Hiway’s Lolla-POE-Looza resurrects Poe for a night
By Amanda Glensky
Once upon a midnight dreary, the Hiway Theatre in Jenkintown and the Philly Poe Guy, Ed Pettit, decided to throw a special event for Halloween, featuring the master of the macabre.
The nonprofit member-supported theater will host Lolla-POE-Looza on Oct. 31, a late-night cinematic celebration dedicated to Edgar Allan Poe. The event includes an 11:30 p.m. showing of a 20-minute short Poe film and a midnight screening of “The Raven,” the 1935 classic featuring horror-film icons Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.
“Every year there are many images and stories we associate with Halloween costumes and the like, but I think Edgar Allan Poe is a literary figure and folk figure that really kind of embodies the…macabre sensibilities of Halloween,” said Fred Kaplan-Mayer, executive director of the Hiway Theatre.
“We wanted to have an event that would capture both the imagery and spectacle of Halloween and the imagery and spectacle of Poe as a person,” he said.
“The Raven” is not based on the famous poem or any of Poe’s other works. It tells the story of a fanatical Poe collector and shows the crazy way people today view the writer, said Pettit, a Poe scholar, freelance writer and professor, who is the Poe literary consultant for “Haunted Poe,” a production currently running in South Philadelphia.
“Halloween is the best night to celebrate Poe. There is not a better movie to go to than a Poe movie on Halloween,” he said. “Poe season is October. Very few writers have that kind of presence in culture,” he added.
Pettit, of Jenkintown, will speak about Poe and various film adaptations of the writer’s work before each screening.
He was named the Philly Poe Guy based on an article he wrote for the Philadelphia City Paper, “We’re Taking Poe Back,” in which he argued why Philadelphia can rightly claim Poe as its literary son.
From reading original newspaper accounts of Poe’s time in Philadelphia, he knows that the time the writer lived in Philadelphia was the most important of his career.
Poe lived in Philadelphia from 1838 to 1844. He was attracted to the city because it was the publishing capital of the country.
“Poe really wanted to be a real literary critic and poet, but he was best at writing short fiction,” Pettit said.
The tradition in Philadelphia at the time of Poe’s residency was Philadelphia Gothic, an era when the city became the important setting for the development of the horror tale, Pettit said.
Early in Poe’s career, he wrote more about the supernatural, but his focus shifted to real-life threats as he became swept into the Philadelphia Gothic scene, where the threat is not a ghost but a man with an axe or a murdering roommate.
Philadelphia’s influence on Poe is apparent in “The Raven,” “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” all of which he wrote in the city.
When Pettit gives talks about Poe, he also likes to dispel myths about the writer, particularly that he was a deranged, drunk and drug-addicted writer. Poe had a drinking problem, but the rest are false. This image of Poe surfaced after his death, Pettit said.
“What interests me a lot about Poe is not that iconic image of Poe as a morose madman, writing out his own nightmare,” Pettit said. Rather, he is inspired by Poe’s work ethic and the longevity of his works.
Poe was a very hard-working professional writer, and very personable – he had a lot of friends, Pettit said.
“Poe is not just one of these old writers that you only read in school…there are so many people that read Poe on their own and that doesn’t happen with any 19th century writer. He’s inspired so many movies, comic books and music,” Pettit said.
The writer also inspired a worldwide cult, which is still going strong 160 years after his death.
Lolla-POE-Looza will happen one night only and nevermore, starting at 11:30 p.m. Halloween night.
The event will coincide with the Harvest Silent Auction at the Hiway Theatre, which begins Oct. 30 and will feature goods and services from residents and local merchants.
If you go to Lolla-POE-Looza, it will take place at the Hiway Theatre, 212 Old York Road,
Jenkintown, PA 19046, Saturday, Oct. 31, 11:30 p.m. Tickets: $7, general; $5, Hiway Theatre members. Info: 215-886-9800 or www.hiwaytheatre.org.