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Happy Birthday Mr Poe

Rob Disney-Coker, NC, USA
July 2007

Baltimore, Maryland- January 19th, 1977.

Having worked as a police officer for 30 years, I have been involved in many incidences that would make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. The story I am about to impart is one of them and has never been told.

I remember it now as clearly as I did 30 years ago. I was working the midnight shift in an area of West Baltimore where most consider it too dangerous to walk the streets after dark.

Within my post, a three square block area of low rise projects and high rises, there stands a rather insignificant house among the flotsam and jetsam of society. There, listed on the register of historic places in America, is 221 North Amity Street, Baltimore, Maryland.

Now, this address may mean nothing to those unfamiliar with stories of the macabre but to those familiar with the Tell Tale Heart, The Raven, and The Pit and the Pendulum, this tiny uninhabited dwelling once warmed the hands and feet of one of the greatest poets and short story essayists who ever placed a quill to paper.

The home of Edgar Allan Poe, stands as it did many years ago, restored to its original condition, a small gem, amongst the degradation of poverty and crime. The only room in the two story dwelling that seemed inhabited at one time was a very small closet of a room on the second floor, which was no bigger than a jail cell. Against the wall stood an old writing desk and chair, much as it had during Poe's time. Now, every year on Mr. Poe's birthday, a group of Poe enthusiasts gather at his grave site at the Westminster Cemetery located on Fayette Street, which is approximately an 8 block walk from Amity Street. Each year, a bottle of fine brandy is placed on his tombstone and stories are told until well after five in the morning. Somehow, this bottle of brandy, even under close observation by individuals posted at the grave, will disappear without a trace. Year after year larger and larger groups would gather on his birthday and place a bottle of brandy on his grave and every year the same result. No one knew who would surreptitiously removed the bottle of brandy.

Now on the night in question 30 years ago, January 19, 1977 I was patrolling my post and received a call for lights flickering inside the Poe House. As I pulled up in front, I could see that there was indeed an illumination from a room on the second floor; the room which contained the only piece of furniture in the house, Poe's writing desk. As I exited my patrol car I noticed that the street was remarkably quiet for 5 a.m., not even the local drunkards or drug addicts stirred as they usually did upon the arrival of a police car.
To my surprise the front door of 221 N. Amity St. was unlocked and as I entered I could hear the tell tale buzzing sound of having just activated the intrusion alarm. As I glanced around the downstairs I could see a dim illumination coming from the upstairs, as though from an oil lamp or candle.

Now reader, I have checked the perimeter of this house dozens of times, having been dispatched there for the intrusion alarm but on those occasions found nothing disturbed or out of the ordinary, until that night. I thought it odd that the front door was unlocked since the Historical Society does tours by appointment only and locks up and sets the alarm upon leaving.

I continued checking the house and found nothing out of the ordinary, except, an oil lamp that was burning dimly on Mr. Poe's writing desk. I did think this was very odd and called for a K-9 dog and the person on call from the Historical Society. Perhaps, I thought, some kids had lit the lamp and were scared off.

A couple of minutes later the K-9 unit arrived and checked the buildings perimeter as I did, with negative results. As we were finishing up our building search inside, we were greeted by a rather small eccentric looking fellow, neatly dressed carrying a small satchel. He was very morose and extremely articulate. He inquired if everything was in order with the property. We informed him of our findings and asked him to check to see if anything was disturbed. The K-9 handler and I stood outside on the sidewalk and waited for the gentleman to return. Several minutes elapsed and we decided to ask if he was OK. There was no response. Again, I called to him and again, no response. We re-entered the house along with the K-9 and upon reaching the top of the stairs discovered that the K-9 dog, a German Shepard named Duke, would not go any further. Duke was one of those dogs that had no fear. Even his handler advised other cops to steer clear when they arrived on the scene. The K-9 handler ordered his companion to "seek" but Duke practically cowered.

The fellow that had greeted us was nowhere in sight and then as I turned around, there on the desk, where the oil lamp still burned, was a half full bottle of fine brandy and an empty satchel that was not there on our earlier inspection. We just looked at each other and then heard someone downstairs call up to us. It was the night reference from the Historical Society; a young man I recognized from prior calls. He inquired if everything was alright. He could see by the looks on our faces and the demeanor of the K-9 dog that all was not alright. By this time he had turned on the electric lights in the house and as we walked the stairs once again. I could smell a faint smoky odor and noticed that the oil lamp was no longer burning and the bottle of brandy and the satchel were no longer on the writing desk. The young man asked if we had lit the lamp and as I prepared to answer him, I could see there on the desk, a ring, a wet mark, where the half filled bottle of brandy had sat. The young man from the Historical Society looked at our faces, grinned and simply stated, "I see, you have interrupted Mr. Poe's birthday celebration." You need to come back on October 7 and celebrate his death, he'll be glad to see you again."

Edgar Allan Poe was born on Jan 19th, 1809 in Boston, Mass and died in Baltimore Maryland on October 7th 1849. The cause of death is still undetermined.

Rob Disney-Coker, NC, USA
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