Edgar Allen Poe lives

Edgar Allen Poe has been dead for 158 years, but his legacy lives on in Philadelphia forever more. The amount of activity surrounding the legendary writer is livelier in his death than it was in life.

Nearly 300 Poe fans gathered at the German Society of Philadelphia on Oct. 27 for a night of rock and literature in homage to the father of horror. The Edgar Allen Poe Historical Society, the Friends of Poe and the National Park Service hosted the event. The evening began with a dramatic reciting of “The Raven” by Helen McKenna-Uff, who is a prominent member of the Friends of Poe and was convincingly dressed up as the author.

The evening’s highlight was the reunion of Glass Prism, a progressive rock band formed in Scranton that was inactive for 36 years. Their sole album, 1967’s Poe Through the Glass Prism, mixes music with Poe’s poetry and both Poe enthusiasts and experimental music fans consider it a cult classic. Dressed in matching white suits, Glass Prism belted out classics like their hit single “The Raven” and a cover of Cream’s “White Room” while rocking out more than the musicians of today, who could easily be their grandchildren. Also featured were the DG-9’s, a modern Poe-inspired rock band who managed to put on an emphatic performance despite the absence of their drummer.

Audience members were each given one free bottle of Baltimore’s Raven beer – “the taste is poetic” – after the musical performances. This was a peculiar move given the current controversy between Baltimore and Philadelphia about the placement of Poe’s body.

Poe moved from his native Virginia to Philadelphia in a last-ditch effort to save his writing career in 1838, and left the city in 1841 a popular author and innovator of horror. The National Park Service now runs his home on 7th and Spring Garden streets.. But he inexplicably died in Baltimore, Maryland in 1849, where he remains to this day. In the Oct. 4 edition of City Paper, veteran blogger and contributor Edward Pettit called for Poe’s remains to be returned to Philadelphia and said that it was “a literary grave-robbing” on Maryland’s behalf.

Since then it has been a war of words between journalists, bloggers and passionate literary buffs. The controversy reached a climax on the night of Oct. 15, when an unknown person draped in black threw an anonymous poem called “The War Over E.A.P” into the lobby of the Inquirer at 12:01 a.m. – just one minute after the deadline for the paper. It was an obvious allusion to the mysterious Poe Toaster, who visits Poe’s grave every year on the anniversary of his death. The poem also spoke of “boneheads in Bawlmore’s [sic] columns” and ultimately praised Pettit.

“I think it’s a combination of a fascination with his personality combined with the excellent literature that he wrote,” McKenna-Uff said. “He’s kind of like the poster child of the suffering artist.”

Regardless of the inconclusive outcome of this heated debate, Philadelphia still loves Edgar Allen Poe and will be especially fond of him in January 2009, the bicentennial of his birth.

“So far, the Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site is on track for mounting new exhibits and restoring the house in time for observances of this significant birthday,” McKenna-Uff said. “The Rare Book department of the Free Library of Philadelphia will kick off the celebration in October 2008 by prominently displaying highlights of the Gimbel Poe collection.”

There will also be an International Poe Conference held in Philadelphia next October that will feature scholars from around the world discussing Poe’s life and work.

Jimmy Viola can be reached at jimmy.viola@temple.edu

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