Museum News


Halloween Weekend at the Poe Museum


Here are some photos taken during Halloween Weekend at the Poe Museum.

Victoria and Raven Price

Victoria Price signing books

Vincent Price Signature Wine Collection




Get the Latest Poe Museum News


Find out about Poe to Go, the Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers’ Conference, and the 2015 Unhappy Hour Season and more Poe Museum news in the Fall 2014/Winter 2015 of the Museum’s newsletter Evermore. Click here to read more.



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Poe Museum’s New Exhibit is Mesmerizing


The Facts behind “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”

Now showing until December 31 at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond is an intriguing exhibit devoted to Poe’s short story “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” a tale of the power of mesmerism to suspend the process of death. Made possible by a loan of items from the collection of James Vacca, Mesmerized: The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar explores the popularity of mesmerism in Poe’s time and belief among his contemporaries that this gruesome story might be true.

Mesmerism in the Nineteenth Century

Mesmerism, originally called animal magnetism, was developed by German physician and astronomer Franz Anton Mesmer (1734 – 1815) who theorized that a natural energetic transference occurred between all living creatures. Though he failed to receive scientific recognition for his theories, Mesmer believed this force could have healing properties.

Mesmer

While experiments in mesmerism abounded from 1780 until 1850, many quack mesmerists staged performances and published sensationalized accounts of their powers. By Poe’s time, in the 1840s, some practitioners even believed that mesmerized people could demonstrate clairvoyant abilities. The November 18, 1843 issue of the New York Brother Johnathon carried the following notice:

ANIMAL MAGNETISM! — A series of experiments are now going forward in different parts of this Country, with different subjects, by different magnetisers — wholly ignorant of what others are doing — and by people who have not direct communication with one another; all of which go to prove that the Moon is inhabited — that the people have a written language — and make war. The most miraculous coincidences have happened. We are quite serious.

Poe and Mesmerism

“The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” was Poe’s third tale on the subject of mesmerism. “A Tales of the Ragged Mountains” (1844) and “Mesmeric Revelation” (1844) also dealt with the theme. The latter would be the first of Poe’s tales translated into French by the poet and critic Charles Baudelaire. The French Romantic painter Eugene Delacroix declared the story “a bizarre and profound piece of writing which throws you into a state of contemplation.”

In addition to his fictionalized accounts of the controversial pseudoscience, Poe also wrote reviews of other authors’ books on the subject. In the April 5, 1845 issue of the Broadway Journal, Poe called Chauncey Hare Townshend’s book Facts in Mesmerism (London, 1840) “one of the most truly profound and philosophical works of the day — a work to be valued properly only in a day to come.” How seriously Poe actually regarded mesmerism is debatable. In some works, he poked fun at the mesmerist Andrew Jackson Davis, who gave a number of public demonstrations in New York while Poe was living there.

Davis

Poe’s writings about mesmerism caused some of his contemporaries to believe he had special knowledge of the subject. Mary Hill Hewitt wrote in an 1846 letter to Poe’s future fiancée Sarah Helen Whitman, “People seem to think there is something uncanny about him, and the strangest stories are told, what is more, believed, about his mesmeric experiences, at the mention of which he always smiles.”

Poe’s Hoaxes

“The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” was not Poe’s first hoax. In 1838, he published The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, an account of a trip to Antarctica, thought to be true by English readers. Six years later, in 1844, he convinced New Yorkers that scientists had successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a hot air steering balloon in a story now known as “The Balloon Hoax.”

The Balloon Hoax

Also dealing with the theme of mesmerism, Poe’s story “Mesmeric Revelation” was so realistic it was reprinted in the November 29, 1845 issue of the London Popular Record of Modern Science.

The Public’s Response

“The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” was rejected by at least one magazine before the American Review printed it in its December 1845 issue. Within months, the story was reprinted in The Broadway Journal (New York), Spirit of the Times (Philadelphia), Sunday Times (London), the Morning Post (London), the Popular Record of Modern Science (London), and the Boston Museum. The following year it was published as a pamphlet in London. Although many readers believed “Valdemar” to be a true story, the editor of the New York Herald wrote, “whoever thought it a veracious recital must have the bump of Faith large, very large indeed.”

To this, Poe answered in the Broadway Journal,

For our parts we find it difficult to understand how any dispassionate transcendentalist can doubt the facts as we state them; they are by no means so incredible as the marvels which are hourly narrated, and believed, on the topic of Mesmerism. Why cannot a man’s death be postponed indefinitely by Mesmerism? Why cannot a man talk after he is dead? Why? — Why? — that is the question; and as soon as the Tribune has answered it to our satisfaction we will talk to it farther.

Poe’s statement cannot, however, be taken entirely seriously since he frequently ridiculed the Transcendentalists. When asked by a London pharmacist if “Valdemar” was true, Poe responded, “‘Hoax’ is precisely the word suited to M. Valdemar’s case . . . The article . . . is now circulating in France. Some few persons believe it — but I do not — and don’t you.”

Poe was so amused by the receipt of a letter from a believer in the story’s veracity that he printed it in the Broadway Journal:

Collection of James Vacca

The story’s popularity was such that he reprinted it in the Broadway Journal, adding the following note:

In London, the story was reprinted as a true account of the powers of mesmerism, and the London publisher Short and Little issued it as a pamphlet, Mesmerism in Articulo Mortis in 1846.

Collection of James Vacca

Collection of James Vacca

At least one British poet was not a fan of “Valdemar,” Elizabeth Barrett (the future Elizabeth Barrett Browning) sent Robert Browning a copy of the story and wrote:

I send you besides a most frightful extract from an American magazine sent to me yesterday…no, the day before…on the subject of mesmerism—& you are to understand, if you please, that the Mr. Edgar Poe who stands committed in it, is my dedicator…whose dedication I forgot, by the way, with the rest—so, while I am sending, you shall have his poems with his mesmeric experience & decide whether the outrageous compliment to me EBB or the experiment on M. Vandeleur [sic] goes furthest to prove him mad.

Valdemar’s Legacy

Collection of James Vacca

Thanks in part to Poe’s story, the Spiritualist movement associated mesmerism with communication with the dead and used it for that purpose. One of Poe’s fiancées, Sarah Helen Whitman, was a devout Spiritualist who held séances while in a mesmeric trance.

Whitman

Over time, popularity of both Spiritualism and mesmerism declined. The meaning of the word mesmerism has also evolved. In 1843, the Scottish physician James Braid proposed the term hypnosis, which is now the usual meaning of word mesmerism.

Poe’s use of realistic and scientifically based details made “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” an early and influential example of modern science fiction. The story’s gruesome conclusion in which the mesmerized patient suddenly “rots” into “a nearly liquid mass of loathsome — of detestable putridity” has been an inspiration to modern horror writers concerned with shock and gore. Since Poe’s time, the story has been reprinted countless times and translated into several languages. It has been adapted to comics and movies, most notably the 1963 Roger Corman film Tales of Terror starring Vincent Price and the 2002 black comedy The Mesmerist starring Neil Patrick Harris.

Vincent Price as Valdemar

Mesmerized: The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar will be on display on the first floor gallery of the Poe Museum’s Exhibits Building until December 31, 2014. On display on the second floor galleries of the Exhibits Building are The Halloween Gang Presents: The Black Cat (until December 31) and The Raven Room. The Poe Museum’s other three buildings contain permanent exhibits of the Museum’s renowned collection of Edgar Allan Poe personal belongings and memorabilia.




Poe’s Final Mystery Remains Unsolved


Coffin placed in the Poe Shrine, Richmond on the anniversary of Poe's funeral

Edgar Allan Poe is so famous he shows up almost everywhere. Whether it’s a Beatles album cover, an episode of South Park, or on the side of Raven Beer bottle; his face is so familiar, many people likely think they know him. Especially around this time of year, students across the country are learning about Poe’s life and work. So how is it that we still know so little about someone this famous? Maybe it began with his death.

This October 7 marked the 165th anniversary of the death of Edgar Allan Poe. After all these years scholars are still debating what caused his untimely demise at the age of forty. In fact, there are dozens of published theories, and the number continues to grow. Why the mystery? In today’s age of modern medicine, it is difficult to understand how little doctors in Poe’s time knew about internal medicine. Many diseases that medicine has since controlled were still unidentified or misunderstood. Poe died in Washington College Hospital where his attending physician John Moran paid close attention to the author’s condition, but Poe still died after four days in his care. According to the below record of 1849 Baltimore deaths, Poe’s cause of death is listed as “Phrenitis.” On this list, the date, name, and age are correct, but Poe’s occupation is incorrectly listed as “Physician” by whoever transcribed the information. (We are grateful to Sabrina Ricketts for finding and providing the Poe Museum a scan of this document.)

Phrenitis is an archaic medical term that means inflammation of the brain. The term was later replaced with the word delirium, and the symptoms are now most commonly associated with meningitis or encephalitis. The cause of these conditions may be attributable to a variety of different viral and bacterial sources. This means scholars are still not much closer to unraveling the mystery of Poe’s death.

Knowing what happened to Poe in the days immediately preceding his admission to the hospital might help determine the cause of his condition, but that information is also missing. We know that Poe had survived a bout of cholera in the summer of 1849 and that he was ill during his time in Richmond between July and September. On September 26, he visited his fiancée Elmira Shelton who later recalled, “He was very sad, and complained of being quite sick; I felt his pulse, and found he had considerable fever, and did not think it probable that he would be able to start the next morning, (Thursday) as he anticipated.”

Poe left Richmond on the morning of September 27 on a trip to Philadelphia, but his whereabouts are unknown until he was found in a Baltimore polling place on October 3. He was already very ill and was asked if he knew anyone who could help him, so he called for magazine editor Joseph Snodgrass.

Poe was delirious and unable to tell what had happened to him or why he seemed to be dressed in someone else’s clothes. That’s right–he appeared to be dressed in ill-fitting clothes that looked nothing like his usual mode of dress, so some people speculated he may have been beaten and robbed of his clothing. When he entered the bar-room of the tavern in which the voting was taking place, Snodgrass recounted he “instantly recognized the face of one whom I had often seen and knew well, although it wore an aspect of vacant stupidity which made me shudder…But perhaps I would not have so readily recognized him had I not been notified of his apparel. His hat — or rather the hat of somebody else, for he had evidently been robbed of his clothing, or cheated in exchange — was a cheap palm leaf one, without a band, and soiled; his coat, of commonest alpaca, and evidently “second hand”; and his pants of gray-mixed cassimere, dingy and badly fitting. He wore neither vest nor neckcloth, if I remember aright, while his shirt was badly crumpled and soiled. He was so utterly stupefied with liquor that I thought it best not to seek recognition or conversation…So insensible was he, that we had to carry him to the carriage as if a corpse. The muscles of articulation seemed paralyzed to speechlessness, and mere incoherent mutterings were all that were heard.”

After Poe’s death, Snodgrass clipped the small lock of Poe’s hair now in the collection of the Poe Museum. Snodgrass also wrote lectures and articles about Poe’s death to promote his agenda to ban alcohol in America.

At the same time, Poe’s attending physician wrote articles and a book contradicting Snodgrass’s account. If Snodgrass’s retellings were distorted in order to portray Poe as a hopeless drunk, Moran’s were skewed in order to show the poet as a perfect saint.

Both versions grew more colorful with each retelling. As just one example, we can cite Moran’s recollection of Poe’s last words. In a November 1849 letter, Moran said they were “Lord, help my poor soul.” In an 1875 article, Moran said they were “Self-murderer, there is a gulf beyond the stream Where is the buoy, lifeboat, ship of fire, sea of brass. Test, shore no more!” In his 1885 book, A Defense of Edgar Allan Poe, Moran recorded them as, “He who arched the heavens and upholds the universe, has His decrees legibly written upon the frontlet of every human being, and upon demons incarnate.”

If these accounts did not do enough to spread confusion about Poe’s death, Poe’s rival Rufus Griswold attempted to defame Poe’s character in a scathing obituary and memoir of the author. Griswold’s obituary begins, “…This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it.” His memoir of Poe became the first widely distributed biography of Poe but was so riddled with distortions and fabrications that some of those who had known Poe felt the need to come to the poet’s defense. Among these were John Moran and Poe’s fiancée Sarah Helen Whitman.

We will probably never know the exact cause of Poe’s death, but scholars will continue to try to solve Poe’s last mystery. If you would like to propose your own theory, you can read more about Poe’s death and submit your ideas here.




Poe as a Popularizer of Nineteenth-Century Sceince


Sir Isaac Newton Working on Geometric Problem – 1795 Ink and Water Color by William Blake (Public Domain Image from www.blake.archive)

Poe as a Popularizer of Nineteenth-Century Science

Several important modern-day science historians have conceded that their present understanding of how Industrial Age technologies affected society is limited, and some have started to focus their research on this period. Bernard Lightman argues “Scholars have barely scratched the surface in their attempts to understand the popularization of Victorian [nineteenth century] science” (206). He writes, “As scientists became professionalized [during the nineteenth century] and professional scientists began to pursue specialized research highly, the need arose for non-professionals, who could convey the broader significance of many new discoveries to a rapidly growing…reading public” (187). He proposes that the nineteenth century “popularizers of science” may have been more important than that of Huxley or the Tyndall [important nineteenth-century scientists] in shaping the understanding [of science] in the minds of the reading public…” (188).

During this period, there was a need for a new class of writers who could write about emerging scientific information in a way the new consumers of science information could understand, and in ways that was relevant to their daily experiences. The newly emerging class of professional scientists in the United was neither equipped nor interested in communicating with the public. Lightman refers to those writers who did attempt to communicate to the public about science as the “popularizers of science,” and suggests that “Their success… was partially due to their ability to present the huge mass of scientific fact in the form of compelling stories…” (188). Therefore, he suggests that it is essential for our present understanding of nineteenth-century culture to explore writers like Edgar Allan Poe, who skillfully and prolifically commented on many of the important popular scientific trends of his lifetime. John Tresch asserts, “Poe’s writings force us to reconsider the relationship between science and literature” (The British Journal of Science, 275-276). Also, in Between Science and Literature, Peter Swirski argues that Poe’s “writing may be a suitable barometer of the role that science and philosophy had on nineteenth-century society… and that he threw “literary bridges over to the scientific mainland,” These bridges, he concludes, were just as important in helping is to understand how scientific changes influenced society as they are in helping us to understand how literature started to change to reflect scientific developments (X-XI). John Limon, writing in The Place of Fiction in the Time of Science writes that Poe engaged in literary “negotiation with science,” asserting that his works both foreshadowed and critiqued several emerging scientific developments and trends of the future (19). Faytor also argues “there was a two-way traffic between science and science-writers in the nineteenth century. He notes that many of the inventions and writings of professional scientists helped to shape science fiction and that many ideas imagined by science fiction writers found their way into actual scientific inventions. (256). Most scholars acknowledge that Poe was one of the most important leaders in developing both the genres of science fiction and detective fiction. His works in those areas provide abundant examples that he anticipated and forecasted future developments which are accepted today in a variety of technical areas such as exploration of the Poles, astronomy, physics, space travel, photography, electronic communications, replacement of body parts, and the forensic sciences.

During Poe’s lifetime, lay writers or those without “letters” who were interested in writing about science struggled with professional scientists to establish their authority to speak about the newly emerging scientific issues. Poe had not received much formal training as a scientist but had considerable exposure to science ideas in his early education, in his technical experiences in the military, and through his exposure to science news stories as a journalist. He believed that an observant and skilled writer (like himself) was more qualified to interpret and discuss the meaning and impact of the newly emerging sciences and technologies than most professional scientists.

Poe looked not only to the events of his era to inform his view of truth in his science writing, but he was also inspired and informed by several of the most renown philosophers and science writers of antiquity. In his 1848 culminating science narrative, Eureka A Prose Poem, he outlined the development of scientific thinking from antiquity through his era, and provided his own unique theories about the creation, operations, and destiny of humanity and the Universe. A list of the ancient writers of science and the philosophy of science he commented on in Eureka includes Archimedes, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Kepler, Francis Bacon, and Sir Isaac Newton. Also in Eureka, he discussed the works of philosophers and scientists closer to Poe’s lifetime such as Auguste Comte, Sir John Herschel, John Stuart Mill, Pierre Simon Laplace, and Friedrich Heinrich Humboldt – to whom Poe dedicated Eureka. Several contextual influences in the areas of literature and technology likely influenced Poe’s subsequent choice to embark on a career that emphasized science narrative writing. These will be discussed in the November 2014 posting. For comments, contact [email protected] or [email protected]

Sources:
Faytor, Paul. “Strange New Worlds of Space and Time: Late Victorian Science and Science Fiction.” Victorian Science in Context. Ed. Barnard A. Lightman. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1997.
Limon, John. The Place of Fiction in the Time of Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Lightman, Bernard. Victorian Science in Context. Ed. University of Chicago Press, 1997.
Swirski, Peter. Between Literature and Science: Poe, Lem, and Explorations in Aesthetics, Cognitive Science, and Literary Knowledge. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2000.
Tresch, John. “The Potent Magic of Verisimilitude: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mechanical Age.” The British Journal of Science 3.3 (1997): 275-90. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.
_______. The Romantic Machine. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012.
Sir Isaac Newton Working on Geometric Problem




Did Poe Really Say That?


There are many popular Poe quotes circulating the Internet, quotes that are even printed on merchandise. Unfortunately, a majority of Poe quotes are falsely attributed to the literary genius. Some quotes are so bad Poe would be rolling in his grave! Take a look at our list and see which quotes you recognize as being falsely attributed to Poe.

1) “I wish I could write as mysterious as a cat.” This is, frustratingly, one of the most misattributed quotes. If you look at the context, the grammar, the style of the quote, it most definitely is not “Poe-esque.”

2) “Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear.” This quote is a Poe quote, just not as he stated it. Found in his short story “The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether,” in the November 1845 issue of Graham’s Magazine, the statement is,  “Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see.” It is surprising the quote needed to be simplified to the form it is in today, when it was already quite simple to begin with. One definitely should pay attention to what Poe is saying. And it is probably best when reading supposed “Poe” quotes, to believe only half of what you see.

3) “Sometimes I’m terrified of my heart; of its constant hunger for whatever it is it wants. The way it stops and starts.” This came from a song written by the singer Poe. Confusing, yes; however, they are two distinctly different people. You can hear the song here.

4) “Sleep, those little slices of death—how I loathe them.” I have not been able to trace the origin of this quote, however the quote was attributed to Poe in Nightmare On Elm Street III. Another resource, the World of Poe, suggests it may have been derived from a line from the 1959 film, “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” which states, “I don’t sleep. I hate those little slices of death.” Regardless of where it came from, this most definitely is not a Poe quote.

5) “All religion, my friend, is simply evolved out of fraud, fear, greed, imagination, and poetry.” According to the World of Poe, this quote derived from a Poe biographer, John Alexander Joyce, who also came up with such fallacies as “The Raven” being a copied work of an 1809 poem, “The Parrot.”

6) “The best things in life make you sweaty.” I found this little gem on Goodreads, while scanning through the list of misattributed quotes. I am not sure what to say about this, except that it quite obviously is not a Poe statement. You can see an article regarding why this isn’t here.

7) “I do not suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it.” After heavy research, I sourced this quote to a few books—first making its debut in 1996.  This quote is often attributed to Poe, however I could only source this quote to the following books:
Leon Schuster’s Lekker, Thick South African Joke Book
He’s gonna toot and I’m gonna scoot: waiting for Gabriel’s horn
Uncle John’s Big Great Big Bathroom Reader
Crackers for Your Soup!
Roots
OnTheInternet
Toward Healthy Living: A Wellness Journal
More Modems for Dummies
Forbes

There is no evidence of its appearing before the later half of the twentieth century.

8 ) “The past is a pebble in my shoe.” According to the World of Poe blog, this quote derives from one of the singer Poe’s songs, “Today.”

9) “I remained too much inside my head and ended up losing my mind.” There is not sufficient evidence to say Poe did not say this, however there is not sufficient evidence to say he did.

10) For some reason, the words in the “Come Little Children” song from Hocus Pocus have been attributed to Poe. The words do not match his style, and the lyrics are simplistic compared to his writing. The lyrics were written for the 1993 Halloween film, Hocus Pocus, by Brock Walsh, with James Horner composing the music. Sarah Jessica Parker, a star of the film, only wishes she were singing Poe’s words!

11) “If you run out of ideas follow the road; you’ll get there.” A search for this only brought me to Goodreads and Flickr. Either it is not well sourced, or he did not say it. Hint: He did not say it.

12) “Fill with mingled cream and amber,
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chamber of my brain —
Quaintest thoughts — queerest fancies
Come to life and fade away;
What care I how time advances?
I am drinking ale today.”

Although this poem, “Lines on Ale,” has been attributed to Poe for a long, long while, recently it has been debated whether it actually is his or not. You can follow this link for the controversy.

13) “No one should brave the underworld alone.” This line is from the singer Poe’s song, “Hello.”

14) “Every poem should remind the reader they are going to die.” I found this quote on Goodreads, which is the only website/source where I have been able to properly find it. I am going to have a hunch and say Poe did not make this statement.

15) “Art is to look at not criticize.” The only place I have found this quote is in online links back to Goodreads. I am going to guess this, like the former, is not a Poe quote.

16) “If you are ever drowned or hung, be sure and make a note of your sensations.” Once again, while Goodreads proves to be a fantastic source of information regarding book titles, suggestions, and endless lists of quotes, sometimes quotes such as this one slip past the editors and are falsely attributed. Edit: According to an outside source, this is a paraphrased quote of, “Should you ever be drowned or hung, be sure and make a note of your sensations — they will be worth to you ten guineas a sheet,” as seen in Poe’s “How to Write a Blackwood Article.”

17) “The idea of God, infinity, or spirit stands for the possible attempt at an impossible conception.” According to the World of Poe, this is a paraphrased quote from a passage out of Poe’s “Eureka.” Better watch out for those paraphrases.

18) “The pioneers and missionaries of religion have been the real cause of more trouble and war than all other classes of mankind.” According to World of Poe, this is another fabricated quote attributed to Poe by John Alexander Joyce.

21) “I don’t believe in ghosts but they have been chasing me my whole life.” This was only sourced back to a Wikipedia article, which even questioned the authenticity of it.

22) “If a poem hasn’t ripped apart your soul, you haven’t experienced poetry.” Just because it appears on popular media sites like Tumblr and Pinterest doesn’t mean it is an authentic quote. I am firmly putting my foot down when I say Poe did not say this.

And there you have it. By the way, while we’re at it, “Allan” is not spelled with an “e.”

After reading through these, which falsely attributed Poe quote is your favorite? Which correctly attributed Poe quote is your favorite? Personally, my favorite Poe quote is, “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all,” from Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.”

If you have any questions whether a quote is truly a Poe quote, feel free to comment and I will try my best to prove, correct or debunk it.




The Other Poe


Rosalie Mackenzie Poe, née Rosalie Poe, was the estranged sister of Edgar Allan Poe. Rosalie, born approximately December 1810 in Norfolk, Virginia, was the last of Elizabeth Arnold Poe’s children (Mabbott 520). There is debate who her father is, because David Poe, Eliza’s husband, had abandoned the family around the time Rosalie would have been conceived. There is speculation that John Howard Payne, a prominent fellow actor of the time, was Rosalie’s father; however these rumors remain as such—merely rumors. There is evidence that Eliza and Payne were both acting on the same stage around this time (Bloomfield). There is even compromising evidence which fell into the hands of John Allan, Edgar Poe’s “foster” father, who then wrote to Henry Poe, Edgar and Rosalie’s older brother, in a November 1824 letter explaining Rosalie only being a half sister to the Poe brothers:

God may yet bless him [i.e. young Edgar] & you & that Success may crown all your endeavors & between you your poor Sister Rosalie may not suffer. At least She is half your Sister & God forbid my dear Henry that We should visit upon the living the Errors & frailties of the dead (Velella).

It is also speculated Joseph Gallego of Richmond was Rosalie’s father, or at least had a deep connection with her, as he bequeathed her $2000 in his will, the remaining $8000 going to the Mackenzie family (World of Poe).

John Hamilton Mackenzie

After Eliza Poe’s death in 1811, the Poe children were separated and Rosalie was taken into the care of William Mackenzie and his wife of Richmond. She was not formally adopted, and it is speculated whether the family accepted her warmly or treated her poorly. Growing up, Rosalie was described as being degenerative, dull, backwards, and never progressing beyond the developmental age of twelve:

Edgar developed into a brilliant youth, as much noted for physical beauty, strength and activity, as for intellect and genius. Rosalie, as though some mysterious blight had fallen upon her, gradually drooped and faded into a languid, dull and uninteresting girlhood — apathetic in disposition and weak in body and mind…Her figure, naturally delicate and well-formed, drooped as lacking strength for its own support, her hands generally hanging listlessly at her side. Her eyes, dark gray, like those wonderful spiritual ones of her brother, were weak, dull and expressive only of utter vacuity. She was accustomed to sit for long intervals gazing upon vacancy, and when aroused, would answer to an inquiry: ‘ I wasn’t thinking at all; I was asleep with my eyes open.’…She looked indeed as she often said that she felt, “but half alive…” (Weiss).

A much younger looking Rosalie Poe. Previously shown at the Poe House in Baltimore, MD.

She, despite these reported developmental hindrances, earned a living by teaching writing for nine years (Sova). It should be noted that the Poe children’s nurse, at the time of Eliza’s failing health, explained she would dip bread soaked in gin and give it to the children, as well as occasionally give them other liquors. Although this was not uncommon at the time, because alcohol was used as a method for quieting upset children, it may explain Rosalie’s stunted developmental process and intellectual growth. It is rumored that Laudanum also was given to the young children (Weiss).

As the youngest sibling of the three Poe children, Rosalie looked up to her older brother Edgar, greatly admiring him and often boasting about his works and his talent, despite the two not being close. she attended her brother’s readings and lectures, and it is said she was disruptive and even sat upon his lap while he gave a reading of “The Raven”:

Once, when he was reciting ‘The Raven’ by popular demand at a gathering, Rosalie came up and sat on his lap at a point in the poem that pretty much equated her presence there with the birds above the ‘chamber door.’ The guests loved it. Poe was tolerant and quipped that he’d take her along next time to act out the part of the raven (Bloomfield).

According to Thomas Ollive Mabbott in Complete Poems, allegedly she dressed in an unfashionable manner and embarrassed the older Poe (521). If there were any similarities between the two, it was their shared fondness of flowers (Weiss).

John Hamilton Mackenzie in his older years.

After the Civil War and her brother Edgar’s death, the effects were devastating on the Mackenzie family and caused them to split, leaving Rosalie to fend for herself. Rosalie’s “foster” mother had passed in 1865, and John Hamilton Mackenzie, Rosalie’s “foster” brother, had lost Rosalie’s $2000 inheritance (Semtner 112). In the last years of her life, Rosalie wandered the streets and often forged her brother’s signature for autographs which she attempted to sell. She also attempted to sell furniture, claiming the pieces were “Poe artifacts” (World of Poe). Rosalie thrived solely on the charity of others, having been rejected by her cousin Neilson in Baltimore (Weiss). She had been unable to provide the money required to take out letters of administration to receive her brother Edgar’s inheritance, so she did not received what was supposed to be left to her (Mabbott 571). She was admitted to Epiphany Church Home in Washington D.C. and died there July 21st, 1874; she was 68. It is said she died due to inflammation of the stomach (World of Poe). It is also speculated she passed from “debility,” or physical weakness (Mabbott 520). Something notable about her death is that her tombstone marks her year of birth as 1812, one year after her mother’s death (World of Poe). This date was allegedly taken from the date of her christening, which would imply she was christened in 1812 (Mabbott 520).

Rosalie Poe

The tragic story of Rosalie Poe is one to note when embarking on Poe studies. It must be mentioned she once stated the following in regard to writing, “I often feel as if I could write poetry. I have it all in my head, but somehow can’t get it clear enough to write down” (Weiss). There is certainly a possibility Rosalie might have been a successful writer, much like her brother Edgar, and certainly like their older brother Henry who, too, possessed the creative talent. Had she been given greater fortune in life, Rosalie’s strange, sad, and upsetting story may have turned out differently. It seems, however, each Poe child was touched with the curse of poverty and despair.

You can view historical objects and artifacts pertaining to Rosalie Poe and the Mackenzie family at the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, as well as in the Manuscripts Collection: Edgar Allan Poe collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

The Duncan Lodge

Home of William Mackenzie




Holidays in Poe’s Day


Enjoying lots of delicious food, gift giving and getting, sleeping late, and catching up with family and friends is pretty much traditional fare for our 21st century holiday celebrations. We hope you are enjoying your holidays wherever you are, and whatever your traditions.

But what was this time of year like in Poe’s time? We get asked that a lot, so our staff got busy researching and found some choice tidbits. For starters, his mother Elizabeth Arnold Poe was originally from England, so she might have introduced the young family to traditions from her own English Christmas traditions. We know from primary sources that Poe’s foster parents, John and Frances Allan enjoyed visiting friends at the holiday. In fact, the first Christmas they had the two year old Poe, they took him on holiday to a friend’s plantation at Turkey Island. When they lived in England for five years from 1815 to 1820, the Allans no doubt celebrated as the locals did, with natural greenery sprucing up their rooms, and festive feasts shared with friends and family.

In Richmond during Poe’s lifetime, Christmas was a somber, simple affair, far from the hubbub of today. Children might expect small gifts of gloves or scarves, and church service would be expected – in Poe’s case, in a pew at Monumental Church that Allan bought. It is generally believed that Frances Allan was a faithful Episcopalian, while her spouse John, as a native Scot, was perhaps a Presbyterian or a free thinker. Richmonders much preferred the holiday of New Year’s and there were lots of balls once the General Assembly commenced and legislators came to town.

The following is a recollection by Poe’s nurse, Marie Louise Shew of a Christmas side of Poe you might not have expected. On Christmas Eve 1847, Poe attended a church service with his nurse – she had been Virginia’s nurse also, before Mrs. Poe’s death in January of that year. The Reverend William Augustus Muhlenberg conducted the midnight service.

“[Poe] went with us, followed the service like a ‘churchman,’ looking directly towards the chancel, and holding one side of my prayer book. sang the psalms with us, and to my astonishment struck up a tenor to our sopranos and, got along nicely during the first part of the sermon, which was on the subject of the sympathies of our Lord, to our wants. The passage being often repeated, ‘He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.’ He begged me to stay quiet that he would wait for me outside, and he rushed out, too excited to stay. I knew he would not leave us to return home alone, (altho’ my friend thought it doubtful), and so after the sermon as I began to feel anxious (as we were in a strange church) I looked back and saw his pale face, and as the congregation rose to sing the Hymn, ‘Jesus Saviour of my soul,’ he appeared at my side, and sang the Hymn, without looking at the book, in a fine, clear tenor… I did not dare to ask him why he left, but he mentioned after we got home, that the subject ‘was marvelously handled, and ought to have melted many hard hearts’ and ever after this he never passed Doctor Muhlenberg’s 20th St. Free Church without going in.” [Source: letter to J.H. Ingram, ca. 15 April 1875, Miller {1977}, pp. 132-33.].