Lonely Planet Writer

Are You a Birthday Tourist?

Birthday candles, flickr, creative commons by DavidInc

Lincoln turned 200 this year, so did Poe. Woodstock's just 40, but Santa Fe's cake fits 400 candles and the University of Leipzig's 600. Later this year the Manhattan Bridge and Queensborough Bridge in New York City click into triple digits at 100 years old. And Ovid wrote his hit poem "Ibis" 2000 years ago. Next Wednesday.

Round numbers are easier to add up and remember, but should the notion of "birthday travel" affect our itineraries?

To me big birthdays -- like Hanoi's 1000th next year -- signal enough of a milestone that it at least invites witnesses to reconsider the place/person in question. "Oh, Poe is 200? I haven't read Poe since I was 12... Didn't he die puking in a gutter? Maybe I should know more." So that's good.

But for actual tourism -- going to Paris on the 200th anniversary of Bastille Day -- sometimes strikes me like hitting a Spanish beach in August. Too busy to enjoy.

In other occasions, there's just too many birthday-specific activities to ignore. Like this Poe character, who turned 200 on January 19.

"A birthday basically gives us an excuse to do more than we usually do," Chris Semtner of Richmond's Poe Museum told me by phone. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance to learn more about him. Like with Rembrandt's 400th birthday a few years ago, when all sorts of international celebrations were held." (Visits are up by about 100% on the year.)

One of the things planned -- and sign me up for it -- is a recreation of Poe's death.

"Most people think he died drunk in a gutter, but he actually was in a hospital surrounded by physicians," Semtner said with a miffed sigh. Apparently Poe's last moments were spent speaking with shadows on the wall, yelling "Reynolds!" over and over (unlike Citizen Kane's "Rosebud," Reynolds' identity remains a mystery). On October 3, the museum will re-create the scene continuously in one of the museum galleries.

One of the staff members plays the author. Semnter said, "Yeah, he's skinny and has a moustache like Poe."