Bill Bolger, a historian for the National Park Service, said the festival started with a single artist — David Plunkert. After Bolger discovered Plunkert's illustrations of Poe's stories in Classics Reimagined, Edgar Allan Poe: Stories & Poems, he asked the German Society of Pennsylvania to rent their space for a book signing. From there, the groups developed the Poe Arts Festival, a night of Poe-inspired visual art, theater, music, lectures and food.
"I'm convinced that one of the key ways of [generating interest] is through the arts," Bolger said. "Historic sites need to be animated. You come to the Poe house and you can't meet Poe, but you can meet his art and other art inspired by him."
Helen McKenna-Uff, a park ranger at Poe's house and organizer for the festival, will lead tours of the house while performances, lectures, visual art displays and contests go on across the street at the German Society of Pennsylvania.
"Little known to most people who admire Poe is the fact that his most prolific time period of his life was Philadelphia," she said "So the six years he was here, he wrote the majority of his greatest hits."
The basement, she added, is a Halloween favorite and has a false chimney just like the one in "The Black Cat," one of the stories Poe wrote in Philadelphia.
In addition to giving tours of the house, McKenna-Uff will portray Poe as he is examined by a doctor (portrayed by Ray Saraceni) about what caused his death. McKenna-Uff has been portraying Poe for 17 years. She was introduced to Poe in her first acting class when she was in high school.
McKenna-Uff said she has always recited bits and pieces of Poe's stories during annual Halloween night tours of the house, but this year's festival is a huge expansion.
Guests will be able to "meet Poe" and ask him questions. Other theatrical performances include "Devil Bug," a scene from Quaker City, a novel written by George Lippard, Poe's friend and colleague, and "Der Rabe," which is "The Raven" recited in German. The performances will take place from 8 to 10 p.m. in the German Society's auditorium, where there will also be an art exhibit and a movie screening in the auditorium.
From 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., there will be lectures and Poe's influence in the German Society's library. Plunkert will present his work, handwriting analyst Robert Phillips will analyze volunteers and representatives from the Eastern State Penitentiary will speak about 19th century attitudes about crime and the history of the prison.
Guided tours of Poe's house will take place from 7 to 9 p.m., but the house can only accommodate four groups of 25. McKenna-Uff encouraged people to get timed tickets early in the evening. There is no extra cost for tickets to the tours.
Live music and poetry readings will also be on and off in the German Society's "ratskeller" starting at 5:30. Poe-inspired craft beer and German food will also be available.
There will also be a costume contest and a poetry contest geared towards college students.
"Young artists are very interested and inspired by [Poe] and of course there is a tremendous art scene in Old City, Northern Liberties, Fishtown, Kensington," Bolger said. "[There's] this huge adjacent community of young artists who really connect with Poe. [We want to] connect them with this site."
Poe's influence has spanned several art forms, McKenna-Uff added, with musicians like Claude Debussy, poets like Stéphane Mallarmé and even McKenna-Uff's favorite Halloween guest at Poe's house — a principal writer from The Simpsons — citing Poe as a major inspiration.
"There's a quote I like to cite a lot," she said. "It's Stéphane Mallarmé, the great French poet who greatly admired Poe, and he distilled Poe's writing theory to this one sentence: 'To name is to destroy; to suggest is to create.'"
"And when we see really successful artists, writers, musicians, they're not beating you over the head with obviousness," she added. "Poe leaves a lot of blanks for people to fill in, but he's very artful in where those blanks occur."
"This is very different from typical Halloween activities," McKenna-Uff added. "We're really getting into the fascination with Poe and the macabre, but also his art, how he influences art, his spirituality, his legacy."