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.
To see some of the pieces the family owned while living there, you can also visit the Poe Museum in Richmond, where you can see Virginia Poe’s mirror, Virginia’s trinket box, the family’s soup ladle, Maria Clemm’s clothing, and Edgar Poe’s clothing, boot hooks, trunk, and walking stick.
As a way of thanking our members for all their support, we will be hosting a special members-only Poe-themed guided tour of Richmond’s historic Shockoe Hill Cemetery on Sunday, September 9 at 2 P.M. Our guide, Jeffry Burden of the Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery, will show participants the graves of those Poe knew best, including his first love, his first and last fiancée, his foster parents, and his childhood friends. Shockoe Hill Cemetery is the final resting place of several prominent historical figures in this very historical city, so you will also learn more about US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, Revolutionary War Hero Peter Francisco, and more. The tour meets at the caretaker’s cabin at 1:45 P.M.
If you would like to join the tour, reserve your spot today by writing email@example.com or by calling 888-21-EAPOE. If you are not already a member, sign up today and get a free tote bag. You can’t beat $25* for a tour and tote bag. (*$15 for students and teachers, $35 for a couple, $50 for a family)
Legends abound of otherworldly manifestations experienced at Richmond’s Edgar Allan Poe Museum. Books including The Ghosts of Virginia, Ghost Hunting Virginia, and The Shadows of Shockoe have recorded a few of these sightings, and a number of paranormal investigators have explored the Museum’s 258-year-old house, Enchanted Garden, and the rest of the complex in search of evidence of unexplained activity. Now the Poe Museum may finally put the legends to rest by opening the museum to public ghost hunts on August 11 and 18, 2012 from 9 P.M. to Midnight. The participants will be trained in investigative techniques by paranormal investigators from Spirited History, who will guide them through the investigation using the latest audio and video equipment. Because of limited space, all participants must reserve a spot and must be members of the Poe Museum in order to take part. Not a member? Learn about membership and sign up here. New and renewing members even get a tote bag with their membership. For more information on the ghost hunt, call 888-21-EAPOE or write firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
The MCV Egyptian Building
Interested in taking part in the Poe Museum’s work? Want to help inspire future generations of readers and writers? In honor of all the members, past and present, who have supported the Poe Museum during its first ninety years, we are kicking off a new membership drive with the goal of 500 new or renewing members by the end of this summer. Poe Museum members help support the Poe Museum with annual membership dues that help defray the cost of the museum’s educational programs like its student group tours, teachers’ workshops, and young writers’ conference. Funds are also used to care for the Poe Museum’s world renowned collection.
Poe Museum members get a 10% discount on all gift shop purchases, free admission to the Poe Museum, the Poe Museum’s newsletter Evermore, and special invitations to members-only events. As if those were not enough great reasons to become a Poe Museum member, this summer we will give a special members-only Poe Museum tote bag with every new or renewing membership. This tote will not be available in the gift shop or anywhere else. Members will also be eligible to sign up for a members-only tour of Shockoe Hill Cemetery and a members-only paranormal investigation of the Poe Museum on August 11 and August 18. Become a member of the Poe Museum today.
The totes pictured above are available in purple, red, and natural canvas. When you sign up for your membership, please note in the Special Instructions section which color you would like.
If you didn’t get a chance to see the Poe Museum’s new exhibit of James Carling’s 43 stunning “Raven” illustrations, you still have time. Due to popular demand, we have extended the show until July 29. We even printed a limited edition catalog, which is available at our online store.
During your visit, you can also see the new exhibit of Poe’s manuscripts and letters culled from seven different public and private collections.
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.
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.
Ca. 1900 photograph of the Old Stone House
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.
Poe (left) and Dickens (right)
Charles Dickens turned 200 today. Many readers know the novels of Dickens, but few may know that he and Poe were personally acquainted. Edgar Allan Poe was an admirer of Dickens’s works since “strongly recommending” Dickens’s works to American readers in a June 1836 review from the Southern Literary Messenger. In an 1839 issue of Burton’s Magazine, Poe wrote, “Charles Dickens is no ordinary man, and his writings must unquestionably live.”
Three years later, during Dickens’s 1842 tour of the United States, he met Poe in Philadelphia. Though we do not know exactly what was said during their conversation, we can assume Dickens agreed to help Poe find publishers for his work in England. There is no evidence Dickens told Poe about the death of his pet raven Grip, but, by the time of their meeting, Poe had already read Dickens’s novel Barnaby Rudge, which features a talking raven.
Today, three letters from Dickens to Poe survive as evidence of the meeting of Poe and Dickens. The texts are printed below.
Upon receiving Poe’s invitation to meet, Dickens wrote Poe:
United States Hotel, March 6, 1842.
My Dear Sir, — I shall be very glad to see you whenever you will do me the favor to call. I think I am more likely to be in the way between half-past eleven and twelve, than at any other time. I have glanced over the books you have been so kind as to send me, and more particularly at the papers to which you called my attention. I have the greater pleasure in expressing my desire to see you on this account. Apropos of the “construction” of “Caleb Williams,” do you know that Godwin wrote it backwards, — the last volume first, — and that when he had produced the hunting down of Caleb, and the catastrophe, he waited for months, casting about for a means of accounting for what he had done?
Faithfully yours always,
After returning to London, Dickens wrote Poe:
London, 1 Devonshire Terrace, York Gate, Regent’s Park,
November 27, 1842.
Dear Sir, — by some strange accident (I presume it must have been through some mistake on the part of Mr. Putnam in the great quantity of business he had to arrange for me), I have never been able to find among my papers, since I came to England, the letter you wrote to me at New York. But I read it there, and think I am correct in believing that it charged me with no other mission than that which you had already entrusted to me by word of mouth. Believe me that it never, for a moment, escaped my recollection; and that I have done all in my power to bring it to a successful issue — I regret to say, in vain.
I should have forwarded you the accompanying letter from Mr. Moxon before now, but that I have delayed doing so in the hope that some other channel for the publication of our book on this side of the water would present itself to me. I am, however, unable to report any success. I have mentioned it to publishers with whom I have influence, but they have, one and all, declined the venture. And the only consolation I can give you is that I do not believe any collection of detached pieces by an unknown writer, even though he were an Englishman, would be at all likely to find a publisher in this metropolis just now.
Do not for a moment suppose that I have ever thought of you but with a pleasant recollection; and that I am not at all times prepared to forward your views in this country, if I can.
Almost four years later, Dickens wrote Poe:
1 Devonshire Terrace, London. Nineteenth March 1846.
Although I have not received your volume, I avail myself of a leisure moment to thank you for the gift of it.
In reference to your proposal as regards the Daily News, I beg to assure you that I am not in any way connected with the Editorship or current Management of that Paper. I have an interest in it, and write such papers for it as I attach my name to. This is the whole amount of my connection with the Journal.
Any such proposition as yours, therefore, must be addressed to the Editor. I do not know, for certain, how that gentleman might regard it; but I should say that he probably has as many corespondents in America and elsewhere, as the Paper can afford space to.
I am Dear Sir
Edgar A. Poe Esquire