October began last week, and spooky season is here. Along with the usual pre-Halloween traditions — haunted houses, scary movies, pumpkin spice (that’s all I want from fall, really) — a new event arrived to the city this year. Last Saturday and Sunday, the International Edgar Allan Poe Festival and Awards was held.
Presented by Poe Baltimore, a nonprofit dedicated to honoring Poe’s life, the festival aimed to celebrate Poe’s legacy and impact in Baltimore and nationwide. The organization also maintains the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum. The house, a small brick building on North Amity Street, is where Poe wrote some of his earliest stories between 1833 and 1835. The non-profit partnered with La Cité Development, LLC to make the festival a reality.
When my friend and I arrived on day two of the festival, we were immediately impressed. The streets directly surrounding the Poe House had been transformed with tents and booths. Those presenting all had Poe knowledge and passion, each expressed in very different ways.
Over 20 different companies and organizations were represented at the festival. Some, such as Poe Movies and the National Edgar Allan Poe Theatre, needed no explanation as to their presence. Others seemed a bit out of place at the event celebrating the famed author.
After speaking to those running the booths, however, we understood why several of the less obvious vendors were present. Some had a genuine connection with Poe or his legacy.
West Point, for example, was represented at the festival. After speaking to a professor at the military academy, we learned that Poe had once been a student there himself. He even dedicated his 1831 collection Poems to those he met at the institution.
Art-based booths were also displaying their creations. Most notable was AishaVoya Creations, which specialized in masks and pins. Located by the entrance to the street of tents, nearly all festival goers stopped to admire or try on the unnerving masks. Made of resin, the masks were white and resembled various creatures’ skulls. Among the creations were a human skull, a horned demon and, of course, the classic raven.
The vendors were extremely impressive and it was enjoyable to check out so many tents. However, we felt that there was an artificial feeling to some of the booths. Not every vendor appeared to fit into the overall theme of the event — some seemed to be there purely to sell merch that they could vaguely call Poe-themed.
Bringing the whole event together was Master of Ceremonies Tim Beasley. Of the entertainment company Vegas Tributes TM, Beasley imitated Poe throughout the event. He introduced musical groups from the stage, walked around holding a period hat full of (fake) money and clutched a plastic raven wherever he went. Most impressive was when he stepped into an open coffin and was unmoving, allowing festival goers to photograph him.
There were great musicians present as well. The Concert Truck, a box truck that opened to reveal a piano and two classical pianists, was located at the far end of the street. For the hour that the pianists performed, creepy, sometimes mournful tunes wafted back through the tents. A Poe-like atmosphere was set over the entire area.
Other details in honor of the author were visible as well. One booth had a sign asking for “Poe-nations.” The RavenBeer Garden featured drinks named after Poe stories and poems. My friend lamented the missed opportunity to name a lager NattyPoe.
Our favorite detail was a small, understandably overlooked part of the festival: the restroom signs. The male and female pictorials each had the messy hair and trademark mustache of the festival’s admired author.
Overall, the Poe Festival was a success for Baltimore. We went to the free activities, but there were equally impressive paid events as well, including the Death Weekend Bus Tour. Hopefully Poe Baltimore fulfills its intention of making this an annual event. I’ll be going again if they do.