Museum News


A Tour of Poe Sites in Boston and Providence


A recent business trip gave me an excuse to visit Boston and Providence to see some Poe sites in the area. Sandra Luzzi Sneesby had invited me to speak at an exhibit of her installation The Women who Loved Poe in Providence.

Once she picked me up from the airport, she took me to Edgar Allan Poe Square where, with the help of a map of Boston Poe sites produced by The Edgar Allan Poe Foundation of Boston, we began to trace Poe’s footsteps through the city.

We headed for Poe’s birthplace at 62 Charles Street South (formerly 62 Carver Street). In honor of this historic site, some lover of literature has memorialized Poe with a fine parking lot surrounded by a chain-link fence. The next photo shows what the building looked like before it was demolished. Notice the building on the left is still there in the above image.

Next we visited the site of the Boston’s first regular theater (pictured above), where Poe’s mother, Eliza Arnold Hopkins Poe, made her first appearance on stage on April 15, 1796. Between 1806 and 1809 she performed there several more times. Her roles included Cordelia in King Lear, Blanch in King John, and Ariel in The Tempest. Here is a notice of her playing Fanny in The Clandestine Marriage. Here is a review of Poe’s mother’s performance as Cordelia.

We located the office of The Dial at 15 West Street. Poe was no fan of The Dial, which featured “the so-called poetry of the so-called Transcendentalists.”

A number of important sites one stood near the Old State House. Within a block from this location, Poe’s first book was published in 1827, “The Tell-Tale Heart” was printed in The Pioneer in 1843, Poe’s mother lived shortly after her arrival in America in 1796, and Poe’s mother gave her last Boston performance in 1809.

Before leaving Boston, we visited the Boston Common, site of the Frog Pond which inspired Poe to call Boston writers “Frogpondians.”

The next day, we toured Providence. Our first stop was the North Burial Ground and the grave of Poe’s fiancée Sarah Helen Whitman. We picked up a self-guide tour sheet near the entrance to assist us in locating the grave. My guides told me this was probably the cemetery where Poe and Whitman would take long walks together since it is only a mile from her house. We also visited Swan Point Cemetery, which is also said to be the cemetery Poe and Whitman liked to visit, even though it is a bit farther from her house.

On Benefit Street, we saw Sarah Helen Whitman’s house, a place Poe visited while courting Whitman.

Behind the house we found some rose bushes which immediately called to mind Poe’s description of seeing Whitman in this garden three years before he would meet her.

I saw thee once — once only — years ago:
I must not say how many — but not many.
It was a July midnight; and from out
A full-orbed moon, that, like thine own soul, soaring,
Sought a precipitate pathway up through heaven,
There fell a silvery-silken veil of light,
With quietude, and sultriness, and slumber,
Upon the upturn’d faces of a thousand
Roses that grew in an enchanted garden,
Where no wind dared to stir, unless on tiptoe —
Fell on the upturn’d faces of these roses
That gave out, in return for the love-light,
Their odorous souls in an ecstatic death —
Fell on the upturn’d faces of these roses
That smiled and died in this parterre, enchanted
By thee, and by the poetry of thy presence.

Clad all in white, upon a violet bank
I saw thee half reclining; while the moon
Fell on the upturn’d faces of the roses,
And on thine own, upturn’d — alas, in sorrow!

Was it not Fate, that, on this July midnight —
Was it not Fate, (whose name is also Sorrow,)
That bade me pause before that garden-gate,
To breathe the incense of those slumbering roses?
No footstep stirred: the hated world all slept,
Save only thee and me. (Oh, Heaven! — oh, God!
How my heart beats in coupling those two words!)
Save only thee and me. I paused — I looked —
And in an instant all things disappeared.
(Ah, bear in mind this garden was enchanted!)

The pearly lustre of the moon went out:
The mossy banks and the meandering paths,
The happy flowers and the repining trees,
Were seen no more: the very roses’ odors
Died in the arms of the adoring airs.
All — all expired save thee — save less than thou:
Save only the divine light in thine eyes —
Save but the soul in thine uplifted eyes.
I saw but them — they were the world to me.
I saw but them — saw only them for hours —
Saw only them until the moon went down.
What wild heart-histories seemed to lie enwritten
Upon those crystalline, celestial spheres!
How dark a wo!, yet how sublime a hope!
How silently serene a sea of pride!
How daring an ambition! yet how deep —
How fathomless a capacity for love!

But now, at length, dear Dian sank from sight,
Into a western couch of thunder-cloud;
And thou, a ghost, amid the entombing trees
Didst glide away. Only thine eyes remained.
They would not go — they never yet have gone.
Lighting my lonely pathway home that night,
They have not left me (as my hopes have) since.
They follow me — they lead me through the years.
They are my ministers — yet I their slave.
Their office is to illumine and enkindle —
My duty, to be saved by their bright light,
And purified in their electric fire,
And sanctified in their elysian fire.
They fill my soul with Beauty (which is Hope,)
And are far up in Heaven — the stars I kneel to
In the sad, silent watches of my night;
While even in the meridian glare of day
I see them still — two sweetly scintillant
Venuses, unextinguished by the sun!

Our next stop was the Providence Athenaeum where Poe and Whitman spent time together among the shelves. The Athenaeum still has a volume of The American Review in which Poe signed his name next to the anonymously published poem “Ulalume,” which is now considered one of Poe’s greatest poems.

The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crispèd and sere —
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year;
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir —
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Here once, through an alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul —
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll —
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole —
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.

Our talk had been serious and sober,
But our thoughts they were palsied and sere —
Our memories were treacherous and sere —
For we knew not the month was October,
And we marked not the night of the year —
(Ah, night of all nights in the year!)
We noted not the dim lake of Auber —
(Though once we had journeyed down here) —
We remembered not the dank tarn of Auber,
Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

And now, as the night was senescent
And star-dials pointed to morn —
As the star-dials hinted of morn —
At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn —
Astarte’s bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.

And I said — “She is warmer than Dian:
She rolls through an ether of sighs —
She revels in a region of sighs:
She has seen that the tears are not dry on
These cheeks, where the worm never dies,
And has come past the stars of the Lion
To point us the path to the skies —
To the Lethean peace of the skies —
Come up, in despite of the Lion,
To shine on us with her bright eyes —
Come up through the lair of the Lion
With Love in her luminous eyes.”

But Psyche, uplifting her finger,
Said — “Sadly this star I mistrust —
Her pallor I strangely mistrust: —
Oh, hasten! — oh, let us not linger!
Oh, fly! — let us fly! — for we must.”
In terror she spoke, letting sink her
Wings till they trailed in the dust —
In agony sobbed, letting sink her
Plumes till they trailed in the dust —
Till they sorrowfully trailed in the dust.

I replied — “This is nothing but dreaming:
Let us on by this tremulous light!
Let us bathe in this crystalline light!
Its Sybillic splendor is beaming
With Hope and in Beauty to-night: —
See! — it flickers up the sky through the night!
Ah, we safely may trust to its gleaming,
And be sure it will lead us aright —
We safely may trust to a gleaming
That cannot but guide us aright,
Since it flickers up to Heaven through the night.”

Thus I pacified Psyche and kissed her,
And tempted her out of her gloom —
And conquered her scruples and gloom:
And we passed to the end of the vista,
And were stopped by the door of a tomb —
By the door of a legended tomb;
And I said — “What is written, sweet sister,
On the door of this legended tomb?”
She replied — “Ulalume — Ulalume —
‘Tis the vault of thy lost Ulalume!”

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crispèd and sere —
As the leaves that were withering and sere,
And I cried — “It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed — I journeyed down here —
That I brought a dread burden down here —
On this night of all nights in the year,
Oh, what demon has tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber —
This misty mid region of Weir —
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

Said we, then — the two, then — “Ah, can it
Have been that the woodlandish ghouls —
The pitiful, the merciful ghouls —
To bar up our way and to ban it
From the secret that lies in these wolds —
From the thing that lies hidden in these wolds —
Had drawn up the spectre of a planet
From the limbo of lunary souls —
This sinfully scintillant planet
From the Hell of the planetary souls?”

From there we went to the Governor Henry Lippitt House Museum to the see the installation The Women Who Loved Poe. The video installation revealed Poe’s character by showing him through the eyes of the women closest to him. Our hostess was Sarah Helen Whitman, portrayed by Linda Goetz.

Thanks to the hospitality of my guides in Boston and Providence and to the staffs of the Providence Anthenaeum and the Lippitt House Museum, I got know Sarah Helen Whitman, Poe’s mother Eliza Poe, and Edgar Poe a lot better.




Poe Museum Observes Anniversary of Poe’s Death


Anyone can celebrate a birthday, but the Poe Museum also celebrates a death day. On October 3, 2013, the Poe Museum in Richmond will observe the anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s death (October 7, 1849), with a tribute from Elmira Shelton, the woman to whom Poe was engaged when he died. Debbie Phillips, who has also performed for the museum as Poe’s mother Eliza Poe, returns for a historical interpretation based on years of research into Poe’s last love. After the performance, “Elmira” will stay to mingle with guests. Tours of the museum will explore the themes of death and mourning in Poe’s time. The event will last from 6P.M. until 9 P.M. Refreshments will be available.




Poe Museum Acquires Documents Related to Poe’s Parents


Although the Poe Museum’s collection is comprised of thousands of objects, there are still holes in the collection. One place the collection can still grow is in its artifacts related to Edgar Allan Poe’s parents, the actors David Poe, Jr. (1784-1810?) and Eliza Poe (1787-1811). Both were actors who died young–when Edgar was only two. Poe’s mother was buried in an unmarked grave at St. John’s Church in Richmond, and the fate of Poe’s father in unknown.

Above: A notice for a benefit performance to be held on Mrs. Poe's behalf.

Few artifacts survive to tell the story of these talented people who left a lasting impression on Edgar Allan Poe’s life and work. That is why is a special treat to see the selection of documents the Poe Museum was able to bring together, with the help of the Library of Virginia and the Lilly Library, for its current exhibit, Poe’s Mother: The Untold Story. The Poe Museum’s contributions to the exhibit included the scripts from plays Poe’s parents performed, newspaper notices of benefits held on Mrs. Poe’s behalf, and reviews of their performances by critics of their day. Such documents serve as some of the few reminders of the careers of Poe’s talented parents, so it is always great to find such pieces to add more details to our understanding of their lives. This week, the Poe Museum did just that when it acquired three Boston newspapers from 1806 containing notices of Poe’s parents.

David and Eliza were married in April 1806 in Richmond. In October 1806, they appeared in on the stage in Boston, where their first son, William Henry Leonard Poe, was born on January 30, 1807. Their second son, Edgar Poe, was born in Boston on January 19, 1809. It was during this time in Boston that Eliza Poe wrote that it was in Boston that she had found her “best and most sympathetic friends.”

The newspapers the Poe Museum acquired date to October 29, 1806 (the month Mr. and Mrs. Poe arrived in Boston), November 8, 1806, and November 12, 1806. Poe’s mother is listed as appearing in the role of Fanny in the comedy the Clandestine Marriage on November 12. David Poe is listed as playing the role of Bellmour in Jane Shore on November 10, and both are listed as playing different plays on the same night on October 29.

You can learn more about the Poe Museum’s collection in our online collections database, and you can learn more about our new exhibit on our website.




Two New Paintings of Eliza Poe


In honor of Edgar Allan Poe’s mother on the bicentennial of her death, a Richmond artist painted these two portraits of Eliza Poe. The first is closely based on the only surviving life portrait of Eliza Poe.

The second portrait was painted from the actress Debbie Phillips during one of her performances as Eliza Poe. This painting is currently hanging in the Poe Museum’s gift shop.




Bicentennial of Poe’s Mother’s Death Commemorated at Poe Museum


Thursday, December 8, 2011 is the bicentennial of the death of Edgar Allan Poe’s mother, Eliza Poe. Though Edgar was only two years old when he lost his mother, his “mournful and neverending remembrance” of her cast a shadow over his life and work. Although Eliza Poe’s fame has long been overshadowed by her famous son, she was actually a talented and popular actress in the early days of American theater.

In observance of the bicentennial, the Poe Museum hosted a lecture by renowned Poe scholar Richard Kopley, a performance by Eliza Poe interpreter Debbie Phillips, and an exhibit of rare artifacts related to her life and career. The weekend began with the Poe Illumination, in which the Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden came to life with thousands of lights and holiday decorations. Below is some video of the Poe Foundation’s President, Dr. Harry Lee Poe, speaking at Eliza Poe’s grave after having laid a wreath on her monument.

The exhibit devoted to Poe’s mother continues until April 1, 2012, so be sure not to miss it. In case you can’t attend in person, some of the artifacts from the exhibit can now be seen in our online collections database.




Enjoy some holiday cheer at the Poe Museum Illumination


The Poe Museum is helping to usher in the holiday season with a special event of our own on Friday, December 2nd.

Our Enchanted Garden will be looking extra-enchanted with thousands of Christmas lights and assorted decorations.

There will be hot cider as well as tea, coffee and gingerbread for sale, and we’ll also have some free food.

Live music with a holiday twist will be provided by Beggars of Life.

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.

Admission is free and holiday cheer is guaranteed! (We’ve even gotten a mention in RVANews!)

(We’ve even gotten a mention in RVANews – how exciting!)




New Exhibit Reveals Untold Story of Poe’s Mother


Etching of Eliza Poe by Alexander Von Jost

Edgar Allan Poe was not the first member of his family to bring fame to the Poe name. His mother, Eliza Poe, who died at the age of twenty-four when Edgar was only two, was a gifted actress and singer who performed throughout the country. Just in time for the bicentennial of her death, the Poe Museum is bringing together some of the few remaining artifacts associated with her life for the exhibit Poe’s Mother: The Untold Story, opening December 2, 2011 and running until April 1, 2012. The exhibit will pay tribute to the talented performer who blazed the trail for future American actresses in a day when acting was still considered immoral and an unsuitable profession for women. Among the artifacts on view will be original scripts from plays in which she performed and a copy of her marriage bond and her only known signature.

Watercolor of Eliza Poe from Collection of the Poe Museum

The exhibit opening on December 2 from 6-9 P.M. will feature a performance by Eliza Poe as performed by Debbie Phillips. The performance will include original songs Eliza Poe is known to have performed. Admission to the opening reception event is free, and warm drinks and live music will be available.

Rare script for play featuring Eliza Poe in the Cast

Photo of Eliza Poe's Marriage Bond Courtesy of the Library of Virginia

Rare Engraving of the Richmond Theater Fire from the Collection of the Poe Museum

Copy of Only Known Letter Written by Eliza Poe Courtesy of the Lilly Library, Indiana




Poe’s Mother visits Unhappy Hour


Eliza Poe performing

Mrs. Poe regaling Unhappy Hour visitors with tales about her life as an actress.

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.

Flautists in the Poe Shrine

Flautists Linda Simmons and Stacie Snyder making beautiful music in the Poe Shrine during the event.

Unhappy Hour Guests

Visitors enjoying the Unhappy Hour festivities

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!)




Debbie Phillips as Eliza Poe


Debbie Phillips as Edgar Allan Poe's Mother

See Debbie Phillips portray Poe's Mother at the Poe Museum.

Here is a photograph of Debbie Phillips portraying Eliza Poe for the May 26 UNhappy Hour.