When Edgar Allan Poe died in 1849, his obituary painted him as a friendless misanthrope whose death would “startle many, but few [would] be grieved by it.” Ouch. This notoriously unflattering piece was published under the pseudonym “Ludwig,” though we know its author was Rufus Griswold, Poe’s literary executor who ended up maligning Poe’s character not only in this obituary but in a subsequent biography.
We think Edgar deserves better! Poe isn’t around to defend himself, but we invite you to speak on his behalf and rewrite his obituary. Submit your Poe-bituaries to us at [email protected] by midnight on Wednesday, October 7, 2015, and we’ll select a winner to publish on our blog and share via our Facebook page. The winner will also receive a copy of the brand new anthology nEvermore! signed by authors J. Madison Davis, Nancy Kilpatrick, and Caro Soles.
Griswold’s infamous article is copied below. May it inspire you to write something better!
October 7 is the anniversary of Poe’s death. Here at the museum, we’ll be honoring Poe with a reading and signing of nEvermore! with J. Madison Davis, Nancy Kilpatrick, and Caro Soles. Please join us from 6-9 that evening!
Death of Edgar A. Poe.
EDGAR ALLAN POE is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it. The poet was well known, personally or by reputation, in all this country; he had readers in England, and in several of the states of Continental Europe; but he had few or no friends; and the regrets for his death will be suggested principally by the consideration that in him literary art has lost one of its most brilliant but erratic stars.
The family of Mr. Poe — we learn from Griswold’s “Poets and Poetry of America,” from which a considerable portion of the facts in this notice are derived — was one of the oldest and most respectable in Baltimore. David Poe, his paternal grandfather, was a Quartermaster-General in the Maryland line during the Revolution, and the intimate friend of Lafayette, who, during his last visit to the United States, called personally upon the General’s widow, and tendered her acknowledgments for the services rendered to him by her husband. His great-grandfather, John Poe, married in England, Jane, a daughter of Admiral James McBride, noted in British naval history, and claiming kindred with some of the most illustrious English families. His father and mother, — both of whom were in some way connected with the theater, and lived as precariously as their more gifted and more eminent son — died within a few weeks of each other, of consumption, leaving him an orphan, at two years of age. Mr. John Allan, a wealthy gentleman of Richmond, Virginia, took a fancy to him, and persuaded his grandfather to suffer him to adopt him. He was brought up in Mr. Allan’s family; and as that gentleman had no other children, he was regarded as his son and heir. In 1816 he accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Allen [[Allan]] to Great Britain, visited every portion of it, and afterward passed four or five years in a school kept at Stoke Newington, near London, by Rev. Dr. Bransby. He returned to America in 1822, and in 1825 went to the Jefferson University, at Charlottesville, in Virginia, where he led a very dissipated life, the manners of the college being at that time extremely dissolute. He took the first honors, however, and went home greatly in debt. Mr. Allan refused to pay some of his debts of honor, and he hastily quitted the country on a Quixotic expedition to join the Greeks, then struggling for liberty. He did not reach his original destination, however, but made his way to St. Petersburg, in Russia, when he became involved in difficulties, from which he was extricated by the late Mr. Henry Middleton, the American Minister at that Capital. He returned home in 1829, and immediately afterward entered the Military Academy at West-Point. In about eighteen months from that time, Mr. Allan, who had lost his first wife while Mr. Poe was in Russia, married again. He was sixty-five years of age, and the lady was young; Poe quarreled with her, and the veteran husband, taking the part of his wife, addressed him an angry letter, which was answered in the same spirit. He died soon after, leaving an infant son the heir to his property, and bequeathed Poe nothing.
The army, in the opinion of the young cadet, was not a place for a poor man; so he left West-Point abruptly, and determined to maintain himself by authorship. He printed, in 1827, a small volume of poems, most of which were written in early youth. Some of these poems are quoted in a reviewal by Margaret Fuller, in The Tribune in 1846, and are justly regarded as among the most wonderful exhibitions of the precocious development of genius. They illustrated the character of his abilities, and justified his anticipations of success. For a considerable time, however, though he wrote readily and brilliantly, his contributions to the journals attracted little attention, and his hopes of gaining a livelihood by the profession of literature were nearly ended at length in sickness, poverty and despair. But in 1831, the proprietor of a weekly gazette, in Baltimore, offered two premiums, one for the best story in prose, and the other for the best poem. — In due time Poe sent in two articles, and he waited anxiously for the decision. One of the Committee was the accomplished author of “Horseshoe Robinson,” John P. Kennedy, and his associates were scarcely less eminent than he for wit and critical sagacity. Such matters are usually disposed of in a very off hand way: Committees to award literary prizes drink to the payer’s health, in good wines, over the unexamined MSS, which they submit to the discretion of publishers, with permission to use their names in such a way as to promote the publisher’s advantage[[.]] So it would have been in this case, but that one of the Committee, taking up a little book in such exquisite calligraphy as to seem like one of the finest issues of the press of Putnam, was tempted to read several pages, and being interested, he summoned the attention of the company to the half-dozen compositions in the volume. It was unanimously decided that the prizes should be paid to the first of geniuses who had written legibly. Not another MS. was unfolded. Immediately the ‘confidential envelop’ was opened, and the successful competitor was found to bear the scarcely known name of Poe.
The next day the publisher called to see Mr. Kennedy, and gave him an account of the author that excited his curiosity and sympathy, and caused him to request that he should be brought to his office. Accordingly he was introduced: the prize money had not yet been paid, and he was in the costume in which he had answered the advertisement of his good fortune. Thin, and pale even to ghastliness, his whole appearance indicated sickness and the utmost destitution. A tattered frock-coat concealed the absence of a shirt, and the ruins of boots disclosed more than the want of stockings[[.]] But the eyes of the young man were luminous with intelligence and feeling, and his voice, and conversation, and manners, all won upon the lawyer’s regard. Poe told his history, and his ambition, and it was determined that he should not want means for a suitable appearance in society, nor opportunity for a just display of his abilities in literature. Mr. Kennedy accompanied him to a clothing store, and purchased for him a respectable suit, with changes of linen, and sent him to a bath, from which he returned with the suddenly regained bearing of a gentleman.
The late Mr. Thomas W. White had then recently established The Southern Literary Messenger, at Richmond, and upon the warm recommendation of Mr. Kennedy, Poe was engaged, at a small salary — we believe of $500 a year — to be its editor. He entered upon his duties with letters full of expressions of the warmest gratitude to his friends in Baltimore, who in five or six weeks were astonished to learn that with characteristic recklessness of consequences, he was hurriedly married to a girl as poor as himself. Poe continued in this situation for about a year and a half, in which he wrote many brilliant articles, and raised the Messenger to the first rank of literary periodicals.
He next moved to Philadelphia, to assist William E. Burton in the editorship of the Gentleman’s Magazine, a miscellany that in 1840 was merged in Graham’s Magazine, of which Poe became one of the principal writers, particularly in criticism, in which his papers attracted much attention, by their careful and skillful analysis, and generally caustic severity. At this period, however, he appeared to have been more ambitious of securing distinction in romantic fiction, and a collection of his compositions in this department, published in 1841, under the title of “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque,” established his reputation for ingenuity, imagination and extraordinary power in tragical narration.
Near the end of 1844 Poe removed to New-York, where he conducted for several months a literary miscellany called “The Broadway Journal.” In 1845 he published a volume of “Tales” in Wiley and Putnam’s Library of American Books, and in the same series a collection of his poems. Besides these volumes he was the author of “Arthur Gordon Pym,” a romance: “A New Theory of Versification;” “Eureka,” an essay on the spiritual and material universe: a work which he wished to have “judged as a poem;” and several extended series of papers in the periodicals, the most noticeable of which are “Marginalia”, embracing opinions of books and authors; “Secret Writing,” “Autography,” and “Sketches of the Literati of New-York.”
His wife died in 1847, at Fordham, near this City, and some of our readers will remember the paragraphs in the papers of the time, upon his destitute condition. His wants were supplied by the liberality of a few individuals. We remember that Col. Webb collected in a few moments fifty or sixty dollars for him at the Union Club; Mr. Lewis, of Brooklyn, sent a similar sum from one of the Courts, in which he was engaged when he saw the statement of the poet’s poverty; and others illustrated in the same manner the effect of such an appeal to the popular heart.
Since that time Mr. Poe has lived quietly, and with an income from his literary labors sufficient for his support. A few weeks ago he proceeded to Richmond[[,]] in Virginia, where he lectured upon the poetical character, &c.; and it was understood by some of his correspondents here that he was this week to be married, most advantageously, to a lady of that city: a widow, to whom he had been previously engaged while a student in the University. [column 4, top:]
The character of Mr. Poe we cannot attempt to describe in this very hastily written article. We can but allude to some of its more striking phases.
His conversation was at times almost supra-mortal in its eloquence. His voice was modulated with astonishing skill, and his large and variably expressive eyes looked repose [[sic]] or shot fiery tumult into theirs who listened, while his own face glowed, or was changeless in pallor, as his imagination quickened his blood or drew it back frozen to his heart. His imagery was from the worlds which no mortal can see but with the vision of genius. Suddenly starting from a proposition exactly and sharply defined in terms of utmost simplicity and clearness, he rejected the forms of customary logic, and by a crystalline process of accretion, built up his occular demonstrations in forms of gloomiest and ghastliest grandeur, or in those of the most airy and delicious beauty — so minutely, and distinctly, yet so rapidly, that the attention which was yielded to him was chained till it stood among his wonderful creations — till he himself dissolved the spell, and brought his hearers back to common and base existence, by vulgar fancies or by exhibitions of the ignoblest passion.
He was at all times a dreamer — dwelling in ideal realms — in heaven or hell — peopled with creatures and the accidents of his brain. He walked the streets, in madness or melancholy, with lips moving in indistinct curses, or with eyes upturned in passionate prayers, (never for himself, for he felt, or professed to feel, that he was already damned), but for their happiness who at the moment were objects of his idolatry — or, with his glances introverted to a heart gnawed with anguish, and with a face shrouded in gloom, he would brave the wildest storms; and all night, with drenched garments and arms wildly beating the winds and rains, he would speak as if to spirits that at such times only could be evoked by him from the Aidenn close by whose portals his disturbed soul sought to forget the ills to which his constitution subjugated him — close by that Aidenn where were those he loved — the Aidenn which he might never see, but in fitful glimpses, as its gates opened to receive the less fiery and more happy natures whose destiny to sin did not involve the doom of death.
He seemed, except when some fitful pursuit subjected his will and engrossed his faculties, always to bear the memory of some controlling sorrow. The remarkable poem of The Raven was probably much more nearly than has been supposed, even by those who were very intimate with him, a reflexion and an echo of his own history. He was that bird’s
—— Unhappy master,
Whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster,
Till his songs the burden bore —
Till the dirges of his hope, the
Melancholy burden bore
Of “Nevermore,” of “Nevermore.”
Every genuine author in a greater or less degree leaves in his works, whatever their design, traces of his personal character: elements of his immortal being, in which the individual survives the person. While we read the pages of theFall of the House of Usher, or of Mesmeric Revelations, we see in the solemn and stately gloom which invests one, and in the subtle metaphysical analysis of both, indications of the idiosyncrasies, — of what was most remarkable and peculiar — in the author’s intellectual nature. But we see here only the better phases of this nature, only the symbols of his juster action, for his harsh experience had deprived him of all faith in man or woman. He had made up his mind upon the numberless complexities of the social world, and the whole system with him was an imposture. This conviction gave a direction to his shrewd and naturally unamiable character. Still, though he regarded society as composed altogether of villains, the sharpness of his intellect was not of that kind which enabled him to cope with villainy, while it continually caused him by overshots to fail of the success of honesty. He was in many respects like Francis Vivian in Bulwer’s novel of “The Caxtons.” “Passion, in him, comprehended many of the worst emotions which militate against human happiness. You could not contradict him, but you raised quick choler; you could not speak of wealth, but his cheek paled with gnawing envy. The astonishing natural advantages of this poor boy — his beauty, his readiness, the daring spirit that breathed around him like a fiery atmosphere — had raised his constitutional self-confidence into an arrogance that turned his very claims to admiration into prejudice against him. Irascible, envious — bad enough, but not the worst, for these salient angles were all varnished over with a cold repellant cynicism, his passions vented themselves in sneers. There seemed to him no moral susceptibility; and, what was more remarkable in a proud nature, little or nothing of the true point of honor. He had, to a morbid excess, that desire to rise which is vulgarly called ambition, but no wish for the esteem or love of his species; only the hard wish to succeed — not shine, not serve — succeed, that he might have the right to despise a world which galled his self conceit.”
We have suggested the influence of his aims and vicissitudes upon his literature. It was more conspicuous in his later than his earlier writing. Nearly all that he wrote in the last two or three years — including much of his best poetry — was in some sense biographical; in draperies of his imagination, those who had taken the trouble to trace his steps, could perceive, but slightly concealed, the figure of himself.
There are perhaps some of our readers who will understand the allusions of the following beautiful poem. Mr. Poe presented it in MS. to the writer of these paragraphs, just before he left New-York recently, remarking that it was the last thing he had written:
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea.
But we loved with a love that was more than love —
I and my ANNABEL LEE —
With a love that the wingëd seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.
And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful ANNABEL LEE;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.
The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me —
Yes! — that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my ANNABEL LEE.
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we —
Of many far wiser than we —
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful ANNABEL LEE:
For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful ANNABEL LEE;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful ANNABEL LEE,
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling — my darling — my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea —
In her tomb by the sounding sea.
We must omit any particular criticism of Mr. Poe’s works. As a writer of tales it will be admitted generally, that he was scarcely surpassed in ingenuity of construction or effective painting. As a critic, he was more remarkable as a dissecter of sentences than as a commentater upon ideas: he was little better than a carping grammarian. As a poet, he will retain a most honorable rank. Of his “Raven,” Mr. Willis observes, that in his opinion “it is the most effective single example of fugitive poetry ever published in this country, and is unsurpassed in English poetry for subtle conception, masterly ingenuity of versification, and consistent sustaining of imaginative lift.” In poetry, as in prose, he was most successful in the metaphysical treatment of the passions. His poems are constructed with wonderful ingenuity, and finished with consummate art. They illustrate a morbid sensitiveness of feeling, a shadowy and gloomy imagination, and a taste almost faultless in the apprehension of that sort of beauty most agreeable to his temper.
We have not learned of the circumstance of his death. It was sudden, and from the fact that it occurred in Baltimore, it is to be presumed that he was on his return to New-York.
“After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well.”
The photos taken at the Poe Photo Booth at the Poe Museum of Richmond’s July 2015 Unhappy Hour can now be seen right here. The next Unhappy Hour will be held October 22 from 6-9 p.m. Don’t miss it!
Join us on Wednesday, October 7 at 6:00 PM at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond as we mark the 166th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s death and honor his legacy.
Be Among the First to Get a Copy
As a fitting tribute to Poe’s genius and his continued influence on contemporary literature, authors J. Madison Davis, Nancy Kilpatrick, and Caro Soles will be here to read from and sign copies of nEvermore! Tales of Murder, Mystery, and the Macabre—an anthology of 21 original stories inspired by Poe’s works.
Deliver a Poe Eulogy
In addition to the reading, we’ll also give Poe mourners an opportunity to say a few words about the dearly departed with our Open Mic Eulogies. In this open forum, we invite everyone to share their thoughts and memories of Poe with all of us. Whether you have a favorite story or poem of his that particularly moved you or his work has inspired you in some way, we welcome your responses!
Solve the Mystery of Poe’s Death
Poe’s death in Baltimore at the age of 40 remains something of a mystery. There are at least 27 different theories as to the cause of death…care to submit your own theory? We’ll have “Death Clues” scattered around the museum—these excerpts from primary documents detail the circumstances surrounding Poe’s last days. Read the clues and form your own theory about what happened all those years ago. A small prize will be awarded to the most original theory.
Experience New Exhibits
As always, the museum’s exhibits will be open. The Edgar Allan Poe Museum boasts the world’s largest collection of Poe memorabilia and artifacts. Last week saw the installation of a new exhibit, “The Poe Code,” all about Poe and cryptograms, which will be displayed until November 29. The special exhibit “Buried Alive: Poe’s Tales of Premature Burial” will remain on view only until October 18. Don’t miss them!
This event is free of charge. For more information, call 804-648-5523.
Praise for nEvermore!
from Publishers Weekly:
“Poe accomplished what only the greatest writers are capable of achieving: the creation of a world. His was a world of twisty tales and dark comeuppances, his people haunted by the past and love denied. And this is what you’ll also find in nEvermore!: Tales of Murder, Mystery and the Macabre, a world of its own authored by a talented crew who have fallen under Poe’s spell and brought chilling and distinctive documents back with them. Pleasures abound.” — Andrew Pyper, author of The Damned and The Demonologist.
“The stories in nEvermore! truly capture the macabre, mysterious essence of Poe. It’s a wonderful read for all Poe fans.” — Susan Jaffe Tane, Curator, The Persistence of Poe, the finest collection of Poe-related material in private hands
“I was genuinely delighted by the originality of Kilpatrick and Soles’ nEvermore….It was with great relief that I found the presence of Poe looming large in this anthology. Most importantly, the authors truly honor his spirit.” — Elaine Pascale (The Horror Review)
“Probably the most formally ambitious story in the collection is “Afterlife,” a collaboration between William F. Nolan, Jason V. Brock and Sunni Brock, which synthesizes aspects of Poe’s legend and biography with his late cosmogonic poem Eureka, putting the results under a kind of amnesiac erasure.” – Postscripts to Darkness
At long last, here are the photos taken at the Poe Photo Booth at the Poe Museum’s May 2015 Unhappy Hour. If you haven’t been to an Unhappy Hour this year, be sure not to miss the October 22 Unhappy Hour. More pictures are on the way.
Illustration for the first printing of “The Gold-Bug”
Armies have been sending sensitive information through encoded messages for thousands of years to protect that information from falling into enemy hands, but it was Edgar Allan Poe who popularized the use of these cryptograms as a form of entertainment and in fiction with his story “The Gold-Bug.” Even before the publication of this trailblazing treasure-hunt mystery, Poe was so interested in cryptograms that he challenged the readers of his magazine to send him codes to solve. From September 24 until December 31, the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia will explore Poe’s love of cryptography in the new exhibit The Poe Code: Cryptograms and Puzzles in the Works of Edgar Allan Poe. Visitors to the exhibit will learn how to decode a simple cryptogram and how to hide a name in plain sight by composing an acrostic poem.
While you are here, be sure not to miss the special exhibit Buried Alive, which closes on October 18.
It is one of the stars of the Poe Museum. It has traveled the world and encountered both a U.S. president and the Queen of England. Millions of people, in fact, have seen this simple wooden walking stick. Millions more have read about it in various biographies and novels about Poe.
About thirty-six inches long, the cane is made of dark wood with a silver tip inscribed “Poe.” A hole through the shaft once held a leather strap the user would loop around the user’s wrist. This humble piece is remarkable not only because it was once owned by Edgar Allan Poe but because it might be a clue to Poe’s mysterious death.
The first recorded mention of Poe’s walking stick is in a March 1878 article entitled “The Last Days of Edgar Allan Poe” by Susan Weiss in Scribner’s Magazine. Weiss reports that, on Poe’s last night in Richmond before his ill-fated trip to Baltimore on his way to Philadelphia, he visited the home of his friend Dr. John Carter at Seventeenth and Broad Streets in Richmond. “Late in the evening he entered the office of Dr. John Carter, and spent an hour in looking over the day’s papers; then taking Dr. Carter’s cane he went out, remarking that he would step across to Saddler’s (a fashionable restaurant) and get supper. From the circumstance of his taking the cane, leaving his own in its place, it is probable that he had intended to return; but at the restaurant he met with some acquaintances who detained him until late, and then accompanied him to the Baltimore boat.”
Dr. John Carter
Dr. Carter wrote his own account of his evening with Poe in the November 1902 issue of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine.
I had not seen Poe for some days, when he one evening, about half-past nine o’clock, called at my office, which, being on Seventeenth and Broad Streets, had afforded him a half-way resting-place between Duncan Lodge and the residence of Mrs. Shelton, on Church Hill, during his brief engagement to that lady. As was well known to his intimate friends, the engagement was broken off before he left Richmond, though whether afterwards resumed is not certain. On this evening he sat for some time talking, while playing with a handsome Malacca sword-cane recently presented me by a friend, and then, abruptly rising, said, “I think I will step over to Saddler’s (a popular restaurant in the neighborhood) for a few moments,” and so left without any further word, having my cane still in his hand. From this manner of departure I inferred that he expected to return shortly, but did not see him again, and was surprised to learn next day that he had left for Baltimore by the early morning boat. I then called on Saddler, who informed me that Poe had left his house at exactly twelve that night, starting for the Baltimore boat in company with several companions whom he had met at Saddler’s, and giving as a reason there for the lateness of the hour and the fact that the boat was to leave at four o’clock. According to Saddler he was in good spirits and sober, though it is certain that he had been drinking and that he seemed oblivious of his baggage, which had been left in his room at the Swan Tavern. These effects were after his death forwarded by one of Mrs. Mackenzie’s sons to Mrs. Clemm in New York, and through the same source I received my cane, which Poe in his absent-mindedness had taken away with him.
After leaving Richmond, Poe’s disappeared for five days before being found semi-conscious at a Baltimore polling place on an election day. He had no memory of his whereabouts, and the appearance of his cheap, ill-fitting clothes suggested his own expensive clothes had been stolen. Poe spent the next four days in a hospital, but his attending physician John J. Moran was unable to determine what had happened to the poet or his clothing. Rumors spread that he had been beaten, robbed, or cooped (the practice of abducting and drugging a stranger in order to drag them from one polling place to the next to vote multiple times). Even Poe’s cause of death is open to speculation, and historians have theorized he could have been suffering from meningitis, rabies, or any number of other diseases.
In 1907, Susan Weiss wrote about the walking stick again in her book The Home Life of Poe. This time, she embellished her account by saying that Poe was carried to a Baltimore hospital with Carter’s Malacca cane in his hand, even though this seems to be contradicted by Carter’s version of the story.
Susan Archer Talley Weiss
While Dr. Carter was sure to recover his own cane from the Mackenzies after Poe’s death, he did not bother to return Poe’s walking stick to the poet’s family. Instead, Carter kept it as memento of his famous friend.
When Carter’s health declined in his later years, his cousin William Henry Booker took Carter into his home. Booker inherited the walking stick after Carter’s death. Booker’s daughter, Mrs. Mary Harnish, (b. 1874) then inherited the stick along with the rest of Booker’s possessions.
In 1923, Mrs. Catherine Campbell, custodian of the newly formed Poe Museum in Richmond, borrowed the walking stick to display at the museum. Three years later, the museum contacted Mrs. Harnish about the possibility of purchasing the piece. Harnish wrote back to say she would need $250 for it and that they should reply soon because she was fielding other offers for the artifact. Always short of funds, the museum could not afford what would have been the equivalent of $3,280 in today’s dollars.
Mrs. Archer Jones
At about this time, tragedy struck when one of the Poe Museum’s founders, Archer Jones, committed suicide. His devastated widow Annie Boyd Jones bought the walking stick and presented to the Poe Museum in memory of her husband.
The same year it entered the Poe Museum’s collection, Poe’s walking stick was mentioned in Poe biographies by Mary Phillips and Hervey Allen. In his 1941 biography of Poe, Arthur Hobson Quinn also retold the story of Poe mistakenly taking Carter’s walking stick. This seemingly humble piece of wood was quickly becoming one of the museum’s main attractions.
Walking Stick in Display Case in 1927
In 1945, William J. Burtscher wrote in his book The Romance Behind Walking Canes that “this cane could claim that it was often held by the hand that wrote “The Raven,” “The Bells,” and “Ulalume,”—and that was the only hand of all poets of all time that could have written these, and some other, Poesquian mysteries.” Burtscher believed “Richmond, indeed, is the logical place for the cane to rest, for Poe himself left it there.” The cane, however, would soon leave Richmond.
In 1957, Virginia celebrated the 350th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World. In honor of the occasion, the Virginia 350th Anniversary Commission opened the Jamestown Festival featuring a reconstruction of the original 1607 Jamestown settlement, recreations of the ships that carried the colonists to Jamestown, and a large exhibit of Virginia history. Among the 1.5 million visitors to the festival were the Queen of England and Vice President Richard Nixon. The walking stick was such a popular attraction that the Jamestown Festival Park requested an extension of the loan through 1959. The can did not return to Richmond until 1960 when the Poe Museum’s board finally decided not to renew the loan.
Poe’s Walking Stick
In 1999 the walking stick crossed the ocean for the first time when the Poe Society of Prague borrowed it for an exhibition at the First International Poe Festival. Because the Poe Museum deemed the cane too valuable to ship to Prague, Poe Museum trustee Welford Dunaway Taylor carried it with him to the festival. The walking stick would not travel again until 2014 when the Grolier Club in New York borrowed it for the exhibit The Persistence of Poe. Once again, a Poe Museum representative personally delivered and retrieved the item.
Part of the interest in this piece is its connection with Poe’s final days. Authors and researchers have speculated that the fever and the confused state that may have caused Poe to mistake his walking stick for Carter’s could be a symptoms of the still unidentified illness that would end Poe’s life a little more than a week later. Others have wondered if Poe took Carter’s sword cane because he wanted a weapon with which to defend himself on his trip to Philadelphia. The latter seems unlikely if Poe left the walking stick in Richmond, as Carter’s account implies. In his novel about Poe’s death, The Poe Shadow, Matthew Pearl explores the mystery of the switched walking sticks. Believing Poe still had Carter’s Malacca cane with him when he was found wearing someone else’s clothes in Baltimore, the novel’s detective Duponte speculates Poe was not robbed of his clothing because the thieves would have also stolen the fine Malacca cane in the process.
Poe admirers and actors portraying Poe have created replicas of the famous cane, and it has appeared in numerous books and articles. To this day, it remains one of the stars of the Poe Museum’s collection. That is why it is the museum’s Object of the Month for September 2015.
This month marks the 166th anniversary of the night Poe left his walking stick at Dr. Carter’s house just days before his death. That walking stick is now on display just six blocks from where that house once stood. You can see Poe’s walking stick the Poe Museum’s Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building alongside Poe’s vest and boot hooks.
On Thursday, September 24 from 6-9 p.m., the Edgar Allan Poe Museum will host its monthly Unhappy Hour with live music by Chris Vasi Trio, the opening of the new exhibit The Poe Code, a cash bar, food, performances, and scavenger hunts; and, in honor of the Richmond bike race, anyone who shows up on a bike or is a participant in the UCI Road World Championships bicycle race has free admission! This goes for all support personnel, event volunteers, and riders. Even if you are not a bike race participant we encourage all Poe lovers to take part in our event! This free admission is made possible by a generous sponsorship by C. Samuel McDonald.
Poe Museum Trustee, Holt Edmunds, states this event is to reward all participants of the Richmond bike race for their hard work. “It’s our gift to them,” he explains. “The Poe Museum is one of Richmond’s greatest treasures, and we want to share that with everyone who will be coming to town for the UCI Road World Championships.”
Poe Museum Curator Chris Semtner adds, “It was well known that Poe was a great athlete and represented his academy in boxing and track. He also holds the record for swimming against the current in the James River. Given Poe’s enthusiasm for sports, he would definitely appreciate having such an important event as the UCI Road World Championships taking place in his hometown, within blocks of his museum.”
To take advantage of this offer, simple bring your ID verifying that you are a UCI Road World Championship participant, staffer, or volunteer; or just bring your bicycle.
Also on September 24, the Poe Museum will open its new exhibit The Poe Code. The temporary exhibit will examine the ways Poe loved to confound his readers by hiding secret messages in his fiction and poetry. The show will run through December 31, 2015.
Virginia’s only literary museum, the Poe Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10-5 and Sunday from 11-5. The museum is located 1914 E Main Street, Richmond, VA, 23223. For more information visit poemuseum.org, write [email protected] or call the museum at (804) 648-5523.
(Disclaimer: That is not really Poe on the bike in that picture.)
To be buried while alive is, beyond question, the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality.
~Edgar A. Poe, “The Premature Burial”
“The Premature Burial” by Harry Clarke
From August 27 until October 18, 2015, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond will host Buried Alive, an exhibit exploring the theme of premature burial in Poe’s works. Poe called the subject of being buried alive, “the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality.” Characters are entombed alive in Poe’s tales “Berenice,” “The Premature Burial,” “Loss of Breath,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.”
When searching for explanations for Poe’s repeated use of the theme in his works, one needs look no further than the newspapers of his day. At a time when many people died at home without a doctor present, people in a cataleptic state could be mistaken for dead and accidentally buried—or almost buried. Sometimes such people awoke while the first few shovels of dirt were thrown over their coffin. Others awoke on medical school dissecting tables. Articles about real cases of premature burial abounded in the press of the day, and certain readers grew so terrified of being buried alive that they purchased “safety coffins” in which an accidentally buried person could ring a bell to alert passersby to rescue him in the event he woke up six feet underground. While several designs for such coffins were devised, there is no record of anyone being rescued from one of them. Eventually, some concerned citizens formed The Society for the Prevention of People Being Buried Alive. Among other ideas, this organization proposed a law that would prevent burial of people until they started to “smell dead.”
The Poe Museum’s Buried Alive exhibit will feature rare first printings and the only surviving portion of “The Premature Burial” in Poe’s own handwriting. When visiting the gallery, be sure to try out the life-size coffin in which you can have your picture taken. We promise not to bury you in it.
Those who visited the Poe Museum last month to see the exhibit Poe’s Cabinet of Curiosities might have noticed, among the hair art and Poe portraits, a little pressed flower in a large leather-bound album. They may not realize it, but this humble book is one of the Museum’s most important pieces, not only because it contains hundreds of autographs and letters from Poe’s prominent contemporaries but also because it tells the story of one woman’s love of literature and her dedication to collecting mementos of her favorite writers. Her name is Lucy Dorothea Henry (1822-1898).
Lucy Dorothea Henry Laighton
There was always something different about Lucy. Growing up on a Virginia plantation, she was not interested in learning to sew or to manage the household servants. When her sisters were busy with their embroidery, Lucy hid behind the boxwood hedge to read. Literature was her escape from the monotony of country life in 1840s Virginia. As the granddaughter of the famed Revolutionary War orator and Virginia Governor Patrick Henry, Lucy lived on her grandfather’s plantation Red Hill, about twenty-seven miles from the nearest town. So isolated was the family’s home that they only received mail once a week, and her mother provided the delivery boy lunch that day to thank him for making the trip. Just as literature was her escape from the boredom of country life, that weekly delivery was Lucy’s connection to the outside world. As a young girl, she began writing her favorite authors to solicit autographs, advice, and poems.
Lucy’s daughter, Fayetta Laighton, would later recall,
Her early life on a Virginia plantation was spent in the usual way, carefree, surrounded by a cultivated social class, and many servants. But this did not satisfy the active mind of Lucy Henry. She projected herself into the outer world of literature, which she loved, by means of correspondence with John A. Thompson, N. P. Willis, Rufus Griswold, [John] Keese, [Charles Fenno] Hoffman, [Henry Wadsworth] Longfellow, and others. She was especially interested in obtaining autographs of the writers of the day.
Lucy Henry was only twenty-one when she received a note from the rising literary critic and poet Edgar A. Poe who, at thirty-four, had written some of what would be remembered as some of his greatest tales, including “The Black Cat,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” but he was probably better known to Miss Henry as the former editor of the Southern Literary Messenger and as a poet who had been featured in Rufus W. Griswold’s 1842 anthology The Poets and Poetry of America. This was about to change. A few months earlier, in February 1843, the Saturday Museum had printed a profile of Poe along with his portrait. The same month Poe wrote Henry, he published “The Gold-Bug,” which would soon be his most widely reprinted tale. In fewer than two years, he would become a celebrity with the publication of “The Raven.”
Henry pasted Poe’s note into her big leather album with sealing wax. This album would eventually include letters, poems, and autographs from over 250 mid-nineteenth century celebrities including Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, and Samuel Houston, but her main focus was accumulating the autographs of writers. Among the many authors whose letters, autographs, or manuscripts she was able to acquire are William Cullen Bryant, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodore S. Fay, Horace Greeley, Rufus Griswold, Sarah J. Hale, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Anna Lynch, John P. Kennedy, John Keese, John Neal, Frances Osgood, Richard Henry Stoddard, William Makepeace Thackery, N.P. Willis, John G. Whittier, and William Wordsworth. Several of these pieces came directly from the authors.
Sonnet to Anna Lynch by J. R. Thompson
New York book and autograph dealer John Keese assisted her by requesting autographs from his fellow literati on her behalf. Many American authors were glad to oblige the granddaughter of the “orator of the Revolution,” but British poet William Wordsworth replied with a testy letter refusing to send the requested autograph. Wordsworth, however, signed the letter. Keese also supplied Henry with the papers of Virginia statesman John Randolph of Roanoke. These included letters from politician Henry Clay and author Washington Irving.
Detail of Washington Irving Letter
Henry and Keese got to know each other well enough that she visited him in New York and stayed at his home. During her New York trip, the country girl saw the famous singer Jenny Lind and the violinist Ole Bull (from whom she secured an autograph). Thereafter, Henry would keep a daguerreotype of Keese. His own fondness for her is evident in a gift he sent her, an autograph album containing a poem addressed to her by Knickerbocker poet and editor Charles Fenno Hoffman.
Another literary friend, Southern Literary Messenger editor and Poe’s friend John Ruben Thompson of Richmond also provided several pieces, including two Poe manuscripts and a pressed flower picked from the grave of poet John Keats in 1854.
Flower from the Grave of John Keats
Henry’s quest for autographs eventually brought her into contact with New Hampshire poet Octave Laighton, who had just returned from an unsuccessful attempt to strike it rich in the California Gold Rush. Not long afterwards, he struck up a correspondence with Lucy Henry, and they were married on July 18, 1857. At last, she had the opportunity to escape her family farm when she moved with her new husband to Fulton City, Illinois to start a temperance newspaper. Although Lucy thought she would have an opportunity to practice her literary talents by writing for the paper, she was disappointed to find that she was stuck cooking and cleaning for her husband. The paper failed within a few months of its inception, so the couple moved back Octave Laighton’s family home in New Hampshire in 1857. They finally settled, in 1859, at a small farm called Springdale near Petersburg, Virginia. Her daughter would later describe it as “a flat little house, with precious earth around it, to grow white pinks and honey suckle.”
Then the Civil War broke out, the Laightons’ farm was caught between the Confederate and Union lines. During these perilous times, Lucy gave birth to two daughters, Fayetta and Alberta. Given the increasing difficulty of maintaining her literary correspondences, Lucy devoted herself to her farm and family. She started a garden to raise vegetables to feed the soldiers.
In the final days of the conflict, Lucy fled to the safety of Red Hill with her most prized possessions—her daughters and her autograph collection—while her husband stayed in Petersburg. As a native of New England, Laighton believed he could convince any invading Union soldiers not to burn down his house. His efforts were at least partially successful; he saved the house but not the outbuildings.
Lucy returned to Springdale after the War and would have settled into a comfortable life if her husband had not died shortly afterwards. For the next thirty-two years, Lucy remained at Springdale with her daughters. Her daughters recalled that she was such a “striking” woman that daguerreotypists “jumped” at the chance to take her picture, free of charge.
After Lucy’s death, her daughter Alberta moved to Dutchess County, New York, and Fayetta eventually became the principal of the D.M. Brown School in Petersburg. Fayetta recalled that she burned about twenty of her mother’s albums to avoid paying to ship them during a move. The daughters did, however, preserve a few of Lucy’s things, including the present autograph album, the small album given her by John Keese, a daguerreotype of their mother, and their mother’s daguerreotype of Keese.
Word of Lucy’s album spread from Petersburg to Richmond, where Poe collector and Poe Museum co-founder James H. Whitty decided to acquire the Poe manuscripts for the Museum’s growing collection. On December 1, 1923, Whitty wrote Fayetta Laighton to ask about the documents. Over the next few years, the Museum sent a series of letters expressing its desire to borrow or purchase the Poe pieces “for the enjoyment of the public.”
James H. Whitty
Another Poe Museum founder, Mrs. Archer Jones, befriended Ms. Laighton, visiting her in Petersburg to discuss flowers, gardens, and Lucy Henry. Laighton’s interest in Poe and the Poe Museum grew until she was leading book clubs devoted to the poet and sending flowers from her garden to be planted at the Poe Museum.
Mrs. Archer Jones
The Laighton sisters debated over what to do with their mother’s Poe manuscripts until May 29, 1926 when Fayetta wrote the Poe Museum, “My sister and I have talked about the final disposition of these papers, and they will find their way to [the] ‘Poe Shrine’ some time I think.”
The Poe Museum’s secretary Mrs. Ford responded with a letter thanking her and assuring her they “were much interested in the Poe items” and expressing the wish that the items could be donated because the tiny museum “would never be able to compete with the dealers for such rare things.”
When, another year later, the Laighton sisters finally agreed to donate the manuscripts, Mrs. Ford wrote them, “I can assure you that these manuscripts will nowhere be more appreciated than here at the Edgar Allan Poe Shrine…”
Fayetta replied, “I am glad they will repose in such an appropriate place as ‘The Shrine.’”
Four years after the Poe Museum first contacted them, Fayetta and Alberta Laighton formally donated their mother’s album to the Museum. Mrs. Jones personally drove to Petersburg to retrieve them just in time to be displayed on Poe’s birthday, January 19, 1928.
The three Poe documents contained in the album were carefully removed from the book and became among the most important pieces in the Poe Museum’s collection. One of these, the manuscript for “The Rationale of Verse,” is Poe’s history of English poetry. Another is the manuscript for an article Poe wrote about the poet Frances S. Osgood, and the third document is the autograph Poe sent Lucy Henry.
Detail of Essay about Frances Osgood
While these three Poe documents have long attracted most of the attention—as well as inclusion in multiple exhibits—the rest of Lucy Henry’s album certainly deserves further study. In a surprising act of generosity, the Laighton sisters gave the Poe Museum not only the Poe manuscripts but the entire album, as a memorial to their mother. This collection of literary letters and autographs is both a document of one woman’s love of literature and a priceless snapshot of the American literary scene in Poe’s time. For a fledgling museum beginning its sixth year of existence, this was a transformative gift—the kind that instantly provided it a world-class manuscript collection which would continue to grow over the course of the next nine decades. That is why Lucy Dorothea Henry’s album is the Poe Museum’s Object of the Month for August 2015. You can see it on display on the first floor of the Exhibit Building until August 23. Poe’s manuscripts for “The Rationale of Verse” and “Frances Sargent Osgood” (both long-since removed from the album) are also currently on view in the Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building.
Several weeks ago, a group of Poe fans telephoned the Poe Museum in Richmond to complain that they had scheduled a tour for that day, and had just arrived only to find that the museum was closed. The Poe Museum assured them that they were, indeed, open and to come right in. The group insisted that the door was locked and the windows were dark. Suspicious, the museum representative asked where exactly they were. Quoth the tourists “Baltimore.”
Wrong museum. And who could blame them? For Poe fans, there is no Walden Pond. A pilgrimage for us does not end at one tidily preserved home-turned-museum like it does for fans of some well-known authors. Along the East Coast, there are no fewer than eight major destinations associated with Poe. Differentiating between the Poe Cottage, Poe Museum, Poe House and Museum (also known as Poe Baltimore), the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site, two graves, and his birthplace in Boston can be problematic to say the least. And this is without considering the Poe Arch at West Point, his dorm room at the University of Virginia, and Sullivan’s Island in Charleston.
There have been efforts over the past 166 years to recognize one of the cities associated with the master of the macabre as the Poe-est place of all. This would not only give one lucky city highly-coveted bragging rights, but would also provide fans with a more contained, convenient Poe experience. Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Richmond have positioned themselves as the main contenders for playing host to Poe’s legacy. Each has a unique and valid reason for claiming Poe, but despite their best efforts, Poe refuses to be claimed.
Poe was born in Boston, but he grew up in Richmond, and died in Baltimore. He wrote many of his finest works in Philadelphia, but “The Raven” was not finished until New York, where he would watch his wife succumb to tuberculosis. The man simply would not stay put.
Much of this was, of course, due to his persistent lack of funds. Always on the brink of financial ruin, Poe went wherever he felt he could turn his literary and editorial talents into cold, hard cash.
The biggest mistake that can be made, however, is to assume that Poe’s lifestyle was driven solely by financial embarrassments. Throughout his career, he led a quiet revolt against the idea of rooting oneself and one’s writing in a single location.
An example of this can be found in his tenure as editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond.
As the name suggests, the Messenger was founded to encourage the creation of Southern literature. As editor, Poe was supposed to contribute articles and stories dealing with issues unique to genteel, Southern culture. It was his chance to show the world that he was a Richmonder (if not born, then certainly bred). Had he done what was expected of him, the Poe Museum would probably be the undisputed capitol of Poe-dom.
But Poe did no such thing. Instead, his first short story for the Messenger was set in an unidentified (but definitely not southern) region, and featured a protagonist with a Greek name who digs up his deceased fiancée in order to extract her teeth. It’s worth noting that the same issue also featured pieces entitled “The Village Pastor’s Wife,” “Sketch of Virginia Scenery,” “Courtship and Marriage,” and “To the Bible.”
Poe’s “Berenice” was not a rejection of Richmond or Southern culture—merely a rejection of regionalism. For Poe people, this little act of rebellion is both irritating and oddly freeing. We will never be able to pin him down, never be able to contain his weird and wonderful legacy in one convenient location. But is that such a bad thing?
A Poe pilgrimage makes for an epic road trip. Tracking his legacy will take the stout of heart (and car) from the boom of Boston to the wilds of South Carolina. The Poe experience is unlike any other because Poe was unlike any other.
In short, the group that found itself in Baltimore instead of Richmond had the right idea. Getting lost in what J.W. Ocker calls “Poe-Land” is both incredibly rewarding, and is possibly the best way to pay homage to Poe’s life.
But of course, we don’t want you to stay lost. If you’re looking for the Poe Museum, our address is 1914 East Main Street, Richmond, Virginia. We love visitors, and Pluto and Edgar (our black cats) love a good massage.