It all began with a high school yearbook. Believe it or not, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum’s world renowned collection of Poe artifacts and memorabilia began in 1921 with the donation of a 1917 Collegiate School yearbook containing a parody of “The Raven.” Since then, thousands more items have entered the collection. Within a decade of opening, the Poe Museum outgrew its first building and expanded to occupy a complex of four buildings of Poeana surrounding a garden constructed from even more Poe memorabilia—the salvaged materials from buildings in which Poe lived and worked from Richmond to New York. With a mission to “interpret the life and influence of Edgar Allan Poe for the education and enjoyment of a global audience,” the Poe Museum has amassed a diverse collection that tells the story of Poe’s life, documents his literary contributions, and showcases the ways his legacy continues to inspire today’s culture. This means the Poe Museum is charged with preserving and sharing thousands of objects including Poe’s possessions, first editions, manuscripts, and pop culture ephemera like movie posters and comic books.
How did the Poe Museum get such a great collection? James H. Whitty became the Museum’s first donor when he presented that yearbook in 1921, the year before the Museum opened. He went on to donate scores of Poe illustrations, documents, portraits, and objects including a lock of Poe’s hair. Since then, hundreds of generous donors have contributed everything from Poe’s tiny nail file (a gift of Kenneth Bengel in 1964) to Poe’s vest (a gift of Mrs. Antoinette Suiter in 1997). Even those who did not have artifacts to donate helped build the collection by making financial contributions of all sizes. In 1930, for instance, twenty benefactors gave towards the fund that allowed the Poe Museum to purchase the Cornwell Daguerreotype that is now prominently displayed in the Memorial Building. Similar initiatives allowed the Poe Museum to purchase Poe’s letter to Samuel Kettell in 2005 and George Julian Zolnay’s bronze bust of Poe in 2010. Other benefactors have contributed to the Poe Museum’s historic collections preservation fund or supported its annual fund drive. The Poe Museum’s outstanding collection would not have been possible without all these gifts. If you would like to join the Museum in collecting, preserving, and exhibiting the life and work of Edgar Allan Poe, just click here or contact us at [email protected]
Below are a few of the excellent items donated to the Poe Museum in 2014.
The James A. Michener Museum donated the plaster model for Charles Rudy’s 1956 statue of Poe, the first full-length statue of Poe in Virginia. The same size as the finished bronze that now adorns Capitol Square, this model is now on display in the Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building.
Gregory Lorris donated twelve pages from the 1811 edition of Institutes of Natural Philosophy, Theoretical and Practical by William Enfield . .. . And the addition of an Appendix to the Astronomical Part by Samuel Webber, a text book Poe might have used while a student at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Though we have not been able to authenticate the writing, each page bears Poe’s signature. These pages of diagrams deal with such sciences as optics and astronomy, and they give us a good idea of the material Poe studied at West Point. One of the twelve pages is now on display in the Model Building.
After hearing that we needed to borrow the book Mesmerism in Articulo Mortis for an exhibit, Susan Jaffe Tane donated a copy of the pamphlet to the Museum. Tane had already made several generous loans from her collection for the Poe Museum’s exhibits.
Sculptor Zane Wylie donated an unusual casting of a skull (above) with the verses of “The Raven” carved into it while painter Anelecia Hannah donated a painting (below) of the bust of Poe in the Museum’s garden.
Judy Rash donated a copy of the beautiful 1884 edition of “The Raven” featuring illustrations by Gustave Dore.
An anonymous donor sent a copy of the edition of Poe’s Works edited by his literary executor Rufus Griswold.
The Garden Club of Virginia provided several new plants for the Enchanted Garden in addition to the research, design, and planting that have already gone into the restoration of the site.
As the Poe Museum’s collection continues to grow, we would like to thank all those who helped build that collection. You can click here to see selections from the collection, or you can click here to learn about our Object of the Month.
A guest at the modest cottage in which Poe lived during his final three years provided this description of meeting the poet in his home: “I well remember the pretty little house, a tiny white cottage, set up above the road, surrounded by tall shrubs, trees, and emerald grass. It was a modest abode, but tasteful, and so scrupulously clean and well ordered that at once on entering it one felt that it was no ordinary home…The door leading into the small “entry” to the house was generally open. Beside the narrow staircase leading to the upper rooms stood a large tube-rose plant, which sent its fragrance all over the house. A door to the right on entering opened into the sitting room, and it was here that Poe received his guests, three or four literary people, on the day I first saw him.”
(Elma Mary Gove Letchworth, “A Young Girl’s Recollections of Edgar Allan Poe” undated manuscript)
Poe lived in the cottage with his wife Virginia Clemm Poe, his mother-in-law Maria Clemm, his cat, and some pet birds. After Poe’s death on October 7, 1849, Maria Clemm moved from the cottage to live with friends who could care for her in her final years. (She would actually live another twenty-two years.)
I recently visited The Bronx and the small cottage Poe rented there (now maintained by the Bronx County Historical Scoiety). Although the house is now in an urban environment, it is still possible to imagine how it must have appeared in Poe’s day when it was surrounded by rolling hills and cherry trees. Once inside the house, a guest can see furniture of the kind that Poe and his small family would have used. In fact, they still have Virginia Poe’s bed and Edgar Poe’s rocking chair. After reading the accounts of Poe’s final days in that cottage, walking those halls and seeing the artifacts about which I’d read really brought history to life. The pictures below show some of what the cottage has to offer.
Above is a photo of Poe’s rocking chair.
Here is the bed in which Poe’s wife died. There are descriptions of her lying here, covered with her husband’s West Point great coat with her cat sleeping on her check to keep her warm.
The mirror in Virginia Poe’s bedroom is a replica of her mirror, which is now on display at the Poe Museum in Richmond. The elbow in the reflection belongs to my guide, museum educator Angel Hernandez.
A source recounts that “beside the narrow staircase leading to the upper rooms stood a large tube-rose plant, which sent its fragrance all over the house.” (Letchworth)
A description of this room by one of Poe’s guests: “The sitting-room floor was laid with check matting; four chairs, a light stand, and a hanging bookshelf completed its furniture. There were pretty presentation copies of books on the little shelves, and the Brownings had posts of honour on the stand. With quiet exultation Poe drew from his side pocket a letter that he had recently received from Elizabeth Barrett Browning. He read it to us. It was very flattering. She told Poe that his ‘poem of the Raven had awakened a fit of horror in England.’ This was what he loved to do. To make the flesh creep, to make one shudder and freeze with horror, was more to his relish (I cannot say more to his mind or heart) than to touch the tenderest chords of sympathy or sadness…”
(Mrs. Mary Gove Nichols, “Reminiscences of Edgar Poe,” Sixpenny Magazine, February 1, 1863)
Poe’s bedroom is now the orientation room in which visitors can watch a video about Poe’s time in the cottage. This description provides a young girl’s perspective on seeing the poet’s bedroom: “On one of our visits to Fordham I was allowed to accept Mrs Clemm’s invitation to spend the night. I felt very proud as my hostess took me over the little house and showed me the exquisitely neat bed-rooms. There was ‘Eddy’s room,’ and I wondered at the snowy pillows piled high for the poet’s head. ‘Eddy cannot sleep if his head lies low,’ said Mrs Clemm, and I thought how uncomfortable high his head must be, like sitting up in bed.
(Elma Mary Gove Letchworth, “A Young Girl’s Recollections of Edgar Allan Poe” undated manuscript)
This is the kitchen in which Poe’s mother-in-law Maria Clemm prepared the family’s meals. Mary Gove Nichols recounted of this room, “The floor of the kitchen was white as wheaten flour. A table, a chair, and a little stove that it contained, seemed to furnish it perfectly.” Click here to see the soup ladle Mrs. Clemm used at the cottage.
This bronze bust of Poe by Edmund T. Quinn was unveiled on January 19, 1909, the centennial of Poe’s birth. Though it was once displayed outdoors, the bust is now exhibited inside the cottage. In 1930, the Bronx Society of Arts and Sciences gave a plaster copy of this bust to the Poe Museum in Richmond. (You can even purchase a copy from our gift shop.)
Although Poe experienced the tragic death of his wife while living in this cottage, he also composed some of his greatest works, including “The Bells,” “Annabel Lee,” and “Eureka.” Over 163 years after Poe left the cottage, it still evokes the feeling expressed by one of Poe’s guest Mrs. Nichols: “The cottage had an air of taste and gentility that must have been lent to it by the presence of its inmates. So neat, so poor, so unfurnished, and yet so charming a dwelling I never saw.”
Learn more about the Poe cottage by visiting this website.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Guests enjoyed music by Beggars of Life and enjoyed a living history appearance from Eliza Poe (as portrayed by the lovely Debbie Phillips), who favored us with some Christmas carols that would have been familiar in her time. Guests also were introduced to Miss Emmeline Edens, a lady from the mid-19th century who shared about Christmas traditions from that era. (Emmeline was portrayed by Poe Museum docent Amber Edens.)
While they enjoyed thousands of sparkling lights and ornaments which rendered our Enchanted Garden even more enchanted than usual, our guests got to sample tasty gingerbread and hot beverages courtesy of the Dirty Apron Catering Company.
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.
June’s Unhappy Hour (which took place on June 23rd) featured Poe’s short story “The Pit and the Pendulum”. First published in October 1842, the story is a hair raising tale of a prisoner’s experiences at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition and is notable for evoking terror through its heavy reliance on sensory details to emphasize the reality of the narrator’s harrowing situation.
The museum has put together a new exhibit based on Poe’s tale that opened for the Unhappy Hour.
Here is a small sampling courtesy of Keith Kaufelt:
You’ll have to come experience the whole exhibit for yourself – it will be here through the end of August.
Unhappy Hour featured a Spanish Inquisition themed scavenger hunt as well as Spanish themed food in honor of the story. Jamie and Katie, two of our lovely staff members, even volunteered to make pendulum cookies for the occasion.
Marvel at their hard work!
Pendulum cookies – with “bloody” sprinkle edges courtesy of Jamie and Katie
Family enjoying the Spanish Inquisition scavenger hunt at Unhappy Hour
Lovely Spanish guitar music was provided by the Robinson Guitar Duo.
Unless you’re a victim of the Inqusition, a good time can always be had during Unhappy Hour at the Poe Museum.
Next Unhappy Hour will be on July 28th from 6pm-9pm and will feature a carnival and an amontillado tasting in honor of “The Cask of Amontillado.” Beggars of Life will provide the evening’s musical entertainment.
Thought I’d post a few more pretty pictures from the Enchanted Garden at the Poe Museum for your enjoyment on this humid Monday.
(Just click the photo to be taken to a larger version of the image!)
There are still plenty of beautiful flowers blooming away, just in time for our next Unhappy Hour coming up this Thursday, May 26th, which will feature a visit from Poe’s mother, Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe (as portrayed by Debbie Phillips).