Big news, y’all: we’ve started a podcast! The Partnership Podcast is all about creativity, business, and makin’ it happen. We’re especially keen on creative teams that do unusual and compelling work. Our first episode is an interview with Jennifer and Gregory Jericho of The Jericho Vinegar Works, a design studio in Baltimore. We talked about their recent collaboration with Poe Baltimore, producing an eerie, unsettling funeral for Edgar Allan Poe during the International Poe Festival.

Welcome to the Partnership Podcast! My name is Keir DuBois, designer and co-founder of Tight Ship Design. My partner and co-founder in Tight Ship is designer Julia Sevin. Together we create branding and design for events and conferences.

We’re trying something new here. As event brand designers we’re curious about unique or unusual challenges. We like to see how other partnerships of our size approach and deal with these kinds of projects.

Our first episode is something special and spooky for Halloween. It’s unlike any event we’ve worked with for any client. We met Jennifer and Gregory Jericho through the AIGA professional design association. They were leading the Baltimore chapter when Julia was doing the same for New Orleans and I was doing the same for Santa Barbara.

Jen and Greg founded their company The Jericho Vinegar Works as a design and illustration studio in the Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore. But their collaboration went to a whole other level when Poe Baltimore asked them to produce a funeral for Edgar Allan Poe during the annual International Poe Festival back at the beginning of October.

We talked to them recently about how that event came together and what their challenges and successes were. We learned a lot about spooky friends, Predator masks, emergency Xacto knives, eerie vibes, and somber, unsettling beauty. Listen in here, as Julia starts us off:

Julia: Where did the original concept to have a funeral for Edgar Allan Poe in Baltimore come from?

Jen: Greg’s been volunteering for the Edgar Allan Poe house; it was on his bucket list. Neither one of us are originally from Baltimore, and a few years back we considered moving out of the city, so he decided to check some things off his bucket list. This year [the Poe House has] been under new management, and so they wanted to make some changes, and invited us to put on the funeral re-enactment and candlelight vigil. It was so funny because we were told that “we really just wanted to add an additional event to the International Edgar Allan Poe Festival,” but they were just blown away by what we were able to pull off.

Little did they know that we’re both obsessed with designing experiences, and so what we did was the Carroll mansion wasn’t part of any of Edgar Allan Poe’s history. Our job was to change that space to make you feel like you were in a completely different area. When we walked through the space the first time we started thinking about how when you’re in a graveyard, you don’t generally walk a straight line from point A to point B; you’re usually navigating through the different gravestones.

So we hired—well, we asked—a photographer to join us in collaborating. This is a great group of collaborators. I have to say that there’s no way would have ever pulled it off if we didn’t recruit these people to come along. Our photographer went out into Poe’s graveyard and took these shots and I really wanted—the Carroll mansion is a very old house here in Baltimore, also very historic, and has these huge windows. So what we had her do was not just take traditional pictures of the gravestones, but the small details, textures, plants. Sort of how you see through into the graveyard as a different area, so when you’re standing in the room you would have these different layers of photography where you could look in the windows and see a path that would take you through.

When it came to the other things they all kind of started falling together. The Poe Baltimore manager actually had a casket designed, as well as these beautiful candles, so that people can make their donations and pay their respects to Poe by lighting a candle like you might in a Catholic church, and Greg designed these beautiful prayer cards. We did these foil printed prayer cards with a local printer here that just came out incredible. He has a different type of foil printing [so] we didn’t have create custom stamps. He’s figured out a way to turn, was it, a—

Greg: Black ink—it’s whatever you print on black ink, this foil will stick to. So you run it through a machine the first time to get the black image down. And then he ran it through again, got the oil down, and ran it through again to get the print down and we tried it in different orders. He had us there for a good hour, hour and a half or so— “just one more thing, we’re going to try one more thing!” and then we let them go. And it’s worth every second of that.

Jen: Apparently it was originally a laminating machine, but he’s just managed to figure out how to do that foil printing with it. I’d happily invite you over to come see this process, it was great. But then the final part was the biggest component, it was what we were going to do with Poe.

I think one of our biggest inspirations for me specifically was the World War II Museum that’s down in Louisiana. It is just such an incredible experience. We went there earlier this year and enjoyed seeing how they were able to take all these different aspects of the way that you walk through it. So there’s sound, there’s sight, there’s film, there’s things that you can touch and interact with—but it doesn’t matter what type of person you are, there’s something that you can hook onto as you’re walking through that museum. We wanted to create that in this very small scale, so that no matter where you looked—be it lighting, be it texture—we had the coffin lid in this closet and then we lit it up so it kind of looked like you were looking inside into the grave.

Greg: The coffin is definitely in the shape of a coffin, so that when the lid came off we were like “well, here’s Poe.” We had no place to attach the lid, because it’s old school and you know, it nails down. And Jennifer put it into this vault that was in the Carroll mansion room that we were using, that I guess they used to keep all their keys in? It was maybe the servant key area or or whatever—big thick vault—and Jennifer put the coffin lid in there with its distinctive shape and had it lit with a flickering candle light, one of the battery-operated ones, in back of it.

And so yeah, when you stood in front of it, that depth of the vault along with a very subtle light really gave this—really, it was completely unintentional—it’s eerie, eerie, like [adopts Vincent Price voice] “looking into open grave” kind of thing, but without being too haunted-housey. That’s one thing we did not want, even though I love wax museums, I love funhouses, I love haunted houses. I went to mortuary school, but I never got to complete it, so I never got to direct a funeral. I always just did the little errands behind the scenes while doing my internship. So this was like a chance for me to actually do that! It was really a challenge to keep myself in check on this, and by all accounts it was a class act.

Jen: Well, I had to just take it to a level so that people would bring sort of that somber feel to it. I think that is also part of that, because when it was suggested “Hey why don’t you use an actor as the body of Poe,” we both felt that that wasn’t going to really deliver. So we had a good friend who loves the Predator and [laughing]

Greg: And was sculpting Predator hands, and making a Predator suit, and he jumped right on it and was just “I dunno, I’ll give it a shot!” And the next thing you know he’s got pictures blown up on his laptop and he’s he’s studying the shadows, because there’s no profile picture of Poe, so he had to understand through the existing pictures what Poe’s head would have looked like from all angles. Again, never having done anything like this before. And he sculpted a skull and he built on top of it and then, like, got rid of it and started over. And it is an unsettling piece of work.

Jen: It’s very beautiful. It got the reactions that he wanted. He got people that were afraid to walk up to the casket, he got people that were really emotional. We had people thank us for giving Poe the funeral that he deserved. It was really interesting. And then the final component for us was we had a local clothier design the suit for Poe. So it was just—it all came together beautifully, all of those little pieces that we wanted to craft, to bring together. It all stood out. And everyone noticed and really took part in it.

And we had a few surprises along the way, which were really interesting, because when we printed the very large scale fabric panels, [it was] with black and white photos of the graveyard on black foam core, to make sure we have that kind of darkness. And the largest piece that we sent to print, we forgot to put the dimensions on the spreadsheet! And so they printed it, like tiny, when we needed it to be the biggest piece! So suddenly [we risked having] this big wall with nothing on it.

Keir: You didn’t have that wall piece to use? Oh no!

Greg: No, we had to create something new the night before!

Jen: Yeah, so the midnight before we were supposed to be done, Greg and I were talking, and he illustrated the six panels of the final days of Poe, because there’s a lot of myth around his death. So that was one of our jobs as well, was to dispel some of them. And so we’re sitting there saying “well, how are we going to put these up?”

We had this original idea to put them in where the coffin lid was now. But that looked so great. We were like “what do we do?” And Greg had an anthology of all of Poe’s work and I started—I grabbed an Xacto knife and started cutting up the pages all night, cutting them out. And then I ended up making this massively large sort of background of all of Poe’s work, that we then mounted illustrations on, and it was ten times better than anything I could’ve imagined.

Greg: We were able to bring his writing into his funeral. I thought that, it was like, we all know that [Poe was a writer], but when you get in a funeral experience and you forget the writer part. So it was it was great to have that there.

Jen: So that was our spooky kickoff to October and Halloween!

Keir: But then that was one aspect of the overall Poe festival?

Greg: Yeah they’re called Poe Baltimore and they are in charge of the Edgar Allan Poe house and museum that we have here. I don’t understand all the ins and outs exactly, but I guess the city technically owns the museum but they don’t fund it. So it’s up to that Poe Baltimore board to translate Edgar Allan Poe’s history for the public, as far as the House and his life in Baltimore goes.

Jen: One of the things that we really enjoyed about working with them as a client was when you have these small museums, they have limited funds and they’re really depending on all these different events to raise money so that they can continue to operate. And it’s a historic home, it’s not in the best neighborhood. So a lot of the traffic is international; it doesn’t get a lot of local or regional visitors, [it gets] a lot of people that know Poe internationally. So some of the other Poe museums—there’s one in Richmond and the Bronx and in Philadelphia—tend to have more traffic. They’ve been taking care of a little bit more, and so that was part of the “how do we give back” in a way, and “how do we help them grow” so that they don’t get lost, and then continue to be city owned and kept.

So for the rest of the festival they open up the Poe house, and you can go and visit where he lived and learn a little bit. They have some artifacts there and then they had a festival, so the vendors and [the Poe Baltimore manager] wanted to keep it very gothic and dark. So it was vendors and food trucks and all that, and stuff on the street, but they were on opposite sides of the city, just because of the space and the venue that she was able to find, so connecting the two was very difficult. That took some work on her part to really tie in all those promotions together and make sure that everything got the traffic that they needed.

Plus it was Fleet Week in Baltimore which is huge. So there were a whole lot of challenges there for the city to manage the crowds and get it, but we got almost over 400 people that came to see the exhibit, and on the opening reception people from the Richmond House and the Bronx house came up, and we had people from Colorado a lot of people came out to see it. They were very excited, so that was really nice.

Keir: So what I’m getting is the intangibles, like people being afraid to walk up to the casket, or weeping, or pulling it off logistically in two different locations like that—means as much or maybe more than [the gate receipts]?

Jen: Well for me, [visitors] being immersed into the experience was so important, because in all actuality it’s a room, and so how do you make one room and say “Hey, walk in there and experience it!” So that was the other last minute component for us: “Okay, so, people walking off the street. It’s a weekend. There are festivals.” How do you get people in a very fast amount of time to somber up, focus, pay attention and experience something that will be gone quickly? Because the House’s limitations of the amount of people, you had your 15 minutes and then you had to move on. We didn’t want crowds because then it doesn’t feel like a funeral, it just feels like you’ve got like a stampede running through the exhibit.

So that’s when we decided to add a performance component. And this was completely unexpected. It just happened to be that my photographer, she collects funeral garb from different time periods. And I just happened to rent the runway and get a really gothy lace dress that was very period-specific. No idea how that happened. It was magical. Greg had something [period-specific] to wear. Next thing you know, the collaborators of the exhibit [became] the mourners of the exhibit. And when we brought people in, the Carroll mansion had these lovely sort of rooms, like a foyer, were all the doors were closed, so we were able to have Greg do sort of an opening performance presentation where he talked.

He said the obituary of Poe and gave a little history about his final days, and in that small five minutes that he spoke, people sort of [realized] it’s time to pay attention. Right. And then we just opened the doors and he came up with this “I will walk through and then my mourners.” And then the crowd will follow. Suddenly you had to [whispers reverently] and you’re walking through the sheets to see stuff, and it was interesting like they were ready for it! Because we were really worried that we were going to have a bunch of people with flash taking pictures and, you know, not really paying attention to what we wanted them to, and each time we did it it got better.

Keir: How many times?

Greg: It was eight or nine—about eight times, I think, between the two. Well more than that, because they split the tour buses in half.

Jen: We had between two and—two tours every hour. And then we would always have some surprise tour, so I guess between eight and ten times a day. So I think we ended up doing it about 15 to 20 times.

Julia: Did you get any recordings of you giving the obituary?

Greg: Somebody did. I don’t know who did. I didn’t record anything; I brought out my phone one time during that whole thing except to read [the obituary] from my phone behind a book, but other than that, I was not taking pictures or recording anything. Somebody did. There were a couple people.

Jen: We had a radio station come too, and I think I saw her recording that. So yes, we’re hoping and trying to see these pictures now coming out, because I think I took some pictures at the very beginning. I wanted to document this. I think a lot of it is, you know, “what happens now?” We put all this work in, we have a sculpted Poe in a suit, so you know “how can we use this again?” or “how might we leverage this to do other projects that are related to this?” So we’re still kind of figuring that out. But I want to document that either way. I think telling the story of how it came about especially [for] most people that aren’t familiar with Poe. That’s what I learned—they know who Poe is, but that they’re not familiar with the history, or why it’s so important to to do this funeral reenactment and pay respects to this author.  

Keir: In Baltimore.

Greg: Yeah. And we definitely said that in that opening piece that I read for the people who came in. We said “this is for the author, it’s for the mystery.” As appropriate as it is that Poe, the master mystery writer, has the biggest mystery as to what the hell happened to him in the last two weeks after he left Richmond! And then I said “and also to the city that contains this mystery.” It was very tied in to Baltimore. The whole history was how important he is to this city in particular.

Julia: Do you have any details or any cool solutions that you found for decking out this space, within the constraints that you had?

Jen: Absolutely. So that’s a great question, because first of all our budget kind of changed because at first I thought it was zero. I think when you’re part of an AIGA board you learn to work with zero often. So I think that’s already made us kinda figure out “Okay, well this is this is how we can pull this off. These are the resources we have.”

But then the Poe Baltimore manager actually received a grant, and that helped fund part of our exhibit. And I don’t know all the specifics about the grant, but it was just enough to be able to say “well we can go buy some stuff,” but it was the same thing. So how do you create that experience? One of my friends in Philadelphia was part of the Terracotta warriors at the Franklin Institute, and she told me a little bit about the process of bringing that exhibit to the United States, and how many months and years [it took]. She said usually what you do with an exhibit is you open it up privately first; you watch people interact in the space and move around, and then you change things and adapt as to what you’re seeing the people do, and how they’re moving around. And we’re sitting back going “We don’t have that opportunity! We just have to put it up and see what happens.”

And so I think that some of the tricks that we used first was lighting. We went to Michael’s and found, first of all, they were amazing. There were these electric candles, the battery power candles. They just happened to be all vanilla, though. They were 50 percent off, and I was scared out of my mind (because I had bought like 30 of these) that this whole room was going to stink like vanilla, and I’m very sensitive to smells, so I was I was freaking out. Took it out of the box and was like “Ooooh noooo.” But luckily it added a beautiful scent of vanilla to the parlor.

For the lighting itself we took down all the track lights, and that was one of things that was really important. We were telling people who were coming around taking pictures with flash [to not do that], and Greg actually ended up adding it to his introduction. “If you use flash in your images, you’re just going to ruin your memories.” And it was this, “there’s hidden secrets here,” right? Don’t ruin it for yourself because you’re going to see the secrets, you’re gonna see, sort of, the things tucked away that you’re not supposed to see. So that was one of them.

The other one was—and this I [give] all credit for the Poe manager. She was amazing, she found someone that was selling wholesale flowers and she bought us twelve dozen roses. That was hilarious, to watch people walk through thinking everything was fake, cause I had designed a mantel with plastic flowers, but we were also thinking sustainability—”we’re not trying to create all this waste; this is only a pop up, [only] two days.” I don’t want to buy a bunch of stuff I’m going to throw out. So she had the idea, and found the connection, and got us all the roses, and people were very impressed to see that—just the sheer amount of roses that we had.

And the other part is I guess we have some really spooky friends, because I did research in Victorian periods, specifically during mourning times, they would put fabric over mirrors So I started doing fabric over the mirrors, and fabric over the lamps that I had in my house, and fabric over these tiny little tables that we own, because we live a nine foot house. I’ve got to say I don’t know that anyone could have pulled this off, but between me and Greg’s stuff, and our photographer the three of us had enough period decorations.

She loves to do, what’s it called, estate sale buying. And we had just done it because we just moved into our temporary home, and we’ve got a bunch of stuff from an estate sale. So I had this great, like, oval creepy mirror that I brought along with me. I think it would have been a lot harder if you just happened to be—we just kept saying “What other fabrics do you have? What else do you have that we can buy—what furniture, do you have a lamp?” And it worked out really well.

Julia: It always pays to have spooky friends.

[Laughing]

Keir: So you said, Jen, you said you wanted to document it a little bit more. What do you think you want to do with it, as far as making it permanent to say that “this is a major accomplishment that we had.”

Jen: Absolutely. I think it’s a combination of things. A lot of the documenting was because I kept my entire team on lockdown, and I didn’t want a lot shared on social media until we were ready. And it’s always—I laugh at myself now thinking about it—”don’t [share anything because] everyone’s going to see it!” Like you know it doesn’t happen [like that] because there’s so much [work] happening. I think it’s going to be a little bit of a surprise factor. I wanted a little bit more control over the story. In terms of what happens next it is really [up to] Poe Baltimore. Greg’s been working with them and we’ve thought about a few things. We’d love to take it to the other houses and maybe have it in Richmond, have it in Philadelphia.

We’d love to bring it back next year for the international Poe festival, but Poe Baltimore, the museum itself is run by a board. So in the end they are the final decision makers. We have intellectual property over the exhibit. They cannot use any of the components of that exhibit without us. We are hoping that they were impressed enough, that they raised enough money, that they want to bring it back so that we can try it again. I think this is so new that we’re still processing, you know, what to do next. I think that as a small studio, we’re usually used to more traditional projects. We’ve done some illustration work, we’ve done animation work. This blew our mind. I said I have so much fun playing artist all weekend, you know it’s like that [in posh voice] we’re artists. [Laughs]

Keir: So then where’s Poe right now, and what’s he going to be doing for the next year or so?

Greg: Ah, that’s a good one! So my idea was that starting next year, it be an event: we put a lid on that casket, we put the casket on display at the Poe house, or in the visitor’s center, when everything is still going in there behind glass. But it’s always screwed shut, it’s always nailed down. So for anyone that comes in, we’d have a little plaque, saying “this is Edgar Allan Poe,” and I know I would be like “Is there a body in there? Is Poe in there?” And then you know the people at the museum can say “Yes there is!” And I would just be chomping at the bit to see it.

I’d be like “aw, it’s behind glass, I can’t see it!” You know, the mystery, the mystery’s the biggest thing for me, especially with this exhibit and probably for, I don’t know, six months prior. I like everything that is mysterious. I’m all about “I don’t want the answers”—I don’t really want—I want to want the answers, but I don’t want the answers.

Jen: So he wants to then unveil and open the casket.

Greg: Yep, I think that would be very cool.

Jen: But currently it’s sitting with the sculptor, likely next to a Predator head.

Julia: Now how can people who are are fans of Poe, or would like to learn more about him, and would actually come to Baltimore and visit the Poe Fest next year—how can they show their support for the Poe funeral again?

Greg: I would imagine by going to the Poe Baltimore social media pages of which there are an Eventbrite, and a Facebook and everything, and just keeping an eye on when they announce for the next time. And then in the meantime the really the only place “if you missed the opportunity. The only place you can see them is either on social media or in Davis’s basement!”

Jen: But also visiting the graveyard is quite an experience. It’s a beautiful graveyard. Poe had several burial places in that graveyard; had a few gravestones and his gravestone is beautiful. So that’s a great way to come with him anytime, to be here and not just on his death day.

Greg: And the Poe house itself. It was something that even big Poe fans don’t realize, that he was able to support himself as a writer, in the Baltimore house, because he was living with a relative who had a pension. So he didn’t have to pay rent and he could explore other ways of making a living, and he always wanted to be a writer. And in that respect he is the first American writer to make his living off of writing alone. Anyone prior would’ve been a teacher, or a patent clerk or something along those lines and then *also* a writer. But he was the first to make his living exclusively from [writing] and he did that from the Poe Baltimore house, so it is especially important.

Keir: Thank you both!

That’s all for our first episode of the Partnership Podcast. My name is Keir DuBois. My partner Julia Sevin and I will return with another episode soon! Until then, follow our work at tightshipdesign.com or on social media at tightshipdesign. Thanks for listening!