Edgar Allan Poe is generally credited with writing the first detective novel. His engrossing tales featuring the French detective C. Auguste Dupin were the foundation for a completely new genre. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, said, “Each [of Poe's detective stories] is a root from which a whole literature has developed….Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?”
Poe was indeed the master of mystery and suspense.
But even he might find the recent closing of his home and museum a true conundrum. Others, including fans worldwide, are equally baffled and, unlike Dupin, one doesn’t need to see an ape swinging through the streets of Baltimore to know that something is amiss.
After almost two years in limbo, Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum officially was closed last Friday. The city had cut its annual funding of $85,000 in fiscal 2011, leaving the museum to operate on a modest kitty and through monies raised at special events and donations from a concerned public. But few stepped up to help.
While the Poe House soldiered on, the city engaged CRMG, a consultant, to devise a plan to make the beleaguered museum financially self-sufficient. Public records reveal that on August 21, 2011, the Department of Planning, which oversees the Poe House through the auspices of The Baltimore City Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP), agreed to pay CRMG $45,000 for their efforts.
CRMG was supposed to have its report done by December 21, 2011. The consultant failed to meet this deadline. This failure to complete its contract resulted in CRMG receiving a partial payment of $30,000. It also necessitated a second agreement be drawn between the Department of Planning and CRMG. The second agreement was effective through June 15, 2012.
CHAP finally posted online a copy of the consultant’s report on Oct. 1. Posting this taxpayer- funded study is required by law, because The Board of Estimates is meeting Oct. 3 to consider approving the consultant’s recommendation that $180,000 be given to the B&O Railroad Museum to, among other things, provide administrative and financial oversight during the transition period, to reinterpret the Poe House, and to design a visitor friendly website.
Admittedly, a board of estimates meeting and a consultant’s report are not the fodder of a great mystery. But it is the timing of the release of the report and the city’s reticence to talk about the contents, which are raising serious questions.
CHAP representative Ken Nischan posted the report at 5:57 p.m. on Oct 1st. By law, any comments or objections needed to be delivered to the city in written form, via U.S. mail by noon on Tuesday, Oct 2nd. Absent any comments or complaints, the Board of Estimates will likely rubber stamp the consultant’s recommendation, thereby silencing any possible opposition.
For over four months, the Baltimore Post Examiner tried in vain to obtain a copy of the consultant’s final report. Early phone call to CHAP and the Department of Planning were initially met with replies that several key people were, “on vacation.” Subsequent telephone and email correspondences, while mostly helpful, were always met with excuses whenever the subject of the consultant’s report came up. One final attempt to obtain the study was sent via email on August 30, 2012, to Tom Stosur the head of the department of planning. That request was never answered. If the dates ascribed to the study in the release notice are correct, this would be anywhere from two to eleven weeks after Stosur and his staff had the consultant’s final report in their hands.
In completing our three-part series on the fate of the Poe House, the Baltimore Post-Examiner was often forced to rely on what information we could obtain from previously published reports and from sources close to the situation. Having a copy of the consultant’s report would have certainly helped, though time has proven our sources to be unimpeachable. Still, the questions remain about the propriety of a city agency releasing a tax payer funded report less than 18 hours before any comments or objections could be postmarked and received by the city; and why, in the mayor’s new age of transparency, would a city agency repeatedly ignore a legitimate public information request from the press?
To some, transferring control of the Poe House and Museum from the City of Baltimore to a new non-profit strikes them as a good idea. For others, it remains an enigma how a museum without a full time curator can function effectively; how rebranding an international icon will increase Poe’s tourist appeal; and how shifting an annual $85,000 budget item to a new non-profit which at present has zero capital and will bear a potential burden to raise as much as $300,000 a year, is even doable.
In part two of this story, the Baltimore Post-Examiner will unravel this mystery as we look at these issues and assess the suggestions laid out in the now published consultant’s report.