Photo by Shane Wynn
While most children enjoy bedtime stories of fairies and elves, John Kiste recalls something slightly darker from his childhood.
By the time John Kiste was 3 years old, his father was reading “The Black Cat” and “The Pit and The Pendulum” aloud to him before bed. These are the first bedtime tales this Edgar Allan Poe expert can recall — and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Kiste serves as executive director of the Canton/Stark County Convention & Visitors’ Bureau, but inside the Warehouse on the Canal in Canal Fulton, he transforms into the 19th century poet in a dramatic one-man performance.
Equipped with a mustache and donning a red cloak, Kiste recites his favorite poet’s work by heart, infusing his performances with drama and satire combined with historical and biographical facts.
What is your favorite work by Poe?
JK: I have a few: “The Raven,” “Hop Frog,” “The Black Cat,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Masque of the Red Death.” It’s hard to choose. What I really like about his best works is that they’re just as fun to read a second, third, or 20th time.
Have you, “upon a midnight dreary,” ever “pondered, weak and weary”?
JK: I do it all the time. We all do, whether we admit it or not.
What’s your wardrobe and makeup process like before a performance?
JK: I used to have to use a lot of eye shadow to get the sunken eyes of Eddie, but as I’ve aged, mine have gotten sadly sunken as well. And everyone expects the mustache, although he only actually grew it in the last couple years of his life. My wife, Lonna, created my creepy, flowing Red Death costume with which I generally open the first act.
How do you get into the Poe character, psychologically, before a reading?
JK: At the Warehouse in Canal Fulton, owner Ken Roberts has given me my own dressing room, where I can sit and swig water from my flask and pretend that it’s ale.
If Poe was watching your performance, what do you think his critiques might be?
JK: Physically, I am six inches taller than Mr. Poe and far more well-fed. But I think he would enjoy the way I interact with the audience because he did the same thing when he gave lectures.
When you’re not in costume, have you ever been told you look like Poe?
JK: I wear spectacles when not performing and have been more often told I look like (horror author) Stephen King.
Your favorite month of the year has to be October, right?
JK: Without a doubt, although Eddie died in October. My wife and I were married on Halloween 31 years ago, and we have an annual costume party of some renown and 300 youngsters visit to trick-or-treat. The decorations for that spectral season have forced our cars from the garage.
Have you had any paranormal experiences in the Warehouse?
JK: I have not, but I have talked to many people who have. I love the ghostly stuff, but I think I’m too skeptical to be touched.
What is an interesting fact about Poe most people wouldn’t know?
JK: He only made $6,200 in his entire lifetime. A copy of his first work, “Tamerlane and Other Poems” (1827), sold at Christie’s in 2009 for $662,500, a record for an American author’s work, and over 100 times what he made in his lifetime. Sad.
How do you think Poe really died?
JK: The theories range from murder to rabies to encephalitis, from voter fraud violence to alcoholism. But, a doctor not long before his death had announced that Eddie had an enlarged heart. I think this, and exposure to an exceptionally cold October, may have contributed. No one knows, but I would bet money that the recent John Cusack movie guessed wrong ...
Which animal from a Poe short story would you rather have for a pet:
A.) “The Raven”
B.) “The Black Cat”
C.) The Ourang-Outang from “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”
JK: We already have the cat — large and black, with the white patch on her breast that Poe’s demon cat had. We also have a tortoise-shell cat, which is what Poe actually owned.
Poe had his fair share of tragic romances. Do you have any of your own?
JK: I’ve been happily married a long time. But in the old days I had my share. When some fair lassie would tear out my teenage heart, I’d often sit in the dark in my room and recite Poe. It helped.
In my spare time, you’ll find me ...
JK: Memorizing a Poe tale or studying astronomy. My daughter Gwendolyn stages fashion shows of her clothing line, Zombie Apparel, all over Pennsylvania and Ohio, and I try to attend them all.
What would surprise people about you?
JK: I’m pretty much an open book. No macabre, morose or melancholy backdrop here. Some folks might be surprised that I’m still rooting for The Tribe after all these decades of disappointment. Ah, well.
/ Writer Leighann McGivern is an editorial intern with akronlife. She is a senior at KSU working on her bachelor’s in journalism.