Baltimore officials — who last summer cut the Poe House's funding — have ordered the city's Committee for Historic & Architectural Preservation (CHAP) to settle on a plan to operate the museum without using public funds. The plan must be in place by July 2012.
"That's a big order," says Jeff Jerome, who has been curator since 1979. "I've been talking to other museums, and each and every one of them — first of all, when they stop laughing, they say, 'Jeff, you should have been doing this three years ago.' You just can't do this in a year."The museum, in a North Amity Street home where Poe lived from late 1832 or early 1833 until 1835, operates on an annual budget of $85,000.
"We were in the middle of the worst budget crisis the city had faced in decades," city planning director Thomas J. Stosur said of last year's decision to cut funding. "When the sausage got made, certain things got funded and certain things did not."
Although funding for it was deleted from the current fiscal year's budget, the museum has remained open thanks to private contributions and money raised through such events as last year's 200th anniversary celebration of Poe's birth.
CHAP and the city hope to have an individual or group in place by spring to oversee the transition. "We want to have a fresh set of eyes, look at what our asset is today and at what the market might be," Stosur said. "One idea is to spin it off into its own non-profit, and perhaps put it under the umbrella of another museum or educational institution."
Poe, a Boston native who would die in Baltimore in 1849 under circumstances never fully explained, was 23 when he moved into the house, which dated to around 1830. His aunt, Maria Clemm, was the head of the household, which besides Poe included her mother, Elizabeth Cairnes Poe, and daughter, 10-year-old Virginia Eliza Clemm. Poe left the home in 1835 for Richmond, where he edited the Southern Literary Messenger.
Most of Poe's reputation as a master of American mystery and suspense was built on writings penned while living in Richmond, Philadelphia and New York. But he is believed to have authored several stories and poems while living in Baltimore, including "The Visionary," "Morella" and "To Elizabath."