The Poe Museum first opened its doors to the public on April 26th, 1922.
On April 26, 2012, the museum celebrated its 90th birthday with a 1920s themed Unhappy Hour.
Poe Museum volunteers (the esteemed Heather and Courtney) posing as “Cigarette Girls” to collect donations to keep the Poe Museum around for another 90 years
For such an auspicious occasion we wanted to do something extra special so we managed to arrange for some 1920s authors to travel through time (perhaps in an old Ford a la Midnight In Paris?) and regale guests with tales of their lives and work as well as their interest in Poe. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, H.P. Lovecraft and James Branch Cabell were all on hand to pay tribute to Poe and to mingle with Unhappy Hour guests. (Many thanks to our wonderful living history actors that helped us bring them to life!)
The Fitzgeralds and Gertrude Stein at Unhappy Hour
Author H. P. Lovecraft of Providence, Rhode Island, reading his poem “In a Sequester’d Providence Churchyard Where Once Poe Walk’d
Richmond author James Branch Cabell enjoying the company of our lovely “Cigarette” Girls
State Delegate Jennifer McClellan in the Enchanted Garden during the event
In addition to our 1920s authors State Delegate Jennifer McClellan was kind enough to pay us a visit and was gracious enough to help us out in acting as a judge for our 1920s costume contest (along with Scott and Sandi Bergman, owners of Haunts of Richmond).
1920s Costume Contest Participants
Many guests really got into the spirit of the event and there were many lovely 1920s style costumes in evidence throughout the evening.
Assorted guests getting into the spirit of the evening
A great jazz accompaniment to the festivities was provided by the John Winn Duo.
Guests were able to get a chance to see our new exhibit “From Poe’s Quill: The Letters and Manuscripts of Edgar Allan Poe” which provides a unique opportunity to examine dozens of Edgar Allan Poe’s original manuscripts, including several never before displayed in public, a heretofore unknown draft version of his poem “To Helen” and even an alleged manuscript written by Poe frombeyond the grave transcribed with the help of a medium!
It was a wonderful celebration and we at the Poe Museum are very grateful to everyone who came out to enjoy and make it a success. As usual, you can check out more photos (and even share some of your own if you have some you’d like to share!) on the Poe Museum’s flickr group.
And get ready because our 90th Anniversary celebrations will be continuing all year – our NEXT Unhappy Hour will take place on May 24th and will feature Poe’s short story “Berenice”. Music will be provided by Richmond’s celebrated world jazz ensemble Rattlemouth.
Three years after the Edgar Allan Poe Museum opened its doors in 1922, tragedy befell the city of Richmond in the Church Hill area when the train tunnel beneath what is now Jefferson Park collapsed, killing four people and burying a train engine beneath the hill. Although the bodies of one worker and the conductor were recovered, the locomotive and the remains of two workers are still trapped under the earth.
Completed in 1875 to connect the C&O Railroad to the Shockoe area, the Church Hill train tunnel had a history of structural problems. Because the soil contained a high clay content, the ground which the tunnel was built through retained a large amount of groundwater after rain, making the tunnel structurally unsound. During its initial construction, ten workers were reportedly killed due to collapses. Because of this instability, the tunnel fell into disuse after the construction of the river viaduct, and would be unused for twenty years.
In 1925, efforts were made to restore the tunnel to a useable condition to increase railroad capacity in the city. It was during these repairs that the western end of the tunnel would collapse on October 2nd, trapping six people, Train Engine #231, and ten flat cars beneath the hill. Two workers managed to crawl out to the eastern end beneath the flat cars; by the time rescue teams managed to dig to the engine, they discovered the bodies of the conductor and one other worker. Due to the tunnel’s instability, however, the bodies of the two remaining workers were never recovered. The Virginia State Corporation Commission ordered the tunnel sealed to prevent others from being trapped in subsequent cave-ins. The train locomotive and the cars are still there today.
Even after the tunnel was sealed, it continued to be a problem for the Church Hill area, collapsing in various other locations and creating sinkholes. On one occasion the collapses claimed many houses, and another collapse destroyed a church between 24th and 25th streets. In 2006, the Virginia Historical Society drilled a hole through the tunnel seal and used a camera to look inside and see if there was any way to recover the lost train engine. The tunnel was discovered to be full of water and silt, and any attempts to open the tunnel would inevitably result in further sinkholes developing in Church Hill.
The sealed western end of the tunnel lies mere blocks away from the Poe Museum at 18th and Marshall Streets, and can be visited by the public.
Richmond Poe Museum staff on the recently rebuilt steps of the Edgar Allan Poe House in Baltimore
Edgar Allan Poe lived in this small row house from 1832 to 1835. The household also included Poe’s aunt Maria Clemm, as well as Maria’s two children Virginia and Henry, and Poe’s paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Cairnes Poe. Poe would later marry his cousin Virginia. The family was just about able to afford the rent for this house thanks to Grandmother Poe’s pension, which was granted to her because of her late husband’s service to the country during the American Revolution.
David Poe, Sr. (Edgar’s paternal grandfather – b. 1743 d. 1816) strongly sympathized with the American Revolutionary cause and donated a lot of the Poe family fortune to support the Continental Army. He served as Quartermaster General for the city of Baltimore and although his official rank was that of major, he was affectionately known in the city of Baltimore as “General Poe.”
So, Edgar’s connection to the city of Baltimore was very strong. It makes sense that Poe would choose to live with family after his disagreements with his foster father, John Allan and dishonorable discharge from West Point. Life in Baltimore was not easy, the Poe family had little money. They lost Poe’s elder brother, William Henry Leonard Poe, in 1831 before they came to the little house at 203 Amity Street. Grandmother Poe was ailing and bedridden during their time in the house. When Grandmother Poe died in about September 1835, the pension died with her, meaning the family could no longer afford to keep the house. Around the same time, Poe began work at the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond and soon thereafter married his beloved cousin, Virginia.
The lovely Amber, Jessy and Jen with Baltimore Poe House Curator Jeff Jerome and some bottles of cognac left by the fabled “Poe Toaster”
During our visit Jeff Jerome,the curator of the Baltimore Poe House, treated the Poe Museum staff to a wonderful tour of Poe’s Baltimore home as well as Westminster Hall and Westminster Burying Ground where Poe and his family are laid to rest. We were treated to a fabulous surprise performance of “The Tell-Tale Heart” by renowned Baltimore actor and Poe impersonator, Tony Tsendeas and got to see some of the bottles of cognac left by the mysterious Poe Toaster over the years. Many of these bottles are now part of the Baltimore Poe House collection, which also includes a telescope and lap desk used by Poe and an assortment of crystal and china from the Allan home among other things. We checked out the tiny garret bedroom at the top of the house used by Poe (presumably the site where he wrote some of his early tales like “Berenice”).
After our visit to the Poe House, Jeff then took us to Westminster Hall as well as the Westminster Burying Ground and Catacombs.
The Westminster Burying Grounds were established around 1792 and Westminster Presbyterian Church (now de-consecrated and known as Westminster Hall) was built on top of the burying grounds in 1852. The Catacombs were created to allow people access to the resting places of loved ones whose tombs wound up underneath the church. The burying grounds are the final resting place for many famous Baltimoreans including General James McHenry (for whom Fort McHenry was named) and, of course, our beloved Poe and many of his family members.
Spooky Catacombs beneath Westminster Hall
A couple more photos from Westminster Hall and Burying Ground
We paid our respects at BOTH of Poe’s graves on the property. Poe was originally buried in the Poe family burial plot but was moved to his current resting place in 1875. Virginia and Maria are now buried in the same place.
We at the Poe Museum would like to thank Mr. Jerome for allowing us to come visit and for giving us such a wonderful tour of Poe’s Baltimore. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and we encourage others to pay the Baltimore Poe House and Museum a visit too!
One of the rarely seen Poe letters to be exhibited starting this April in the Poe Museum’s new exhibit From Poe’s Quill is this one Poe wrote to Edward Valentine. The letter still belongs to a descendant of Edward Valentine and is rarely available to public inspection. Visitors to the exhibit will be among the few who have had a chance to see it.
Edward Valentine was the cousin of Edgar Allan Poe’s foster mother Frances Keeling Valentine Allan. When Poe was first taken in by the Allans, Valentine became fond of the two-year-old and took him on rides through the country. Valentine was responsible for teaching Poe to box (a sport at which Poe would later excel) and for instructing him in the fine art of pulling the chair out from under an unsuspecting person as they are about to sit down at a table (a prank for which Poe got into trouble when he pulled it on a lady at one of Mr. Allan’s parties).
By the time Poe was twenty-five, he lost both his foster parents, and he lost touch with his foster mother’s sister “Aunt Nancy” Valentine, who was still living with John Allan’s widow in Richmond. If Poe did stay in contact with Edward Valentine, no letters between them survive to indicate that. In fact, the only letter from Poe to Valentine known to survive is the present one, written in 1848, when Poe was thirty-nine. At the time, Poe was looking for financial assistance with starting a new literary magazine to be called The Stylus, so Poe turned to Edward Valentine. In the letter dated November 20, 1848, Poe recalls his early years with Valentine, writing, “I call to mind, however, that, during my childhood, you were very kind to me, and, I believe, very fond of me.”
Seven days before Poe wrote this letter, he had become engaged to the Providence, Rhode Island poet Sarah Helen Whitman. After rejecting his first proposal, at the beginning of November, Whitman agreed to a conditional engagement, which she would break the following month.
Although Valentine might have wanted to help Poe, a note he wrote on the letter indicates he was unable to comply with the request. “It is not in my power to aid Mr. Poe—I have a large sum of money to raise by Spring + find it difficult to make any collections. Will you be writing him? If so—can’t you send him this reply—with my regrets that I cannot afford the desired aid.” Valentine may have written his note to Poe’s sister’s friends Susan Archer Talley, who had delivered Poe’s letter to Valentine.
Less than a year later, Poe would finally find a financial backer for The Stylus, but Poe would die before the project could be realized.
The complete text of Poe’s letter is as follows:
New-York, — Nov. 20th 1848:
After a long & bitter struggle with illness, poverty, and the thousand evils which attend them, I find myself at length in a position to establish myself permanently, and to triumph over all difficulties, if I could but obtain, from some friend, a very little pecuniary aid. In looking around me for such a friend, I can think of no one, with the exception of yourself, whom I see the least prospect of interesting in my behalf — and even as regards yourself, I confess that my hope is feeble. In fact I have been so long depressed that it will be a most difficult thing for me to rise — and rise I never can without such aid as I now entreat at your hands. I call to mind, however, that, during my childhood, you were very kind to me, and, I believe, very fond of me. For this reason and because I really do not know where else to turn for the assistance I so much need at this moment, I venture to throw myself upon your generosity & ask you to lend me $200. With this sum I should be able to take the first steps in an enterprise where there could be no doubt of my success, and which, if successful, would, in one or two years ensure me fortune and very great influence. I refer to the establishment of a Magazine for which I have already a good list of subscribers, and of which I need a Prospectus — If for the sake of “auld lang syne” you will advance me the sum needed, there are no words which can express my gratitude.
Most sincerely yours,
Edgar A. Poe
Edward Valentine Esq
Be sure to visit the Poe Museum next month to see the exhibit From Poe’s Quill. If you would like to see some of Poe’s letters from the Poe Museum’s permanent collection, just visit our Collections Database.
What at first might seem a fictional subject of one of Poe’s more grisly tales, premature burial was actually a legitimate concern in the time of the author’s life. There exist numerous accounts of people being buried alive dating from as far back as the 12th century, and stories abound of exhumed caskets discovered to have scratch marks on the roof when opened. In fact, President George Washington was so terrified of being buried alive that as he lay on his deathbed he begged his servants not to put him in his grave for twelve days to ensure that he was indeed dead.
"The Premature Burial" by Antoine Wiertz (1854) (taken from Wikipedia.org)
If it was scary enough to frighten our first president, who was a fearless war general, you can bet the prospect of being buried alive is pretty terrifying. Poe was aware of the widespread fear of being buried alive (known as taphophobia) and utilized it in a few of his stories such as The Premature Burial, Berenice, and The Fall of the House of Usher. The characters buried alive in these stories suffered from catalepsy, an actual nervous condition that causes muscle rigidity, a decreased reaction to pain, and unconsciousness. All were signs that doctors associated with death.
There were tales of people erroneously declared dead awaking at the morgue reported all the way through the 1890s, and while advances in medicine at this time would have made premature burials less prevalent, there were still preventative measures in place just to make sure. Wakes, which began as an ancient Hebrew tradition to ensure death became the most popular method. During the wake, friends and family would sit near the casket and watch for the earliest signs of decomposition, just to make sure that their deceased loved one had actually died. This burial custom is still used today, though it is not necessarily to ensure that the person is dead.
There was an entire market for caskets and contraptions that would provide extra ways of preventing an individual from suffering a premature burial. Signal bells were installed next to some graves. Attached to a piece of string that would be tied around the deceased’s finger, this string could be pulled to ring the bell and signal a person nearby in the event that the departed was not quite so departed after all. Others had air pipes built into their coffin roofs to allow fresh air to get into the victim, prolonging their life. Still others created vaults that had escape hatches so that the revived person could escape.
Taberger's Safety Coffin (taken from Wikipedia.org)
Premature burial certainly gave new meaning to “rest in peace” as the outcome of being buried alive was anything but peaceful. After being buried, a casket has only a few hours’ worth of oxygen trapped inside of it. If someone was unfortunate enough to wake up, they would inevitably become panic-stricken as they tried to escape; this elevated stress level would cause the individual to consume oxygen at a much higher rate. In this state, they would lose consciousness in less than five minutes and die of asphyxiation in less than half an hour.
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.
In 1826, Poe left Richmond to attend the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He enrolled at the university on February 14th, 1826. He was part of the second class to matriculate at Mr. Jefferson’s University. While in Charlottesville, Poe studied Ancient and Modern Languages and distinguished himself in both subjects. He appears to have been well-liked by other students and teachers and his room (number 13!) on the West Range at the University was a popular gathering place where Poe would entertain friends with tales of his own devising.
Unfortunately, Poe’s time at the University of Virginia was short-lived. His foster father, John Allan sent him to Charlottesville with insufficient funds to cover Poe’s school expenses. Mr. Allan did not respond to Poe’s requests for financial help, so Edgar resorted to gambling in an attempt to pay his bills. Edgar had no luck at this and wound up about $2000 in debt (bearing in mind that by his estimation, his bills at UVA would have totaled about $350 for the entire year). He left the University of Virginia on the 15th of December 1826 in disgrace.
Poe’s time at UVA has come to be appreciated in the ensuing years and his legacy there is maintained by The Raven Society, a prestigious honor society founded in 1904. The Raven Society lovingly maintains room # 13 on the West Range much as it must have appeared in Poe’s time and sponsors scholarships and fellowships to honor academic excellence.
Here is a picture of Poe’s West Range room from the Raven Society’s website:
Poe's room at the University of Virginia - Raven Society photo
We tracked down Poe’s dorm room on West Range and took pictures (of course!). We are geeks about such things here at the Poe Museum! (Endearing geeks. We hope.)
Jennifer and Melanie in 2 different photos by the door to room #13 West Range
We also checked out the nearby historic marker devoted to Poe and visited the Rotunda, the centerpiece of Jefferson’s plan for the University. (It would still have been under construction when Poe was there.)
Jennifer with Eddy’s historical marker
The UVA Rotunda on the day of our visit – it was a bit cloudy, but rather appropriately atmospheric under the circumstances
For more information on Poe at the University of Virginia, check out the Raven Society’s website – it’s worth the visit!
We’ll also be visited by Poe’s mother, Eliza Poe (as portrayed by the lovely Debbie Phillips) and will be debuting a new exhibit in honor of the 200th anniversary of Mrs. Poe’s demise.
Miss Emmeline Edens, a lovely 19th century lady will also be on hand to assist with trimming our Christmas tree and to tell people a little about Christmas in her time.
So come on out to this event and pick up some presents for the Poe fan in your life in our shop while you’re at it – we have everything from ornaments and parasols to busts of Poe and a wonderful assortment of books.
On December 3, 2011 at 1:00 P.M. at the Parish Hall at St. John’s Church, the Poe Museum will present a lecture by distinguished Poe scholar Richard Kopley on his thirty years of focused research into the hidden meanings of Edgar Allan Poe’s works. Kopley’s forty-five minute talk, “My Adventures with Poe,” will change the way you see Poe and his best-known stories and poems. Kopley’s original perspectives on Poe’s timeless works will provide fresh insights into Poe’s inspirations and creative process.
Richard Kopley is Associate Professor of English at Penn State DuBois and Head of the Division of English for Penn State’s Commonwealth College. He is the author of a forthcoming volume on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter, as well as of numerous scholarly articles on Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville. He is the editor of Poe’s Pym: Critical Explorations (Duke UP, 1992), Prospects for the Study of American Literature (New York UP, 1997), and the Penguin edition of Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1999). He is also co-editor of the journal Resources for American Literary Study, past president of the Poe Studies Association, and a trustee of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum.
Kopley’s scrutiny of Poe’s works and comprehensive understanding of Poe’s life has allowed him to see Poe in new ways. One of Kopley’s theories is that Poe’s detective stories could have been a response to an unsolved mystery in his own life. According to Kopley, “Poe’s biological father abandoned the family 12 months before his sister, Rosalie, was born, and that was a very big deal at the time. I’m inferring that Poe created the detective story and the character of Dupin [hero of Poe’s stories “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Purloined Letter,” and “The Mystery of Marie Roget”] to solve mysteries in place of the mystery he can’t solve: who is Rosalie’s father?”
The lecture is free to the public, and copies of Kopley’s limited edition booklet The Very Profound Under-Current in Arthur Gordon Pym will be available for signing and purchase.
It’s that time of year again. Kids are wearing costumes, decorating pumpkins, and hunting for candy. On October 29, they can do all those things and more while getting an introduction to great literature at the same time by coming to Poe’s Pumpkin Patch at the Poe Museum. The event runs from noon until 5 P.M. and is included in the price of Poe Museum admission. The Poe-themed games include a mummy wrapping contest inspired by “Some Words with a Mummy,” a black cat pinata inspired by “The Black Cat,” a treasure hunt inspired by “The Gold Bug” and “The Purloined Letter,” and more. A costume contest will allow guests to show off their costumes, and pumpkin decorating will be available for them to exercise their creativity. So make sure your kids grow up weird by bringing them to Poe’s Pumpkin Patch on October 29.