January 21, 2009 / 4:58 PM / 11 years ago

Philadelphians claim title as Poe's true home

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters Life!) - Two hundred years after the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, an audience at a spirited debate has decided that Philadelphia owns the legacy of the 19th century writer.

First lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama dance on a replica of the presidential seal at the Commander-in-Chiefs Inaugural ball in Washington January 20, 2009. Obama took power as the first black U.S. president on Tuesday and quickly turned the page on the Bush years, urging Americans to rally to end the worst economic crisis in generations and repair the U.S. image abroad. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES)

Boston claimed the title because Poe, the author of such classics as “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Fall of the House of Usher” was born in the Massachusetts city on Jan 19, 1809. Baltimore vied for the title because it is where he is buried.

But in a public debate, part of a celebration of Poe’s birthday, an audience of some 400 Philadelphians let out the loudest cheer when asked to decide which of the three cities should be called Poe’s true home.

The debate — billed as a “Poe Down” — pitted Paul Lewis, a professor of English at Boston College, against Jeff Jerome, curator of the Edgar Allan Poe House in Baltimore, and Ed Pettit, a Philadelphia writer who provoked the controversy in 2007 with a newspaper article arguing that Poe’s bones should be exhumed and moved to Philadelphia.

Poe lived in Philadelphia from 1838 to 1844. Pettit argued that the city is where his talent truly flowered and where he wrote many of his best-known stories.

“Philadelphia was the crucible of Poe’s imaginative genius,” said Pettit, who organized the debate, which is one of a series of events around the country to mark his 200th anniversary of Poe’s birth.

The debate was held at the library that houses the stuffed raven that inspired Poe’s poem “The Raven”, which was first published in January 1845.

Pettit confessed he wasn’t seriously proposing that Poe’s remains be dug up. Rather, he said, it was the author’s reputation that should be moved.

But Jerome argued that in Baltimore Poe wrote his first true horror story and won his first literary prize there. When he died in 1849 he was buried in his grandfather’s plot.

Boston’s Lewis said neither of his rival cities deserved to claim Poe’s legacy because the writer, who was poor and struggled with alcoholism, suffered so much while he lived in those places.

“Every single city inspired Poe because they were torturing him,” said Lewis, tongue firmly in cheek. “These cities should beg his forgiveness on bended knee before they claim one crumb of his legacy.”

Poe also lived in Richmond, Virginia, in New York City and in Britain.

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