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What’s on Tap for Poe's 209th Birthday Party

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Come for the laudanum overdose, stay for the sad poetry and space pirates.

A tradition begun in 2009 with Edgar Allan Poe's bicentennial birthday, the 12-hour celebration to be held by Richmond's Poe Museum offers up an array of ways to appreciate the man credited with inventing the modern detective story genre.

"We see it as a laid back way to get to know Poe more than just what you read in school or what Hollywood has told you," says Debbie Phillips, programs coordinator at the museum. The event's schedule is noteworthy for its wide-ranging activities to suit different tastes.

For the first time visitor to the museum, there are several ways to make its acquaintance. Guided tours of the exhibits provide an overview while curator Chris Semtner's talks offer a more focused look at special Poe artifacts. Both events take place in the afternoon and evening.

For a more active way to dive deeper into Poe's life, there are multiple walking tours with different emphases. One focuses on Poe's last night in Richmond, shedding light on what he was up to before heading to Rocketts Landing to catch a boat to Baltimore. Naturally there are friends and a pub involved, but hoofing it to Rocketts isn't part of the tour. Another tour centers around his teenaged wife, Virginia, with a costumed interpreter showing participants the places she and Poe frequented during their 11-year marriage.

Longtime Poe fans looking for something new will find it in talks, trials and film. Author Noreen Lace will discuss her recent novella, "Eddy," which posits the whys and wherefores of Poe's 1848 laudanum overdose. The winners of the James Rivers Writers' third annual Poe Inspires: Flash Fiction and Poetry contest will read their submissions, with one lucky winner taking home top prize — a golden Poe bobble head.

Sad poetry, a long-running birthday tradition, follows.

An interactive mock trial will be held for the narrator of Poe's "The Telltale Heart" and a highlight reel from the PBS documentary "Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive" will be screened. A new exhibit, "Unsolved Mysteries of Edgar Allan Poe" focuses on rarely seen and recently discovered documents while "Death, Resurrection, and the Female Ideal: Illustrations Exploring the Works of Edgar Allan Poe" features local artist Nicole Pisianello's eight illustrations based on various Poe works.

Eight ink and watercolor paintings by local artist Nicole Pisaniell illustrate Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories “Ligeia” and “The Island of the Fay.”
  • Eight ink and watercolor paintings by local artist Nicole Pisaniell illustrate Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories “Ligeia” and “The Island of the Fay.”

Music fans can find a cozy seat in the heated tent to hear the three bands that will perform throughout the day: locals the Folly and League of Space Pirates and Charming Disaster, a Brooklyn, New York, cabaret-style duo inspired by gothic humor and murder ballads.

Since it's only fitting that the party include the man of the hour, Poe will give two talks about his life as well as several readings from his work.

And because no 209th birthday party would be complete without it, birthday cake will be served at noon and 4:30, with cupcakes accompanying the midnight toast. The champagne toast takes place in the back of the enchanted garden at the Poe Shrine, which, as any true Poe fan knows, was built from bricks salvaged from Poe's former employer, the Southern Literary Messenger.

"People who are turned off by his horror writing need to know he wrote more than scary stories," Phillips explains of the reason for the daylong celebration. "He was a groundbreaking writer. His love poetry is fantastic." S

Poe's 209th Birthday Bash takes place Jan. 20, noon to midnight at the Poe Museum, 1914 E. Main St., poemuseum.org.

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