New Orleans’ Sidney Bechet house demolished; Baltimore’s Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum slated to be closed Such is our heritage destroyed… one uncomprehending authority after another.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
This is a story about stupidity, shortsightedness, carelessness, neglect and the ongoing destruction of our culture, one brick at a time.
Today’s examples are taken from the cities of New Orleans, Louisiana and Baltimore, Maryland… but the sad thing is, without breaking a sweat, one could easily see them replicated in all America’s great cities…and throughout the countryside, too.
Ask officials in these locations if they value historic preservation and without dropping a stitch they’ll tell you how important it is and how much, how very much, they appreciate, nay venerate the special history of their special place.
Then having mouthed such hollow shibboleths… they go back to their true vocation… saving a penny here and there by ravishing the patrimony which should have been their fierce honor to protect, save, preserve, maintain, and to pass on to the next generation in better shape than they found it.
Sidney Bechet (pronounced BAH-shay, 1897-1959) was the very quintessence of the signature sound New Orleans has made its own. Saxiphonist, clarinetist, composer, Bechet delivered the champagne of jazz.
His was a distinctive beat with wide vibrato, insistent, proud, irresistible… every note the note of a master. He delivered it with grace, style, just a touch of arrogance but always, always with surety and confidence. The people in the Quarter knew a good thing when they heard it and they demanded Bechet… who preceded cornetist and trumpeter (and friend) Louis Armstrong into the recording studio by several months. In such a way, carried on a wave of music, Bechet sent the essence of la Novelle Orleans worldwide.
It was sultry, languid, it was the sound of love’s longing, and the wrong man (or woman) loved deeply, disastrously, without hope or escape. And if Bechet and his lively rhythm decided you would get up and dance… you did, and riotously so, for he was the man, laissez les bon temps roulez.
It was Bechet… who was discovered at age 6, when he lived with his wealthy Creole family in the 7th Ward.
Now that house and what was left of its contents are a heap of dust and rubble, gone forever, another testament, if one were needed, to the folly of empowering vandals to preserve that which they cannot understand and will not protect.
The folks in slow-moving New Orleans are mad-keen now to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. And as they engage in this herculean task, they have made herculean errors, including the complete demolition of Bechet’s home. The city sanctioned marauders pulled up to the home of this jazz great and, without a word, set about their destructive task. “They pulled up and went about tearing it down. The roof had fallen down, but it could have been fixed,” reported neighbor and appalled onlooker Charles Spencer.
And so New Orleans, giving lip service to the value of its history and its irreplaceable artifacts, has with this attack impoverished itself, a situation calling for a saxophone’s lament Bechet knew so well how to deliver and move us. Where can his shade call home now…?
Edgar Allan Poe
If the family home of Sidney Bechet is now gone forever, the family residence of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), the master of cerebral terror and the macabre, is still extant, just.
Located in the worst of Baltimore’s many distressed neighborhoods, this small row house on North Amity Street once housed the family Poe, dysfunctional, inbred, dipsomaniacal, incestuous. Here, on top of each other, lived Poe’s aunt Maria (Poe) Clemm, youngest sister of Poe’s father David and, too, Maria’s ailing mother Elizabeth Cairnes; Maria’s son Henry, her daughter Virginia (soon to be Poe’s 13-year-old child wife), and for a short time, but only for a short time, his older brother William Henry… about to die, pickled with alcohol.
Poe had just been dismissed from West Point (1831) and needed the ministrations of his family which, in time approved fashion, fought fiercely for its tenuous gentility. Here an unprecedented, unexampled American master was about to be born.
Just where Poe wrote in this warren can only be imagined… but write he did; those with the need to write will always find a way. And, so, here on North Amity Street, where he resided from 1832-1835, Poe’s genius began to find its way, lurid, unsettling, threatening, terrible. Perhaps the best work he wrote there is the “MS Found In a Bottle” (1833)
In it is the genius of Poe struggling against the tendency of young writers to overwrite, too many words, the prose carried by too lush adjectives, not nouns and verbs. I’ll quote from the beginning, so you can see for yourself:
“Of my country and of my family I have little to say. Ill usage and length of years have driven me from the one, and estranged me from the other. Hereditary wealth afforded me an education of no common order, and a contemplative turn of mind enabled me to methodize the stores which early study very diligently garnered up.” Such effusions are good to see; the better to learn how genius shapes itself.
Now the City of Baltimore, priding itself that this American original lived amongst them, wishes to save itself the bother of preserving the reality, comfortable in its lip service alone to the great man.
Though it costs the municipality a paltry $80,000 or so each year, most for the modest salary of its one-person staff, curator Jeff Jerome, this same municipality has announced its munificence stops forever by mid-2012. Then the axe will fall, on the curator Jerome, who has kept the faith alone… and on Poe, too.
This result, though likely, is not inevitable. The city fathers, though unlikely, could with stroke of pen write another conclusion, at least a stay of execution. The great genius of Poe is worth this, and more. What’s more, he’s already written le mot juste: “By what miracle I escaped destruction, it is impossible to say.” That is his manuscript found in a bottle, and we need to heed it.
And if they do nothing, these pettifogging clerks and picayune economizers, then what? Then shall this place, too, be gone forever, to live again never more.
Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum 203 North Amity Street, Baltimore, MD 21233-2501 (410) 396-7932.
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About The Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., where small and home-based businesses learn how to profit online. Dr. Lant is also a syndicated writer and author of 18 best-selling business books. Details at worldprofit.com and JeffreyLantArticles.com
Author: Jeffrey LantThis author has published 572 articles so far. More info about the author is coming soon.