Monday, February 7, 2011

The Baltimore Poe House in Trouble

After hearing that Baltimore's city officials (all of which seem nameless in recent reports) canceled the Baltimore Poe house's city funding, papers across the country have picked up the story and are going with headlines like "Baltimore's Edgar Allan Poe House May Close, Warns Curator." Seth sent me a link to a version of the story yesterday, and it was all over my facebook account this morning as all of the literary houses that I am "friends" with picked up the story and passed it around.

I've kept up the naive belief that while other historic sites were closing or in danger of closing, that literary houses had continued to do well, visitation was up; "staycations," and other incentives kept people close to home and enjoying literary domestications in ways that they did during World War II. Sure some houses have had funding problems--like Edith Wharton's the Mount, but they were in the red before the recession.

During the Great Depression, federal employees through the WPA and the CCC helped maintain and build historic sites. Mark Twain's Boyhood Home in Hannibal, Missouri got a new building and a stone firewall thanks to federal workers, the Missouri state park that celebrates his birth saw huge infrastructure support through the CCC, and even his adult home in Hartford (while it was a branch of the Hartford Public Library) had a WPA worker who visited once a week to help shelve books and catalog items in their Twain collection. I don't doubt that many of literary sites saw the great benefit of federal workers. Above is a HABS photograph (HABS itself is a public works program started in the 1930s) of Mark Twain's Boyhood Home before the federal relief workers tore down the damaged brick house next to it. On the left is an image of the house with a tiny piece of the "new" stone house that they re-built in its place. Today it serves as the giftshop for the museum.

Each of these places exists today because, in part, the relief programs of the 1930s invested in America's historic infrastructure. In the 1930s we put Americans back to work in our state and national parks. Such job programs today might do a world of good.