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Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum
By Julie Sumper
For BaltimoreStories.com

Every city has a great deal of history, but Baltimore in particular has a lot of haunted history, which makes it the perfect place to be on Halloween. For those looking to celebrate Halloween in a more historical way, the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum holds a special performance in honor of the fall holiday.

The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum is located in the city, not far from Poe’s actual gravesite. It is a small house that consists of five main rooms: an entranceway room, a kitchen and three bedrooms. Poe’s bedroom is located in the attic of the house, and the tiny home includes no bathrooms of any sort.

“Poe’s room, as well as the house, can be so small because people used to be a lot shorter back when he was alive,” said Jeff Jerome, the curator of the museum. “Poe was 5-foot-8-inches, which was tall back then. The average height of men was 5-foot-5-inches.”

The staircase leading up to Poe's attic can barely fit one person at a time. Everything about the house where Poe grew up reeks of a time when things were different, when Baltimore wasn't even a city.

"When Poe lived here, Baltimore was very country. When he looked out his window he saw fields," said Jerome.

That was back in the 1830s. Today, 175 years later, Baltimore is a completely different place. However, the Poe house still stands and other than a small addition to the kitchen and some missing furniture, it stands in the same condition as it did back when Poe began to write short stories.

This timeline tells more about Poe's history in Baltimore.

The tour of the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum is mostly self-guided, but Jerome, who has been curator since 1979, is more than willing to answer any questions.

“I just hate when people who have visited the house ask me if I live here. There’s just no way that I could.”

Instead, Jerome resides in Anne Arundel County.

“Many people think that I live and breathe Poe,” he said, “but really, I’m just good at what I do. I don’t think I’ll ever reach a point where I can say that I know all there is to know about Poe. It’s like any job, and I like that I’m always learning new things.”

Jerome was surprised to find out that Poe enjoyed the story of “Frankenstein,” and that he was allergic to perfume.

Before becoming curator of the museum, Jerome did volunteer work for the city.

“I really like Baltimore because of the people here. Everything in this city is nearby, as opposed to a big city like New York,” he said. Jerome also said that the house is interesting for any visitor.

“I don’t suggest kids coming to the Halloween performance though.”

The play can be pretty scary. It’s held in the overcrowded bedroom of Virginia Poe, Poe’s cousin who was also his wife.

“When Poe married his cousin, she was 13 years old and he was seven,” Jerome said. “This may sound weird, but applying today’s social standards to a time when things were different is unfair. Consider that women during this time had a life expectancy of about 25 years, and in Maryland law even today it is legal for cousins to get married.”

People back then married inside of their families because of money.

“It was a way for them to keep their money,” he said. “But Poe didn’t have any money, so in his case it must have been love. Even people that hated Poe could not say anything about him and Virginia because they really were in love.”

The Halloween play does not capture this romance. It is actually an acting out of one of Poe’s poems. This year, local actor Tony Tsendeas performed “A Tell-Tale Heart.” Tsendeas has been performing for the Halloween play on and off for 20 years.

“We started the play in 1983 because people were asking for a Halloween event,” said Jerome. “Since then we have decided that A Tell-Tale Heart,' is the best poem to perform because it’s quick and easy to follow along with.”

Some years, when Tsendeas doesn’t perform, a Poe look-a-like comes in and performs monologues from Poe’s point of view.

“Either way it’s good way to get the local talent out there,” Jerome said.

Every year, the play is performed throughout the day on the Saturday and Sunday before and after Halloween.

As for whether the ghost of Poe comes out during the season, Jerome really has no comment.

“The place is supposed to be haunted, but who knows,” he said. “We don’t really talk about supernatural events here, but…shhhh. Did you hear that?"

Jerome also said that the Discovery Channel would be visiting the Poe house with a psychic and ghost hunters for a program on "Everything you need to Know about Ghosts."

"Poe is a big name that everyone recognizes, so they wanted to come here.”

It's hard to imagine how different Baltimore was when Poe was alive, but visiting his old house gives more than a few clues. Creeky, windy stairs, dark lighting, cluttered spaces and more, do help to make one understand why Poe was able to write such spooky fiction.

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