Poe to come back to life at middle school

Some 400 students in seventh grade at Ross A. Lurgio Middle School may be scared but it will be a good kind of scared, for renowned Edgar Allan Poe impersonator Campbell Harmon is coming to town to portray Poe.

He will perform from 9-10:30 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 30 – the day before Halloween.

The performance is sponsored by the Bedford PTG, the school’s parent-teacher group. Seventh-grade language arts teachers are reinforcing studies of Poe’s tales and poetry with the visit from the actor. Studies of Poe’s works, including “The Tell-Tale Heart,” are a part of the study of classic American short stories. The studies continue with a variety of authors into eighth grade.

Seventh-grade language arts teacher Joanne Tranchemontagne – a Bedford teacher for 13 years said – the team of language arts teachers at the school strives to bring the students a wide range of challenging studies that are enhanced by the addition of special events, such as the upcoming performance by Harmon. She said she first hear Harmon talk about his portrayal of Poe during a radio broadcast on New Hampshire Public Radio.

“We are very pleased to have this opportunity to see this Edgar Allen Poe, right here in front of us,” Tranchemontagne said. “Our seventh-graders do a lot of very challenging studies. This will be very exciting.”

Harmon, 37, a native Kentuckian now living in Connecticut, is a graduate of Yale Divinity School. He brings his impersonations of Poe – known as the Master of the Macabre – to audiences across the country. Harmon has worked with the National Endowment for the Arts to help make the learning of history a fun activity. He also promotes a love of reading, for few can resist exploring more fully the author’s poems and stories after seeing Harmon perform.

Harmon hones his historic re-enactments and dramatic readings at home in a 105-year-old house. A dog weighing 140 pounds also presides over the homestead. Harmon is disguised on some days as a web master for Yale Divinity School. He credits his employers for enabling him to have ample time away to present his Poe shows during the Halloween season.

He recently said he began performing as Edgar Allan Poe in 2009 while volunteering in Connecticut at the Wallingford Trail of Terror, a nonprofit, haunted environment benefiting local charities. He portrayed Poe that year to mark the 200th anniversary of Poe’s birth in Boston in 1809. Poe was 40 years old in 1849 when he was collapsed on a Baltimore street and soon after died.

“It’s part of the legend,” Harmon said. “He was found on the street outside a bar in Baltimore. He never fully regained consciousness. Only afterwards was his identity discovered.”

Legend has both celebrated and plagued Poe. Harmon said one of the most important things he tries to do through his performances is to clear up a slew of inaccuracies about Poe’s life.

“An enormous amount of legend has settled around Poe,” Harmon said. “Poe has a reputation as a madman and a drug user. He definitely had a problem with alcohol, but all the other stuff had origins in a jealous colleague. The stories were completely fabricated. Hopefully, that is one thing I can do when I visit the students in Bedford – clear up those inaccuracies.”

Harmon notes that Poe was the first American to try to earn a living by writing horror, mystery and detective stories, along with poems. Nevertheless, Poe was better known in his day as a sharp-tongued literary critic.

“He was the Simon Cowell of his day – incredibly funny but with a sharp, very sharp tongue. He was known in his day for being a snazzy dresser, way beyond his means,” Harmon said. “Back in his day, he would be known as a literary critic. Today, he is known for his horror and detective genres.”

Harmon’s apparel reflects the snazzy sartorial attitude exuded by Poe. Harmon used historic photos to research the costume he wears, one for which he owes thanks to costume designer Beth Threloff, of Dead Threads Costumes. A black cravat under a period-specific shirt and other accessories further bring the Poe character to life.

The performer said he looks forward to visiting Bedford’s middle school. He anticipates sharing material about Poe in a way that is different than reading about the famous writer. He said his performances bring drama and color to the description of Poe as a writer and as historical figure.

“I think the value of being with students in a live performance is that I can bring the person to life,” Harmon said. “Sometimes, reading material, even out loud, can glaze the students over at a certain point. A performance brings the historic person to life and makes them real, not just the name on a page.”

For more information on the performance, call Ross A. Lurgio Middle School, 47 Nashua Road, at 310-9100. Student family members and others interested in viewing the performance must report to the main office of the middle school to be issued visitor privileges. Information on performances by Harmon can be found online at www.thepoeactor.com.