Sunday, January 25, 2015

Report from the Poe Birthday Celebration

This past Sunday was a big day; the Poe Birthday Celebration had been resurrected and was playing to a sellout crowd.

This is actually a big deal; funding had been cut, and there had been questions galore about whether it would continue after a subdued observance two years ago and a sketchy graveside ceremony last year. However, it seems that the University of Maryland School of Law, which owns Westminster Hall, got involved in the midst of public outcry and brought back the popular observance, with online ticketing this year, for a change.

The observance actually very similar to those in the past, which was actually a great comfort. There was an exhibit from the Poe Society, a table selling souvenirs, another with snacks, and Victoria Price selling copies of her biography of her father, Vincent.

The evening's observance was in two parts. The first was a presentation by Victoria Price about her father's life and career. I've always been a huge fan of Vincent Price, not only of his acting but also of how he lived his life, with an enthusiasm for art and cooking and just drinking everything in. I learned a lot during the presentation, including how he fell for his third wife, Coral Brown, and Victoria was at her best here, talking about how crazy her father was for Coral...and how much she and Coral hated each other as well. She also spoke glowingly of Tim Burton for introducing her father to a new generation of fans, both with the short "Vincent" and casting him in "Edward Scissorhands."

The second half was John Astin, doing readings of Poe poetry and discussing them in the context of Poe's life. It was very nicely done...but I have to admit, I've seen him do the same thing before. Still, my friend Cherie was in the audience and was in raptures over it; her mind was opened like never before.

After that was a musical tribute, the annual toast (led by Victoria Price), and a final song, "The Parting Glass," appropriate for Poe and a long favorite of mine.

I still had a good time, despite the fact that I was frequently coughing (I was in the early stages of what developed into a bad cold over the week). I got a signed copy of Victoria Price's book, and in one of those crazy coincidences, the fellow seated directly in front of me was a Facebook friend I had yet to meet face-to-face, which led to some spirited conversation and us being better friends than before. And after the show I joined some friends for dinner at Annabel Lee, a restaurant in Baltimore's Canton neighborhood with a Poe theme. It was a good meal and we spotted quite a few people from the show there, including a teacher and student from Indiana who were there on a whirlwind Poe weekend, visiting both Richmond and Baltimore before heading home. They were charm incarnate.

The next day, which I had off work as it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was a small wreath-laying ceremony at Poe's grave. It was quite a small affair, officiated over by Victoria Price, who placed the wreath while giving a short address about how Price would have overjoyed to have been associated so strongly with one of America's greatest men of letters, as Price was a great promoter of American arts and letters.

That evening, my dear friends at the Yellow Sign Theater had what promises to be the first of an annual event, the "Poedown." This was an evening of four Poe stories performed as radio dramas, which was a lot of fun although I probably wrecked the audio with my frequent coughing. I joked that I had the walking Red Death.

So, it was quite a weekend, and it's unfortunate I was left so ill over the week that I couldn't concentrate enough to post this earlier. But here's me with Victoria Price, at Poe's grave...

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