Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. 99¢ for 4 weeks.
NewsOpinionEditorial

Poe House in transition

MuseumsEdgar Allan Poe House and MuseumRailway TransportationEdgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was possibly the most original literary talent ever to reside in Baltimore, and his death here, in 1849, at the age of 40 left an indelible mark on the city. Today, the house on North Amity Street, west of downtown, where the writer lived and worked for a time during the 1830s is a local landmark that draws visitors from across the country and around the world.

But last week the Poe House Museum was forced to close temporarily, after the city ended its decades-long financial support for the institution. Its fate now rests on whether it can successfully make the transition from being a city-owned venue to a self-sustaining entity under the direction of a private, nonprofit board.

On Wednesday, the city Board of Estimates is expected to approve a measure allowing the Poe House to partner with the B&O Railroad Museum as it seeks to reestablish itself on independent footing. Under the plan, the city would award the railroad museum a one-time $185,000 contract (out of funds raised by the Poe House over the years) to employ its professional staff in assisting the Poe House to reinterpret its mission, redesign its exhibits and reorganize its programs. In addition, the B&O staff will help the Poe House create a new website, develop videos for its galleries and online, adopt new marketing and branding strategies and assist in recruiting new board members.

After decades of operating on a shoestring budget — the city subsidy to the Poe House was just $85,000 last year — setting the institution on a new, more ambitious path won't be easy. But it is by no means impossible. Despite the challenges the museum faces, including a tiny space that limits the number of visitors the galleries can accommodate and a somewhat off-the-beaten path location in a distressed urban neighborhood, the Poe House also enjoys a number of advantages that give cause for hope.

Among them are its proximity to the Poppleton redevelopment area, which is bringing new businesses, apartment buildings and residents to the neighborhood, as well as an adjacent city-owned lot that is currently vacant but eventually could be transformed into a site for a visitor center, gift shop and additional parking. One idea that has been floated for making the museum more accessible involves ticketed tours via shuttle bus from the railroad museum to the Poe House and back, which would encourage many more visitors to seek out the opportunity to explore Poe's Baltimore legacy.

It's quite feasible for the Poe House Museum to be viable without city support given a little sprucing up and some expert assistance from its partners at the railroad museum. If it can raise the estimated $200,000 to $300,000 needed to operate independently, there's no reason the museum can't get through this transition and emerge as an even more inviting destination for visitors. Its new board might start with the Baltimore Ravens football team, which has capitalized handsomely on his legacy, taking its name from his poem, "The Raven." If a few players could be persuaded to take the poet's home under their wing, it would help enormously.

After so many years of being run by the city, it's inevitable there will be uncertainty over the new direction the institution has embarked upon. But Poe, who first found his voice as a writer in Baltimore and died here under circumstances that to this day remain unclear, will always be honored in this city. He is an inseparable part of Baltimore's proud history, and it would be a shame if the museum that tells his story, like the beautiful lady Lenore in his most famous poem, were lost to future generations forevermore.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
MuseumsEdgar Allan Poe House and MuseumRailway TransportationEdgar Allan Poe
  • Poe house to close Friday, hopefully temporarily
    Poe house to close Friday, hopefully temporarily

    Plans call for the Amity Street home of Edgar Allan Poe to reopen in 2013, under the auspices of the non-profit group Poe Baltimore

  • Failure to launch
    Failure to launch

    The spectacular explosion that destroyed a privately owned spacecraft seconds after lift-off from NASA's Wallops Island launch pad in Virginia Tuesday was a temporary setback for Orbital Science, the company that developed the unmanned vehicle, but if history is any guide it won't...

  • Voting machine mistakes [Poll]
    Voting machine mistakes [Poll]
  • Remembering Frank Mankiewicz
    Remembering Frank Mankiewicz

    In the hard-boiled if fading world of print journalism, it's often said that the only way to look at a politician is down. And the worst crime of all is to work both sides of the street, doubling as a reporter while working for a pol, or vice versa.

  • A message to the netherworld
    A message to the netherworld

    Blessed with an appetite for good Italian sausage served with peppers and onions, as well as an abundant curiosity, I took myself to The Great Halloween Lantern Parade and Festival last Saturday night without knowing quite what to expect. The only person I'd ever met who had seen the...

  • Repeating our Middle East mistakes
    Repeating our Middle East mistakes

    President Barack Obama's latest foray into the Middle East is unfortunately reactive and uninformed and shows how very little he seems to take into account our bloody history in the region.

  • Democrats run the economy better
    Democrats run the economy better

    There are many reasons to be a Democrat — civil rights, environmental protection, protecting national security without being the world's policeman, and more. Yet, the Democratic Party's strongest advantage over our Republican opponents is that Democrats run the economy far...

  • Frosh for attorney general
    Frosh for attorney general

    Much of the day-to-day work of Maryland's attorney general involves managing a legion of attorneys who provide counsel and legal advice to state government agencies large and small and to various boards and commissions. Nonetheless, the job is not to serve the governor or his...

Comments
Loading