Some years ago, I visited a small house at 203 North Amity Street in Baltimore, unremarkable were it not for the fact that Edgar Allan Poe once lived and worked there. Built in 1830, the house - then 3 Amity St – was rented in late 1832 or early 1833 by Maria Clemm, the widowed sister of Edgar’s father, the actor David Poe, who had abandoned the 3 year old Edgar, his mother, older brother and younger sister. Poe was now just turning 24 and – expelled from university, court-martialled from the United States army and disowned by his foster father, John Allan – he turned to Maria, always known to Poe as Muddy, for help and support. She herself had no money apart from a military pension which had been awarded to her father, Major David Poe, as a reward for his distinguished service in the Revolutionary War. On Major Poe’s death, that pension had devolved to his widow, Elizabeth Poe, who now moved into Amity Street with Maria and Edgar, along with Maria’s children, 14 year old Henry and 10 year old Virginia, always ‘Sissy’ or ‘Sis’ to Edgar. Threatened with demolition in the 1940s, the house was saved by the Poe Society of Baltimore and is now preserved as an atmospheric and evocative museum.
In fact, Edgar spent very little time – barely two years – living in the house and produced none of his most well-known stories there – of the tales recorded for Spinechillers, only Ms Found In A Bottle is believed to have been written during this period – but that did nothing to diminish the impact of visiting the house for me. In particular, I vividly recall the narrow, winding stairs up into the claustrophobic attic room generally assumed to have been Poe’s. On a warm, humid day in August, it was easy to imagine him at work at the small table in front of the attic window: baking in the summer heat and freezing in winter.
The very existence of this house is now under threat. For the sake of $80,000 a year. That's the amount of funding the City of Baltimore has seen fit to withdraw from the Museum. As a result, it has been forced to close: shuttered up since September. Any of you who have visited the house will know that it stands in a pretty rough area, to say the very least. The inevitable is now happening. Vandalism has begun. I urge you all to visit this site:
...and sign the petition. It currently has just under 10,000 signatures. That's a start, but it's frankly pathetic, it should have at least ten times that number. Let's do everything we can to swell those numbers. Your comments go directly to the Mayor's office. Leave them in no doubt about your feelings towards this act of cultural vandalism. Remember that Baltimore has named its football team after The Raven. How much money does the football team generate for the city? But for $80,000, we run the risk of losing what should be a National Monument. Act fast: let's not wake up to the news that this beautiful and important place has been burned down.
Thank you all,