Think Poe was morbid because he wrote so often about death in poems like “Annabel Lee,” “The Raven,” and “Lenore?” Such poems about death and mourning were actually fairly common in the nineteenth century. With high infant mortality rates and the inability to combat diseases like tuberculosis (which claimed Poe’s mother, foster mother, brother, and wife), death was very much a part of everyday life. One in four children in Poe’s time died in infancy, and many women died in childbirth. Consequently, almost everyone knew someone who had died young. In this light, Poe’s poems about the deaths of loved ones seem less the reflections of a morbid imagination than common experiences shared by many of his contemporaries.
From October 6 until November 30, 2011, the Poe Museum will honor the anniversary of Poe’s Death (October 7, 1849) with an exhibit devoted to the elaborate mourning rituals people of Poe’s era followed after the death of a loved one. The exhibit “Death and Mourning in the Age of Poe” features dozens of unique artifacts, including post mortem photographs, a post mortem portrait, a tear catcher, mourning jewelry, mourning stationery and mourning art from the private collection of Mary Brett, author of Fashionable Mourning Jewelry, Clothing, and Customs. The exhibit will show how Poe’s feelings about death and grief, expressed in his poetry, were typical for his time. The exhibit will complement related items in the Poe Museum’s permanent collection, including a lock of hair taken from Poe’s head after his death and a reproduction of a post mortem portrait of Poe’s wife.
The exhibit will open from 6-9 P.M. on October 6 during the Poe Museum’s annual observance of the anniversary of Poe’s death. During the opening, visitors can listen to the authors of the new horror anthology Richmond Macabre read from their work, listen to DJ Sean Lovelace play creepy music on a theremin, explore the Poe Museum’s permanent exhibits, or see the new temporary exhibit The Raven, Terror & Death. Admission to the exhibit opening and Poe Memorial Service are free.