Sunday, January 23, 2011
The Good and the Bad...Was This the LAST Poe Birthday Celebration?
So, today I drove up to Baltimore for the Sunday-afternoon performance of the 2011 Poe Birthday Celebration...
A few smaller things surprised me, such as the surprisingly smaller-than-usual attendance, and the lack of programs. (Dangit, I like the programs, they're mementos of the evening!) There was the usual clutch of souvenir vendors; I bought some coasters and a sticker from Raven Brewery. A lady was wandering about as the wife from "The Black Cat," holding a stuffed black cat and with an axe sticking out of her hairdo. Unlike many past years, which had beastly weather (I've driven down from Baltimore after these in ice storms and snow), it was bright and clear but ferociously cold, so little to keep people away. And I was amused by the fact that I got there practically on instinct alone, having been up so many times.
The program opened with a filmed tribute to Vincent Price, who's having his centennial this year. It was a bit of biographical info and then trailers and clips from his Poe movies with Roger Corman, put together by local actor Mark Redfield. This was followed by the Baltimore Men's Chorus, which performed "The Bells" and "Something Wicked This Way Comes" before launching into a new, original arrangement of "The Raven." Their performance was quite nice and a refreshing change from the usual. And I kept looking over the singers; quite a few looked like something I'd bump into at the Eagle or Green Lantern, and upon checking out their site...surprise, surprise, they're a gay group. Cool.
After the break was comedian Grover Silcox, who gave lighthearted commentary on Poe and teaching Poe to children, while also giving recitations of "The Bells," "Annabel Lee," "The Raven," and that one I dread so much, "The Tell-Tale Heart." OK, I understand about the last one; it was a revolutionary story in its time, for actually telling a story about an insane murderer from the murderer's point of view, but still...it's such a favorite with performers of Poe that I now just roll my eyes. And Silcox was dead serious with his performances, which was a bit jarring at first, but he really threw himself into it, and sometimes was teetering on the brink of going completely over the top. Although I give him major points for pronouncing "homage" correctly, as "HOM-idj," rather than the hideous and pretentious faux-French "o-MAZH" affected by so many today.
Silcox is an energetic performer, with a bit of Nathan Lane about him, and seems genuinely passionate and fascinated with Poe, so he was a worthy addition to the show.
And then, the bombshell.
Jeff Jerome, the director of the Poe House Museum in Baltimore, gave a speech about how the city has cut off funding for the museum and has declared that it needs to be self-sustaining by June of 2012, which looks good on paper but so few museums are truly self-sustaining these days.
So there's bound to be a lot of fundraising going on, but the big shock was the announcement that this was probably the last Poe Birthday Celebration. I was reeling with shock; I had no idea there was an issue with funding.
So the evening ended with the usual toast, but this time to the people who have kept the museum and events running for so long, and a genuine hope that this will continue.
As people filed out, I found myself taking a few shots and just standing around, looking at the place, imprinting it on my memory, just in case I never saw the inside again. I had to run up the stairs to the old choir loft, to a window that's halfway up. Years ago, at another celebration, it had begun to snow during the show, and going up the stairs I had stopped and gazed out the window, struck by the sight of the snow falling on the graves below, at the beautifully peaceful scene that was simultaneously weird and gothic. So every year I have to go up those stairs and look out the window, and tonight was no exception.
I went out with some others to pay my respects at Poe's grave, bedecked with roses and pennies, despite the apparent retirement of the Poe Toaster as of last year. One gal gave the memorial an affectionate caress, and fondly said, "I'll be seeing you."
So I'll be joining the others in writing a stern letter to the mayor's office, and will definitely make time soon to return to Baltimore to visit the Poe House. But in the meantime, I'm a bit sad over this situation, and going over my options. When I learn more, I'll be posting a Call To Arms here, so stay tuned.