My Tragic Mistimed Visit to the American Visionary Art Museum and the Edgar Allan Poe Fiasco

AVAM ext This afternoon’s experience was weird to say the least.  It began as I went to visit the American Visionary Art Museum, a museum dedicated solely to the art of undiscovered artists.  I heard it was a real treasure of Baltimore and I was stoked to see it.  It was way more than I expected it to be.  Click on this thumbnail to the left to see the entryway in its full glory.  It is made entirely of broken mirrors, and, yes, the bus is too, and also yes, that is a motorcycle statue above the doorway.  On top of that, there is a tree made of mirror shards out front .  How freakin’ cool is this place?!  I walked up to the door filled with anticipation…

And, of course, it was closed on Mondays…  Fail on my part.

Here’s where my day took an interesting turn.  Baltimore is known as Edgar Allan Poe’s hangout back in the 1800’s.  I didn’t think I had time to visit any of the Poe stuff here because it is kind of off the beaten path, but now I had the time.  For a literature nerd such as myself, I thought the fates had lined up for me and took the closed museum as a sign that I should take the Poe tour.  I called a cab and headed to Poe’s graveyard.

Poe's grave frontPoe is buried in Westminster Cemetery, which is this tiny place in a pretty populated part of Baltimore.  We drove past it twice before the cabbie and I saw it.  I hopped out, read some of the signage around Poe’s gravestone and snapped a pic.  Fittingly, dead roses lie on his grave.  I loved it!  The cab driver told me I could walk to the Poe House and Museum and, sure enough, there was a sign across the street pointing to the house saying it was a half mile away.  What I learned was never to trust a sign again…

After about 2 blocks, the signs stopped.  I crossed Baltimore’s MLK, Jr. Drive into a neighborhood and quickly got lost.  There were no more signs showing me the way.  It became clear rather quickly that I was not in a good neighborhood.  I kept going, though, thinking the best and that maybe I was just being paranoid, and I soon ran into a Baltimore police officer.  His first words to me were, “What the hell are you doing here?”  So much for being paranoid.

Here’s the thing.  If you want to see Poe’s House in Baltimore make sure to:

  • Check out their hours.  They are only open certain times of the year in the afternoon (and definitely not today).
  • Go during the day.
  • Don’t walk there.
  • Try not to go alone if you can.

Poe's HouseWhat no one told me is that Poe’s House is in a very dangerous neighborhood.  The officer told me he had pursuits in that block by 1pm.  Thank God for that officer, by the way.  He was awesomely nice.  He even drove me in the squad car to Poe’s House so I could see it.

But I don’t want to sound like it was all bad.  The Poe House seems to be really unique and worth checking out, if you plan ahead.  The cop also told me about how great the city is.  He said it gets a bad rap and could list of a number of places I should visit.  Just be careful and if you go off the beaten path, like in every major city you visit, make sure you do your research.  Just because it is a museum doesn’t mean that it’s a safe haven.

9 comments Add your comment

Janet

February 15th, 2012
9:56 am

I have visited many historic sites throughout the country. I think the best way to prepare oneself for a visit is to plan ahead and check for visiting hours, etc. The Poe House and Museum in Baltimore has a great web site with wonderful links.The house is a treasure as is it’s curator. The only crime I see in the neighborhood is the threat to the house by the City of Baltimore, who wants to defund the site. If the House is unable to sustain itself no one of any literary stature will be able to visit.

Jessica Nelson

February 14th, 2012
10:22 pm

I’ve been to the Poe House a number of times and have never had incident in the neighborhood. I’ve never had trouble with people or residents in the area. My person and vehicle were not bothered in any way. I’m not sure why you’d state recommendation to not visit the house museum at night since it isn’t open at night anyhow. I’d also put consideration into deterring people from visiting, since the museum is at risk of closing due to Baltimore city budget cuts and it needs people to visit, lest this historic home be closed forever to the public. What a loss that would be! As a self-proclaimed literary fan, I would think that would bother you.

Sherri

February 14th, 2012
9:50 pm

amazing. i’ve lived in baltimore (in the suburbs) all my life and low and behold, i trek down to the Poe House…I drove, got lost as it is a small street, but thank God for gps. I find it, at the end of the very clean wide block. I go around 2 or 3 pm, broad daylight. I don’t see anyone hanging out, no crime, no homeless, no trash….nothing. I see another call pull up…should i be paranoid? hmmm, no it’s another visitor to the POE house. We both took a chance going without checking out the hours first and yes, it was closed. Awww :( I see a woman in her upstairs window looking out. Seems friendly, decent, dare I say normal. She waves and says hi. She said, yes, they close early today. Hmmm, perhaps I’m not a true Baltimorean, as don’t know my way around down town or hardly any city areas. But needless to say… The Poe House, the neighborhood, the trip was a good experience. No police, no crime scene tape, hey, no rats, and no other tourists clutching thier wallets and acting as if they are about to enter a war zone. Yep, too many people watch media blitzes or read overzealous sharp witted blogs about everything from little museums to neighborhoods they know nothing about. The police actually had time to speak to you and wasn’t busy drug busting crack dealers or confiscatig illegal guns, wow! Officer Friendly does really exist. Give Baltimore a break. I guess you have to be a local (even a non homegrown local) like me to understand…just as you peruse the inner harbor and the expensive shopping touristy areas, it’s the same in the quaint Poe House neighborhood. I don’t know the neighbors, I don’t live around there…but the few times I’ve been there…nothing is out of the norm…and the norm…is a quiet street, off the beaten path of hected downtown traffic and retailarama! It has a quiet charm, and yep, no patrons of the Poe House harmed in it’s location. The only crime on that block is the city, cutting funding to a special place. Oh and the crime against it’s long term residents who get stereotyped in blogs like this one.

Jeff

February 14th, 2012
1:12 pm

I’m sorry the writer had such a miserable experience in Baltimore. The signs to the Poe House are clearly marked. We have people walking to the Poe House all the time when it’s open during the regular visiting hours without incident.

People also take the Charm City Circulator to the Poe House without incident. I also regret that the police officer unduly alarmed Clint about visiting the house.

As for visiting the Poe House only during the day there are many sites in all cities that one shouldn’t visit in the middle of the night. Why would anyone wait until the night to go sightseeing anyway? Oh wait, I get it. It just adds spice to his commentary.

I am curious on what Clint thinks is a bad neighborhood. The route he was taking took him through major construction work and right on the border of the University of Maryland BioPark complex. Sure, the homes on Fayette Street won’t win any awards for architectural excellence but good decent people live in those homes. It’s odd that he missed the nice, quaint townhomes in the area or the row homes where students and professional people live.

I don’t understand why people who get lost continue walking when they are lost? Why not turn around and go back?

I want to repeat that there were plenty of signs leading people to the Poe House but we can’t help it if people don’t pay attention to the signs and get lost.

I think this needs to be repeated. During the spring, summer and fall, even during the winter months many people walk to the Poe House without incident. Too bad the weather wasn’t nicer because he would have met many nice residents in the area that would have gladly shown him where the Poe House was located. It happens all the time.

Erin Harper

February 14th, 2012
8:56 am

Great post, Clint! I, too, had a mistimed visit to the Denver Art Museum!

Angela Walker

February 14th, 2012
12:12 am

This tale sums up Poe’s Aesthetic Theory of Effect. Well done.

Clint Boswell

February 13th, 2012
7:52 pm

Leave it to Poe to have some creepy stuff in any museum in his name.

And yes, I was in the back of the squad car. I think he knew I would try to turn on the sirens.

Mike

February 13th, 2012
7:48 pm

There’s also a Poe House in Philadelphia, where he wrote “The Raven” (there’s a big raven statue outside) and “The Tell-Tale Heart” (there’s a bricked-over fireplace in the cellar). It’s far away from any other tourist sites and it’s only open Wednesday through Sunday.

elizabeth

February 13th, 2012
7:24 pm

That’s almost better that what you had planned. Did you have to ride in the back of the police car?