A Brief History of the Poe Society


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The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore was officially established following a commemorative celebration of Poe’s birthday on January 19, 1923. The roots of the Poe Society, however, pass through a number of previous organizations, reaching back more than fifty years earlier. Interest in erecting a monument which would be fitting to Poe’s memory began shortly after his death in 1849. The effort, however, would prove more difficult, both logistically and financially, than anyone anticipated, and it would be 25 years before it was accomplished. Chiefly through the efforts of Miss Sara Sigourney Rice (a Baltimore school teacher) and the Poe Memorial Fund (founded in 1865), the memorial was finally erected in the corner of Westminster Presbyterian Burying Ground (at Fayette and Greene Streets) and dedicated on November 17, 1875. Among those who would champion the cause were members of the Edgar Allan Poe Literary Association (founded in 1870, with Thomas B. Hand as its president) and what began about the same time as the Sorosis Literary Society (later known as the Woman’s Literary Club of Baltimore, 1907-1922). (Sorosis is a Greek word meaning a union of many into one. National chapters began as early as 1868.)

Anticipating Poe’s centennial, the Poe Memorial Association was created in 1896, but once again, they would find their path strewn with difficulties, and they missed 1909 by nearly a decade. The beautiful bronze statue of Poe, created by Sir Moses Ezekiel, eventually became a reality. Despite setbacks (including a fire which destroyed the first statue in 1913; an earthquake, which destroyed the second in 1915; the death of the artist in 1917 one year after completing the final statue; and the outbreak of World War I, which delayed shipment of the statue from across the Atlantic) this elegant artistic tribute was finally unveiled in Wyman Park on October 20, 1921. (It can now be seen in the plaza outside the law school of the University of Baltimore.) Shortly afterwards, members of the Poe Memorial Association began to sponsor an annual program, and soon was formed an official group called the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore. And so, it may fairly be said that we form one link in a chain which goes back quite nearly to Poe himself.

Following its formation in 1923, the Edgar Allan Poe Society organized an annual series of public programs that included musical settings of Poe’s poems, readings from his writings, exhibitions of information and memorabilia, and lectures about his life and works. On June 4, 1938, the Poe Society was alerted by an article in the Baltimore Sun to the planned destruction of the block of houses between Lexington and Saratoga Streets, including the house where Poe had lived in 1833-1835. The Society quickly organized to determine which was the correct building and to preserve it. This goal was accomplished substantially due to the efforts of May Garrettson Evans and Dr. John C. French. A bronze plaque was erected by 1940. A full restoration was begun in 1947, proceeding as funds and ingenuity permitted. The Poe Society provided tours from 1950 until 1977, when responsibility for the museum was assumed by Baltimore City’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP).

Since 1977, the Poe Society has returned its efforts to focus on the annual commemorative lecture and associated publications. In addition, we continue to respond to as many inquires relating to Poe’s life and works as our resources permit. In a typical year, the Poe Society receives dozens of letters from around the world, particularly from school children seeking general guidance for reports and other projects. Beginning in 1997, however, our primary means of providing information about Poe shifted to this website, which allows us to reach a far greater audience that any other means at our disposal. The Edgar Allan Poe Society is a legally established non-profit organization, incorporated in the state of Maryland. We have no paid employees, relying purely on voluntary efforts.

 


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The Rose Memorial Fund:

In 1995, the Poe Society created the Alexander G. Rose Memorial Fund in honor of one of our most ardent supporters. Al was President of the Poe Society (1969-1977), Corresponding Secretary (1978-1983), Secretary/Treasurer (1984-1987) and Society Historian (1988 until his death in 1995). The Rose Fund was established to combine Al’s three great interests: teaching, Poe and the University of Baltimore. The purpose of the fund is to partially sponsor a course, taught at the University of Baltimore, which prominently features the life and/or works of Edgar Allan Poe. Anyone wishing to contribute to this fund may write checks payable to: The Educational Foundation; The University of Baltimore; 1304 St. Paul Street; Baltimore, MD 21202. (Please note in the memo field that the donation is for the Alexander Rose Memorial Fund.)

 


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A History of the Poe Society Website:

Planning for the website for the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore began in earnest in the summer of 1996, using the tiny amount of space (1 megabyte) available as part of a personal dial-up Internet account at erols.com. Our initial attempt consisted of five or six pages, all linked to a common main page. A portrait and signature of Poe appeared on this main page, but otherwise there were no images, and the formatting was simple text against a white background. Early in 1997, space was offered to us by the University of Baltimore, and the site was officially launched on May 1, 1997 (as http://raven.ubalt.edu/features/poe). The original idea was to provide information about the Poe Society and to answer some of the typical questions that we were most commonly asked about Poe. We also wanted to provide electronic versions of a number of Poe’s writings, particularly for items not readily available in printed texts.

The Poe Society had made some experimental efforts with the idea of creating electronic texts of Poe’s works way back in 1985, when PCs first began to become a viable commodity. (At that time, a Commodore 64, with a once state of the art but hopelessly slow floppy disk drive, gave way to a Compaq Deskpro 8086, with a monochrome amber screen, a built-in graphics card, two 5 ΒΌ inch floppy disk drives, and a 40-megabype hard-drive that seemed ridiculously large in the days before MS/Windows.) Unfortunately, the most practical format available at the time was “Plain Text” files, and these had no clear means of retaining or indicating specially accented characters or even something as simple as the use of italics. The only support for such features was within proprietary file structures, and some additional experiments were accordingly made using WordPerfect (and a reduced version of the product, known as LetterPerfect). Unfortunately, these formats embedded control values within the text, interrupting the flow to characters, and offered no easy method of searching across files, which was a prominent reason for making such files in the first place. This severe limitation on searching argued, again, in favor of plain text, which provided some value in terms of searching, but the question of which version of a text to use quickly became apparent, and the effort of preparing texts shifted to the back burner.

With the ultimate goal of providing electronic texts at some point in the future, in some as yet unknown format, the Poe Society began, in the latter half of the 1980s, to lay the ground for such a project by identifying and collecting as many original printings as possible, generally in the form of facsimiles or photocopies. Once HTML became an established standard, allowing for searching and the ability to retain features of the original formatting in a widely supported format, we proceeded to reproduce one version of each item, starting with the poems and then moving on to the short stories and other prose works. Having made available this representative sampling, we decided to take advantage of the possibilities that would never have been practical given the inherent limitations of a published book. Rather than give a single text, with variorum lists of differences between other versions, we could provide the actual full texts of all of the alternate versions of these works, a project in which we are still engaged.

With a growing number of e-texts of Poe’s writings, we quickly exceeded the amount of space that was available to us at the University of Baltimore (and there were frequent periods of downtime as servers were being worked on between sessions). The site domain name of www.eapoe.org was registered on August 25, 1998, and the entire content was moved to servers at Loose Foot Computer Hosting (where it currently remains). Updating continued regularly, as time and resources permitted. A decade later, in 2008, an effort was begun to give the site a face-lift, reorganizing some of the content, improving the appearance of pages, and converting the old HTML to XHTML and CSS. About the same time, we greatly increased the amount of material that was provided about Poe by reproducing full texts of several prominent books (most notably the 1941 biography of Poe written by Arthur Hobson Quinn, which had conveniently fallen out of copyright, and the 1987 The Poe Log, compiled by Dwight Thomas and David K. Jackson). We had already presented a number of important historical articles about Poe, as well items from our own lecture series that were no longer available in print, and this practice will be extended to eventually include everything that has been published by the Poe Society as well as every lecture from the annual program for which we have surviving text.

As of 2012, the website contains over 4,500 individual pages and serves as the most extensive collection of Poe-related material available in any single resource. It is also approaching, as an electronic library, what has and probably never will be achieved in print, namely a comprehensive collection of Poe’s writings.

 


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