Edgar Allan Poe Festival in the works for downtown Riverhead

Sal St. George making his Edgar Allen Poe Festival pitch to business leaders in Riverhead Town Hall Wednesday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)
Sal St. George making his Edgar Allan Poe Festival pitch to business leaders in Riverhead Town Hall Wednesday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Port Jefferson has hosted a Charles Dickens Festival around Christmastime for the past 13 years. And now, the man who has been instrumental in the success of that event, wants to do something similar in downtown Riverhead: an Edgar Allan Poe Festival.

Sal St. George of Medford envisions a Poe Festival taking place around Halloween and becoming an annual event.

“The Dickens Festival works because it’s for the holidays and Christmas. It’s the biggest holiday of the year,” Mr. St. George said. “The second biggest holiday of the year is acknowledged to be Halloween. And if Riverhead could be the Halloween capital of Long Island, where people say, ‘We’ve got to get to Riverhead to see these activities,’ then we’ll accomplish what we are seeking to do.”

Mr. St. George, a playwright, runs St. George Living History Productions, which has created educational programs and lectures for 30 years. He also has worked with theme parks like Walt Disney World and Sea World, he said.

He made a presentation about his proposal to the Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association Wednesday and got their support, as the BIDMA voted to move forward with plans for a Poe Festival in October.

“I think it’s a fabulous idea and I think it’s something that can have legs and grow,” said BIDMA member Dee Muma.

“I think it’s a great idea,” echoed member Larry Oxman.

Member Bill Allan said he and his family have performed in several of Mr. St. George’s productions in Port Jefferson for the past four years. He recalled a production Mr. St. George did in Riverhead at the Vail-Leavitt theater called “Butt Out.”

“‘Butt Out’ was a program sponsored by BOCES, where they asked me to create something for children that would discourage smoking,” Mr. St. George said. He described it as a series of vignettes performed by youths, with singing, dancing and comedy routines.

“It was like a ‘Saturday Night Live’ show, but with kids doing it,” he said.

Exactly what the Poe Festival will entail is yet to be determined.

In Port Jefferson, the Dickens Festival features a parade, performances at various locales and giant 20-foot tall puppets. They hire about a dozen professional actors who work with about 300 volunteers to put the show on, Mr. St. George said.

The Poe Festival will cost $11,000, a sum that includes Mr. St. George’s fee, a salary for some professional actors and costumes.

Mr. St. George said donations and sponsorships cover most of the costs in Port Jefferson and that the same could happen in Riverhead.

BIDMA president Ray Pickersgill said the BID has money in its budget to help fund the festival.

Mr. St. George said he envisions the Poe Festival as a three-day event, starting on Friday night this year — Halloween — and running through Sunday night.

“We have so many great stories from Mr. Poe to tap into,” Mr. St. George said. “The storefronts in Port Jefferson got involved with Dickens decorations and we could do the same thing with Halloween. We sold chestnuts outside [in Port Jefferson] and we could do the same thing with pumpkins.”

Local restaurants, he said, could get involved by serving Poe-themed cuisine.

“I was thinking we could have a ‘Poe boy’ sandwich,” Mr. St. George said. “We could have devil’s food cupcakes and vampire Bloody Mary’s and ‘Monster Mash’ potatoes. Finger foods. There’s a lot of things you could do.”

“Sal was a tremendous influence on what happened in Port Jefferson at the time,” Mr. Allan said. “His performance, his productions, in my opinion, have always been top notch and have always gotten great reviews. He and his family are very, very professional.

“They take it to the next level.”

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