Behind the Scenes of Episode 1: Poetic Justice

I remember with clarity the first time I was terrorized by Edgar Allan Poe. I was on my bus on the way home from school in the seventh grade. Our Language Arts textbook that year was roughly the weight of a newborn human, but I pulled it out of my backpack and started reading a story called “The Tell-Tale Heart.” My pulse quickened and eye widened as the story immersed me, unwilling and entranced, in the mind of a murderer. Somehow the feeling clings to me: the humidity of the bus, the stickiness of the seats, the beat, beat, beating of the heart.

A year or two later, I was on a road trip with my family up North (what we Southerners call anything Virginia and above) and I convinced my mom to stop in Baltimore. Half of me was desperate to see the aquarium, while the other half longed to visit the grave of the writer who’d made my pulse quicken. By then I’d also read “The Raven,” and “Annabel Lee,” and the “The Cask of Amontillado,” and my mom was kind enough to grant my rather macabre wish. It was then that I remember learning the story of the Poe Toaster, that mysterious annual visitor who left roses and cognac at the author’s grave. I can’t remember precisely how we paid our respects, but I do know I’m endlessly grateful to my mother for indulging in my whims, macabre and otherwise.

I couldn’t have known then that, 20 or so years later, I’d return to that grave with my own son in tow. I’d read that Edgar’s birthday would be celebrated at his grave with a reading and a mock toaster (the real one seems to have retired in 2009), and it seemed like a fine way to spend a January evening. How do you explain Edgar Allan Poe to a four year old? I did the best I could. Ultimately, having an awesome Vietnamese dinner, drinking an apple juice toast, and getting a free Poe calendar from the folks at Poe Baltimore was enough to convince the kid that this adventure had been worthwhile.

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