Museum News


Weird Richmond #5 – Egypt Mania


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.

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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.

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The MCV Egyptian Building




Weird Richmond #3 – The Church Hill Tunnel Collapse


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.




From the Archives – A Peek into the Poe Museum’s Past


One fine day in April, 1945, a group of industrious young members of the John Marshall Chapter of the International Quill and Scroll Society gathered in the Enchanted Garden of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum for tea and an initiation of several new members.

Quill and Scroll at the Poe Museum 1945

Quill and Scroll Society Members visiting the Poe Museum, April 26,1945

Old photographs such as this provide a curious window into the past, an invaluable record of how it was. Many of the people in these pictures have long since passed away – yet the memory of these moments in time lives on through the muted sepia tones of a photographic image. As Collections Coordinator of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, I have the opportunity to ensure that these records remain intact for future generations to enjoy, through both diligent record-keeping and proper handling and storage.

Because 2012 marks the 90th anniversary of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, I am taking this opportunity to share with you some images from the museum’s yesteryear. The Poe Museum has a long standing history of welcoming school groups for tours, as evinced through several of the photographs I have stumbled upon recently.

School group at the Poe Museum circa 1942

Several happy young people dip their toes into the pond of the Enchanted Garden of the Poe Museum. This pond was in the place of the current fountain. Photograph dated April 17, 1942.

School group at the Poe Museum circa 1945

A school group gathers in front of the Poe Shrine. Photograph circa 1945.

The Poe Museum is proud to have inspired generations of young literature enthusiasts and will continue to offer poetry and insight for many years to come.




A Stroll Through Shockoe Hill Cemetery


One of Edgar Allan Poe’s favorite places for a stroll in Richmond was Shockoe Hill Cemtery. Located at 4th and Hospital Streets, the cemetery was a retreat from the noise and activity of the city. The cemetery was established in 1820 as Richmond, Virginia’s first city-owned cemetery, and the first burial took place there in 1822. Seven years later, Poe’s beloved foster mother was buried there. She would be only one of many important figures from his life to be interred there.

During a recent visit to the cemetery, I took some photos of a few of the graves of people Poe would have known.


These are the graves of Poe’s foster parents, the Allans. From left to right, the monuments are for Louisa Allan (Poe’s foster father’s second wife), John Allan (Poe’s foster father), Frances Valentine Allan (John Allan’s first wife and Poe’s foster mother), William Galt (John Allan’s uncle who left Allan a fortune), and Rosanna Galt. Although Allan inherited a fortune, he left Edgar Poe out of his will.


This is the grave of John Allan’s oldest son, John Allan, Jr., who died during the Civil War.


Here is the grave of Allan’s second son, William Galt Allan, who also served in the Civil War.


This is the grave of Allan’s third son, Patterson Allan. Like his brothers, Patterson died young. John Allan’s second wife outlived all three of her children.


Above is a photo of the grave of Anne Moore Valentine, Poe’s “Aunt Nancy.” Valentine was the unmarried sister of Poe’s foster mother Frances Valentine Allan, and she lived with the Allans even after Frances Allan’s death in 1829.


This is the grave of Poe’s first and last fiancee, Elmira Royster Shelton. The inscription on this monument is only barely legible, but you can still read the name of Elmira’s husband Alexander Barrett Shelton.


Poe’s boyhood friend Robert Craig Stanard is buried here with his wife.


Here is the grave of Poe’s first great love, Jane Stith Craig Stanard, the woman to whom he dedicated his poem “To Helen.” She died from “exhaustion from the mania” when Poe was fifteen, and he and her son are said to have paid frequent visits to her grave in the months after her death.

This plaque was placed at the base of Jane Stanard’s grave in 1923 by Poe Museum founder James H. Whitty and Poe Museum benefactor John W. Robertson. They dedicated the plaque on the first anniversary of the opening of the Poe Museum and considered the event so important that they invited the President of the United States, Warren G. Harding. He declined the invitation with the below letter.

Shockoe Hill Cemetery is also the final resting place to a number of historical figures including the United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, Revolutionary War hero Peter Francisco, and Union spy Elizabeth Van Lew.

If you will be visiting Virginia to see the Poe Museum and would like to learn about some other Poe-related sites in the area, here is a link to more information.




In the footsteps of Poe – Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore, MD


The Richmond Poe Museum’s staff took a field trip to Baltimore Maryland on March 26th to check out the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum.

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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.

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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 at the Westminster Burying Ground

Spooky Catacombs beneath Westminster Hall

Jeff Jerome showing us a mausoleum in the Westminster Burying GroundsIn 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.

Here we are at the gravesite:

Poe Museum Staff (plus one) at Poe's Grave

As always, the photos in this blog post (and more) can be found via the Poe Museum’s flickr group here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/poemuseum/pool/.

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!

The Poe House in Baltimore is fighting to stay alive after recent cuts in city funding – please help to keep it around for others to enjoy for many years to come! Check this page for more information on how you can help: http://www.eapoe.org/threat.htm. You can also follow the Poe House’s status on their Facebook page which you can visit here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Edgar-Allan-Poe-House-Museum/10150113128020459.




In the footsteps of Poe – The University of Virginia


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

On December 5, 2011, I got to attend a Virginia Association of Museums workshop at the University of Virginia Art Museum with fellow staff member Jennifer. We were inspired by the workshop and decided to do a little touring of UVA after we’d finished for the day.

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 visiting Poe's dorm room at UVA Melanie visiting Poe's dorm room at UVA

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 Poe's Historic Marker at UVA

Jennifer with Eddy’s historical marker

UVA Rotunda on a cloudy December Day

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!




New Exhibit Explores Death and Mourning in Poe’s Age


Think Poe was morbid because he wrote so often about death in poems like “Annabel Lee,” “The Raven,” and “Lenore?” Such poems about death and mourning were actually fairly common in the nineteenth century. With high infant mortality rates and the inability to combat diseases like tuberculosis (which claimed Poe’s mother, foster mother, brother, and wife), death was very much a part of everyday life. One in four children in Poe’s time died in infancy, and many women died in childbirth. Consequently, almost everyone knew someone who had died young. In this light, Poe’s poems about the deaths of loved ones seem less the reflections of a morbid imagination than common experiences shared by many of his contemporaries.

From October 6 until November 30, 2011, the Poe Museum will honor the anniversary of Poe’s Death (October 7, 1849) with an exhibit devoted to the elaborate mourning rituals people of Poe’s era followed after the death of a loved one. The exhibit “Death and Mourning in the Age of Poe” features dozens of unique artifacts, including post mortem photographs, a post mortem portrait, a tear catcher, mourning jewelry, mourning stationery and mourning art from the private collection of Mary Brett, author of Fashionable Mourning Jewelry, Clothing, and Customs. The exhibit will show how Poe’s feelings about death and grief, expressed in his poetry, were typical for his time. The exhibit will complement related items in the Poe Museum’s permanent collection, including a lock of hair taken from Poe’s head after his death and a reproduction of a post mortem portrait of Poe’s wife.

The exhibit will open from 6-9 P.M. on October 6 during the Poe Museum’s annual observance of the anniversary of Poe’s death. During the opening, visitors can listen to the authors of the new horror anthology Richmond Macabre read from their work, listen to DJ Sean Lovelace play creepy music on a theremin, explore the Poe Museum’s permanent exhibits, or see the new temporary exhibit The Raven, Terror & Death. Admission to the exhibit opening and Poe Memorial Service are free.