment to his work. He appreciated her independence. They were two level-headed agnostics who loved Baltimore. ...

They married on Aug. 27, 1930, at St. Stephen the Martyr church, then on North Avenue. He was 50, she 32 and already succumbing to tuberculosis. Though she'd survive only another five years, Mencken would call his time married to her "a beautiful adventure." ...

"I still think of Sara every day of my life, and almost every hour of the day," Mencken wrote in his diary on the fifth anniversary of his wife's death. "Whenever I see anything that she would have liked I find myself saying I'll buy it and take it to her, and I am always thinking of things to tell her. ... I can recall no single moment during our years together when I ever had the slightest doubt of our marriage."

--  Poe arrived in Baltimore in his early 20s to stay with his aunt in a tiny home on Amity Street. There he met his 6-year-old cousin, Virginia [Clemm]. Seven years later, he'd marry her. ...

The couple married in Richmond on May 16, 1836. Some believe they might have secretly married here first. ... The two were married — happily — for a decade but never called Baltimore home.

Virginia wrote a Valentine's poem for Edgar in 1846. It's an acrostic, with the first letter of each line spelling out his name. She sent it with a lock of her hair. Among the lines:

Ever with thee I wish to roam —

Dearest my life is thine.

A year later, she was dead.

According to a paper by Richard P. Benton, "Friends and Enemies: Women in the Life of Edgar Allan Poe," Poe friend R.D. Unger observed Poe's drinking and devastation, writing that "the loss of his wife was a sad blow. He did not seem to care, after she was gone, whether he lived an hour, a day, a week or a year."

He lived only two more years.

-- When F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald arrived here in 1932, they'd been married more than 10 years, the glamorous ones well past. ... Suffering from schizophrenia, she was mentally unraveling. His career had stalled and he was drinking himself into stupors. They'd both had affairs. Yet when they got to town, they still had hope, both for their careers and their relationship. ...

He left Baltimore in 1936 after giving his daughter, Scotty, then 15, a ruinous dance at the Belvedere Hotel where he got — as Scotty would later write — "quite drunk," and proceeded to dance with her friends. He ended up hospitalized for a week. ...

"I belong here where everything is civilized and gay and rotted and polite," he wrote in a letter not long before he left. "And I wouldn't mind a bit if in a few years Zelda and I could snuggle up together under a stone in some old graveyard here. That is really a happy thought and not melancholy at all."

He died four years later at age 44. Eight years later Zelda died in a hospital fire. They're both buried in Rockville.


Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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