A flash of light was visible in the corner of the photograph. Nothing solid, nothing instantly recognizable. It could have been a camera flash reflecting off a polished grave marker. Then again, it could have been Mrs. Katharine Bentalou, d. 1793.
The darker side of Baltimore called to me as I learned the city was hosting a yearlong celebration of Edgar Allan Poe in honor of the 200th anniversary of his birth. I quickly convinced my fiancé a haunting but romantic trip to the Chesapeake beat another lazy weekend at home.
Enthusiastic about the Poe-themed weekend, we arrived in Baltimore in time for dinner at the Annabel Lee Tavern. Named for Poe’s famous poem “Annabel Lee,” the out-of-the-way restaurant was established in a turn-of-the-century building. Inside, there was little elbow room as we waited for a table. The tiny interior is swathed in dark wines and black, and a portrait of the author is framed by a mural of quotes from Poe’s works. While claustrophobics might not feel comfortable here, it made for a cozy (and purposefully creepy) atmosphere.
Amused by cocktails such as Manhattintinnabulation and Tell Tale ‘Tini, we nestled into the alcove that held our table and unhurriedly perused the menu. The food was unexpectedly sophisticated for such a casual place: Annabel Lee’s sweet potato fries, which are drizzled in honey then tossed in brown sugar and Cajun spices,
were a standout.
“Quoth the raven, that’s awesome,” my fiancé declared, and I nodded over another mouthful.
By the time we left, we were stuffed, warm and slightly buzzed. We didn’t even mind hoofing it a few blocks in a light drizzle to find a cab back to our hotel.
The next morning we trekked out in the continuing mist to the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum,a shockingly small duplex at the end of a line of shabby row houses. We drove past it three times before another visitor directed us to the unassuming landmark. Our tour was quick, as the house consisted of a few narrow flights of stairs and a handful of memorabilia, the most impressive of which was an original daguerrotype of Poe, the earliest known likeness of him in existence. Like many visitors, I was expecting too much, given Poe’s humble life, and I was happy to dash off to the Poe Society’s Wine Tasting Among the Bones.
Our hosts, a costumed Montresor and Fortunato (from Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado) didn’t seem particularly interested in staying in character, but we stumbled upon a few more genuine ones after descending into the basement of Westminster Hall. Constructed over one of the city’s oldest cemeteries, the former church is perhaps best known for its curious indoor graveyard. During the tour — one which might only have been creepier had the vaults not been closed in the early 1990s — I noticed a couple of our fellow enthusiasts inspecting a calculator-sized device. They were taking EMF readings around the “highly active” sites, attempting to spot the ghost they had seen the previous year.
We followed them out of the catacombs to the grounds, climbing down a small hillside to check out more headstones. When it started to rain in earnest, we wished them luck and hustled over to the squat memorial near Poe’s grave, then dashed out to prepare for dinner at Ixia, an upscale lounge in Mount Vernon.
Though the walls of Ixia are drenched in dark blue, the high ceilings and luxurious appointments make Ixia posh rather than melancholy. A dinner of Morroccan-style lamb shank and tender steak made for a warm and comfortable ending to our damp, dark day.
Ready to escape the funereal mood of an enjoyable but macabre weekend, we indulged in an intimate brunch at Corks prior to our departure. Roasted pepper quiche and scrapple, a regional favorite similar to corned beef hash, sent us off in high spirits (which might have had something to do with the all-you-can drink mimosas). For the perpetually gloomy, however, it’s Baltimore evermore.