To give the public a better idea of the variety of artifacts and memorabilia that makes up the Poe Museum’s world renowned collection, we will be profiling a different object each month. Some of these objects may be long-time favorites like Poe’s bed or Poe’s vest, but others may be lesser known pieces that are rarely, if ever, displayed. When making the list of items to profile, we began by asking which pieces tell stories or reveal unknown aspects of Poe’s life or work. We then considered which objects we wish could receive more attention or more time on display. Finally, we wondered which would be the first item to be profiled.
It made perfect sense to begin with a little known object that nonetheless attracts, repulses, and intrigues many of the guests who see it. Our tour guides regularly point it out on their tours because it is small enough to go unnoticed but too important to miss.
That is why the Poe Museum’s first Object of the Month is a lock of Eliza White’s hair.
Eliza White (ca.1820-1888) was the daughter of Poe’s employer, Thomas White, the owner of the Southern Literary Messenger. What little is known of Eliza White is a mixture of exaggeration, legend, and an occasional fact. Poe’s friend Susan Archer Talley Weiss wrote in her notoriously unreliable 1907 book Home Life of Poe, “When I was a girl I more than once heard of Eliza White and her love affair with Edgar Poe. ‘She was the sweetest girl that I ever knew,’ said a lady who had been her schoolmate; ‘a slender, graceful blonde, with deep blue eyes, who reminded you of the Watteau Shepherdesses upon fans. She was a great student, and very bright and intelligent. She was said to be engaged to Poe, but they never appeared anywhere together. It was soon broken off on account of his dissipation. I don’t think she ever got over it. She had many admirers, but is still unmarried.’”
Susan Archer Talley
According to Weiss, when Poe moved to Richmond in 1835 to work at the Southern Literary Messenger, “Mr. White, as a safeguard from the temptation to evil habits, received him as an inmate of his own home, where he immediately fell in love with the editor’s youngest daughter, ‘little Eliza,’ a lovely girl of eighteen [actually twenty-three]. It was said that the father, who idolized his daughter, and was also very fond of Poe, did not forbid the match, but made his consent conditional upon the young man’s remaining perfectly sober for a certain length of time. All was going well, and the couple were looked upon as engaged, when [Poe’s aunt] Mrs. Clemm, who kept a watchful eye upon her nephew, may have received information of the affair, and we have seen the result…Poe now, at once, plunged into the dissipation which was, according to general report, the occasion of Mr. White’s prohibition of his attentions to his daughter. It was she to whom the lines, ‘To Eliza,’ now included in Poe’s poems, were addressed.”
For her 1906 article “Some Memories of Poe” in Bob Taylor’s Magazine, Tula D. Pendleton interviewed Ms. White’s cousin, Miss Bell Lynes, a niece of Thomas H. White. In the resulting article, Cummings reports that, “Eliza, the handsome young daughter of Mr. White, inspired Poe with great admiration, and it was said that he singed his wings at the candles of her shrine. ‘To Eliza’ is his tribute to this fair girl.”
The poem “To Eliza,” originally published in the Southern Literary Messenger under the title “Lines Written in an Album,” reads:
Eliza! — let thy generous heart
From its present pathway part not!
Being every thing which now thou art,
Be nothing which thou art not.
So with the world thy gentle ways —
Thy unassuming beauty —
And truth shall be a theme of praise
Forever — and love a duty.
Though this poem was likely dedicated to Eliza White at that time, Poe had already written it in the album of his cousin Eliza Herring. He would later dedicate the poem to Frances S. Osgood and publish it under yet another name.
Thomas W. White
Of the supposed love affair between Poe and Ms. White, Pendleton continues, “But Mr. White would hear none of Poe as a suitor for his daughter. Miss White rarely spoke of the poet. ‘But,’ said Miss Lynes, ‘Eliza never married…’ Miss Lynes remembers seeing Poe at a party at her ‘Uncle White’s’ house. He and the fair girl made such a handsome couple that all present remarked upon it. “Mr. Poe was the most enthusiastic dancer I ever saw,” said Miss Lynes, “although he remained cold and calm, showing his delight only in his eyes.”
Poe and White remained friends for the rest of his life. She even visited Poe while he was living in Fordham, New York. In an April 22, 1859 letter to Poe’s friend Sarah Helen Whitman, Poe’s mother-in-law Maria Clemm writes of Eliza White, “She passed many months with us at Fordham, before and after Virginia’s death, but he never felt or professed other than friendship for her.”
If Poe’s relationship with White was not romantic, the two certainly shared an affinity for poetry. White’s poems appeared a number of times in the pages of the Southern Literary Messenger. Here is a poem of hers in the December 1835 issue.
The first mention of this lock of Eliza White’s hair comes from the above mentioned article by Tula D. Pendleton. The author writes of Ms. White, “Her greatest physical charm was her beautiful hair. Miss Lynes showed me a long braid of exquisite texture and of a fairness so extreme that when laid upon her own silver head there was scarcely any perceptible difference of shade. This hair was cut from Eliza White’s head many years before her death, which occurred about ten years ago.”
Pendleton acquired the lock from Miss Lynes and donated it to the Poe Museum in 1922. The piece had not been displayed for several years when the present curator, having read about it in the old accessions book, decided to take it out of storage. As a poet and as a friend of Poe’s, Eliza White deserved to have her story told. In the absence of a surviving portrait of her (since her only known portrait was destroyed in a fire in the nineteenth century) this hair serves as a tangible link to this often overlooked figure in Poe’s life.
Among the little known treasures in the Poe Museum’s archives are four small pencil sketches of one of Edgar Allan Poe’s boyhood homes. The artist was a fourteen-year-old girl who would grow up to be an important poet. Sally Bruce Kinsolving was born in Richmond in 1876 and would have executed the drawings shortly before the house was demolished in 1890. The house in the drawings is the mansion known as Moldavia, an imposing structure that once stood at the corner of 5th and Main Streets in Richmond. Moldavia was named after its first owners, Molly and David Randolph, who built it in 1800. Poe was sixteen when he moved into the house with his foster parents John and Frances Allan. Poe lived there until he went to the University of Virginia in 1826 and would have stayed there during his visits to Richmond in 1827 (after leaving the University) and 1829 (after his foster mother’s funeral). After Poe’s 1831 expulsion from the United States Military Academy at West Point, Poe was no longer welcome in the home, which by then housed John Allan and his second wife, Louisa G. Allan. She lived there until her death in 1881, and the building was demolished in 1890. Although this Richmond landmark has been lost, the Poe Museum preserves several objects the Allans owned while living in Moldavia, including artwork, salt cellars, and furniture.
Sally Bruce Kinsolving (1876-1962) published her first book of poetry, Depths and Shallows in 1921. This was followed by David and Bathsheba and Other Poems (1922), Grey Heather (1930), and Many Waters (1942). She was a member of the Poetry Society of America and a founder of the Poetry Society of Maryland. Kinsolving was also a member of Phi Beta Kappa Associates, the Academy of American Poets, the Catholic Poetry Society of America, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Gallery of Living Catholic Authors, and the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore. Kinsolving donated her drawings of Moldavia to the Poe Museum in 1922, the year the Museum opened.
These faint pencil sketches reveal close-up views of elements of the mansion that have not necessarily recorded in the few surviving photographs of the structure. This is why they are an important resource for those researching the Richmond that Poe knew during his childhood. For an artist so young, Kinsolving has done a masterful job of capturing the subtle nuances of light and shadow in images that appear to emerge from the tan paper. In order to make the drawings more visible online, we have adjusted the contrast and enlarged the scans before posting them here, but we hope you can still appreciate the beauty of these little known gems of the Poe Museum’s collection. The captions are the artist’s.
“Cornice at the Back of the House”
“Back Basement Door”
Here is a photograph of the same portico for comparison.
POE MUSEUM ANNOUNCES NEW BOARD PRESIDENT
The Poe Foundation of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum of Richmond, Virginia is proud to announce the election of its new board president, Annemarie Weathers Beebe of South Carolina. The Executive Director of Historic Rock Hill, Mrs. Beebe follows in a long line of distinguished Poe Foundation presidents including two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Dr. Douglas Southall Freeman and Edgar™ Award-winner Dr. Harry Lee Poe.
Assuming the position of Vice President is Dr. M. Thomas Inge. Serving a second term as Treasurer will be Jeffrey Chapman. Serving his first term as Secretary will be Robert A. Buerlein. The Poe Foundation’s executive committee will also consist of Past President Harry Lee Poe, Kassie Ann Olgas, Kia Ware, and Benjamin A.P. Warthen. The officers and executive committee were elected at the Poe Foundation biannual board meeting on October 5, 2013.
More Information about Edgar Allan Poe:
Edgar Allan Poe is the internationally influential author of such tales of “The Raven,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Black Cat.” He is credited with inventing the mystery genre as well as with pioneering both the modern horror story and science fiction. Poe died under mysterious circumstances at the age of forty. Although much of his life is known through contemporary documents, some areas of his life remain shrouded in mystery.
Opened in 1922, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum of Richmond is the world’s finest collection of Edgar Allan Poe artifacts and memorabilia. The five-building complex features permanent exhibits of Poe’s manuscripts, personal items, clothing, and a lock of the author’s hair. The Poe Museum’s mission is to interpret the life and influence of Edgar Allan Poe for a global audience. Edgar Allan Poe is America’s first internationally influential author, the inventor of the detective story, and the forerunner of science fiction; but he primarily considered himself a poet. His poems “The Raven,” “Annabel Lee,” and “The Bells” are classics of world literature.
For more information, contact Chris Semtner at the Poe Museum by email or call 888-21-EAPOE. More information and a complete list of Poe-related activities can be found here.
On October 5 at 1 P.M., the Poe Museum will receive the largest gift in its history, a house. The house just happens to be the oldest in Richmond, the Old Stone House. Though we are not exactly certain when it was built, dendrochronology (testing of the tree rings in wood) dates the floorboards to 1754. For over ninety years, the Poe Museum has occupied the house, which remains the property of Preservation Virginia, formerly known as the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, while the other three buildings in the Poe Museum complex belong to the Poe Foundation.
The history of the Old Stone House is a colorful one. From the 1740s until 1911, the property was owned by the Ege family, who were among the first residents of the city. In 1781, one of the residents, Elizabeth Ege Welsh, supposedly saw Benedict Arnold invade and set fire to Richmond from the house. By the 1840s, the house appears in guide books for visitors to the city. Around 1881, the house was rented to R. L. Potter, “The Wheelbarrow Man,” who used it to exhibit an assortment of unusual objects he had collected while pushing a wheelbarrow from New York to California and back. One account says he even displayed a live bear in one of the rooms. In 1894, the house was known as Washington’s Headquarters Antiquarium and Relic Museum, which published a guide book to perpetuate some tall tales about how the house had been built by Powhatan, used as a courthouse by Patrick Henry, and used as George Washington’s headquarters during the American Revolution (though Washington never actually set foot in the city during that war). Some old postcards show the house with a large “Washington’s Headquarters” sign hanging next to the front door.
In 1913, the Ege family lost the property, and Granville Valentine purchased the building to save it from destruction. Valentine, in turn, donated it to the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, who tried to find someone to rent it. A renter who had intended to use it as an antique store left because the property was being vandalized. Then Archer Jones, owner of the Duplex Envelope Company, approached the APVA with the idea of using the house as a museum of Colonial history. Jones and his wife soon met the Poe collector James Whitty, who wanted to reconstruct the recently demolished office of the Southern Literary Messenger in the junk yard behind the house. In 1921, that idea evolved into using the Messenger bricks and granite to make a Poe Memorial garden in the yard and using the locks, lumber, and hinges from the Messenger building to restore the Old Stone House. The House was then furnished with furniture from Richmond buildings in which Poe lived or worked. In the early years, the APVA charged the Poe Foundation rent for the property, but it eventually allowed the museum to use the house rent-free.
Ninety-one years after the Poe Museum opened, the Old Stone House is still visited by guests from around the world, and the exterior of the house remains virtually unchanged from its appearance recorded in nineteenth century photos. Thanks to Preservation Virginia, this beautiful remnant of Richmond’s Colonial past will finally become a true part of the Poe Museum. The museum has no plans for changes to the structure, which will be protected from significant alterations by an easement with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
To learn more about the Old Stone House, please visit the Poe Museum or read the forthcoming book about the house by Rosemarie Mitchell.
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)
This photograph of the Poe Museum’s Old Stone House dates to around 1881. The bearded man standing by the front door is R. L. Potter, the Wheelbarrow Man. Long before anyone ever thought to have a Poe Museum in the Old Stone House, Potter used the building to display his own collection of 1,600 curiosities, which included rattlesnakes, two wolves, rocks and minerals collected on his travels, and—according to one source—a live bear. Admission was probably about fifteen cents, which is the price he charged when his collection was on display on Marshall Street, according to an advertisement in the November 29, 1881 Daily Dispatch.
Potter was born in Marietta, Ohio but moved to Albany, New York, where he had a wife and three children. When Grant won the Presidency, Potter refused to shave his beard until a Democrat was in office. He earned the name Wheelbarrow Man by pushing a wheelbarrow carrying 100 pounds from Albany to San Francisco in 1878. He walked the 4,100 miles in just 160 days, becoming famous in the process. During the trip, he adopted and tamed two wolf cubs, which followed him for the rest of his life. He also filled his wheelbarrow with rocks, minerals, live specimens, and other “curiosities” he found along the way. Upon Potter’s arrival in San Francisco, the poet Samuel Booth wrote “The Song of the Wheelbarrow Man,” a stanza of which reads, “He started from Albany five months ago,/ And trundled his wheelbarrow steady and slow,/ In storm and in sunshine, through dust, wind, and rain,/ Four thousand odd miles trudged the Wheelbarrow Man.”
When asked why he took the trip, Potter told reporters he wanted to make his name doing something no one else had ever done. That distinction was short-lived. In a publicity stunt to sell papers, newspaper owner George Hearst offered a prize to whoever could win a wheelbarrow race from San Francisco to New York. Potter’s competition was L. P. Federmeyer of Paris, France. Federmeyer won the race, but Potter continued to tour the country, never returning to his home in Albany because, according to a May 19, 1881 interview in the National Republican, “I have three children there. The reason I don’t go home is that if I get there with my children I can’t get away.”
In the same interview, Potter mentions that he has exhibited his collection of curiosities in a number of cities and will take it to Virginia. By July 27, 1881, he was showing his “museum of natural curiosities” in Woodstock, Virginia, according to the Shenandoah Herald of that date. By November 27, 1881, when an advertisement for his museum appeared in the Daily Dispatch, he was in Richmond.
The exact dates of his time in the Old Stone House are unknown. An 1894 guide to the Old Stone House (which was then in service as the Washington’s Headquarters Antiquarium and Relic Museum) states that Potter rented the house for eight months beginning in 1879. Poe Museum trustee Rosemarie Mitchell, who is researching a history of the Old Stone House, theorizes Potter might have rented the house in late 1882 or early 1883. By 1883, he returned to New York to accept the challenge of pushing his wheelbarrow from New York City to New Orleans.
Potter died shortly afterwards. The April 30, 1883 issue of the New York Times reported that he was killed while crossing the railroad bridge over the Yadkin River in North Carolina. His last surviving pet wolf remained at his master’s side and was retrieved by Potter’s widow.
As the Poe Museum celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, it is easy to forget that the Old Stone House was already a Richmond landmark—and even a museum—decades before the Poe Foundation took over the property. Although the bear, wolves, and rattlesnakes are long gone, we still like to think we have an interesting, if slightly less dangerous, collection of Poeana.
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.
An interview with Richmond Macabre editors Phil Ford and Beth Brown was aired today at noon on WRIR’s Wordy Birds radio show. If you missed it, you can listen at:
Listen for the references to Poe and the Museum!
Richmond Macabre is a short fiction anthology featuring 15 horror stories set in Richmond, Virginia.
Richmond Macabre will be released tomorrow, October 1st. The Poe Museum will be hosting a launch party October 2nd from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. Authors will be giving readings of excerpts from the book and will be on hand to give signings. DJ Sean Lovelace will be providing spooky music, as well as an interactive experience with a Theramin for party guests. The Museum’s exhibits will be open, including new exhibits featuring mourning customs during Edgar Allan Poe’s lifetime and an art gallery containing pieces inspired by The Raven. Light refreshments will be served.
Copies of Richmond Macabre will be available for $19.95. Posters of Richmond artist Noah Scalin’s cover art will be available for $20.00. Admission to this event is free.