The world of Poe scholarship has produced countless books, papers, and scholarly articles; but rarely has it produced a work of art. While the written works of Poe scholars like Burton Pollin (1916-2009) and Thomas Ollive Mabbott (1898-1968) have contributed greatly to our understanding of Poe’s life and work, the sculpture of Richmond schoolteacher Edith Ragland (1890-1989) has provided posterity an invaluable resource for understanding Poe’s life in Richmond. As meticulously researched as some academic papers, Ragland’s model reconstructs the city Poe knew in a way words alone cannot. That is why the model is the Poe Museum’s Object of the Month for March 2015.
According to an undated manuscript written by Poe Foundation co-founder Annie Boyd Jones (d. 1947), the sculptor Edward Valentine (1838-1930) proposed the project. Valentine studied sculpture with August Kiss in Germany before enjoying a celebrated career in Richmond. In addition to sculpting the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis for Richmond’s Monument Avenue and the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee for the National Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol, Valentine produced “The Recumbent Lee” for Washington and Lee University. Valentine was also a historian with a special interest in Edgar Allan Poe. In 1875, he became one of the privileged few to be able to interview Poe’s last fiancée Elmira Royster Shelton. In 1898, he and his brother, Mann S. Valentine II, founded the Valentine Museum, which owned a number of Edgar Allan Poe letters in addition to a portrait of Poe’s foster mother Frances Allan. After retiring from sculpting in 1910, he devoted much of his remaining years to the study of Richmond history and the presidency of the Valentine Museum. By 1922, the eighty-four-year-old Valentine took an interest in the newly opened Edgar Allan Poe Museum, speaking at its opening ceremony as well as donating a portrait of Poe’s foster mother to the Museum’s collection.
Mr. and Mrs. Archer Jones
One evening in 1924 or 1925, Mrs. Jones spent several hours talking about old Richmond in Mr. Valentine’s parlor. He told her he had spent the last sixty years researching a book about Richmond history but had accumulated so much information he could not edit it sufficiently to publish it. As she was leaving, he pointed out a photograph of a photograph of a model of old Paris and exclaimed, “Wait a minute girl; here’s what you do. Make a model of Richmond in Poe’s Time and place it in the [Poe Museum’s] Old Stone House!”
Edward Virginius Valentine in his studio
Mrs. Jones offered to manage the project if he would sculpt it, but he replied, “Oh go away girl, you know I can’t work anymore, but you are an enthusiast—you will get it done…Now go ‘long and make it.”
As soon as she returned home, she told her husband, Archer G. Jones, who enthusiastically supported the idea. She later recounted, “I could see his inventive mood creeping into his eyes.”
The first obstacle to constructing the model was finding an artist to do the work. The solution came one day when Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941) visited the Poe Museum. Borglum was an accomplished sculptor who would later rise to fame for his carving of the presidential monument at Mount Rushmore. The party accompanying Borglum to the Poe Museum included Julia Sully (1870-1948, granddaughter of Poe’s friend, the painter Robert Matthew Sully, 1803-1855) and the young teacher Edith Ragland. During the course of the afternoon, Mrs. Jones mentioned her idea for the model of Richmond to Sully, who recommended Ragland for the project. Jones asked Ragland to build the model, but Ragland replied, “I would not know the first or the remotest way to go about.”
“Nonsense,” Sully answered, “You model beautifully. None of us knows how to go about it, so will all learn together.”
In this spirit of collaboration, Edward Valentine and City Hall supplied Ragland Photostats of maps at no charge, and the Poe Museum paid the Virginia State Library for Photostats of more maps. Valentine provided his notes on Richmond history, city directories, and Virginia Mutual Insurance records. Ragland also consulted Samuel Mordecai’s (1786-1865) 1856 book Richmond in By-Gone Days, an account of life in the city during the first half of the nineteenth century.
Ragland Sculpting the Model
Archer Jones insisted that a model of Richmond needed to accurately reflect the city’s hills, so he suggested carving the topography out of wood. According to the Poe Foundation board minutes for March 18, 1925, “Miss Ragland found that she needed some knowledge of engineering in order to make the correct elevations in her model so she set to work to study that subject.” She built the model on three connected stretcher tables covered with blocks of wood nine inches thick. With the assistance of surveyors, she chiseled those blocks into the hills and valleys of 1840s Richmond.
She also wrote to artists to determine which materials to use. Because she had been advised the technique would waterproof the model, Ragland covered the piece with asphaltum, a substance similar to tar. To this, she added a thin layer of plaster. When the plaster dried, she applied a layer of lead white gesso. She modeled the houses and churches from clay and let them air dry rather than firing them. She fashioned trees from pieces of sponge and wire. She then colored them with oil paint.
Ragland built the model in the Poe Museum’s Old Stone House. Upon completion, the model measured approximately eighteen feet wide and six feet deep and represented the city from about Fifth Street to Twenty-Eighth Street and from the James River to Marshall Street. This includes depictions of such sites as Poe’s boyhood home Moldavia, Poe’s mother’s grave at St. John’s Church, and the Virginia State Capitol. The most impressive aspect of the model’s creation is that it was constructed in a room measuring only nine feet wide, leaving the artist about one and a half feet of clearance on each side. Ragland, herself, was self-deprecating when speaking of her accomplishment. In a 1976 interview with Denise Bethel, Ragland humbly recalled that the work was fairly easy because the insurance records and maps told her exactly what structures to place on each block. She boasted that some old-timers told her she had even reproduced the correct trees in the right places.
In 1926, tragedy struck when Annie Jones’s husband committed suicide for financial reasons. Mrs. Jones decided that, once complete, the model would be presented to the Museum in his memory.
When Ragland completed her model in 1927, the Poe Foundation’s president, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and journalist Douglas S. Freemen reported to the Foundation’s board, “This is undoubtedly a work of charm, art and beauty. It is the creation and expression of experts—in invention, engineering, research and execution—but as a map of Richmond complete accuracy is most desirable.” He stressed that the gift would not be accepted by the Poe Foundation “until its accuracy at every point is beyond question.”
The minutes of the January 1928 meeting of the Poe Foundation’s board state that the model’s “accuracy is now vouched for by City engineers and surveyors, by Mr. E. V. Valentine, Dr. Stanard [editor of The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography] and other authorities, and that it ties up with Mordecai—except where he himself is inaccurate.” Dr. Freeman moved that the board formally accept the model into the Poe Museum’s collection, and the motion passed. So accurate was the model that Richmond historian Mary Wingfield Scott was able to create a key that identified most of the houses and buildings. In all, the model contains twenty-two identifiable taverns and hotels, fifteen churches, at least twelve public buildings, and the homes of several “distinguished citizens.”
The Model in 1937
The model was on continuous display in the room of it construction for forty years. In 1963, the Poe Museum renovated a neighboring building for the display of the model. In order to move the model, city workmen cut it into three pieces. Then six off-duty Richmond policemen, five off-duty firemen, and four other city employees volunteered to move the pieces to their new exhibit space. Several buildings and trees detached from the model in the six-hour process.
Ragland returned to the work on her model, reconnecting the three segments and reattaching the fallen houses. The Poe Foundation agreed to pay her $600 for her work in addition to cab fare from her home to the Museum three days a week for three months. Mrs. R. S. Reynolds donated a custom-built glass case for the model. The work was complete (for a second time) by December 6, 1964 when she appeared in a Richmond Times-Dispatch photograph (below) with her freshly restored masterpiece nearly four decades after she began work on it. To protect the work from further damage, Mrs. R. S. Reynolds donated a large glass case to protect it.
Ragland with Repaired Model in 1964
The model’s story continued well after Ragland completed her work. In 1981, an anonymous donor concerned by the object’s apparent state of deterioration offered to pay for its restoration. President of the Richmond Jaycees and graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts, Sergei Troubetzkoy conducted the repairs and repainting. Because the model remained on display during this process, he was only able to work on it while the Museum was closed and when he was not working at his day job. As a friend of Edith Ragland’s, Troubetzkoy knew of some details she had intended to include if time had allowed, so he added fences and other buildings he could document. Although he planned to do so, he was unable to add the fence around Capitol Square.
In 1999, the model was almost lost when a fire started in the room housing it. In fact, much of the room was destroyed. The tables underneath the piece were severely damaged, and firemen shattered its glass case. Smoke and water caused additional harm. In the wake of the fire, the Museum called conservators to assess the damage. The wood and paint had cracked. Several houses had again become detached. Additionally, a thick layer of dust and spiders had built up on the model in the years before the fire.
In consultation with 1717 Design Group, the Museum decided to reinstall the model in a new case facing the opposite direction. In order to rotate the model, a volunteer cut it into two pieces using the 1964 cuts as a guide.
With the guidance of historic object conservation specialist Russell Bernabo, artist Chris Semtner and art historian Michelle Dell’Aria cleaned and repaired the model over the course of six months. They first divided the surface into a grid of twelve-inch squares. Each square was carefully dusted into a tiny vacuum attachment. Pieces of rubber sponge were then used to remove grime that was not loosened by the dusting. Only when needed and when it could be performed without damaging the paint layer, wet cleaning was performed using a mixture of alcohol and water. In the course of their work, the conservators found that the original paint was often too unstable to clean but that a previous restorer’s applications of acrylic paint could be cleaned without damaging the surface. Additionally, they observed that the base layer of asphaltum had bled through the plaster and paint to discolor the topcoat. They glued houses back in place and reattached flaking paint and plaster using a solution of B-72 and xylene. In painting was conducted only sparingly. When this work was complete, they reattached the two halves of the model and filled and in-painted the seam.
Carpenters carefully removed the model from its damaged original tables and attached it to a new custom-made table and built a new case around it. In order to make the piece easier for guests to view, the Museum enlisted a team of volunteers from Open High to tilt the model to a twenty degree angle while the carpenters secured it in place. The model was then displayed with one side against the wall. Because the long ends of the model were not perpendicular, the Museum added extensions to allow the long end to sit flush against the back wall.
Museum guests were able to watch the entire conservation process through a large window in the gallery and to ask the conservators questions. Seeing a large dead spider perched atop one of the houses, a guest commented, “If the spiders were that big in Poe’s time, no wonder he wrote the kind of stories he did.”
After this major conservation project, the model received occasional cleanings using soft brushes and vacuums. The most notable of these was conducted in 2008 with the help of volunteers from Hampton Hotels’ Save-a-Landmark program.
Over ninety years after Edith Ragland began her masterpiece, this model of Poe’s Richmond remains a highlight of the Poe Museum’s collection—a resource to visiting historians as well as a favorite with the Museum’s youngest visitors. Like few other historical documents, Ragland’s model helps the viewer visualize the city, its topography, and its structures as Poe would have known them.
Find out about Poe to Go, the Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers’ Conference, and the 2015 Unhappy Hour Season and more Poe Museum news in the Fall 2014/Winter 2015 of the Museum’s newsletter Evermore. Click here to read more.
The Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia is excited to launch the historic reunion of iconic author Edgar Allan Poe and legendary horror actor Vincent Price over Halloween weekend, October 31, 2014 and November 1, 2014. This not-to-be-missed weekend kicks off with the family-friendly Poe Goes to the Movies on Halloween night, and culminates with a wine tasting experience like no other on Saturday, November 1 with The Author’s Appetite. Both events will be held at the Poe Museum located at 1914-16 East Main St. Richmond, VA 23223. Proceeds benefit the Edgar Allan Poe Museum’s educational programming.
Artwork by Abigail Larson
Poe Goes to the Movies takes place on Halloween night, Friday, October 31 from 6:00pm-10:00pm and includes a variety of fun and frightening activities including an appearance by Vincent Price’s daughter, Victoria Price who will introduce the film Tales of Terror starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Basil Rathbone. A special slate of guests will join Price as jurors for the Poe “look-a-like” contest and costume contests. Guests will also have the opportunity to experience the opening of the museum’s newest gallery, The Raven Room that will showcase the ca. 1882 illustrations for Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven” created by artist James Carling. This will be the first opportunity that the public will get to experience these one-of-a-kind drawings since they were designated one of “Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts” in Virginia in 2013, and it will be the first opportunity to see the new book about the illustrations by Poe Museum curator Christopher P. Semtner. Cash bar sponsored by Richmond’s Triple Crossing Brewery. Tickets to the Halloween night event are $20 per person ($5 for children under 12) and can be purchased at the museum or through the Poe Museum Online Store by clicking here.
The Author’s Appetite follows on Saturday, November 1 from 6:00pm-10:00pm and will provide an unforgettable evening for wine and literary lovers alike. Highlighting Vincent Price’s love of Richmond and its cuisine this culinary adventure will be the first opportunity to sample the Vincent Price Signature Wine Collection with labels by artists Abigail Larson and Gris Grimly. Complimenting this unique wine experience will be hors d’oeuvre by Chef Ken Wall of the Dining Room at the Berkeley Hotel along with desserts by pastry chef Cornelia Moriconi of Can Can Brasserie, both of which are inspired by recipes from Vincent Price’s now renowned cookbook, A Treasury of Great Recipes. Throughout the event, Victoria Price will share memories of her famous father and sign copies of her recent memoir Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography. Guests will also be treated to the exotic live music of Richmond favorites, the Tim Harding Quartet, as well as a silent auction, private talk with the curator of the Poe Museum’s new exhibition The Raven Room, and performances of Poe’s works by historical interpreter Anne Williams. Tickets are $50 per person and can be purchased at the museum or at through the Poe Museum online store by clicking here.
Additional programs highlighting Vincent Price at the Poe Museum Weekend include a guided walking tour at 10:00am on Saturday, November 1, featuring the graves of Edgar Allan Poe’s many friends and relatives buried at Shockoe Hill Cemetery, which is located at 4th and Hospital Streets in Richmond. There will also be a guided walking tour of Poe sites in Historic Shockoe Bottom at 2:00pm on Sunday, November 2. Please meet at the Poe Museum. Make Richmond a destination over Halloween Weekend at Richmond’s historic Linden Row Inn, which has partnered with the Poe Museum to create a fabulous weekend package including two nights’ accommodations and tickets to all of the weekend’s events. Visit www.lindenrowinn.com or click here for details about this special offer. If you would like a combined admission rate for the events without the hotel room, click here.
About Vincent Price:
Actor, writer, and gourmet, Vincent Leonard Price, Jr. was born in St Louis, Missouri. He traveled through Europe, studied at Yale and became an actor. He made his screen debut in 1938, and after many minor roles, he began to perform in low-budget horror movies such as House of Wax (1953), achieving his first major success with the House of Usher (1960). Known for his distinctive, low-pitched, creaky, atmospheric voice and his quizzical, mock-serious facial expressions, he went on to star in a series of acclaimed Gothic horror movies, such as Pit and the Pendulum (1961) and The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971). He abandoned films in the mid-1970s, going on to present cooking programs for television and writing “A Treasury of Great Recipes” (1965) with his second wife, Mary Grant. He also recorded many Gothic horror short stories for the spoken-word label Caedmon Records. Vincent Price died at age 82 of lung cancer and emphysema on October 25, 1993. (Source: IMDB MINI BIOGRAPHY BY LESTER A. DINERSTEIN)
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.
About Victoria Price:
Following in her father’s footsteps, Victoria has become a popular public speaker on topics ranging from the life of her famous father Vincent Price to interior/industrial design, as well as topics in the realm of the visual arts such as the role of the art collector in society and learning how to see. In 2012, she was delighted to be invited to be a TedX speaker at TedX Acequia Madre. Over the past fifteen years, Victoria has spoken around the world to audiences who have enjoyed her ease and erudition in sharing her enthusiasm for a joy-filled life in the arts. The 2014 edition of her book Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography was released in August 2014.
About the Edgar Allan Poe Museum:
Opened in 1922, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond hosts the world’s finest collection of Poe artifacts and memorabilia. The five-building complex features permanent exhibits of Poe’s manuscripts, personal items, 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 the education and enjoyment of a global audience. 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 considered classics of world literature. The Edgar Allan Poe Museum was recently recognized by TIME Magazine as Virginia’s “Most Authentic American Experience,” by Publishers Weekly as one of the “2013 Top Ten Literary Landmarks of the South,” and the “2013 Top Ten Things To Do in Richmond” on the Huffington Post.
Time Travelers: A Free Weekend of Richmond History
Featuring 10 Historic Houses of Greater Richmond
Richmond’s most renowned historic homes and museums offer visitors a “passport” to time-travel during a special admission-free weekend on Saturday and Sunday, September 13 and 14. Tourists and locals alike are invited to discover the City’s treasures, spanning 400 years of fascinating history and including the homes of John Marshall, Jefferson Davis, John Wickham, Major James Dooley and other important Virginians. Ten participating sites – Agecroft Hall, Dabbs House Museum, The John Marshall House, Magnolia Grange, Maymont, Meadow Farm Museum, Poe Museum, White House of the Confederacy, Wickham House and Wilton House Museum – will offer complimentary admission to visitors who show a Time Travelers Passport, available via download here. This special offer equates to savings of more than $55 per person. (Some restrictions may apply.)
Agecroft Hall was first built in England in the 1500s, then transported across the ocean and rebuilt in Richmond in the 1920s. Today it is a museum furnished with art and artifacts from 17th century England. Guests can take a guided tour, stroll the manicured gardens overlooking the James River, explore the architectural exhibit, and shop in the museum store. Agecroft Hall will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and 12:30 to 5 p.m. on Sunday and is located just west of Carytown at 4305 Sulgrave Road in Richmond. For more information, call (804) 353-4241 or visit www.agecrofthall.com.
Dabbs House Museum
The Dabbs House, built in rural eastern Henrico in 1820, gained attention as Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s field headquarters during the summer of 1862. The museum provides a place to learn about the history of the house from its use as a residence for the Dabbs family to its tenure as Henrico’s police headquarters from 1941 to 2005. Visitors can tour the 1862 field headquarters, browse the exhibit galleries and gift shop, and view a video on the history of the house. On September 17, 2010, Henrico County opened its first Tourist Information Center, which is located inside the Dabbs House Museum and provides visitors with resources on many other Richmond area attractions. This facility is owned by the County of Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks. Dabbs House Museum will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and is located at 3812 Nine Mile Road in eastern Henrico. For more information, call (804) 652-3406 or visit www.dabbshouse.henricorecandparks.com.
The John Marshall House
The John Marshall House, built in 1790 in the fashionable Court End neighborhood of Richmond was the home of the “Great Chief Justice” for forty-five years. Listed on the National and Virginia historic registers, the John Marshall House has undergone remarkably few changes since Marshall’s lifetime. The property remained in the Marshall family until 1911. It is currently owned and operated by Preservation Virginia. Visitors can enjoy a guided tour of the house, stroll the garden, and visit the Museum Shop. The John Marshall House will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 12 to 5 p.m. on Sunday and is located at 818 East Marshall Street in Richmond. For more information, call (804) 648-7998 or visit www.preservationvirginia.org.
Built in 1822 by William Winfree, Magnolia Grange is a handsome Federal-style plantation house named for the circle of magnolia trees that once graced its front lawn. Noted for its distinctive architecture, the mansion contains elaborate ceiling medallions, as well as sophisticated carvings on mantels, doorways and window frames. The house has been carefully restored to its 1820s look and feel. The Chesterfield Museum is a reproduction of the colonial courthouse of 1750. Its collections tell the history of Chesterfield County from prehistoric times through the 20th century. Exhibits include early Indian culture, artifacts from the first iron and coal mines in America, which were in Chesterfield County, early household and farming tools and a country store of the late 19th century. The Old Jail, built in 1892, houses historical exhibits from the county’s Police and Fire departments that are displayed downstairs. Upstairs, visitors may view cells as they were when they housed their last prisoners in 1962. Magnolia Grange will be open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and is located at 10020 Iron Bridge Road in Chesterfield. For more information, call (804) 796-1479 or visit www.chesterfieldhistory.com.
Maymont, a 100-acre American estate, was the home of New South business leader James Dooley and his wife Sallie from 1893 through 1925. During Time Travelers weekend at Maymont Mansion, costumed ladies, gentlemen, children and servants invite you to enjoy family-friendly activities and tours as you marvel at the 21 restored rooms that offer an unusually complete depiction of upstairs-downstairs life in the Gilded Age. The opulent upstairs interiors are adorned with Tiffany stained glass, frescoed ceilings and other sumptuous detailing and filled with original furnishings and artwork. Downstairs service rooms tell the story of household tasks and technology and the challenges of working in domestic service during the Jim Crow era. The surrounding landscape features Italian and Japanese gardens, magnificent trees, and a carriage display as well as Virginia wildlife exhibits, a Children’s Farm and the Robins Nature & Visitor Center. Maymont Mansion will be open 12 to 5 p.m on Saturday and Sunday and is located at 1700 Hampton Street in the heart of Richmond. (Grounds are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) For more information, call (804) 358-7166, ext. 310.
Meadow Farm Museum
Meadow Farm, one of the last remaining 19th century farms in Henrico County, is now an 1860 living historical farm focusing on middle-class rural life just before the upheaval of the Civil War. Costumed interpreters provide insights into the lives of Dr. John Mosby Sheppard, the owner of Meadow Farm, and his family. Daily and seasonal activities are portrayed in the farmhouse, barn, doctor’s office, blacksmith’s forge, kitchen, fields and pastures. The Museum also offers a schedule of special events, living history programs, and volunteer opportunities throughout the year. The Meadow Farm Museum Orientation Center features a reception area for visitors, two exhibit galleries and a gift shop. This facility is owned and operated by the County of Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks. Meadow Farm Museum will be open 12 to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and is located at 3400 Mountain Road in old Glen Allen. (Grounds are open from dawn to dusk.) For more information, call (804) 501-2130 or visit www.henricorecandparks.com.
Opened in 1922, Virginia’s only literary museum, the Poe Museum in Richmond, boasts the world’s finest collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s manuscripts, letters, first editions, memorabilia and personal belongings. The Poe Museum provides a retreat into early nineteenth century Richmond where the author of “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” lived and worked. The museum explores Poe’s life and career by documenting his accomplishments with pictures, relics, and verse, and focusing on his many years in Richmond. One of the structures in the museum’s four-building complex is the ca.1754 Old Stone House, the oldest residential structure in the original city limits of Richmond. The Poe Museum will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday and is located at 1914 East Main Street in Richmond. For more information, call (804) 648-5523 or visit www.poemuseum.org.
White House of the Confederacy (Museum of the Confederacy)
The house was home to Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, and his family from August 1861 until the evacuation of Richmond on April 2, 1865. It served as the political and social epicenter of wartime Richmond. The White House currently holds a large number of furnishings and artifacts that were in the house with the Davis family. All of the remaining items are original to the period, except for the textiles which are reproductions based on original fabrics or period patterns. All tours are guided. The White House of the Confederacy will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located at 1201 East Clay Street in Richmond. For more information, call (855) 649-1861 or visit www.moc.org. Please note: Time Travelers Passport Holders will only receive free admission to the house tour. The Museum of the Confederacy entrance fee is $10 and will not be free for the promotional weekend.
Wickham House (Valentine Richmond History Center)
The Wickham House, built in 1812, is a spectacular example of 19th-century Federal architecture and displays some of the country’s finest examples of interior decorative painting. Listed as a National Historic Landmark, the Wickham House, built by John Wickham, illustrates the lives of one of Richmond’s most prominent families. The Wickham House was purchased by Mann Valentine, Jr., and in 1898 became the first home of the Valentine Museum. It is operated by the Valentine Richmond History Center. The Wickham House will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 12 to 5 p.m. on Sunday and is located at 1015 East Clay Street in Richmond. For more information, call (804) 649-0711 or visit www.richmondhistorycenter.com.
Wilton House Museum
Overlooking a placid stretch of the James River, Wilton House has been welcoming guests since constructed in the 1750s as the centerpiece of a sprawling tobacco plantation by the prominent Randolph Family of Virginia. Here, friends, relations, and weary travelers such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and the Marquise de Lafayette were welcomed. An impressive example of 18th-century Georgian Style architecture, Wilton House boasts its original and richly detailed paneling and an exquisite collection of fine and decorative arts from the Colonial and early Federal eras. When development threatened Wilton House in the 1930s, The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Virginia purchased and restored the property. Wilton House Museum will be open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and 1 to 4:30 p.m. pm on Sunday and is located at 215 South Wilton Road in Richmond. For more information, call (804) 282-5936 or visit www.wiltonhousemuseum.org.
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 protected] 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.