Edgar Allan Poe lived in a tiny rowhouse west of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor for a mere two years. He moved here from Richmond after a feud with his step father, moving in with his aunt, and more importantly his cousin Virginia Eliza Clemm. Virginia’s brother and ailing grandmother also lived in the five-room house.
Those two years (it may have been more like three), 1832-1835, were productive ones. Poe wrote furiously, getting his career as a writer underway. And he fell in love with his young cousin whom he would later marry.
Poe in Baltimore is mostly a mystery. A visit to his house prompts more questions than it answers. Where did he sleep? Although a bed has been placed on the top floor, it is still unknown if this was his room. During a previous visit, I saw a desk set in the little gable window and imagined him looking over Baltimore’s roof tops as he penned his next poem. Pshaw! He probably was in a second story bedroom, perhaps sharing with his cousin Henry. Virginia may have slept up on the third floor.
But this is certain: The author of the horror story, the detective story and haunting poetry trod these floorboards. He looked out these windows, went through that front door. He wrote poetry, literary reviews and stories. One story, MS Found in a Bottle, won a $50 prize in a contest sponsored by the Baltimore Saturday Visiter. More of his stories were published by the Visiter later.
A few mementoes of Poe are on display here: a writing desk, a few pieces of the Allan tableware, a telescope. Bring your imagination with you. As you step into the parlor, the kitchen (enlarged since Poe’s day), climb the winding narrow stairs, peer into the three bedrooms, you’ll see very little furniture. Would it have been smoky? Imagine these rooms in a Baltimore summer, hot and humid. How much furniture would have been crammed against these walls?
Take a moment to read some of the tributes that fill a wall in what may have been his bedroom. It helps a little, I think, to see how influential Poe was.
A visit to this typical Baltimore rowhouse won’t take long. Getting here might take more time. I don’t advise walking here. Drive over and park on the street. Get a cab if you don’t have your car. Bring your camera. Everybody wants a picture taken with the bust of Poe. Wear your trustiest walking shoes — you’ll need them on these extremely narrow stairs. And (forgive this indelicacy) visit a restroom before you come; there’s none here. The house is open weekends only May through December.
Edgar Allan Poe returned to Baltimore on numerous occasions. Most famously, he got off the train between Richmond and Philadelphia and died here, at the age of 40. To fill out your day away, there are other Poe sites you can visit in Baltimore, including the Horse You Came In On, a tavern in Fells Point where he may (or may not) have visited the day he died.
His gravesite is near the house, in a tiny graveyard near the University of Maryland hospital. Parking is available nearby. Make sure you visit both graves, one near the entrance with accolades from the French where he is buried with Virginia, and the original grave in back which still bears a marker.
© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman