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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And the Halloween season is extra spooky in Baltimore. That's Edgar Alan Poe's adopted city. It celebrates with readings of his scary stories, and a toast to Poe is offered at his grave site. This year, the Baltimore Museum of Art offers an exhibit of artwork inspired by Poe's writing. That includes paintings by Matisse and Manet, among others.

NPR's Felix Contreras met up with school kids as they toured the exhibit and came face to face with terror.

FELIX CONTRERAS: Twelve-year-old Jake Reister(ph) is leading his eighth grade classmates from Genesee Middle School on a hunt for a painting he's sure he saw.

Mr. JAKE REISTER (Student): No, there was a "Fall of the House of Usher." I remember seeing Usher.

CONTRERAS: Edgar Alan Poe's creepy story of mental illness and death is just one of the many the class has read. And as they roam the museum, they're finding familiar ravens, monsters and other mysterious creatures.

Mr. JACK LEVY(ph) (Student): I like the ones by the "Black Cat," because that was one of my favorite stories that we read.

CONTRERAS: Fourteen-year-old Jack Levy is standing in front of a painting of Poe's gory tale of a guy who killed - well, let's just say it didn't end well for the cat or the guy's wife. Nearby is 13-year-old William Parnell(ph), who's intrigued by a spooky detail.

Mr. WILLIAM PARNELL (Student): I thought it was funny how the artist who drew the black cat drew at the end showed how the cat was sitting on the corpse's head.

CONTRERAS: The curator of the show is Doreen Bolger, the director of The Baltimore Museum of Art.

Ms. DOREEN BOLGER (Director, Baltimore Museum Of Art): It was just what I dreamed would happen when I started working on this exhibit.

CONTRERAS: One of the goals of the show was to give these kids exposure to gore and terror - not by way of video games and slasher films, but art and literature.

Ms. BOLGER: The kids who were here from the Genesee School today were incredible, particularly in their discussion, I think, of "Monster," that really scary looking Robert Motherwell with the black abstract thing with an open mouth. You know, it's scary.

CONTRERAS: Okay, quick. Think of Poe's story "The Pit and the Pendulum." Now try to visualize the look on the face of the prisoner tied to the table with a large blade swinging back and forth, inching toward him. What did he look like, and how big was that blade? Fourteen-year-old Sean Christiana(ph) recognized the emotion in face of the prisoner as depicted by French painter Alphonse Legros.

Mr. SEAN CHRISTIANA (Student): Fear, like craziness, like he's looking down, like looking away, but you can see how his eyes are kind of like looking back up, like he's, like, just really desperate to get out of the chains and ropes and stuff.

CONTRERAS: After a couple of hours of staring at terror, madness and obsession, the three themes of the show, it was time for lunch at the museum cafe. And remember Jake Reister's hunt for the paintings of the "House of Usher"? He never did find it. The picture he thought he saw was painted in his imagination by the frighteningly vivid writing of Edgar Alan Poe.

Felix Contreras, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: And you can get a look at some of the shiver-inducing paintings on display at the Baltimore Museum of Art at our Web site: npr.org.

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