If you think celebrity worship began with Us Weekly and People magazine, consider this: Even those oh-so-proper Victorians got grabby with Edgar Allan Poe at his own funeral service, snagging pieces of the poet's wooden coffin. Now you can reap the benefits of their vandalism here in Richmond.
While the master of the macabre remains 6 feet under in Baltimore, he is being brought to life by the Library of Virginia gallery exhibit "Poe: Man, Myth or Monster," which debuted July 20. A commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Poe's birthday, the exhibit is part of Poe Revealed, a yearlong collaborative effort among Virginia museums, historical sites and libraries.
"Poe: Man, Myth or Monster" takes over the first floor of the library, with the front section containing a closer look at seven of Poe's short stories and interactive stations such as Poe-cabulary, where visitors create magnetic poetry using words he invented. (Think cul-de-sac, epilepsy and multicolor, to name a few.)
Three personas of the disturbed poet are explored in the rear gallery of the library. Poe as a Man features artifacts from his life, including a rare copy of Tamerlane, Poe's first published book of poetry. The gloomy walls of Poe as Monster examine how he inspired pop culture in visual art, movies and literature. "We want you to feel like you're entering one of his stories," says Chris Semtner, curator of the Poe Museum, who also curated this exhibit. Finally, the Myth section features an "I Know Poe" game-show kiosk, "designed to get at all the mystery surrounding Poe's life and career, and separate fact from fiction," explains Tameka Hobbs, program and education coordinator at the Library of Virginia. And boy, is there some fiction. Semtner explains that Poe lied about nearly anything, from his age to his participation in the Greek Wars of Independence.
The exhibit also examines more than 26 theories on the author's death. When it comes to his own ideas about Poe's passing, Semtner is tight-lipped. "I think it's better that people decide for themselves — better as a mystery."
For more information, call 692-3592 or visit poe200th.com .