May’s Unhappy Hour was graced by the presence of Poe’s mother,Eliza Poe (as portrayed by Debbie Phillips). Mrs. Poe met and mingled with visitors to the Unhappy Hour event and regaled her audience with stories of her life as an actress in the early 1800s. She even favored us with a few songs that she made famous in her day.
Elizabeth “Eliza” Arnold Hopkins Poe was born in England in 1787 into a family of actors. By 1796, her father had died, so she and her mother Elizabeth Arnold journeyed to America. Eliza made her acting debut on the Boston stage at the age of nine and was a working actress until her death in 1811. She was a talented comedienne, singer and dancer and described as having a “sweetly melodious voice” in reviews. She played at least 200 different roles during her lifetime. She married David Poe, Jr. in 1806. Mr. Poe tried his hand at acting as well, but was not anywhere near as beloved a stage presence as his wife. This may have proved to be a source of friction in their marriage and Poe appears to have abandoned Eliza and their three small children (William Henry Leonard Poe, born in January 1807; Edgar Poe born January 19, 1809; and Rosalie Poe, born in December 1810) sometime in the first half of 1811. By October of 1811, Eliza was showing signs of tuberculosis and had to stop performing and she died on the 8th of December 1811. She is buried in the churchyard at St. John’s Church here in Richmond (five blocks east of the Poe Museum).
Though he was very small at the time of her death, Eliza seems to have been a big influence on her son Edgar. She was, in fact, the first of the important women in Poe’s life to die young. Poe stated that the “death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world, ” and this is certainly a theme that crops up frequently in his work.
The Poe Museum was fortunate to have Eliza Poe portrayed so ably by living history actress, Debbie Phillips from Richmond Discoveries. We were also fortunate to have wonderful music provided by local flautists, Stacie Snyder and Linda Simmons.
Lots more photos of the evening’s events can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rigbymel/sets/72157626694842209/.
You can share your own photos from Unhappy Hour or your visit to the Poe Museum on the museum’s flickr photo sharing group – http://www.flickr.com/groups/poemuseum.
Our next Unhappy Hour will take place on June 23rd and will feature Poe’s story “The Pit & The Pendulum”, even in the 21st century, it is never too late to fear the Spanish Inquisition. (Besides, nobody expects the Spanish Inqusition!)