Just in Time for Halloween: A Review of the Annual Clarke House Edgar Allan Poe Reading

Shari By Shari Guenther, Contributing Writer for The Underground

This past week I had a great desire to embrace the season and fall full-force into the Halloween spirit. After doing some research on Chicago Halloween attractions, I came across a unique experience: the Edgar Allan Poe Reading at Chicago’s historic Henry B. Clarke House Museum.

I knew this event was not to be missed because:

a) it was a fitting literary event for the holiday season,

b) I actually know where the Clarke House is, ensuring I wouldn’t get lost (which happens frequently for me),

The man himself.

and c) I absolutely love Edgar Allan Poe! His stories are so truly terrifying even for our day and age. Poe’s tales are all about our inherent fears, guilty consciences, and events that cannot be explained using rational thought. Edgar Allan Poe is the father of American Gothic horror stories–the perfect author for a spooky night!

The Clarke House Museum: photo credit Michael Beasley, cityofchicago.org

The Clarke House is a stunning Greek Revival style mansion located on S. Indiana Avenue. It sits right by the Glessner House, another beautiful and historic Chicago mansion. Being a museum first and event center second, we were allowed a short tour of the first floor.

A room at the Clarke House: photo credit James Caulfield, openhousechicago.org

Built in 1836, the Clarke House is one of the oldest mansions in Chicago and certainly gives an air of scare when walking through the door. I immediately felt transported back to the time Edgar Allan Poe would have been writing the stories, poems, and tales I would hear later that evening during the reading. Most of the furniture at the Clarke House is antique. When remodeling they tried to stay true to the era, making it the perfect setting for an Edgar Allan Poe reading.

At 5:00 p.m., three readers—actors from the Lifeline Theatre—came out in front of the audience. And actors they were! They put such emphasis and vigor into their readings that it felt as if they were acting out a script. Their delivery and tone perfectly captured the terror in each of Poe’s legendary tales! Each actor read two stories each on their own and two additional stories using more than one actor. The actors also used a book to read from, which initially disappointed me. But when they truly brought the story to life how can I complain of their method!

Seven spooky stories and poems were selected from Poe’s numerous works:

“Alone” — This 22-line poem about the torment of isolation is thought by many critics to be autobiographical.

“Hop-Frog” — After a cruel king humiliates a captured dwarf and strikes another, the dwarf institutes his own brand of revenge. Let’s just say things get a little weird, even for Poe.

“The Cask of Amontillado” — Catacombs, revenge, and a live burial: the perfect tale to read this Halloween!

“A Dream Within A Dream” — Poe’s poem asks whether it is as easy as one might think to distinguish between what is real and what is fantasy.

“The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” — Only the great E.A.P. could write a comedic story that takes place in a mental institution.

and two of my absolute favorites:

A Harry Clarke illustration from the 1919 edition of “The Tell-Tale Heart” (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

“The Raven” — This popular poem is classic Poe, and will have you wondering just what could rap at your chamber door this Halloween night.

and “The Tell-Tale Heart” — Guilt is certainly eating away at the narrator’s sanity in this spooky Poe tale about murder and what exactly is making that thump-thump sound coming from the floorboards….

The event ended at 6:30 and kept you entertained down to the last minute. All in all this was an outstanding Halloween occasion who anyone with a love of good horror stories will enjoy. The Clarke House did require a reservation for this event, which surprised me a bit. They had limited seating, about 25 or 30 seats, and every single seat was filled. Admission was $25–not exactly a cheap excursion for a college student on the ramen noodle diet–but well worth the dough because of the quality of the event. For those of you looking for a good literary scare come next October, I highly recommend you make a reservation for the 2014 Clark House Edgar Allan Poe Reading!

For more information about the Clarke House Museum, check out their Facebook page today. If you’d like to tour this Chicago gem for yourself and get a small glimpse of what I experienced, the Clarke House offers tours to the public Wednesday through Saturday at noon and 2:00 p.m.