Monday, August 8, 2011

Nevermore to the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum?

The New York Times reports that The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum faces possible closure. The House has lost its $85,000 annual subsidy from the city of Baltimore and is limping forward by draining its reserve funds. It would be a loss, to be sure, but I'm wondering how much we'll really lose here.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a steadfast advocate for saving and archiving as much as we can, and for the government providing as much funds as are necessary to accomplish this. But I'm wondering if it's really feasible to save every house lived in by every prominent writer? Poe is most associated with Baltimore and died there, but at the end of his life he was living in New York and that house is preserved. His childhood home in Virginia is a successful museum and a Pennsylvania home is operated by the National Park Service.

It would be a loss to Baltimore's heritage, but let's look at precisely what's being lost. Some early key works like "Berenice" were likely written here, but none of his famous works. Do we really need to see where Poe may have written "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall"? And there are no artifacts of note in the House. Much of what is on display are reproductions alongside authentic artifacts of dubious significance such as a lock of his hair and a telescope that he may have used.

The problem is that the museum is not and likely can never be self-sustaining. It's in an out of the way location in the middle of a housing project. (The Times has a wonderful photo of a Poe reenactor in front of the house juxtaposed by some residents on the stoop in the background.) New exhibits won't cut it, you're not going to drive traffic into the middle of The Wire without a more serious and safer draw. Unless they can get an adjoining property (like that vacant lot you can see across the street on Google street view) for event space and parking, self-sufficiency will never be an option. And given that they can't even get funding to stay open much longer from donors or the city, I doubt that kind of investment, as smart as it may be, will be forthcoming. Baltimore has more pressing things to spend its money on these days, unfortunately.

One of the Poe society officers said that a hope is that "the city comes to its senses and realizes they’re not saving a lot of money, so they might as well keep running it." Even if the museum closes its doors, the house will still have to be preserved. Future renovations will cost a lot more in the future, and hopefully the city will be sensible enough to take appropriate steps to make sure the house remains intact. It might be cheaper just to keep the place open and let the volunteers do all the work of keeping it up.

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