Today was the final day of the bicentennial edition of Baltimore's annual Edgar Allen Poe birthday celebration. I've attended a few times in years past, but had to go again to laud Eddie on his 200th year. The event took place, as always, at Westminster Hall, which was once Westminster Burial Ground, which is where Poe, his young wife/cousin and his mother-in-law/aunt are buried together. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed during the performances, so I'll have to try to sum it up in words.
The celebration began with the singing of "Annabel Lee" by a female soprano. I'm sure her voice would be considered lovely, but high-pitched female voices make me cringe so I could have done without. She was followed by a very cheesy, low-budget pantomime/puppet performance of Hop Frog, after which the event really got good. Third on the bill was local actor Tony Tsendeas in the role of the narrator of The Tell-Tale Heart. Tony's portrayal of this short story has been a recurring part of the annual Poe Halloween celebration at Westminster and this was probably the 5th or 6th time I've seen it. He still had me on the edge of my seat. I'd love to see him do a similar performance of Poe's The Black Cat.
After a short intermission, Jeff Jerome (curator of the nearby Poe House and Museum) introduced the night's special guest, John Astin. It's been several years since Astin's last appearance at the birthday event. When I saw him on that occasion, he was a dead-ringer (no pun intended) for Poe. Tonight, I almost didn't recognize him as he strode up the aisle to the stage. The years have altered him from Gomez Adddams into a bald-pated, white-bearded grandfather-ly figure. Still hearty and spry, though, and dashing in his tuxedo as he sat on the stage in a chair once used by Poe himself. Then, in the unmistakable voice of Gomez, he read some of Eddie's darkest works as if they were bed-time stories, relating each piece to the highs and lows, the few joys and many losses, of Poe's life. I didn't recognize the first piece as it was brief and over too quickly, but the rest of Mr. Astin's selections were:
- "Conqueror Worm"
- The Masque of the Red Death
- "To Helen"
- "A Dream Within a Dream"
- A portion of a letter written by Poe, in which he describes the prolonged death of his beloved Virginia from tuberculosis, and his resultant "insanity"
- "The Raven" (can't leave that one out, especially in Baltimore)
- "To One in Paradise"
- Passages from the prose poem, Eureka, which apparently displays Poe's prescient predictions in cosomology.
- "For Annie"
- '"Annabel Lee" (Astin's reading was much preferable to the female vocalist earlier in the evening)
The evening concluded with the annual apple cider toast to Poe and more squirming from me as the female vocalist returned to wail Amazing Grace and Auld Lang Syne. I'd have been happy for things to have just ended with Poe's own words from an 1844 letter, as quoted in the toast:
"You speak of 'an estimate' of my life'-- and, from what I have already said, you will see that I have none to give. I have been too deeply conscious of the mutability and evanescence of temporal things, to give any continuous effort to anything-- to be consistent in anything. My life has been whim-- impulse-- passion-- a longing for solitude-- a scorn of all things present, in an earnest desire for the future."
I'm sure Eddie had no clue just how those of us in the future would come to regard him. I hope it would have brought him satisfaction and a measure of peace.
Memorabilia of the night
John Astin signing autographs. The guy would not sit still-