Acity known for a bell that's broken and a delicacy that's Cheez Whiz-ed wants to up its cultural clout - by stealing Edgar Allan Poe from Baltimore.
"We're Taking Poe Back," read the headline in Philadelphia's City Paper last week. Arguing that Philly's claim on Poe is greater than Baltimore's, the article urges Philadelphians to "reclaim our macabre, prodigal son" in time for the 2009 bicentennial of Poe's birth.
"This is a literary grave robbing," reporter Edward Pettit began.
"I want to exhume his body and translate his remains to the City of Brotherly Love. ... That's because Poe is ours. He belongs to Philadelphia."
I ran that by Jeff Jerome, curator of Charm City's Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum. He offered this message to the good people of Quaker City: "Keep your greasy, onioned, sub-stained hands off Poe!"
Truth be told, Poe didn't spend all that much time in Baltimore or Philadelphia. He was born in Boston and largely raised in Richmond, Va. He lived in Baltimore for a few years in the late 1820s and again, from 1832 to 1835, on Amity Street. He hung his hat in Philly from 1838 to 1844.
Pettit argues that Poe wrote, or at least began, some of his best work in Philadelphia, including "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Raven." (The latter was completed and published in yet another city Poe called home, New York.)
Jerome begs to differ.
"Poe wrote to a friend that 'The Raven' was 10 years hatching in his brain," he said. "If that's true - it was published in 1845 - if that statement's true, that puts him in Baltimore when he first thought of the idea of writing a poem that would be so sensational that it would make him an overnight success."
In any case, Jerome said, Baltimore is where Poe found his literary niche.
"It was here in Baltimore at the Poe House where he wrote his first true horror story, 'Berenice,'" Jerome said. "This dealt with premature burial, grave desecration and mutilation. It was the public reaction to this story" - negative, but big - "that convinced Poe that horror was the way to go."
Baltimore is also where Poe met his cousin Virginia, whom he married. It's the city where, on a visit in 1849, he died of ... take your pick of 22 purported causes, including rabies, mercury poisoning, brain fever and alcohol.
While Jerome takes issue with Pettit's premise, he was impressed with the information he dug up on Poe's time in Philly. He's already talked to the reporter by phone and plans to have lunch with him.
"I plan to go up to Philadelphia, punch him in the eye and then say, 'Let's talk about Poe.'"
Jerome is even prepared to offer a consolation prize.
"If Philadelphia wants a body, they can have John Wilkes Booth. I'll be the first one to say, 'Help yourself.'"
Quoth the mayor, 'Nevermore'
Ravens spokesman Patrick Gleason says Philly's play for Poe is out of bounds. He says the football team - whose three mascots are Edgar, Allan and Poe - has a real bond with the writer.
"I'd like to know where, exactly, are their eagles?" Gleason said. "I've seen pigeons but never eagles in the city."
Mayor Sheila Dixon also weighed in, via spokesman Anthony McCarthy: "Poe is as much a part of the fabric of Baltimore as crab cakes, beehive hairdos and marble steps. Yes, Poe may have traveled all over the United States during his illustrious career, but the most important stop on his journey was his final destination, Baltimore. Nice try, Philadelphia!"
Post office wants to cancel peanut plan
My column about tax protesters mailing peanuts to Martin O'Malley elicited this e-mail from Al Novak, a maintenance supervisor with the U.S. Postal Service in Frederick.
"The postal service canceling machines cannot cancel peanuts," he wrote. "They are designed to accept mail of standard letter size. ... [W]e are not in the business of making peanut butter. Please persuade your readers to send boxes of peanuts or pictures of peanuts instead."
Connect the dots
Some state employees got a little bonus that won't show up on their W-2s: light bulbs. Each of the more than 600 employees at the Department of General Services was given a compact fluorescent light bulb to take home as part of a statewide energy-efficiency campaign. Each bulb will save $45 over its lifetime. ... Carroll County Republicans have had their way with a Democratic bumper sticker. The original: "Had enough? Vote Democratic." Post GOP cutting and pasting: "Had enough$ Vote Democratic." Said Joe Burns Jr., the GOP central committee member responsible for the makeover: "It's a beautiful environmental standard because I'm recycling." ... Alex Hughes, who left Michael Busch's office last summer to become communications director for Sen. Ben Cardin, has returned to the House speaker's office. Hughes, who lives in Baltimore and attends law school in the city, said the commute to Washington was too much. I think she was just freaked out by Cardin's Republican hallmates on the fifth floor of the Hart Senate Office Building: Ted Stevens of Alaska, under investigation in a corruption case; David Vitter of Louisiana, who turned up in the D.C. Madam's phone records; and Larry Craig of Idaho, the guy with the wide bathroom stance.