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.
A couple weeks ago we convened the Poe Museum’s fifth Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers’ Conference. This year we hosted ten students from seven different states from Massachusetts to Arizona. Why did these talented high school students (pictured above) give up a week of their summer to come to the Poe Museum? They came for the same reason that hundreds of students on field trips leave the Poe Museum with books purchased from our gift shop. Teachers often tell us that Edgar Allan Poe is the first author who excites students about reading and writing. Among the students of yesterday who credited Poe with inspiring their careers are Jules Verne, Alfred Hitchcock, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Perhaps one of the students at this summers’ conference, one of the students who visited the museum on a school field trip, or even one of the hundreds of thousands of students who visit our website each month will write the next great novel or screenplay. These students are one reason I support the Poe Museum.
We have seen our numbers grow significantly in the years I have served on the board of the Poe Museum. In 2001, our annual attendance was 11,000. For the past year our attendance had grown to 18,000. In 2001 we had 46 school groups visit the museum, but this past year we had 81 groups. Since 2009 when the National Endowment for the Arts made Poe the center of a national program to stimulate reading, the Poe Museum has brought visiting exhibits and programs to schools and libraries all over the southeast.
The Poe Museum is more successful than it has ever been, yet our need for individual financial support has never been greater. Five years ago we relied on a large group of donors who gave $50, $100, $200, and $500 each year. Since the beginning of the recession, our support has fallen significantly. We do not have a large endowment, nor do we rely on government support for our operations. We depend upon a balanced mix of support from admissions fees, shops sales, corporate support, individual support, grants, and modest local government support. We depend upon all of these, and when the money is not present, we can only cut our service and cut our staff.
As we begin a new fiscal year, please join me in making a gift to the Poe Museum that will help stimulate the educational motivation of the next generation at a time when our educational institutions are in crisis and need the auxiliary help of organizations like the Poe Museum. Your donation will also help us pay other expenses associated with preserving, exhibiting, and insuring the world’s finest collection of Poe artifacts and memorabilia (not to mention the upkeep of a 260-year-old building). As the Poe Museum celebrates its ninetieth anniversary this year, we look forward to laying the foundation for the next ninety years of inspiring young minds.
Thank you in advance for your generous support. If you have not visited the Poe Museum recently, we invite you to come this summer to see our incredible new temporary exhibit featuring dozens of rarely seen Poe letters and manuscripts from seven different private and public collections.
From June 17 until June 23, the 2012 Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers’ Conference brought students from across the country to the Poe Museum for a week focused on the craft of writing. When not taking seminars from professional writers—including award-winning poet J. Ron Smith, editor Mary Flinn, and novelist David Lawrence—the group, which included only one Virginian, toured area Poe sites around the Commonwealth.
In the above photo, the students are visiting Fort Monroe, at which Poe was stationed from December 1828 until April 1829. It was there that Poe attained the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major.
Here the students are visiting the University of Virginia, where they will see Poe’s dorm room and some of the Poe artifacts housed in the school’s library.
In this photo, the conferees are standing atop the mountain featured in Poe’s short story “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains.”
The conference director was Edgar Award-winning author and Poe Foundation President Dr. Harry Lee Poe, who is pictured here in the Ragged Mountains.
In the foreground is the grave of Elmira Royster Shelton, Poe’s first and last fiancée. It is just one of the important graves to be found in Shockoe HIll Cemetery. Following in Poe’s footsteps, the students also visited Elmira Shelton’s house, Poe’s mother’s grave, the birthplace of Jane Stanard (inspiration for “To Helen”) and more Richmond places familiar to Poe.
The students also visited a number of other Poe sites in Richmond as well as the Library of Virginia, where they saw some rare documents with the Director of Special Collections Tom Camden.
At the end of the week, each student read the works he or she wrote during the conference. Afterwards, they enjoyed refreshments at a reception held in their honor.
We would like to thank all those who made this year’s conference a success.
If you are interested in attending the 2013 conference, please let us know by emailing us at email@example.com or by calling us at 888-21-EAPOE. Information about next year’s conference will be posted on this website in the fall.
Hear tomorrow’s great writers read their latest work. The Poe Museum will host a public reading by the participants in this year’s Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers’ Conference on Friday, June 22 from 7 to 8:30 P.M. This year, the conference accepted nine high school students from seven different states into a week-long intensive writing program for promising young writers. During the conference, the students are challenged to produce a work that can be read at the week-end public reading. Each day of the conference, attendees will have an opportunity to learn more about American writers Edgar Allan Poe by visiting the places he lived and worked or by taking special tours of prominent collections of Poe artifacts.
Directed by Edgar™ Award-winning author and Edgar Allan Poe cousin Dr. Harry Lee Poe, this exclusive conference is now entering its fifth year and has so far attracted students from across the country to spend a week learning the craft of writing from a variety of profession writers and editors. This year’s applicants hail from Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Wisconsin, and Virginia.
Admission to the reading and reception is free. Join us in supporting tomorrow’s great writers today.
The evenings festivities centered around a dramatic performance of the tale produced in cooperation with Haunts of Richmond and we were honored that Jeff Jerome of the Baltimore Poe House & Museum came down to see us and even graced each performance of the story with an informative introduction.
Poe curators – Chris Semtner of the Richmond Poe Museum and Jeff Jerome of the Baltimore Poe House – posing outside the Old Stone House
Jeff Jerome getting into the spirit of the event with our “Berenice” actors
Richmond’s own Ethio-Jazz and World Groove powerhouse, Rattlemouth provided the evening’s musical accompaniment and their performance was much enjoyed by our guests.
Museum docent, Jessy Mullins educated and horrified guests with a brief presentation about 19th century dental practices and folks enjoyed wandering through our exhibits and taking in the ambience of the Enchanted Garden throughout the evening (despite there being a bit of rain).
Jessy grossing people out about 19th century dentistry
Unhappy Hour atmosphere
It was a splendid evening full of bite and was enjoyed by all!
Box o’ teeth used in the performance
As always, you can see more photos from the event (or share some of your own) by paying a visit to the Poe Museum’s flickr group.
Thanks to all who helped to make our May Unhappy Hour such a success!
Don’t forget to mark your calendars for our NEXT Unhappy Hour, which is coming up on June 28th, 2012 and will be themed around “The Oval Portrait”. This 1842 tale by Poe inspired Oscar Wilde to write The Picture of Dorian Gray and the event should make an indelible impression on all who attend.
Let’s face it: no one likes a trip to the dentist. The mere thought of a root canal is enough to make us cringe and that high-pitched whir of the dentist’s drill is more than enough to send a shiver up our spines. While the modern day dentist’s office may be a far cry from a walk in the park, dentistry in the Victorian era was even more cringe-worthy. While dental practices were experiencing a renaissance from the 18th century, they were still a far cry from modern dentistry. Without electricity or numbing agents like Novocain, going to the dentist was the definition of pain. The mere thought of tooth extraction was so horrifying that Poe utilized it in his lesser-known tale “Berenice.”
A Victorian foot-powered dentist's drill
The Victorian era dentist did not have an office separate from his home –his home was his office. Dentists were also extremely expensive, meaning only the affluent families could afford to pay a visit. The dentist would reuse his instruments instead of replacing them after every visit, and at the most give them a perfunctory wipe-down between appointments (this was an era before sterilization). The most infamous dentist tool, the drill, was powered manually by a foot pedal that the dentist had to pump furiously in order to generate enough power to use it. Because of this, what we know as preventative dentistry today did not exist; the one-stop cure for all dental maladies was tooth extraction.
Towards the latter half of the 19th century, dentists began using ether and chloroform to anesthetize their patients. These gases would render the patient unconscious, but only for a brief period of time. A dentist thus had to work very quickly to extract the tooth (or teeth) before the gas would wear off and the patient would wake up.
Tooth Keys: Corkscrews for tooth extraction
Because of the high number of tooth extractions happening in dentistry, dentures became a way of remedying the lack of teeth in one’s mouth. These dentures were not custom-made and often were one-size fits all, meaning that they were extremely uncomfortable to wear. While George Washington’s dentures are by far the most famous dentures in American history, they were not made of wood. Fake teeth at the time were made from ivory taken from hippopotamus teeth or elephant tusks. Or, if you had a doctor who dealt in the black market, your teeth had a much more sinister place of origin; grave robbers could be paid off to dig up corpses and remove their teeth to be used in dentures.
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. 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.