It all started with an October 2007 article in Philadelphia's City Paper. In it, Edward Pettit—an Edgar Allan Poe scholar—touted Philly's ties to the great author and suggested exhuming Poe's remains and transporting them to the City of Brotherly Love. "Let's hop in our cars, drive down I-95, and appropriate a body from a certain Baltimore cemetery," he wrote. "I'll bring the shovel . . . Poe is ours."
Those are fighting words in this town, and writer Laura Lippman rebuffed Pettit in a companion piece. After noting that possession is nine-tenths of the law, Lippman listed ways we've honored Poe—our NFL team, the Poe Room at the Pratt, the Poe Toaster, and a housing project—and warned, "Nevermore pick this fight, Philadelphia, nevermore."
But it didn't end there. The controversy simmered in the blogosphere, and The New York Times picked up the story. In that piece, Jeff Jerome, curator of Baltimore's Poe House, fired back at Pettit: "Philadelphia can keep its broken bell and its cheese steak, but Poe's body isn't going anywhere."
Now, the protagonists in this appropriately macabre literary spat are scheduled to square off in "The Great Poe Debate" at the Philadelphia Free Library on January 13.
"Literary history shows that Baltimore wasn't really that important to Poe's writing," says Pettit, who points out that classics such as The Masque of the Red Death and The Raven have deep Philly roots. "Baltimore is just a minor league stop for Poe. Poe becomes a great writer in Philadelphia."
Such talk irks Jerome, who's been curator of Poe House for nearly three decades. "It's funny, here it is on the verge of the Poe bicentennial, and everybody's coming out of the woodwork to claim him," he says. "Baltimore's been celebrating Poe since the 1870s."
As for the upcoming debate? "I've done a few mini-debates with your cranky curator," says Pettit, "and I haven't broken a mental sweat. In a full-length debate, I'll bury him."
"It should be over in about five minutes," counters Jerome. "I'm not the least bit worried that anyone will trump Baltimore when it comes to honoring Poe."