Philadelphia wants the body of Edgar Allan Poe but Baltimore isn’t giving it up. Poe didn’t live in Baltimore long, but ever since he died and was buried there in 1849, the city has claimed him for its own. Not fair, says Edward Pettit, a Poe scholar in Philadelphia. He argues that Philadelphia was Poe’s true home, seeing that he wrote his most famous works in Philadelphia where he lived from 1838-1844, including the stories “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
“So, Philadelphians, let’s hop in our cars, drive down I-95 and appropriate a body from a certain Baltimore cemetery,” Mr. Pettit wrote in an article in October. “I’ll bring the shovel.”
Not so fast, said Jeff Jerome, the curator of the Poe House in Baltimore. “Philadelphia can keep its broken bell and its cheese steak, but Poe’s body isn’t going anywhere. If they want [another] body, they can have John Wilkes Booth,” referring to Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, who is also buried in Baltimore.
Mr. Pettit didn’t really expect Poe’s body to be dug up and transferred to Philadelphia. He was merely starting a spirited debate to drum up interest in several Poe exhibits being held in Philadelphia this year to celebrate the bicentennial of the mystery writer’s birth. Among the many attractions was a show of artifacts that just recently closed at the Philadelphia Free Library. While Poe’s original manuscripts and first editions were hits with die-hard Poe fans, the star of the show was undeniably a stuffed bird, Grip, Charles Dickens’ pet raven and the inspiration behind Poe’s best-known work, “The Raven.”
Poe began writing “The Raven” in Philadelphia but published it in New York where he relocated. Therefore, New York can also lay claim to Poe. Then there’s Boston where he was born. Poe, though, were he consulted on the matter, would have described himself as a Virginian, because he grew up and began his writing career in Richmond. Even South Carolina could cash in on Poe’s fame. Poe was stationed in the Army on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, in 1827, and set “The Gold Bug” there. He also lived in Britain.
But Paul Lewis, a professor of English at Boston College, says neither of his rival cities are deserving of Poe’s legacy. Boston was the site of Poe’s birth, stated Lewis, the only place where he was happy. Boston and only Boston was Poe’s true home. Poe was poor, alcoholic, and miserable in all those other cities, claimed Lewis. “Every single city inspired Poe because they were torturing him,” said Lewis, tongue-in-cheek.
The argument between the cities has spilled over into blogs and newspaper articles, giving Edgar Allan Poe a boost in popularity, a healthy result for all the cities claiming Poe as its favorite son.