HendersonvillePete Zamplas

Poe’s 209th birthday packs Poe House


Poetry readings capped a night of gothic music, birthday cake sharing and many toasts to the intense poet and short story writer Poe. His images adorn the tavern dedicated to him.

Kimberlee Roark Young and Derek Schuler’s fine wine-craft beer tavern at 105 First Ave. W. opened five years ago, across First Avenue from the Historic Courthouse. They said they have drawn full crowds regularly since adding a second bar to its back section last June 22. “Artisan” cocktails are mixed in that back bar, with original Poe House recipes and ones from nearly a century ago.

Yet The Poe House retains plush couches and other semi-private seating in the very back, for a cozy feel amidst the crowd. The Romantic Gothic setting matches Poe’s writing, with a relaxed dimly-lit European pub-like atmosphere. Rows of fine wines remain on rustic shelves on a side wall in the main room. Young is a certified wine steward (“sommelier”), and Schuler is versed about microbrew’s distinctive ingredients. They have run wine vineyard and brewery tours.

Wine tastings and other special events are as popular as ever. Most special of all is honoring namesake Poe (1809-49), the famed and ill-fated writer of over a century and half ago who died of tuberculosis (TB). The place was jammed throughout on Friday, Jan. 19, for Masque of the Red Death: A Masquerade Ball.

Lisa Tyler has portrayed Poe, for three birthday bashes in The Poe House where she has tended bar. She reprises the role there for his eerie “death day” Oct. 7, ahead of Halloween. She is an actress, and works in Flowers by Larry. Tyler and Trevor Walker are the folk duo Wintervals.

On Friday, she mimed Poe in a “stoic” way, with “inward concentration. There’s something going on with Poe — always.”

The mime had plenty to say to The Tribune about the prolific writer, who made his mark publishing for over 20 years starting in 1827 then for two more centuries after that.

Poe devised the detective story, with his sinister, grotesque short stories such as “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” These inspired horror-suspense filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, writer Stephen King and others to explore diabolical themes of the human spirit. Poe also thrilled many to the bone with his brisk poems.

As a literary critic, he was the harsh “Tomahawk Man.” He ripped literary rival Rufus Griswold. Griswold got back at Poe, writing an obit then biography of Poe. Griswold depicted Poe as a deranged drunkard, fueling public perceptions that have since been debated but persisted. For instance, in the film “The Raven” in 2012. John Cusack played Poe as unhinged genius who was unyielding, mercurial, rebellious and self-destructive.

Chris Nevel played Red Death during the ball, reflecting TB that was the rage of mid 19th Century. The disease reportedly claimed the lives of Poe’s birth mother, stepmother, first love, fellow poet he wrote love poems to, and his wife/cousin Virginia two years before Poe himself died. He died a mysterious death, ten days before he was to wed again. Heavy drinking was rumored a main factor.

Democracy might have played a role. Poe reportedly was spotted in line to vote, on a municipal election day four days before his death and at a site in Baltimore known for voter fraud. Thus a friend of Poe theorized the writer was among many drugged and forced to vote at one polling place after another, until being left for dead.

Tyler senses Poe’s “aura of death.” She said “He walked in the dark fearlessly. He mainstreamed the Gothic movement, making it okay to talk about the dark side. Nothing was off limits, with him.”

Yet, among others, she reasons Poe’s writing goes far beyond gloom and doom to also honor the loves he cherished but lost. “He was very romantic,” she said, writing of love and “tragedy.” She concluded his lesson is “Despair is the price we pay for love lost.”

The tavern’s owners agree. Poe’s emotions “run the gamut,” Young said. She has been a “huge fan” of Poe’s writings since her youth. “I wrote poetry, similar to his style. He went through heartaches. He is so mysterious,” including his demise.

Poe cleverly revealed the name of noted poet Frances Sargent Osgood (1811-1850), as subject of his poem “To Her Whose Name is Written Below” now known as “A Valentine.” Her name is read diagonally downward and rightward. It goes from the initial line’s first letter, to the second line’s second letter, third line’s third letter, etc. “Fanny” and Poe exchanged love poems in 1845-47, yet were deemed platonic friends by observers including Poe’s wife. Osgood was separated from her husband. She died of TB, a year after Poe died.

Kay Arado-Biberdorf and her twin sister Kim Arado, who enjoyed the birthday bash, have visited Poe’s modest row house home in Baltimore. Kyle Seigler and Alexandra Zeldenrust stopped by from Spartanburg, S.C. They are Poe fans. “Peaceful and introspective” is how Seigler described the music by duo Valentine Wolfe at the event coincided with Poe prose.

Boston native Poe, the son of actors, grew up in Richmond, Va. He was based in Baltimore, such as in 1831-35, and died there en route from Virginia to Philadelphia for a poetry editing project. Baltimore named its pro football franchise The Ravens, after his signature poem “The Raven” in 1845 about death and mourning. In the poem, the narrator speaks of death of his love Lenore and visits by a raven who repeats the word “nevermore.”

“Annabel Lee” was viewed as a tribute to Virginia, Poe’s child bride (age 13) and late wife of 11 years. It was published two days after Poe’s death, in the New York Tribune. Braxton Ballew read its lyrics, as part of the entertainment Friday.

Ballew acted as dark Prince Prospero, at the ball. In the musical act Valentine Wolfe, virtuoso Ballew plays electric upright bass often in minor notes. His wife, soprano Sarah Black, sings. They have teamed musically for 12 years, and are based in Greenville, S.C. They play “Victorian chamber metal” blends and “haunted dark ambient oddities,” with an edgy Gothic vibe. They are so into Poe’s works that they worked his prose into lyrics on one of their CDs.

Ballew quoted Poe in “The Raven”: “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there — wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no moral ever dared to dream before.”

For more on The Poe House and upcoming musical acts, check it on Facebook or call 696-1838.

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