Beginning at 8 p.m. on October 30 and ending at that same time on Halloween night, Acconcia and dozens of friends, actors and colleagues will be continuously reading aloud from the macabre poems and short stories of Edgar Allen Poe. (After 24 hours of straight Poe, guests will be ready for the party that follows.) Acconcia says celebrity readers from Mayor Kay Barnes to WDAF Channel 4 news anchor Phil Witt will read "The Raven" at the top of each hour, while the rest of the clock will be filled with the scary sounds of "The Gold Bug," "The Tell Tale Heart" and other works, "none of which will be repeated. And we'll have special dead celebrity readers, like Elvis Presley and Edgar Allen Poe himself," Acconcia says.
The author will appear thanks to impersonator Ralph Monaco, a Missouri state representative who is well-versed in all things Poe. After playing the lawyer at the faux-pioneer Missouri Town for several years, Monaco participated in an event intended to recreate an 1850s Halloween -- which, he notes, "was historically inaccurate. Jackson County didn't celebrate Christmas, much less Halloween, until much later."
Yet it occurred to Monaco, who is fascinated with nineteenth-century literature, that "Poe, having died in 1849, was perfect. I spent a year studying Poe's poetry and stories, out of which arose questions for me. Why did he die? Why did he suffer? What was he all about?"
The answers explained Poe's grisly bibliography. Born Edgar Poe to a theatrical family, he lost both parents to literary clichés: His father simply disappeared, and his mother died of consumption. "'The Death of the Red Masque' is the story of how you die of consumption," Monaco says, "the red masque being the blood gurgling out of you." Poe was taken in by the Allen family but soon shipped off to a boarding school in Scotland. With people subsequently dying all around him, including his wife, Virginia, Poe wrote "Alone," which Monaco calls one of the author's most powerful poems.
During Monaco's two-hour Poe show, he evokes a new appreciation for the writer. "He was the first detective novelist, even predating Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He was the first real editor of a newspaper who took on politicians and other writers, like Irving and eventually Charles Dickens. Finally settling in Baltimore, he didn't have many friends because he pissed people off," Monaco says.
Acconcia hopes visitors will stop by in costume. Weather permitting, old Hammer horror films will be projected against the building's exterior. And at noon on Halloween, Mayor Barnes will proclaim it "Edgar Allen Poe Day." But does Poe have any connection to Kansas City that justifies such a proclamation? "None," Acconcia says. "But don't tell that to people in Baltimore."