Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Nevermore? No mystery visitor on Poe birthday

BALTIMORE - Is this tradition "nevermore"?

A mysterious visitor who each year leaves roses and cognac at the grave of Edgar Allan Poe on the writer's birthday failed to show early Tuesday, breaking with a ritual that began more than 60 years ago.

"I'm confused, befuddled," said Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House and Museum. "I don't know what's going on."

The tradition dates back to at least 1949, according to newspaper accounts from the era, Jerome said. Since then, an unidentified person has come every year on Jan. 19 to leave three roses and a half-bottle of cognac at Poe's grave in a church cemetery in downtown Baltimore.

The event has become a pilgrimage for die-hard Poe fans, some of whom travel hundreds of miles. About three dozen stood huddled in blankets during the overnight cold Tuesday, peering through the churchyard's iron gates hoping to catch a glimpse of the figure known only as the "Poe toaster."

At 5:30 a.m., Jerome emerged from inside the church, where he and a select group of Poe enthusiasts keep watch over the graveyard, and announced to the crowd that the visitor never arrived. He allowed an Associated Press reporter inside the gates to view both of Poe's grave sites, the original one and a newer site where the body was moved in 1875. There was no sign of roses or cognac at either tombstone.

"I'm very disappointed, to the point where I want to cry," said Cynthia Pelayo, 29, who had stood riveted to her prime viewing spot at the gate for about six hours. "I flew in from Chicago to see him. I'm just really sad. I hope that he's OK."

Pelayo and Poe fans from as far away as Texas and Massachusetts had passed the overnight hours reading aloud from Poe's works, including the poem "The Raven," with its haunting repetition of the word "nevermore." Soon they were speculating, along with Jerome, about what might have caused the visitor not to appear.

"You've got so many possibilities," said Jerome, who has attended the ritual every year since 1977. "The guy had the flu, accident, too many people."

Tuesday marked the 201st anniversary of Poe's birth, and Jerome speculated that perhaps the visitor considered last year's bicentennial an appropriate stopping point.

"People will be asking me, 'Why do you think he stopped?'" Jerome said. "Or did he stop? We don't know if he stopped. He just didn't come this year."

Jerome said he will continue the vigil for at least the next two or three years in case the visits resume.

"So for me it's not over with," he said.

Story by The Associated Press 2010

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Fairlawn Mansion, Superior WI

In early October, 2009, Anna and I drove to the northern part of the state for a competitive run. Ashland, a small former fishing and shipping hub on Lake Superior, was about two hours away and made for a long but enjoyable drive to a part of the state that I hadn't seen much of.

With the race's popularity, we were unable to gain a hotel close to the race area so we had to stay in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. For dinner we took part in a regional tradition, a fish boil, afterward caught Zombieland at a local 80's era movie house, then went to bed.

We woke to two inches of snow and a frantic drive back into Wisconsin along the lakeshore to the race staging area. Anna ran and she did a fantastic job, her fastest and best time yet, despite the very cold weather. After two hours standing in the cold to cheer her on, I warmed up while we got her metal engraved. We loaded into the car and continued northwest along the coastline to Bayfield, another small town along Lake Superior, known for the Apostle Islands and its history as an important fishing and shipping village, similar to Ashland. Between the two towns we stopped in an artist town, to pick up two very flaky turnovers from a small bakery and browse an interesting second-hand store. There we picked through the costumes and vintage clothes, coming away with two plastic dime-store Halloween masks from the 70's, which now hang in our kitchen. We visited the local shops and artist studios after arriving in Bayfield. Then as the light outside grew dim we decided to take a Ghost tour. We hoped to find some information about other haunted places to photograph. The guide had a knack for story-telling, which helped us forget about the biting lake-wind tearing through the town as we wandered from street to street hearing the tales of haunted Bayfield. Disappointingly, the tour guide made vague references to each place to protect homeowners who frowned upon ghost-seekers.

After the bitter-cold walk on the hour and a half tour we headed in the car towards Superior, just east of Minnesota exactly on the border, to meet up with friends and find our hotel. On the way we both talked about photographing the Victorian mansion, rumored to be haunted, in town the next morning. We arrived and settled in for the night. Upon waking, we asked the hotel staff for directions to coffeehouses or Starbucks to help start our day. The person at the front desk of the hotel suggested the Red Mug Espresso. We drove off into Superior.

Finding the place was a bit tricky since it was located on a lower level of the Trade and Commerce Marketplace, formerly the police station and jail. The Red Mug was wonderful, filled with artwork by local artists and a stage for music on certain nights. We both ordered a drink and talked about the events of the weekend. The coffee was so well brewed Anna ordered a second. After the coffee kicked in, we headed towards the mansion we wanted to see and photograph.

We arrived at the mansion and were immediately impressed by its size and Queen Anne style of architecture. We could not enter the house due to a tour at the time so we were unable to view the 42 rooms feature in the home. We walked around the lawn taking pictures, trying to include the four-story turret that loomed overhead. With the prominent porch, steeply gabled roof, and use of contrasting colors and textures the beauty of the house struck us.

Built in 1891 for wealthy lumber and mining baron Martin Pattison and family, Fairlawn sits on the shore overlooking Lake Superior. After Martin’s death in 1918, wife Grace Pattison donated the mansion to the Superior Children’s Home and Refuge Association and was turned into an orphanage. The mansion served as an orphanage for about 42 years, after which the City of Superior purchased Fairlawn in 1963 for demolition in accordance with Grace Pattison’s will. Fortunately civic leaders and members of the Pattison family were able to save the mansion due to a legal loophole and turned it into a city owned museum.

Visitors taking tours of the house have reported seeing a woman dressed in period clothing guiding them to specific displays then vanishing, leaving a cold damp chill in the air. Many believe it’s a servant girl that was murdered by her husband shortly after leaving the mansion. Some feel she haunts Fairlawn Mansion because it was the one place she felt happiest in her life. The ghosts of two children have been seen and heard in the basement. No records indicate that any children died in the house; some feel they may have accidentally drowned during the time the mansion served as an orphanage. Records have remained sealed by the county.