Almost everyone has read Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous short story of madness and murder, but this week the Poe Museum in Richmond finally acquired the coveted first printing of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” The story first appeared in the inaugural issue (January 1843) of the Boston magazine The Pioneer, edited by poet James Russell Lowell (1819-1891). Since only three issues were published before Lowell discontinued the magazine, copies are now relatively rare. Considered the most ambitious literary journal of Antebellum America, The Pioneer’s three issues contained contributions by Poe, Lowell, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Poe Museum President Dr. Harry Lee Poe commented on the Poe Museum’s acquisition of the important first printing, “This is a prize for any collection especially because it is the story that is included in all the anthologies.” The piece will will go on display at the Poe Museum during the Museum’s day-long celebration of Poe’s birthday on January 19, 2013 from noon until midnight.
Though the story is a favorite with today’s readers, “The Tell-Tale Heart” was rejected the first time Poe tried to publish it– the publishers of the Boston Miscellany writing in their rejection letter, “If Mr. Poe would condescend to furnish more quiet articles, he would be a most desirable correspondent.” Lowell, however, liked the story and acquired it for the first issue of his own magazine, paying Poe ten dollars for the work. A number of magazines soon reprinted the story, but, owing to the lax copyright laws of the time, Poe did not receive any royalties for these unauthorized reprints. Two years later, the editor of Poe’s next collection of short stories did not select it for inclusion in what would be the last collection of Poe’s tales published during his lifetime.
The twentieth century’s leading Poe scholar Thomas Ollive Mabbott called Poe’s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” “a supreme artistic achievement,” and the tale has long been a favorite among readers. A staple at readings of Poe’s works, the story has been adapted several times to film, including the 2009 movie “Tell-Tale” starring Josh Lucas and the upcoming “The Tell-Tale Heart” starring Rose McGowan. It even inspired an episode of the television program “The Simpsons” in which Lisa built a diorama based on the story.
On October 25, the outgoing Curator of the Poe House and Museum of Baltimore, Jeff Jerome, presented the Poe Museum with a piece of horse hair from the Poe House. The plaster was removed from the interior east wall of the front room during a wall repair, and Jerome saved a few pieces of the plaster the repairmen discarded at that time. This piece, which measures about seven inches in width, may be a remnant of the house’s original (ca. 1830) plaster and would, therefore, date to the time of Poe’s residence in the building from early 1833 until August 1835. During Poe’s residence there, he wrote some of his major early tales including his first horror story “Berenice.” He lived in the house with his grandmother Elizabeth Poe, his cousin Henry Clemm, his aunt (and future mother-in-law) Maria Poe Clemm, and his cousin (and future wife) Virginia Clemm.
This piece will be a welcome addition to the Poe Museum’s collection of building materials from various buildings (most of which have been demolished) in which Poe lived or worked. Among the Poe-related building materials already in the Poe Museum’s collection are bricks from the office in which Poe worked for the Southern Literary Messenger, bricks from the headquarters of Poe’s foster father’s firm Ellis and Allan, granite from the home in which Poe was married, bricks from Poe’s home in New York City, a mantle from Poe’s bedroom in Richmond, locks and hinges from other Richmond buildings associated with Poe, lumber from the Southern Literary Messenger office, an urn from the garden in which Poe courted his first fiancée, and the staircase from Poe’s boyhood home. The Poe Museum’s collection of furnishings from Poe-related buildings includes the author’s bed, the chair on which he sat while editing the Southern Literary Messenger, and paintings from his home.
An Article about Poe
Another fine addition to the Poe Museum’s collection was the recent gift of Michael Blankenship of Roanoke, Virginia. The gift, the April 1891 issue of Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly contains the article “Some Memorials of Edgar Allan Poe” by Clara Dargan Maclean, who reports on her visits to the surviving residences of Poe and her interviews with people who knew him. The article contains some fine engravings as well as some interesting details about Poe’s death. Maclean was a proponent of the theory that Poe’s death resulted from cooping, the practice of abducting and drugging of men to force them to vote multiple times. The actual cause of Poe’s disappearance and death remains a mystery.
Appropriately enough, Blankenship donated the piece to the Poe Museum on Halloween. This magazine will be added to the Poe Museum’s reference library, which boasts already thousands of books and periodicals about Edgar Allan Poe’s life and works.
Below are some of the beautiful engravings from the article.
This photograph of the Poe Museum’s Old Stone House dates to around 1881. The bearded man standing by the front door is R. L. Potter, the Wheelbarrow Man. Long before anyone ever thought to have a Poe Museum in the Old Stone House, Potter used the building to display his own collection of 1,600 curiosities, which included rattlesnakes, two wolves, rocks and minerals collected on his travels, and—according to one source—a live bear. Admission was probably about fifteen cents, which is the price he charged when his collection was on display on Marshall Street, according to an advertisement in the November 29, 1881 Daily Dispatch.
Potter was born in Marietta, Ohio but moved to Albany, New York, where he had a wife and three children. When Grant won the Presidency, Potter refused to shave his beard until a Democrat was in office. He earned the name Wheelbarrow Man by pushing a wheelbarrow carrying 100 pounds from Albany to San Francisco in 1878. He walked the 4,100 miles in just 160 days, becoming famous in the process. During the trip, he adopted and tamed two wolf cubs, which followed him for the rest of his life. He also filled his wheelbarrow with rocks, minerals, live specimens, and other “curiosities” he found along the way. Upon Potter’s arrival in San Francisco, the poet Samuel Booth wrote “The Song of the Wheelbarrow Man,” a stanza of which reads, “He started from Albany five months ago,/ And trundled his wheelbarrow steady and slow,/ In storm and in sunshine, through dust, wind, and rain,/ Four thousand odd miles trudged the Wheelbarrow Man.”
When asked why he took the trip, Potter told reporters he wanted to make his name doing something no one else had ever done. That distinction was short-lived. In a publicity stunt to sell papers, newspaper owner George Hearst offered a prize to whoever could win a wheelbarrow race from San Francisco to New York. Potter’s competition was L. P. Federmeyer of Paris, France. Federmeyer won the race, but Potter continued to tour the country, never returning to his home in Albany because, according to a May 19, 1881 interview in the National Republican, “I have three children there. The reason I don’t go home is that if I get there with my children I can’t get away.”
In the same interview, Potter mentions that he has exhibited his collection of curiosities in a number of cities and will take it to Virginia. By July 27, 1881, he was showing his “museum of natural curiosities” in Woodstock, Virginia, according to the Shenandoah Herald of that date. By November 27, 1881, when an advertisement for his museum appeared in the Daily Dispatch, he was in Richmond.
The exact dates of his time in the Old Stone House are unknown. An 1894 guide to the Old Stone House (which was then in service as the Washington’s Headquarters Antiquarium and Relic Museum) states that Potter rented the house for eight months beginning in 1879. Poe Museum trustee Rosemarie Mitchell, who is researching a history of the Old Stone House, theorizes Potter might have rented the house in late 1882 or early 1883. By 1883, he returned to New York to accept the challenge of pushing his wheelbarrow from New York City to New Orleans.
Potter died shortly afterwards. The April 30, 1883 issue of the New York Times reported that he was killed while crossing the railroad bridge over the Yadkin River in North Carolina. His last surviving pet wolf remained at his master’s side and was retrieved by Potter’s widow.
As the Poe Museum celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, it is easy to forget that the Old Stone House was already a Richmond landmark—and even a museum—decades before the Poe Foundation took over the property. Although the bear, wolves, and rattlesnakes are long gone, we still like to think we have an interesting, if slightly less dangerous, collection of Poeana.
One fine day in April, 1945, a group of industrious young members of the John Marshall Chapter of the International Quill and Scroll Society gathered in the Enchanted Garden of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum for tea and an initiation of several new members.
Quill and Scroll Society Members visiting the Poe Museum, April 26,1945
Old photographs such as this provide a curious window into the past, an invaluable record of how it was. Many of the people in these pictures have long since passed away – yet the memory of these moments in time lives on through the muted sepia tones of a photographic image. As Collections Coordinator of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, I have the opportunity to ensure that these records remain intact for future generations to enjoy, through both diligent record-keeping and proper handling and storage.
Because 2012 marks the 90th anniversary of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, I am taking this opportunity to share with you some images from the museum’s yesteryear. The Poe Museum has a long standing history of welcoming school groups for tours, as evinced through several of the photographs I have stumbled upon recently.
Several happy young people dip their toes into the pond of the Enchanted Garden of the Poe Museum. This pond was in the place of the current fountain. Photograph dated April 17, 1942.
A school group gathers in front of the Poe Shrine. Photograph circa 1945.
The Poe Museum is proud to have inspired generations of young literature enthusiasts and will continue to offer poetry and insight for many years to come.
By the time the Poe Museum opened in 1922, its first building, the Old Stone House, was already a Richmond landmark. Over the years, the Poe Museum has received a number of articles related to the history of the building. A great deal has been written about the modest little house, and some of it might actually be true. The house was certainly never Washington’s Headquarters, as the booklet below relates; and Patrick Henry never used it as his office. Powhatan never lived here, either. We do, however, own a photograph of the Wheelbarrow Man (mentioned in the 1894 article below), but we can neither confirm nor deny that he kept a pet bear on the premises. (There was actually a live raven on display here at one point during the Poe Museum’s history.) Here are some interesting articles about the Old Stone House from the century before it became part of the Poe Museum. Just remember not to believe everything you read.
Article about the Old Stone House from the 1896 book Richmond- Virginia- Colonial- Revolutionary- Confederate and the Present
History of the Stone House from book published before 1864. Sent to us by Robert A. Buerlein.
Here is an 1894 booklet once sold from the Old Stone House when it was the Washington’s Headquarters Antiquarium. Not much of this information is factual, but it is amusing. The book was sent to us last week by Joe Valentine.
The artist who produced these drawings, James Carling, was born in 1857 in Liverpool. He was fifth son of Henry Carling, a blacking maker. When James was five years old, he began to earn a living as an errand boy and singer. He would even recite the poetry of Shakespeare on street corners for spare change. Encouraged by his older brothers, James started drawing pictures on sidewalks, and he soon found passersby filling his hat with pocket change. At the age of seven, he was arrested for drawing on the sidewalk and was jailed overnight before being sentenced to seven days in a workhouse. He was sent to a technical school for six years. Though the court had sentenced Carling to attend the school, it demanded his father pay for tuition. When Carling’s father refused to pay, he was thrown in jail, where he died. Carling was fourteen when he completed his sentence at the school. Upon his release, he travelled with his brothers to the United States, where they resumed their careers as street artists. Carling eventually found work as a vaudeville performer billed as the “Lightning Caricaturist” and “the Fastest Drawer in the World.” In 1883, it was announced that Harper Brothers would be publishing an edition of Poe’s poem “The Raven” with illustrations by the French artist Gustave Dore. It was about this time that Carling began his own set of drawings for the poem. The drawings remained unpublished at the time of Carling’s death, four years later in 1887. He was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave. The drawings remained in storage for over fifty years until Carling’s brother decided to exhibit them in 1930. Response to the work was so positive that the Poe Museum purchased the set in 1937.
Below is a small sample of the work on display. These pieces have so many strange and subtle details that the photos provided below can only give a faint impression of the experience of seeing the entire series up close. For more information about the Poe Museum’s collection of James carling’s illustrations for “The Raven,” visit our Collections Database. The exhibit continues until May 1, 2012, so be sure not to miss it.
Although the Poe Museum’s collection is comprised of thousands of objects, there are still holes in the collection. One place the collection can still grow is in its artifacts related to Edgar Allan Poe’s parents, the actors David Poe, Jr. (1784-1810?) and Eliza Poe (1787-1811). Both were actors who died young–when Edgar was only two. Poe’s mother was buried in an unmarked grave at St. John’s Church in Richmond, and the fate of Poe’s father in unknown.
Above: A notice for a benefit performance to be held on Mrs. Poe's behalf.
Few artifacts survive to tell the story of these talented people who left a lasting impression on Edgar Allan Poe’s life and work. That is why is a special treat to see the selection of documents the Poe Museum was able to bring together, with the help of the Library of Virginia and the Lilly Library, for its current exhibit, Poe’s Mother: The Untold Story. The Poe Museum’s contributions to the exhibit included the scripts from plays Poe’s parents performed, newspaper notices of benefits held on Mrs. Poe’s behalf, and reviews of their performances by critics of their day. Such documents serve as some of the few reminders of the careers of Poe’s talented parents, so it is always great to find such pieces to add more details to our understanding of their lives. This week, the Poe Museum did just that when it acquired three Boston newspapers from 1806 containing notices of Poe’s parents.
David and Eliza were married in April 1806 in Richmond. In October 1806, they appeared in on the stage in Boston, where their first son, William Henry Leonard Poe, was born on January 30, 1807. Their second son, Edgar Poe, was born in Boston on January 19, 1809. It was during this time in Boston that Eliza Poe wrote that it was in Boston that she had found her “best and most sympathetic friends.”
The newspapers the Poe Museum acquired date to October 29, 1806 (the month Mr. and Mrs. Poe arrived in Boston), November 8, 1806, and November 12, 1806. Poe’s mother is listed as appearing in the role of Fanny in the comedy the Clandestine Marriage on November 12. David Poe is listed as playing the role of Bellmour in Jane Shore on November 10, and both are listed as playing different plays on the same night on October 29.
Thursday, December 8, 2011 is the bicentennial of the death of Edgar Allan Poe’s mother, Eliza Poe. Though Edgar was only two years old when he lost his mother, his “mournful and neverending remembrance” of her cast a shadow over his life and work. Although Eliza Poe’s fame has long been overshadowed by her famous son, she was actually a talented and popular actress in the early days of American theater.
In observance of the bicentennial, the Poe Museum hosted a lecture by renowned Poe scholar Richard Kopley, a performance by Eliza Poe interpreter Debbie Phillips, and an exhibit of rare artifacts related to her life and career. The weekend began with the Poe Illumination, in which the Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden came to life with thousands of lights and holiday decorations. Below is some video of the Poe Foundation’s President, Dr. Harry Lee Poe, speaking at Eliza Poe’s grave after having laid a wreath on her monument.
The exhibit devoted to Poe’s mother continues until April 1, 2012, so be sure not to miss it. In case you can’t attend in person, some of the artifacts from the exhibit can now be seen in our online collections database.
First blog here from the Poe Collections Manager. We have some amazing artifacts on view that have to do with our favorite author. We are always moving things around and showing off new books – will update soon.
Come see our new Poe Revealed temporary exhibit and our permament exhibits. You will be able to see great works on paper, clothing, hair (!) and much much more!!!!!