Many Philadelphians still think our town has a greater claim to the history of rock 'n' roll than Cleveland, which lobbied hard and won the honor of becoming the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the early 1980s.

Now the bragging rights to literary celebrity Edgar Allan Poe are being challenged, and Ed Pettit is determined that we won't be robbed again.

Pettit, a Poe scholar and Philadelphia native, is defending his hometown in a city-against-city debate during the Free Library's celebration of Poe's 200th birthday. On Tuesday evening Pettit will face off against representatives from Boston - Poe's birthplace - and Baltimore, where the master of the macabre "died a stranger's death," in Pettit's words.

The debate will include music (in the style of a pro wrestling match) and Poe impersonators will be on hand to rile up the crowd.

Pettit warned: "There will be insults. We all honestly believe our city has the right to Poe, but we also recognize this is fun."

His winning strategy?

"Honesty," said Pettit. "Did you know Poe was passing through Baltimore on his way to Philly when he died?"

The campaign for Poe is a platform that Pettit is passionate about. He said that the time that Poe spent in Philadelphia influenced and affected the artist's writing, making the city the most worthy of a claim to the man credited with inventing the detective story. The longtime home of Poe, at 5th and Spring Garden streets, is now a museum, an eerie remnant of the author's life during the early 1800s.

The Free Library has long been known for its Poe works, found in its Rare Book Department. The material has been collected for the Poe bicentennial into an exhibit called "Quoth the Raven: A 200 Year Remembrance of the Life and Legacy of Edgar Allan Poe." Among the artifacts is a handwritten manuscript of Poe's famous poem "The Raven," and Charles Dickens' stuffed pet raven.

The Free Library's Poe festivities begin tomorrow when Poe impersonator David Keltz performs selections of Poe's work, dressed in character and even wearing Poe's favorite cologne, Caswell-Massey Number 6. Also performing is actress Helen McKenna-Uff, presenting "Poe's Helen Remembers," her tribute to Poe's fiancée Helen Whitman. A 2 p.m. toast and birthday cake will be served to mark the beginning of the horror-master's bicentennial year. *

Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine St., performance by David Keltz, 1 p.m. tomorrow, Montgomery Auditorium; birthday cake and a toast, 2 p.m. tomorrow, Central branch lobby; performance by Helen McKenna-Uff, 3 p.m. tomorrow, Elkins Room, Rare Book Department, 3rd floor; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, "The Great Poe Debate," Montgomery Auditorium. All programs free.