It’s that time of year again. You and your kids are looking for fun Halloween activities, and you can’t do much better than Poe’s Pumpkin Patch, an afternoon of Poe-themed fun and games for children eleven and under. The event will take place in the Poe Museum’s garden on Sunday, October 28 from 2-5 P.M. Be sure to dress up for the costume contest and practice your technique for the mummy wrapping contest. Don’t forget to pick up a pumpkin (while supplies last). Make sure your kids grow up weird by taking them to Poe’s Pumpkin Patch!
Event is included in price of Poe Museum general admission. For more information, call the Poe Museum at 804-648-5523.
As we approach the anniversary of Poe’s death (October 7) we are no closer to determining the precise cause of his mysterious demise. Fortunately, junior high students from around the country have stepped forward to provide their theories about Poe’s death. Below are some of the recent submissions. Click here if you would like to study the clues and offer your own theory. To see some of the earlier submissions, click here.
My theory is that Edgar Allen Poe died of bieng drugged. See, he was sick before he went to that little restaurant called ‘Saddler’s’ and I suppose it was just a little fever. I think someone must have recognized him at the restuarant and drugged his meal. Surely, they must have been a tad bit jealous and just drugged him.
my theory is that when mr,poe was danosed with the tumor is whas all ready killing him, it was then when he contracted cholera that he body started working overtime to fight both the tumor and the sickness. cholera . the infection in his intestant caused him to vomit and have watery diarrhea which both led to dihidration followed by hullucinations. that he had. , fighting both tumor sickness and the infectio was causing a major probem to his body and not to menntion he proble drinking., he was basically commiting suicide withiut knowing t. hence why o body know why he died.
My theory starts out with him not having a regular heart bet. When someone has an irregular heart thing would be different for them in their body with out even knowing about it. In some cases with the heart when it is like this alchol will make it worse. So as he drank his heart got worse. If your heart is messed up and you don’t know about it then it can do damage to other parts of your body because that is where blood gets pumped through to get to the rest or the body. When blood dose not get to where it needs to be it can cause a toumer. In most cases a tuoumer will form in the brian. So it is possible for Edgar Allen Poe to have a brain toumer.
As far as the brain when it gets defected in some way it will try to heal its self. In the prossecs of that it may happen but it may just make it worse then it already is and the brain will slowly start to die and the person thinking nothing has changed will go one with their daily life. The problem with this is that everything will be the same to them like they have been doing it forever but in reality everything the person is doing is starnge. Some examples of this is a person could get rapped heart bets along with cold sweet and be very on edge. Another thing that could happen is that the person will start to forget the simplest things and not notice them when they normaly would. Something eles that could happen is the brain will start to play trick on the person like seeing and hearing things; basically hillunotions.
As the brain does this the body its self will stop working and the person could be easily talked into doing anything such as drinking. It would be very easy to talk some one like this into drinking if they already drink. Once the person is drunk they can get them to do any thing. In this case it was election day and people were heired to kidnapp people and take them to different places and make them vote for the same person over and over again so that person would have a better change of winning. When they tokk this person to all the voting places they could go to they would just leave that person some where till someone eles found them.
In which how Edgar Allen Poe’s heart was messed up already it was to much for his body to handle and he had to get sent to the hospital. While he was in there he’s brain kept him alive as long as it could till it fainly quit worked and the person died. This is my theroy.
Ithink he died from his very sick diesase and had a brain tumor.
I think he died beacause of his brain tunmor.I think his brain had got off track and his heart started beating to fast.
He died from drinking at a bar room, he was drunk
I think he died from overdose of his medication because he was depressed that his wife died. So he wanted to blank it out and forget bout her death.
I think Poe died from old age and too much stress.
I think he died of depression from his family and wife dieing and to much stress
I think he died from his addiction because it said he could not consume achohol without producing insanity
my theory was that through his years of tourture and neglect before he was famous affected him mentaly to the point that he would write scary stories that expressed his inner torment so that the world would know exactly what he was feeling inside. when he died he was probably feeling so much inside that he died due to a mental shutdown of his important vessels and nerves in his brain.althogh this has not been proven this is my theory and i stand by it 100%.
Killeen , Texas
He was beaten & then used to place votes.
Poe was murdered by a literary rival.
He might’ve died of head trauma.
He had cholera, and died.
Poe must’ve had brain cancer. Since it wasn’t treated quickly, or they didn’t have equipment to abolish cancer, the tumor grew, and eventually, he died.
San Fransisco, California
Edgar Allan Poe may of been murdered by one of his family members.
i think poe was deppressed about losing his wife to the samething he lost his mother and brother to. i think losing his wife brought up some unwanted memories so his body started shuting down and slowly stopped working till he died
He died of a brain tumor
i think that poe had manic depression along with an irreguler heart beat and possibly alergic to some of the chemicals in alchol (since it does contain many toxins i am not shure witch one) and he died during a fit of depression after drinking he just simply gave up
or the depresent that is alchol threw off his hesrt so much in that one instant that his heartbeat was even more irreguler.
That Poe died from all the medicine the docters were giving him. That he probably started out with a really bad cold or flu and then when he went to the docter they said it was something else, and they gave him medicine and the medicine just kept making it worse! So eventually after all the medicine and procedures he died.
Poe’s immune system was faulty from the extreme amounts of liquor he consumed daily. With the over-bearing thoughts of depression,he was pushed into mania, causing his hallucinations in his death bed. I would assume Poe was not a careful person nor fearful of strangers. Drinking before leaving Richmond with strangers at the height and end of his career, he was sure death was calling. “Rynolds” a fan, loved the idea of having Poe over to his home. Poe had the strange idea of wanting to be unknown and traded clothes with the stranger before taking off into the night. Poe in a drunken stupor fell and knocked himself unconscious. his body weary, his liver spotted, and his mind injured, he\’s taken to the hospital with death ringing his ear.
I think that since Virgina Clemm dies at only 24 years old, he probably abused her to the point of death. A close family member or friend of Virgina who knows about the abuse could have hired someone that was with Poe on his trip to poison him.
Melrose , Illnoise
They are many clues that he may died of depression. From having his true love die and being a lonely orphan.
Port Charlotte, Florida
Edgar Allan Poe’s death is caused by alcohol and beating. After his wife’s death in 1847, Poe became depressed and drank large amounts of alcohol. This led him to insanity. When seeing him drunk men began to beat him. The beatings and the alcohol only made is pre-existing condition even worse. Thus leading to his death.
Port Charlotte, Florida
He was Murdered.
I belive that he had a blood clot in the vessel going in to his heart wtich made his heart beat slower witch made it harder for the blood to get to other parts of his body . so he might have ben doing an exersize or running that his body wasnt use to so his heart beat faster and its not use to that so it stoped
When he drank he probably had a panic attack because he did live in a small house so he probably developed claustrophobia wich may have caued a heart-attack which triggered his brain tumer to hurt even more, so he drank even more thinking that he would feel better but made it worse. He also may have seen some things that scared him which caused him to die.
Edgar Allan Poe boarded a ship during his strange disappearance. In a drunken stupor, he swam in and out of conciousness not knowing the difference between fantasy and reality. His nightmares became so realistic that he began to live them. After being found in the bar and being taken to the hospital, Edgar’s visions drove him mad, but not to the point of death. While on his journey, Poe made a pact with the devil that in exchange for his soul, he would be given the ability to write better than anyone in history. After falling into a deep sleep, Lucifer took Poe’s soul for his own keeping, and the doctors did not accurately assess his death and he was buried alive.
I think that someone was after his poems. Only because he made them with all his heart. And they all generate from what he knew. Poe most likely got beat to death. Also he could’ve have been making one about that person.
This is the last day of the Community Foundation’s Amazing Raise. You have until 6 P.M. today to help the Poe Museum win prizes in this exciting fundraising competition. Your donation of $50 could win us thousands in prizes.
Why support the Poe Museum? For over ninety years, the Poe Museum has been inspiring audiences of all ages to love reading. As Virginia’s only literary museum, the Poe Museum is an invaluable resource to both teachers and students. Your donation today helps the Poe Museum continue to provide services like guided tours, exhibits, off-site programs, a young writers’ conference, and more to a global audience.
Please consider making a contribution to the Poe Museum today using this form.
If you are a high school student who loves writing, get ready for a unique week-long residential writing experience. On June 16-22, 2013, young writers from around the country will come to Richmond to meet professional novelists, journalists, poets, and editors who will share their expertise and advice. Over the course of the week, conferees will learn and practice the craft of writing. By visiting the sites Poe knew best and by learning more about Poe’s early years, attendees will become immersed in the inspiration and experiences that shaped Edgar Allan Poe when he was a teenager. The conference director is Edgar Award-winning author Dr. Harry Lee Poe, Charles Colson Chair of Faith and Culture at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, and author of several books including Evermore: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe. You can see from photos from the 2012 conference here.
Here is what a past conferee wrote us about her experience at the conference:
“ I returned from the young writers’ conference on sunday and just wanted to write and say what an amazing time i had! it was so much fun and i learned a lot. hope to see ya’ll next year. –“
Here is what the mother of one of the conferees had to say:
“Dear Mr. Poe,
Now that A____ is back home and we have had some time to talk about the trip and the Conference itself, I cannot but thank you and your staff for having provided A_____ with a wonderful educational experience. He enjoyed every activity, lecture, and workshop. We truly appreciate your generosity and the time you (and the Museum’s staff) devoted to not only discuss various interesting topics with A____, but to advise him on practical and career paths.”
Mark your calendars. The application will be online soon. For more information, please write us at email@example.com.
Last Sunday, the members of the Poe Museum were invited to a special Poe-themed tour of Richmond’s Shockoe Hill Cemetery led by Jeffry Burden, President of the Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery. In the above photo, some of the guests are visiting the grave of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. In the below photo, Jeffry Burden shows members Union spy Elizabeth Van Lew’s monument. (Notice the guest sporting a new Poe Museum tote bag.)
In addition to the graves of Poe’s first love Jane Stanard and his foster father John Allan, Burden showed the group the lesser known graves of other Poe acquaintances. Below is a photo of the grave of John Carter, the doctor Poe visited his last night in Richmond. Poe left his walking stick at Carter’s house on East Broad Street, and it was from Carter’s heirs that the Poe Museum acquired the walking stick. According to a later account by Carter, published in November 1902 in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, “On this evening [Poe] sat for some time talking, while playing with a handsome Malacca sword-cane recently presented to me by a friend, and then, abruptly rising, said, ‘I think I will step over to Saddler’s (a popular restaurant in the neighborhood) for a few moments,’ and so left without any further word, having my cane still in his hand. From this manner of departure I inferred that he expected to return shortly, but did not see him again, and was surprised to learn next day that he had left for Baltimore by the early morning boat. I then called on Saddler, who informed me that Poe had left his house at exactly twelve that night, starting for the Baltimore boat in company with several companions whom he had met at Saddler’s, and giving as a reason therefore the lateness of the hour and the fact that the boat was to leave at four o’clock. According to Saddler he was in good spirits and sober, though it is certain that he had been drinking and that he seemed oblivious of his baggage, which had been left in his room at the Swan Tavern. These effects were after his death forwarded by one of Mrs. Mackenzie’s sons to Mrs. Clemm in New York, and through the same source I received my cane, which Poe in his absent-mindedness had taken away with him.”
The next images shows the recently damaged monument of Rev. John McCabe, a poet who contributed his work to the Southern Literary Messenger while the journal was under Poe’s editorship. In his “Chapter on Autography,” Poe wrote, “Dr. JOHN C. MCCABE, of Richmond, Virginia, has written much and generally well, in prose and poetry, for the periodicals of the day — for the ‘Southern Literary Messenger’ in especial, and other journals.” In a March 3, 1836 letter to McCabe, Poe (who has just rejected one of McCabe’s poems for publication in the Messenger) writes, “I feel exceedingly desirous that you should be even more favorably known to the public than you are at present, and that this object should be accomplished thro’ the medium of the Messenger.”
The next picture shows the unmarked grave of Eliza White, daughter of Poe’s boss and owner of the Southern Literary Messenger Thomas White. Before his marriage to Virginia Clemm, Poe is said to have been a favorite dancing partner of Miss White’s. When Poe married Virginia, Eliza White was one of the few guests invited to the small ceremony. Over a decade later, she visited Poe and his wife at their cottage in Fordham, New York.
If you did not have a chance to join us for last weekend’s tour but still would like to visit historic Shockoe Hill Cemetery, you should come to the dedication on October 7 at 1 P.M. of a plaque honoring Poe’s first and last fiancee Elmira Royster Shelton.
In one of the last letters he would ever write, Edgar Poe told his aunt, Maria Clemm, “I think [Elmira] loves me more devotedly than any one I ever knew & I cannot help loving her in return.” In the same note, he spoke of his desire to marry Elmira, the woman to whom he had been engaged twenty two years earlier and who had inspired a number of his poems written during those two decades.
“Elmira” was Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton, one of the people who had the greatest influence on Poe’s life and work. When their first engagement was broken by her father, the eighteen-year-old Poe wrote about his sense of loss in poems including “Tamerlane,” “Song,” and “To Elmira.” Even Poe’s brother, William Henry Leonard Poe, wrote a short story about the doomed romance. A few critics also believe both Poe’s poem “To One in Paradise” and his 1848 version of “To Helen” describe the garden Poe and Elmira used to hide from her disapproving parents during their courtship. Years later, after a twenty-seven-year-old Poe encountered a married Elmira Shelton at a Richmond party, he wrote “To Zante” about the experience. The poem’s refrain of “No more!” foreshadowed the famous refrain of “Nevermore,” which would be published eight years later.
At the age of forty, when Poe renewed his engagement to the widowed Shelton, he may have told her she was his “Lost Lenore,” but it is unlikely that he had actually written “The Raven” about her. He may even have told her “Annabel Lee” had been written about her for there are echoes of their first courtship in such lines as “She was a child, and I was a child…” But other women may also have claims to inspiring the poem (if it was, in fact, based on any person in particular).
The significance of “Annabel Lee” to their relationship may, however, be reflected in the account of his desire to have it published for the first time with their wedding announcement in the local papers. Since Poe died just ten days before they would have been married, the poem was instead first printed at the end of his obituary written by Rufus Griswold in the New York Daily Tribune (although Poe had actually sold it to his John Sartain’s Union Magazine). As Poe lay dying in a Baltimore hospital, he repeatedly told his physician he had a wife in Richmond to whom he needed to return. Though the marriage had not yet taken place, Poe’s “wife” might have been Elmira Shelton.
Upon hearing word of Poe’s death, Shelton wrote to Poe’s aunt Maria Clemm, that he had been “the dearest object on earth.” Shelton then wrote Poe’s attending physician John J. Moran, “Mr. Poe was more to me than any other living being” and expressing her desire to know everything about Poe’s final days.
In her remaining years, Shelton spoke little of Poe and refused to cooperate with Poe’s biographers when they requested interviews. One of Shelton’s granddaughters, who lived with her, later claimed to know nothing of Poe’s relationship with her grandmother until around 1876, probably when she read about it in one of Poe’s biographies. In an 1875 interview with Richmond sculptor and historian Edward V. Valentine, Shelton, likely embarrassed by her connection with such an infamous figure as Poe (whose first biography had portrayed him as a drunken madman in an attempt to impugn Poe’s character), went so far as to deny she had actually been engaged to Poe in 1849, but this is contradicted by one of Shelton’s own letters written to Maria Clemm on September 22, 1849 in which Shelton clearly implies she is engaged to Poe. The newspapers at the time also reported that “It was universally reported that he was engaged to be married. The lady was a widow, of wealth and beauty, who was an old flame of his, and whom he declared to be the ideal and original of his Lenore.” (John M. Daniel. Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner. October 12, 1849). When Shelton finally granted John Moran an interview for his book A Defense of Edgar Allan Poe (1885), she verified that she had indeed been engaged to Poe. In the same book, Moran repeatedly refers to Shelton as “[Poe’s] ‘Annabel Lee,’” further spreading the rumor that Poe had written the poem about her. After Shelton’s death in 1888, her obituary in the Richmond Whig bore the headline “Poe’s First and Last Love.”
Since Shelton was so reluctant to speak about Poe, many of the facts of their relationship remain secret, and what has come to light is often a mixture of legend and truth. It is known that Shelton kept as souvenirs of the author a daguerreotype of Poe (known today as the “Traylor Daguerreotype”), a mother-of-pearl purse, a locket containing Poe’s hair, a drawing Poe made of her as a teenager, and an albumen print photograph of Poe. The latter was printed decades after Poe’s death.
When the Poe Museum opened in 1922, Shelton’s great granddaughter, Mrs. Elsie W. Pearson, was one of its founding members and later left Shelton’s daguerreotype, eyeglasses, and photograph of Poe to the museum. Other Shelton descendants, Thomas and William Cobb, also donated Shelton family items to the Poe Museum, continuing the tradition of Shelton family support of the museum. Visitors to the museum can today see some of these items on display as reminders of the role Shelton played in Poe’s life.
Given Shelton’s influence over Poe’s life and work, one might be surprised to know that she is buried in an unmarked grave next to her husband’s severely weathered and barely readable monument. This October, the Poe Museum, which was instrumental in marking the grave of Poe’s mother and in placing a plaque on the grave of Poe’s first love, Jane Stanard, will finally mark the grave of Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton in Richmond’s Shockoe Hill Cemetery. You are invited to attend the historic unveiling on Saturday, October 7, 2012 at 1 PM and to pay long overdue homage to a woman who, as the muse of a great poet, helped shape the course of world literature.
Below is a call for papers for a new kind of Poe conference coming next summer to Charlottesville, Virginia.
Charlottesville, Virginia • June 24-26, 2013
Sponsored by The Poe Museum of Richmond, Virginia
at the Small Special Collections Library of the University of Virginia
CALL FOR PAPERS
Poe’s reputation as a tortured, tragic figure, melancholic poet and the “master of the macabre” has fueled his popularity for over a century and a half, while debunking stereotypes and myths associated with that reputation has always been an essential part of Poe criticism. Going beyond the debunking of the popular caricature, we would like to discover the “positive” side of Poe’s life and work. Just as his life had its ups and downs, his writing, too, reflects a wide range of experience, not exclusively the dark and dismal. We therefore invite papers on a broad diversity of subjects with a focus on the life-affirming and vital elements in Poe’s work. Papers may cover (but are not limited by) such themes as:
Poe and ethics (his ideas of love, friendship, manners)
Poe and art (aesthetic ideas in literature and criticism)
Science, philosophy, Eureka
Social and family life
Literary circles, friends and followers
Success stories of Poe’s poems and tales at home and abroad.
Deadline for submission of proposals is October 31, 2012.
Please submit proposals to Alexandra Urakova at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Organized by Harry Poe email@example.com 731-661-5404 and
Alexandra Urakova firstname.lastname@example.org
A guest at the modest cottage in which Poe lived during his final three years provided this description of meeting the poet in his home: “I well remember the pretty little house, a tiny white cottage, set up above the road, surrounded by tall shrubs, trees, and emerald grass. It was a modest abode, but tasteful, and so scrupulously clean and well ordered that at once on entering it one felt that it was no ordinary home…The door leading into the small “entry” to the house was generally open. Beside the narrow staircase leading to the upper rooms stood a large tube-rose plant, which sent its fragrance all over the house. A door to the right on entering opened into the sitting room, and it was here that Poe received his guests, three or four literary people, on the day I first saw him.”
(Elma Mary Gove Letchworth, “A Young Girl’s Recollections of Edgar Allan Poe” undated manuscript)
Poe lived in the cottage with his wife Virginia Clemm Poe, his mother-in-law Maria Clemm, his cat, and some pet birds. After Poe’s death on October 7, 1849, Maria Clemm moved from the cottage to live with friends who could care for her in her final years. (She would actually live another twenty-two years.)
I recently visited The Bronx and the small cottage Poe rented there (now maintained by the Bronx County Historical Scoiety). Although the house is now in an urban environment, it is still possible to imagine how it must have appeared in Poe’s day when it was surrounded by rolling hills and cherry trees. Once inside the house, a guest can see furniture of the kind that Poe and his small family would have used. In fact, they still have Virginia Poe’s bed and Edgar Poe’s rocking chair. After reading the accounts of Poe’s final days in that cottage, walking those halls and seeing the artifacts about which I’d read really brought history to life. The pictures below show some of what the cottage has to offer.
Above is a photo of Poe’s rocking chair.
Here is the bed in which Poe’s wife died. There are descriptions of her lying here, covered with her husband’s West Point great coat with her cat sleeping on her check to keep her warm.
The mirror in Virginia Poe’s bedroom is a replica of her mirror, which is now on display at the Poe Museum in Richmond. The elbow in the reflection belongs to my guide, museum educator Angel Hernandez.
A source recounts that “beside the narrow staircase leading to the upper rooms stood a large tube-rose plant, which sent its fragrance all over the house.” (Letchworth)
A description of this room by one of Poe’s guests: “The sitting-room floor was laid with check matting; four chairs, a light stand, and a hanging bookshelf completed its furniture. There were pretty presentation copies of books on the little shelves, and the Brownings had posts of honour on the stand. With quiet exultation Poe drew from his side pocket a letter that he had recently received from Elizabeth Barrett Browning. He read it to us. It was very flattering. She told Poe that his ‘poem of the Raven had awakened a fit of horror in England.’ This was what he loved to do. To make the flesh creep, to make one shudder and freeze with horror, was more to his relish (I cannot say more to his mind or heart) than to touch the tenderest chords of sympathy or sadness…”
(Mrs. Mary Gove Nichols, “Reminiscences of Edgar Poe,” Sixpenny Magazine, February 1, 1863)
Poe’s bedroom is now the orientation room in which visitors can watch a video about Poe’s time in the cottage. This description provides a young girl’s perspective on seeing the poet’s bedroom: “On one of our visits to Fordham I was allowed to accept Mrs Clemm’s invitation to spend the night. I felt very proud as my hostess took me over the little house and showed me the exquisitely neat bed-rooms. There was ‘Eddy’s room,’ and I wondered at the snowy pillows piled high for the poet’s head. ‘Eddy cannot sleep if his head lies low,’ said Mrs Clemm, and I thought how uncomfortable high his head must be, like sitting up in bed.
(Elma Mary Gove Letchworth, “A Young Girl’s Recollections of Edgar Allan Poe” undated manuscript)
This is the kitchen in which Poe’s mother-in-law Maria Clemm prepared the family’s meals. Mary Gove Nichols recounted of this room, “The floor of the kitchen was white as wheaten flour. A table, a chair, and a little stove that it contained, seemed to furnish it perfectly.” Click here to see the soup ladle Mrs. Clemm used at the cottage.
This bronze bust of Poe by Edmund T. Quinn was unveiled on January 19, 1909, the centennial of Poe’s birth. Though it was once displayed outdoors, the bust is now exhibited inside the cottage. In 1930, the Bronx Society of Arts and Sciences gave a plaster copy of this bust to the Poe Museum in Richmond. (You can even purchase a copy from our gift shop.)
Although Poe experienced the tragic death of his wife while living in this cottage, he also composed some of his greatest works, including “The Bells,” “Annabel Lee,” and “Eureka.” Over 163 years after Poe left the cottage, it still evokes the feeling expressed by one of Poe’s guest Mrs. Nichols: “The cottage had an air of taste and gentility that must have been lent to it by the presence of its inmates. So neat, so poor, so unfurnished, and yet so charming a dwelling I never saw.”
Learn more about the Poe cottage by visiting this website.
To see some of the pieces the family owned while living there, you can also visit the Poe Museum in Richmond, where you can see Virginia Poe’s mirror, Virginia’s trinket box, the family’s soup ladle, Maria Clemm’s clothing, and Edgar Poe’s clothing, boot hooks, trunk, and walking stick.
Ancient Egypt has long been of great fascination to the world, capturing the imaginations of everyone from the Greeks who conquered Egypt in 332 BC, all the way to people of our own time. Much of the ancient civilization’s culture is preserved in the monumental temples and pyramids, the cryptic hieroglyphics, and of course in the elaborate burials and mummifications that became the hallmark of Egypt. While the interest in Ancient Egypt continues on, it was perhaps at its most fervent in the Victorian era. Discoveries such as the Rosetta Stone by the French in 1799 made it possible for scholars to finally translate the hieroglyphics that had stumped them for centuries, and created an intense interest in this formerly mysterious culture.
It was with Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt and the discovery of the Rosetta Stone that the discipline of Egyptology was born. The publication of the essay Description de l’Égypte (1809-1829) officially made the study an academic discipline. Soon, historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists alike flocked to Egypt to excavate the tombs and study what was inscribed on the walls of its temples and other landmarks. Many of these excavations yielded crypts of pharaohs richly adorned with gold, jewels, and mummies, many of which were taken back to Europe to be put on display in museums. The people of the Victorian age came in droves to see these mummies, which both delighted and terrified them. There were even mummy unwrapping parties, which guests could attend and watch as the linen wrappings were peeled back to reveal the embalmed body inside. When Poe was fourteen, there was even a mummy on public display in the Senate Chamber of the Capitol in Richmond.
An Invitation to a Mummy Unwrapping Party
Poe wrote a satirical critique of this fascination with mummies entitled “Some Words With a Mummy” (published in 1845). The story is a commentary on the treatment of the artifacts of Ancient Egypt, particularly the mummies. Once back in Europe, many mummies were damaged or destroyed in the name of science by dissections and examinations, and others were stolen from their tombs by grave robbers to be ground into a powder which was thought to have medicinal properties. Poe’s mummy, Allamistakeo, admonishes his examiners on their treatment of him, showing the author’s view on the Egypt Mania and the disrespect of the tombs that had overtaken the Victorian era.
At the same time as the publication of “Some Words With a Mummy”, the Egyptian Building was being constructed to house the Medical College of Virginia here in Richmond. Designed by architect Thomas W. Stewart, the building is in the Egyptian Revival style and brings to mind the colossal temples that dot the Nile Valley. The choice to make the building very Egyptian in appearance may coincide with the Egypt Mania of the time, or perhaps ally the medical campus with Imhotep, the Egyptian priest who is thought to have been the first physician. The building became a national landmark in 1969, and is a treasured part of the MCV campus today. It has been in continual use since 1845, and houses an auditorium and classrooms.
The MCV Egyptian Building
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.