Gray was the color of the roads of Baltimore, and of its sky. The four of us, Mario, Julio, Inés and I, were riding from Washington to New York, when Inés, my madrileña friend who was at the wheel of our Toyota Yaris, told us: “Do you guys want to give Edgar Allan Poe a quick visit?”
I was surprised by her proposal since I expected to arrive in New York City by the early afternoon but ultimately accepted the unexpected redirection of the route. We took the exit off the Interstate 83 and rode into the outskirts of the city. The gray of the Baltimore’s skies suddenly felt invasive, combined with the insistent dark-brown of the multitude of brick houses of the suburb surrounding Poe’s house.
Poe lived in a two-story house on 203 N Amity Street, with his aunt, grandmother and two cousins, from 1883 to 1835. Once we arrived there, a black crow that was perching on a three outside Poe’s house welcomed us. He was crying insistently toward us, or at least we wanted to believe it was a sign of Poe’s greeting.
The house looked small for a modern visitor, especially the little room upstairs with the sloping roof, where supposedly -at that time ten years old -Virginia, his future wife, used to sleep. He married her when she was just thirteen. Virginia was a young girl in frail health who died of tuberculosis a few years earlier than Poe. For a period, the two of them also moved into a cottage in the Bronx, hoping that the fresh and uncontaminated air of the countryside would have helped the young girl to recover.
We visited Poe’s house in Baltimore, imagining how it might have been in the past when the poet inhabited it. Besides the floor and the stairs, there were some original artifacts, such as Poe’s writing desk, chair, and telescope. It was perhaps because of the smell of the old wooden furniture, the squeaky floor, Poe’s picture on the chimney looking at us with a melancholic face, or Baltimore’s gray sky that entered from the window, but I experienced an inexplicable feeling of death. I started thinking about Poe’s troubled life, and about all of our lives, about our quick passage on this earth, our struggles, our way of loving and hating and our suffering before we die.
Then I also thought about Poe’s immortality. His poems and his narratives made him immortal. It seems that right here, in his Baltimore house, he started writing stories, besides poetry.
The woman at the desk of the Museum of Edgar Allan Poe’s, a smiling middle age woman who said she was from New York City, suggested that we visit the cemetery and the place where the writer died.
We left Poe’s home and rode toward the west side of the city. Poe’s neighborhood looked so different from how it was supposed to be back in the past when he used to live here. A large suburb consisting of low-income housing replaced the countryside landscape of the half XIX century. A few young guys, hanging out on a corner of the street, looked at us curiously while getting into the car ready to leave. Baltimore seemed to me a city without time.
“This is the city that the news always refer to when talking about the police violence against black people,” Inés told me.
I recall the case of the 25-year-old African-American, Freddie Gray. He slipped into a coma soon after being arrested, while transported in a police van. He eventually died once he arrived at the hospital. The coroner diagnosed a serious injury to Freddy’s spinal cord. There were many riots in Baltimore after Freddy’s dead. The black community especially protested against the way Freddy Grey has been mistreated.
“Back in the past, Baltimore was one of the richest city. His port was one of the most flourishing of the United States. Its industries were among the strongest in the country.” We rode close to the downtown of the city, but I was surprised of the many abandoned buildings. Baltimore was one of the richest cities in the States; I tried to imagine how it might have been back in the past.
“It seems that the city is facing many challenges such as the huge trafficking of heroin,” Inés took his phone and started telling us some data about the city. “One every ten people consumes heroin.”
While we investigated Baltimore’s past, we crossed some neighborhoods with only a few people walking down the street, and many houses that look abandoned. Some had wooden slats barring the windows; some had graffiti covering their walls. A particular graffiti attracted my attention: it represented two kids, a black one and a white one. “Baltimore’s port is beautiful, that’s a pity we don’t have time to go there. It’s the city jewel, its splendor”, Julio told us since he has been in Baltimore a few times before.
We visited Poe’s cemetery. Some red roses laid on his grave. There was a silence, interrupted just by some cars passing by. Before returning to Interstate 83, we stopped at the place where Poe mysteriously died. It’s a hospital now. He seems that the poet was hallucinating before dying, but isn’t clear the reason of his death. Perhaps he was also beaten or mugged before ending up there but wasn’t drunk at least that was what doctors said. Poe died on October 7, 1849.
While we were coming back to the Interstate 83, I felt that Baltimore was telling me so much about The United States, but I couldn’t quite grasp the meaning of all of it. I felt that we just experienced the shadow of the city. I have to come back to Baltimore, walk its streets, see the port, talk to the people for understanding it. I don’t trust what the people and news say about Baltimore, only the city of crime, violence, and drugs.
Suddenly the gray of Baltimore’s sky was suffocating me, and I missed for a moment the colors of New York City. But, I was aware of the fact that New York is the “bubble” that makes me forget about the rest of the country.