Poe House could operate as part of the B&O Museum

A consultant hired by the city to find ways of making the Poe House self sufficient recommends that it be operated in partnership with the nearby B&O Railroad Museum
A consultant hired by the city to find ways of making the Poe House self sufficient recommends that it be operated in partnership with the nearby B&O Railroad Museum (Jeffrey F. Bill, Baltimore Sun Photo)

A consultant charged by city officials with exploring ways of keeping Baltimore's Edgar Allan Poe House & Museum open and making it self-sufficient is recommending that it be operated in partnership with the nearby B&O Railroad Museum.

Under the proposal, visitors would pay admission and board vans at the B&O Museum, then be driven the half-mile to the Poe House, which they would tour in groups of 12 to 15. Part of the B&O Museum's gift shop would be dedicated to Poe-related merchandise.

"The concept has merit," said Courtney B. Wilson, executive director of the B&O Museum, who stressed that details remain to be ironed out. "Certainly, it's in the B&O Railroad Museum's best interests to see the Poe House succeed. We have wide-open ears."

The plan also calls for the establishment of Poe Baltimore, a nonprofit group to run the Poe House and promote Poe's legacy. A brief outline of the plan, put together by Mount Rainier-based Cultural Resources Management Group, was presented Tuesday to the city's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.

The city, which owns and operates the Poe House, cut its annual $85,000 funding in 2010, citing budget constraints. It has remained open thanks to private donations and money raised through such events as the 2009-2010 Poe Bicentennial celebration.

The consultants estimated the proposal's cost at $140,000 for the first 18 months. Absent city funding, they said, money could be raised through sponsors, foundations and individual donations, and through merchandise sales and event income.

The yearlong Poe Bicentennial celebration, one of the most popular events in the museum's history, brought in about $15,000 before expenses, curator Jeff Jerome said. The house attracts 3,000 visitors a year.

Poe, an early master of the horror genre and one of the most important American literary figures of the 19th century, lived in the West Baltimore rowhouse for about three years, before leaving in 1835 at age 26 to move to Richmond, Va. He returned to Baltimore sporadically thereafter, for the final time in 1849, when he was found wandering the streets, incoherent and wearing another man's clothes. He died shortly thereafter and is buried in the Westminster Burying Ground.

Much of the plan's success, the consultants stressed, rests on more vigorous branding of Poe's name. His fame as a literary figure with strong ties to such popular genres as horror and detective fiction should be stressed, they said. People outside of Baltimore probably don't realize the city's football team takes its name from "The Raven," a Poe poem, they added.

"Outside of Baltimore, there's no association with Edgar Allan Poe," consultant Patricia E. Williams said of the NFL's Ravens. "It's simply not known beyond Baltimore."

The consultants said they didn't want to approach the Ravens for possible support until the mayor signs off on their proposal. "There has to be a green light from City Hall," consultant Thomas M. Costello said.

The plan outlined several ways of enhancing the Poe brand, including the start of an annual literary conference in his honor. The consultants also suggested that the Edgar award, handed out each year by the Mystery Writers of America, could include a visit to the Poe House by the winner.

If approved by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the plan could be put in motion as early as June 1, Williams said. She said the plan, including the tours, could be in place as early as January.


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