Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I’ve danced with a man . . .

Sharon Wildwind

. . .who’s danced with a girl, who’s danced with the Prince of Wales. (Composer Herbert Farjeon)

That was heady stuff in 1927. A lot of young women in England’s upper class had a “thing” about Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David Windsor, known for short as the Prince of Wales. To have touched the hand of a man, who had touched the hand of a girl, who had touched the hand of the Prince of Wales was an admittedly tenuous connection with greatness, but a connection none the less.

Eleven years later David Windsor, by then King Edward VIII, would abdicate his throne for the love of Wallis Simpson; a bit of she shine went out of the greatness, but it was fine while it lasted.

What’s happening in Baltimore this week brings up a couple of interesting questions. How long does a touch of greatness last? Should financially-strapped city governments be expected to carry the financial burden of links to the past?

At 203 Amity St. in Baltimore stands half of a squat, plain brick house, which was built in the early 19th century. For a two-year period—late 1832 or early 1833 to 1835—Edgar Allen Poe and three of his female relatives—one of them his first cousin whom he later married—lived in that house. While he lived there Poe began to gain his literary fame.

A few years after Poe moved to Richmond, the left side of the duplex was torn down. The remaining right side remained a private residence until 1939, when the City of Baltimore acquired it. They leased it to the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore for a number of years. As the Society’s budged declined, they were unable to maintain the house, and the city took in over again in 1979.

For details about the house, including a pen-and-ink drawing of what the house would have looked like during Poe’s residence there, here’s a link to the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore notes. Information about the Society itself can be found here.

It cost the city between $80,000 and $85,000 yearly to have the house open to the public for four hours a day, four days a week. Funds were cut last year and a single employee has kept the house open using private funds raised during Poe’s 200th birthday celebrations last year.

Two hundredth birthdays don’t come around every year and now the city has said that by July 2012 the house and museum must be self-sustaining or be taken under the wing of another museum or educational institution. If neither of those things happen, the house will close. In all likelihood vandalism and/or the wrecking ball will follow shortly.

I, for one, would hate to see the house succumb to either fate, not only because I’m one of the “daughters,” but because I’m a sucker for old buildings. I hope a foundation or museum steps forward in the next year to take over the house.

There is a petition being circulated on-line to save the house. As PDD tries to stay away from taking sides on political issues, I'm not posting a link here. If you are interested, a Google search will turn it up for you.

But the question remains are we dealing with the hand that touched the hand that touched the hand here? Does there come a time to let go? Would this situation be different if, instead of living in the house for only three years, Poe had lived there for over thirty years, as William Faulkner did at Rowan Oak in Oxford, Mississippi? Or if, as Faulkner did at Rowan Oak, Poe had written notes about his work in progress on the walls? I don’t know, but as budgets become tighter and many governments and institutions are faced with this kind of question, I think we are going to see more houses fall.

Quote for the week:
We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.
~ Winston Churchill (1874–1965), British politician and statesman, who would have known the Prince of Wales, perhaps even socially

1 comment:

Sheila Connolly said...

We enshrine the birthplaces of later-famous people, even though they may have had no conscious memory of the place. How do we determine which experiences and places shaped the creative mind of any individual? But visitors seem to seek out those places.

The problem is, they don't want to pay for the opportunity to share the experience, however many times removed.

Municipal budget problems are very real, especially these days (I used to be a municipal financial advisor), but sacrificing the cultural treasures that give any city character and charm seems a poor way to balance a budget, and even if you closed every such institution in a city, you'd be a long way from solvent. It's a classic example of "penny-wise, pound foolish."