Museum News


Collection of Literary Autographs is Poe Museum’s Object of the Month


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

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.

Red Hill

Red Hill

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.”

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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.




Oh, the Places You’ll Poe!


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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.




N.W.A vs Edgar Allan Poe


What do a gangsta rap group from the 1990’s and a melancholy poet from the 1840’s have in common? Listen here to find out. In addition to writing poems and novels Poe also performed his works of poetry and some of his criticisms.




Who’s the Real Reynolds?


“On that last night, as the shadows fell across him, it must have been the horrors of shipwreck, of thirst, and of drifting away into unknown seas of darkness that troubled his last dreams, for, by some trick of his ruined brain, it was the scenes of Arthur Gordon Pym that rose in his imagination, and the man who was connected most intimately with them. ‘Reynolds!’ he called, ‘Reynolds!, Oh, Reynolds!’ The room rang with it. It echoed down the corridors hour after hour all that Saturday night” (Allen Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe, 846-47).

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The legend of Poe shouting Reynolds on his deathbed is mysterious and attention grabbing, but nobody has figured out who this infamous Reynolds was. Many theories revolve around the ambiguous name, and below are some of the theories we’ve come up with.

According to W. T. Bandy in his article, “Dr. Moran and the Poe-Reynolds Myth,” “‘[His] state continued until Saturday evening . . . when he commenced calling for one “Reynolds,” which he did through the night up to three on Sunday morning.’” This would be the start of the Reynolds mystery.

James A. Harrison, who published a letter written to Maria Clemm, stated that Reynolds may have been the author of the “Address on the subject of a Surveying and Exploring Expedition to the Pacific Ocean and the South Seas,” which may have given Poe ideas for his novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. This address, presented in the Southern Literary Messenger January 1837, by Jeremiah N. Reynolds, was a proposal for exploring the Pacific and South seas for the benefit of Whale Fishing expansion. Under the header of this article is the note, “Critical Notes by Edgar A. Poe, Editor.” Because we know Edgar worked for the Southern Literary Messenger, these two coincide and this brings light to the idea that this Reynolds, whose article Poe edited, may have been the Reynolds whom Poe spoke aloud for.

JNReynolds

Jeremiah Reynolds

Arthur Hobson Quinn, in his biography, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography, backs up this theory by writing,

On Saturday night he began to yell loudly for “Reynolds!” Perhaps to his dim and tortured brain, he seemed to be on the brink of a great descending circle sweeping down like the phantom ship in the “Manuscript Found in a Bottle” into “darkness and distance.” In that first published story, Poe had written, “It is evident we are hurrying onward to some exciting knowledge – some never to be imparted secret, whose attainment is destruction. Perhaps this current leads to the South Pole itself.” It would have been natural enough for his favorite theme, the terror of the opening chasm, to lead his thoughts to that other story, Arthur Gordon Pym, and from that to Jeremiah Reynolds, projector of the voyages to the South Seas, whose very language he had used in that tale. He could easily have known Reynolds, but what led to his wild cries must still remain uncertain (640).

Something to note is that there is also a J. N. Reynolds who appears in a bankruptcy petition written by Poe, from 1842. This Reynolds, who most likely is the same Reynolds noted above, had given ten dollars to Poe. Not only did Poe edit Reynolds address, but Poe owed him money, and thus we surmise the two had remained in some form of contact until this point.

Another example of a Reynolds is a gentleman in Baltimore who was a carpenter serving at the Fourth Ward Polls as election judge, Henry R. Reynolds. However, this is the extent of our knowledge regarding this fellow, so we can neither completely validate, nor deny this gentleman being the true Reynolds. Something to note regarding this Reynolds is that this may potentially tie into a popular theory of Poe’s death, the “cooping” theory. This theory involved ambassadors for political figures going about town and snatching victims, who they would strip of and replace their own clothes, send them to polls and force them to stuff ballots. Could it be that, because Henry Reynolds was involved in the political campaigns at the same time these events regarding Poe occurred, he may have caused wrong to Poe or may have been involved in some way to the point where Poe would cry out his last name?

John Evangelist Walsh in Midnight Dreary, states,

Even now, to the little mystery there can be added only one new fact, small but rather interesting. As newspapers of the day record, at Ryan’s Fourth Ward polls in Gunner’s Hall on election day, one of the three presiding judges was a man who bore the name of Henry R. Reynolds. Present in the same room as Poe on October 3rd at Ryan’s place, only days before he began in his delirium to call out the name, was an actual, flesh-and-blood Reynolds (122).

Walsh goes on to suggest, however, that, “The sodden brain may simply have picked up a sound it heard spoken in the haze of the noisy room, sparking some far-drawn memory” (122).

Although Walsh paints a potential portrait of the Reynolds theory, he even discounts the facts.

This leads us to indicate that there are, unfortunately, inconsistencies with the account of Poe shouting “Reynolds,” not only based on what we’ve found, but also based on revised and re-revised versions of Moran’s story. The first account was given in 1849. By his account in 1875, he claimed, “I had sent for his cousin, Nelson Poe [sic], having learned that he was his relative, and a family named Reynolds, who lived in the neighborhood of the hospital . . . Mr. W. N. Poe came, and the female members of Mr. Reynold’s family.” According to Bandy, Jeremiah Reynolds is ruled out as he was living in New York, not Baltimore, and could not be of the family Reynolds living in the neighborhood. This may coincide with Henry R. Reynolds, however.

Another inconsistency lies in the fact that by 1885, in Moran’s Defense, he had omitted the “Reynolds” legend. According to Bandy, Moran quotes a similar passage to his previous one, stating, “I had sent for his cousin, Mr. Nielson [sic] Poe, now Judge Poe, of the orphan’s court of Baltimore, having learned that he was related to my patient; and also for a Mr. Herring and family, who lived in the neighborhood. Judge Poe came as soon as he was notified and also the Misses Herring.” Notice that Herring is replaced by Reynolds in this passage. This leads us into the final theory.

This Herring, referring to Poe’s uncle, in fact was called to Poe in the Baltimore tavern, although he refused to take Poe in despite Poe’s disheveled state. It is theorized that because Herring was Poe’s relative, and due to the fact that Moran revised the name in his latter statement, Moran may have meant to provide the name “Herring” rather than “Reynolds,” although the two are incomparably dissimilar.

Finally, the Reynolds story even expands to modern day. Just a few years ago, Reynolds was featured as the main antagonist in James McTeigue’s film The Raven. As Poe (John Cusack) sits on a bench, shivering to the bone, an unknown gentleman approaches him, to which Poe asks him to “Get Reynolds.” He leans his head back and a fade-out-fade-in reveals Moran announcing Poe’s death. Moran explains to another character, Fields, a detective, that Poe was referring to Fields as being Reynolds, which prompts Fields to chase after Reynolds. Although we won’t spoil the antics that Reynolds was up to in the film, we will say that this creative interpretation is most likely not the case, and we do not believe Reynolds was a (spoiler) serial killer out for Poe’s blood.

Over all, there is no telling who this mysterious “Reynolds” truly was. Some believe that Moran’s original account was true and that, despite the inconsistent accounts given later on, his first is to be believed. Others believe, such as Bandy, that a Reynolds did not truly exist, calling Moran “…a chronic liar, interested only in taking advantage of his fortuitous acquaintance with Poe to attract attention to himself.”

What do you think? Do you think Moran was true in his accounts, or do you believe he really was only attempting to gain attention by creating such false lies? This certainly would not be the first time a contemporary of Poe’s would attempt to falsify accounts of Poe’s life (and death).




Katy Perry vs Edgar Allan Poe


One is a pop princess and the other a master of macabre. What could Edgar Allan Poe and Katy Perry possibly have in common?  Listen to find out.




Poe’s Actress Mother-Part Two


Last year, we shared part one of Eliza Poe’s life. Follow the rest of her journey as David, Edgar, and Edgar’s siblings are introduced.

Following Eliza’s marriage, she and her husband, Charles, arrived in Alexandria, Virginia, and were set to perform at Liberty Hall for six weeks in August 1802 (Smith 59-60). When Eliza began rehearsals there, the hall was the newest theatre in Virginia, having been only three years old. According to Smith, a tragic accident had befallen during the summer of its opening, as the company lost Thomas Wade West, the manager of the company. His wife, Margaret, took over and successfully kept the company alive. Under new management, Eliza was working alongside old, fellow actors, and together the company performed operas, ballets, melodramas, and pantomimes during their six week season (60).

Eliza was a skillful dancer and was featured in a triple hornpipe, a lively dance performed in sailor costume and accompanied by hornpipes, according to Smith (61). She also danced a Spanish Fandango in The Mountaineers (61). After their engagement, the couple traveled to Fredericksburg, Virginia, in the “land of hog, hominey, and hoe-cake” (61). The couple opened September 18 under the same group they had worked with in Alexandria, performing a little over a month with the company. At the end of that engagement, the company disbanded and Charles and Eliza traveled to Petersburg to join the Virginia Company (62).

In November 1802, Eliza and Charles arrived in Petersburg, Virginia, which then had a population of less than four thousand (63). According to Smith, the Virginia Company was well established in this city of equestrian races, carnivals, and a prominent shipping port (63). Eliza and Charles found themselves with their previous fellow members, and Eliza began learning new parts immediately. For their first performance, she performed as Zelina in Oberon. Although the reviewers for that opening night bemoaned the other actors, Eliza and Charles received good reviews: “The pleasing manner in which Mrs. Hopkins performed the part and sung the songs of Zelina had a very good effect…Mr. Hopkin’s performance of Ratta and Caustic, were in the best style of acting” (64).

Frank+Leslie+New+Market+Aug+10+1865

The New Market, Corner of Market and Sixth Street

The troupe then proceeded on to Richmond, where Eliza had performed just four years earlier. The city, although having increased in population, remained familiar and nearly unchanged. The old Academy Theatre had burned in 1798, however, and the new theatre was located in the Market Hall on 17th Street, around the corner from the Bell Tavern (65).

Opening night was December 14, and shortly after the company received news that Thomas Wignell, who had supported and influenced Eliza, passed away suddenly. Despite this sad news, Eliza moved on to Norfolk, where she was to make one of her greatest and most important debuts. Scheduled for opening night, Eliza performed in leading roles Louisa in August von Kotzebue’s Sighs and Rosina in William Shield’s opera Rosina (65-66). Following her dramatic performances, she switched to comedic roles, including Moggy McGilpin in The Highland Reel (67).

After various engagements between Norfolk and Petersburg, their Norfolk season ended July 13, and Eliza had successfully completed her first tour with the Virginia Company (68). She had made “important gains with this management” and began playing more challenging roles (69). Over all, things seemed to be in her favor.

Eliza and Charles traveled back to Richmond in August 1803, where they appeared in a concert at the Bell Tavern (70). A reviewer had the following to say about her:

Mrs. Hopkins…is amply compensated by the loud plaudits with which she is always received, which evince, that of all the ladies of the theatre, she is at least a second favorite with the public – though perhaps incapable of ever arriving at the eminence of a Siddons or a Merry. Mrs. Hopkins’ interesting figure, her correct performance, and the accuracy with which she always commits her part, together with her sweetly melodious voice when she charms us with a song, have deservedly raised her to that respectable rank which she indisputably holds in the public favor (70).

The summer of 1804 marked a notable season for Eliza. The company was in Richmond and Eliza and Charles were cast as Susan Ashfield and Sir Abel Handy in Speed the Plow (72). Cast as the hero, Henry, was a young actor making his Richmond debut, nineteen year old David Poe (72). Poe, an avid theatregoer was from Baltimore, and the son of Irish-born Revolutionary War figure, Major David Poe, or “General Poe,” and his wife, Elizabeth Carnes Poe. David left his family while studying law and sought an acting career, joining the Charleston Theatre company in December 1803. Having no experience, the beginning of his career was rocky, and he was called out for being diffident, timid, and paralyzed with stage fright (72-73). However, according to Smith, because of his good looks and fine voice, he was able to get along well.

That summer, the three worked together, and Charles began co-managing the theatre. The new managers chose George Colman II’s The Heir at Law for their new season, with Eliza playing Caroline Dormer and David Poe playing Dormer’s lover, Henry Morland. Eliza found herself benefiting from the roles her co-manager husband chose for her, which expanded her repertoire and allowed her to play more dramatic roles, including Stella in James Boaden’s The Maid of Bristol. According to Geddeth, “At this time of her career the vivaciousness of Moggy McGilpin or the predictability of Caroline Dormer were far less challenging than portraying the bitterness and despair of this leading character. It was a difficult role with long speeches and scenes of sustained tension…” (73).

After the close of the season, another followed soon in September, when they traveled to Fredericksburg and then returned to Petersburg. While the trio performed in Adam Cherry’s The Soldier’s Daughter, they were featured in the next issue of The Intelligencer, which wrote about Eliza,

Among those who acquitted themselves with the greatest eclat, I cannot omit to mention the names of Mrs. West, Jr., in the character of the Widow Cheerly and Mrs. Hopkins in Mrs. Malfort–the sprightly vitality of the one, and the placid melancholy of the other, alternately awakened the opposite feelings of innocent hilarity, and heart-rending sorrow (75).

That winter, a cold wave swept through Richmond, causing the theatre to close and the death of one of the troop’s actresses, Anne West. West’s mother, who was involved in management with the group, left after her daughter’s death and the company was affected greatly. This proved to be good for Eliza, however, and she also found herself having to fill in the prominent shoes of West as an actress (76-77).

David returned to Baltimore for a benefit night, debuting in June 1805, while Eliza and Charles traveled to Washington to perform at a theatre they had not been to in five years (77-79). For their opening, two comedies were performed, Elizabeth Inchbald’s Wives as They Were and Maids as They Are and George Colman II’s Ways and Means. Charles performed the leading role in the first play, and Eliza in the second. During this time, David was cast in and was playing the role of Joseph Surface in The School of Scandal (80).

To Eliza’s dismay, a yellow fever epidemic had spread throughout Washington and infected Charles, who passed away on October 26. According to Geddeth, the Richmond Enquirer read, “He has left an affectionate wife to lament his loss,” and at eighteen Eliza was widowed (81). This did not stop her from continuing the show however, and a week later she had a benefit for herself, choosing Adelmorn the Outlaw, a play she and Charles had performed frequently together as the romantic duo Orilla and Herman (81).

She returned to Richmond where she was cast in multiple plays with David Poe, who also had returned. Although, according to Geddeth, “David was very handsome…nervous, highly strung, and had a volatile temper, there was an appealing sensitivity about him,” and Eliza was smitten. The feelings were mutual, and the nineteen and twenty-year-olds issued a marriage bond on March 14, 1806 (82-83). Eliza’s benefit night, performing in Douglas, was the last night she was listed as Mrs. Hopkins, and when the theatre reopened after Easter, she and David were married (83).

She and David returned to Boston, ten years after she had left, and performed among other thespians whom they barely knew. Actors and friends, Charlotte and Luke Usher were notable to Eliza however, and may have been the inspiration for Edgar Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher.

Usher copy

After opening night on October 13, a review for the play the couple performed in, Speed the Plow, stated,

The parts of Henry and Miss Blandford were filled by Mr. and Mrs. Poe from the Virginia theatres, their first appearance in Boston. Estimating the talents of this couple by comparison, we might say the same characters have been more ably sustained on our boards. A first performance however does not always afford a criterion by which merit may be estimated. Mr. Poe possess a full manly voice, of considerable extend; his utterance clear and distinct. The managers will undoubtedly find him a useful, and the town a pleasing, performer in the Henrys, Charles Stanleys, etc. Of the talents of Mrs. Poe we are disposed to judge favorably (The Polyanthos).

In the fourteen weeks of that season, Eliza and David played more than twenty parts before the critical crowd. According to Geddeth, she learned more than one new part a week for the next season, and her talent was not unnoticed. She was described as “excellent” in The Emerald and in a pleasing way deemed “truly laughable” in The Polyanthos (87).

David was not receiving the same reviews, however, and audiences were becoming displeased with his performances. This discouraged David and lead to jealousy between his and Eliza’s marriage, although his feelings may have been abated with a child on the way.

The couple’s first child, William Henry Leonard Poe, was born January 30, 1807. David continued on stage while Eliza remained at home, although she would return only three and a half weeks later to the stage. In the meantime, with David on stage, he was receiving criticism for his attempt to play the character of Charles Surface in The School for Scandal, which he had never played before and which he was forced to play. The Emerald, noted, “We are ready to make allowances for Mr. Poe’s deficiency in Sir Charles Surface, in manners, spirit, and orthoepy…The suddenness with which the character must have been assumed is a mantle, which like charity, covers a multitude of sins” (88-89).

Eliza’s return was not positive, either. She was to perform as Cordelia in King Lear; however, due to an actor’s sprained ankle, she performed as Little Pickle in The Spoiled Child, which she had not performed in two years (90). The Polyanthos gave Eliza harsh criticism, calling her “a very green Little Pickle” (91). David called on the critic, J. T. Buckingham, to avenge for Eliza; however, he left hurting both of their careers even more.

Finally, after the end of that season in May, Eliza and David were able to rest until the end of the year, and the couple, along with son Henry, took a vacation to Baltimore to visit David’s parents. David’s parents had rejected Eliza initially; however, they now accepted her and Henry into their home. Since Henry was General Poe’s first grandson, he had stolen his and Elizabeth’s hearts, and they would take him into their home after the death of his mother. David Poe’s sister, Maria Clemm, the Maria who was Edgar’s aunt and mother-in-law, said about Eliza, “She was a lovely little creature and highly talented. I loved her most devotedly” (93).

After returning to Boston in the fall, Eliza and David were delighted to hear that the infamous critic, J. T. Buckingham of The Polyanthos, would not be criticizing them any longer because the paper had shut down. During this season, David found more encouraging reviews, although the critic of The Emerald stated about his performance as Vernon in Henry IV, that he had “mutilated some of his speeches in a most shameful manner” (94). This review was in contrast to a positive review, which stated he “was courtly in manners, if he was not perfect in his delivery” (94).

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Boston Harbor and East Boston

During a performance of Cinderella that the troupe put on, Eliza found time, according to Geddeth, to walk down to the Boston harbor where she sketched many of the vessels at bay, inscribing, “Morning 1808,” adding, “For my little son Edgar, who should ever love Boston the place of his birth and where his mother found her best and most sympathetic friends.” This gift would be given to Edgar later and cherished by the son greatly (96).

That Fall, and multiple performances later, Eliza found herself among new actors and actresses, and five months pregnant. Within two weeks after she had stopped performing that January, she gave birth on January 19, 1809, to their son Edgar. Three weeks later, she was back on the stage; however, nine weeks apparently show that David was not listed for any performances, and it is unclear where he was at. According to letters he had written to his cousin, he was in Pennsylvania on March 22 (100).

Geddeth describes Eliza’s situation while David is gone,

David was evidently still away, and she had a three-month-old baby at home. This meant that she was still probably unable to sleep through the night. If Henry was with her, she also had a two-year-old to be taken care of. Her hands were full to say the very least. The physical and nervous strain of the next six weeks of her life must have been enormous: along with the constant responsibility of her two small sons she faced a task at the theatre that demanded a superbly trained actress with leonine courage and nerve (104).

With David abandoning her briefly, Eliza’s world was probably spinning from the hectic stage life and motherhood. She gained a strong repertoire of roles and success despite these hardships, performing alongside a seventeen-year-old actor, John Howard Payne. To David’s regret, his wife had gained attention and success while he was elsewhere, causing a greater rift in their marriage and his increased jealously (107).

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The Park Theatre Interior

When David returned, the couple hurried from Boston to New York to perform under new management at the Park Theatre. Despite the theatre’s grand interior and exterior, the audiences were less than attractive. Washington Irving had written, two years earlier, that the audience was “no inconsiderable part of the entertainment” (109). Unfortunately for the two, they found it difficult to establish themselves at first, and David had made a gaffe, which would haunt his career while there. Performing in Abaellino, Eliza played the Lady Rosamund and David performed as Dandoli. According to the critic for The Rambler, David persisted calling his character “Dan Dilly,” which would be his nickname in future reviews (111).

The negative reviews concerning David’s acting continued, with the same reviewer critiquing David’s performance in Pizarro stating, “…a more wretched Alonzo we have never witnessed. This man was never destined for the high walks of the drama…his person, voice, and non-expression of countenance, all combine to stamp him…” (111-112).

By the end of this season, after only six and a half weeks, David was either fired from or left the company, thus ending his acting career. According to Geddeth, his name no longer appeared in bills and all traces of him vanished (114).

Although it is unknown if David stayed with Eliza after he left the company or if he disappeared for good, Eliza remained vigilant and strong and continued working in the theatre group. She even received a good critique from the gentleman who had ridiculed David’s performances, potentially putting an end to his career (116).

That year, in July 1810, a benefit was held for Eliza. Geddeth explains that the New Yorkers wanted to help Eliza financially, although they were unaware, she was alone with her children, because David had left her permanently, and was expecting her third child (118-119).

She returned to Richmond later that month with Henry who was three, Edgar who was a year old, and expecting a third child who was due in four months. She was alone at twenty-three and had to support herself and her children.

In Richmond, Eliza’s new group was managed by William Green and Alexandre Placide, whom she had known from her work with Sollee’s company in 1797. Unfortunately, the Virginia Company she had worked with no longer existed (121). One of her most important roles in this new company was as Letitia Hardy in Hannah Cowley’s The Belle’s Stratagem. In this role, she acted, sang, and performed a double allemande with Placide, which Geddeth explains as being a, “courtly, somewhat serious dance” (121). She continued with the company to Fredericksburg in October and on to Norfolk, where she gave birth December 18 , 1810, to Rosalie at the Forrest home, a boarding house (123).

Rosalie's Birthplace

Now with five-year-old Henry, two-year-old Edgar, and baby Rosalie, Eliza had a lot to cope with and may have hired a nurse to help care for the children. Henry eventually was sent to Baltimore to live with his grandparents and Eliza continued traveling, most likely broken-hearted having had to part with her son (123).

Arriving in Charleston in 1811, she again played the parts of Priscilla Tomboy in The Romp and Angela in The Castle Spectre. She persisted, despite feeling emotionally, physically, and most likely mentally exhausted, and arrived in Norfolk March of that year. A benefit was to be held for her, and the following letter was printed in the Norfolk Herald:

Sir, permit me to call the attention of the public to the benefit of Mrs. Poe and Miss Thomas for this evening….The former of these ladies I remember (just as I was going in my teens) on her first appearance here met with the most unbounded applause–She was said to be one of the handsomest women in America; she was certainly the handsomest I had ever seen. She never came on the stage, but a general murmur ran through the house, “What an enchanting creature! Heavens what a form!–what an animated and expressive countenance!–and how well she performs! Her voice too! sure never any thing half so sweet!” –Year after year did she continue to extort these involuntary bursts of rapture from the Norfolk audience, and to deserve them too; for never did one of her profession take more pains to please than she. But now “the scene is changed.”–Misfortunes have pressed heavy on her. Left alone, the only support of herself and several young children–Friendless and unprotected, she no longer commands that admiration and attention she formerly did….And yet she is as assiduous to please as ever, and tho’ grief may have stolen a few of the roses from her cheeks, still she retains the same sweetness of expression and symmetry of form and feature (127).

She returned to Richmond, where she would perform her last role as Lady Santon in The Stranger. Her health, rapidly declining, forced her to bed rest. Geddeth states that Malaria was the cause of her death; however, most biographers list Tuberculosis as the cause. Regardless, a benefit was held on November 29, 1811. The Richmond Enquirer stated, “To the Humane Heart: On this night, Mrs. Poe, lingering on the bed of disease and surrounded by her children, asks your assistance; and asks it perhaps for the last time—The generosity of a Richmond Audience can need no other appeal…” (129).

She died Sunday, December 8, 1811, and was buried in an unmarked grave in St. John’s Churchyard that Tuesday. As the Richmond Enquirer stated in her obituary, “By the death of this lady the stage has been deprived of one of its chief ornaments” (129).

Following her death, Henry stayed with his grandparents, Edgar was taken into the Allan family, and Rosalie was received into the Mackenzie family. Most biographers state that David passed within two weeks of Eliza’s own death; however, it remains unknown. Henry and Edgar seemed to be most affected by her death, especially Edgar.

Henry wrote the following poem when he was fourteen, discussing his father and mother:

My Father’s!–I will bless it yet–
For thou hast given life to me:
Tho’ poor the boon–I’ll ne’er forget
The filial love I owe to thee.
My Mother’s too!–then let me press
This gift of her I loved so well,–
For I have had thy last caress,
And heard thy long, thy last farewell.
My Rosa’s! pain doth dim my eye,
When gazing on this pledge of thine–
Thou wer’t a dream–a falsity–
Alas!–’tis wrong to call thee mine!
A Father! he hath loved indeed!
A mother! she hath blessed her son,–
But Love is like the pois’ning weed,
That taints the air it lives upon.

Edgar received the painting of the Boston harbor Eliza had painted, and the inscription on the back would remain dear to his heart.

Geddeth perfectly describes Eliza, which may also be the way Edgar most likely would have seen the portrait of his mother:

Eliza’s beauty had always won her admirers, and when one studies the miniature of her dating from this period, it is easy to see why. The small portrait conveys a delicate beauty of feature–ivory skin tingled with a soft, talisman rose color at the cheeks and lips, a fine nose, tiny sensual mouth, and slightly dimpled, Cupid-like chin. The hair is light brown, fine, tightly curled, but not luxuriant. The artist has captured a warm, sweet, and sensitive expression in the eyes, which are light brown and project glowing vitality…(123)

And, it is without doubt that, just as in life, in death, throughout Henry, Edgar, and Rosalie’s lives, their mother may have been smiling down upon them with that delicate beauty and those sensitive, glowing eyes.




Poe as Naughty Boy: Celebrity Feuds in the 19th Century


poe as mohawk

What do One Direction and Edgar Allan Poe have in common? The answer does not involve great hair or an ardent fan base, but an argument—two arguments, rather. One took place over the course of several months in 1845, the other over a period of hours in May of 2015. On May 30th of this year, the world suddenly learned that there was a DJ named Naughty Boy, and that this DJ had lived up to his pseudonym by insulting One Direction member Louis Tomlinson. We heard about it the same way we hear about everything: on social media. The insult had been tweeted, ensuring that everyone possessed of a social media account (and morbid curiosity) was treated to yet another celebrity Twitter war.

While social media sites such as Twitter have become the new platform for celebrity feuds, they are not the first. Nor are this century’s celebrities the first to indulge their appetite for argument.

In 1845, Edgar Allan Poe became embroiled in a celebrity feud of his own. His opponent? None other than Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Plagiarism was the theme, and fat jokes were banned. The battlefield can be thought of as an ancient relative of Twitter—newspaper columns. The contrast between the two combatants could not have been more striking. On one side, we see Poe—the shabby, struggling editor of a magazine with just a handful of published poems and short stories to his name. On the other side, Longfellow—the wealthy, distinguished author and professor at Harvard. Poe was light-years away from Longfellow’s world of leather-bound books and Harvard halls, and he knew it. Perhaps this was one of the reasons he began his beef with “The Professor” (his bitter nickname for Longfellow) in the first place.

longfellow:poe

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Edgar Allan Poe

Yet, although personal resentment might have influenced Poe, the fact of the matter is that Poe loved a good fight. His brutality as a critic had earned him the nickname of the “Tomahawk Man,” but until 1845, he had not blatantly denounced a figure as beloved and respected as Longfellow.

And just how does one go about accusing one of the country’s foremost authors of plagiarism? As Poe discovered, it’s really quite easy when you happen to be the editor of a literary magazine with a column to fill and circulation to boost. In the winter of 1845, Poe ended his review of Longfellow’s The Waif with this remark:

“We conclude our notes on the “Waif,” with the observation that, although full of beauties, it is infected with a moral taint — or is this a mere freak of our own fancy? We shall be pleased if it be so; — but there does appear, in this exquisite little volume, a very careful avoidance of all American poets who may be supposed especially to interfere with the claims of Mr. Longfellow. These men Mr. Longfellow can continuously imitate ( is that the word?) and yet never even incidentally commend.”

The response to the accusation was immediate, and seemed to come from all corners of the literary East Coast. Longfellow’s “coterie,” as Poe dubbed them, fell over themselves responding in various newspapers to his foul indictment of their beloved Longfellow. Longfellow himself haughtily refrained from acknowledging Poe’s insults publicly, but we do find this little rhyme in the diary he was keeping at the time: “In Hexameter sings serenely a Harvard professor / In Pentameter him damns censorious Poe.”

Sadly for Longfellow, censorious Poe was far from damned. He was not the only person who thought American poets imitative and Longfellow overrated. He continued in his quest for literary justice. At the height of what was becoming known as the “Little Longfellow War,” Poe was invited to the New York Historical Society to deliver his “Lecture on the Poets of America.” We can only hope the New York Historical Society knew what it was doing when it invited Poe, because the “lecture” turned out to be much more like a celebrity roast, only without Dean Martin and without the laughs. Longfellow was, of course, the main target of the evening. One paper described it as a “decapitation,” while another applauded Poe for making “unmitigated war upon the prevailing Puffery, and dragg[ing] several popular idols from their pedestals.”

Before the dust had settled from this latest attack, another combatant made his appearance.  In a column submitted to a New York literary journal, a mysterious writer using the pseudonym “Outis” (Greek for “nobody”) attempted to silence Poe’s accusations once and for all. To this day, scholars are unable to establish the identity of Outis, although some evidence suggests that he might have been an invention of Lawrence Lebree (the editor of the New York paper Rover). Out of the many articles in defense of Longfellow during this season, Outis’ alone succeeded in finding a chink in Poe’s armor. Copying a technique that Poe himself had used in his early accusations of Longfellow, Outis printed excerpts of “The Raven” alongside an anonymous poem entitled “The Bird of the Dream.” The goal was to allow the readers to detect the similarities for themselves. Just in case they missed a few, Outis then proceeded to point out no less than 18 similarities between “The Raven” and “The Bird of the Dream.”

To the delight of Longfellow’s supporters, Poe’s response to Outis was ungraceful and revealed the extent of his embarrassment. One editor snickered “a Joker will rarely ever receive one in return good-naturedly; and this is the extent true of Mr. Poe.” Over the course of four lengthy responses, Poe struggled to defend his works and regain his dignity. Although he successfully disproved Outis’ claim that he had plagiarized “The Raven,” he found himself unable to continue in his accusations of Longfellow. Following his response to Outis, Poe waved the white flag by revoking his (many) statements accusing Longfellow of plagiarism. Even then, however, he stubbornly held to his view that Longfellow’s imitative style did not deserve the praise it continued to receive.

With that, Poe’s involvement in the Little Longfellow war came to an awkward close. His writing in years following contained very few references to “The Professor”, and in the end it was Longfellow himself who had the last word. Following Poe’s untimely death, he wrote to a friend, “My works seemed to give him much trouble, first and last; but Mr. Poe is dead and gone, and I am alive and still writing–and that is the end of the matter.”




Nevermore: the Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe


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Nevermore logo, courtesy of Nevermore NYC LLC.

WARNING: Contains Spoilers

As our museum reported earlier this year, a musical by the name of Nevermore: the Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe made its debut off-Broadway in New York City at New World Stages. Written, composed, and directed by Jonathan Christenson, the musical follows the birth and early life of Poe, touching lightly on the later half of his life before ending abruptly with his death. Sets, lighting, and costumes were designed by Bretta Gerecke, with sound design by Wade Staples. You can read more credits here.

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Album art, courtesy of Nevermore NYC LLC.

Although I was unable to see the show during its New York run, I recently received the CD newly released June 14th, and the following will be a brief review of the story, music, sound design, and overall actors’ performances.

The opening song, “Prologue,” crescendos from a fadeout-to-fade-in note with forceful beats interrupting the ease of the first note. Waves crash, a harbor bell tolls, and piano plinks sound. A music box tinkles, and one of the “Eldorado Players” chimes, introducing the audience to a man, “a most peculiar man,” whom they had met on a steamer on his way to New York-Poe. They explain that although he looked “dreary,” he was still full of hope. The theme of hope and loss encapsulates the entire musical.

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Photograph by Richard Termine, featuring Scott Shpeley as Edgar Poe and Ryan Parker as “Eldorado Player.” Courtesy of Nevermore NYC LLC.

As each of the six players’ voices gradually add their own testimony of Poe, Poe (Scott Shpeley) himself comes out and inquires about his mother, whom one of the players knows, and he yearns to hear about the life he seemingly has forgotten. Thus, the audience is at the mercy of the players telling Poe’s life, starting from the beginning, and Eliza Poe’s involvement with theatre and her husband, David Poe. The audience is quickly introduced to Rosalie (Beth Graham), Henry (Gaelan Beatty), David (Garett Ross), and Eliza (Lindsie VanWinkle), and just as each song, each chapter closes with the loss of someone close to Poe, another chapter opens. The musical continues with the theme of gain and loss, life and death, and the audience becomes overwhelmingly immersed in Poe’s life and struggle to want to live, to hold on to hope.

Upon listening to the soundtrack (admittedly multiple times now), there are many gems and delights, which cater to Poe enthusiasts, as well as some questionably creative rights taken to interpret certain characters and their outcomes. For example, Fanny Allan’s character gradually becomes synonymous with a familiar character in The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether, (namely the “chicken”). Another example of creative rights expanding beyond historical truth is the fact that Rufus Griswold (Ryan Parker) and Edgar were very good friends before Griswold destroyed his reputation (which is not true) and took Edgar’s place as editor for Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. It is astonishing that Graham’s Magazine was nowhere to be found, but at least one of Poe’s editorial jobs was mentioned.

A few gems include the songs in general, which incorporate many of Poe’s poems, including “Eulalie,” “Tamerlane,” and “Dream Within A Dream,” using snippets from stanzas to convey Poe’s circumstances and feelings, as well as the other characters’ feeling, throughout the musical. Not to mention that a musical interpretation of Virginia’s poem, “Ever With Thee…” can be found in the song, “The Death of Sissy.”

I feel one could write pages regarding what was correct and what was historically inaccurate; however, everything seems to work. I would recommend reading a biography of Poe to check the facts rather than gain them from this musical.

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Photograph by Joan Marcus, featuring Scott Shpeley as Edgar Poe and Lindsie VanWinkle and Shannon Blanchet as the Misses Duval. Courtesy of Nevermore NYC LLC.

Over all, the dark, gloomy, atmospheric tone of the music seems like a lullaby that carries one through Poe’s seemingly haunted, ethereal life, which Christenson accomplished flawlessly. The sound effects are cleverly distributed throughout the recorded album, giving the feel to one who wasn’t present to see the performance live a chance to experience it on their own. Finally, the casting choice was incredible. Beth Graham’s vocal talents and knack for voice interpretation are beyond belief. Gaelan Beatty’s vibrato rings with purity and distinction. Shannon Blanchett’s alto tones add to the haunting dynamic successfully portrayed, both in her character, Elmira, and in songs where harmony is called for. Ryan Parker’s voice belts richly and cleverly. Garett Ross’s similar knack for voice impressions, namely portraying a Scottish accent with John Allan, is fun and a thrill. Lindsie VanWinkle has a pristine voice that rings flawlessly and fully. Finally, Scott Shpeley’s performance as Edgar is remarkably done, with his ability to shift between the timid young Edgar, to the frightened child in the Allan household, to the confident man bold about his writing skills, to the man who, ultimately, ends up dejected and lost.

If you are interested in listening to the musical soundtrack, you can purchase it from the following places:
http://www.broadwayrecords.com/cds/nevermore-2015
http://www.amazon.com/Nevermore-Imaginary-Mysterious-Off-Broadway-Recording/dp/B00VNQWV6G/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1435634839&sr=8-1&keywords=nevermore%3A+the+imaginary+life+and+mysterious+death
Itunes

Have you either seen or listened to the musical? What did you think?




New Exhibit Explores Mental Illness in Poe’s Life and Work


The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether

The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether

True! — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?
~ Edgar Allan Poe, ”The Tell-Tale Heart,” 1843

“I am constitutionally sensitive — nervous in a very unusual degree.”
~ Edgar Allan Poe, Letter to George W. Eveleth, January 4, 1848

In stories like “The Black Cat” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Poe explores the mind’s descent into insanity with such vivid realism that they have lost none of their power after over 170 years. Generations of readers have confused the author Edgar Allan Poe with the mentally ill narrators of his famous stories “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “Berenice,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” While the real Poe bears no resemblance to these characters, the fact that so many people have been fooled is evidence of Poe’s research and the realism of his writing. The Poe Museum’s new exhibit, Madness: Insanity in the Works of Edgar Allan Poe, will uncover the truth about mental illness in Poe’s life and work.

Tranquilizer Chair

Tranquilizer Chair

Visit this exhibit to discover the identities of the real murderer upon whom Poe based the narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” and the possible inspirations for Madeline and Roderick Usher from “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Then find out what doctors in Poe’s time knew about mental illness and how to treat it. Find the truth behind Poe’s stories of madness and murder in the Poe Museum’s new exhibit Madness: Insanity in the Works of Edgar Allan Poe opening July 23 from 6-9 p.m. with a special Unhappy Hour devoted to Poe’s tale “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether.” The exhibit continues until September 20, 2015.

"The Fall of the House of Usher"

“The Fall of the House of Usher”




Fragments of Poe’s Bride’s Wedding Dress Revealed


Virginia Clemm Poe

Virginia Clemm Poe

Every once in a while, a discovery sheds new light on history bringing past events more clearly into view. While historians have preserved descriptions of Edgar Allan Poe’s wedding to his thirteen year old cousin Virginia, no artifacts of the event seem to have survived–until now. Tucked away in private collections for nearly 180 years, two fragments of Virginia Poe’s wedding dress have come to light and will be on display at the Poe Museum in Richmond this summer.

Long a source of public fascination, Poe’s “child-bride” Virginia Poe has been the subject of at least two novels, and she has been a character in such films as The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe (1942) and Edgar Allan Poe (1915). In spite of countless Poe biographies, articles, and studies, few verifiable facts about the ceremony and even fewer artifacts have come to light. There is even dispute about which house hosted the ceremony.

Rev. Amasa Converse, who performed Poe's wedding ceremony

Rev. Amasa Converse, who performed Poe’s wedding ceremony

Based on eye-witness accounts, the small private ceremony took place in the parlor of a house in downtown Richmond, either at 8th and Main or at 11th and Bank Streets. The minister performing the ceremony, Amasa Converse, recalled Virginia was “polished, dignified and agreeable in her bearing… [possessing] a pleasing manner but…very young.” One of the wedding guests, Virginia’s young playmate Jane Foster, later recalled Virginia was “attired in a new traveling dress, and ‘yore her hat.” This is likely the dress from which the present fragments were taken. Thanks to the research of a renowned Poe scholar, we now a little more about this important dress and are able to envision how it looked. While modern viewers are accustomed to seeing white wedding gowns, many will be surprised to see how brightly colored Virginia’s wedding dress actually was.

Richard Kopley

Richard Kopley

The pieces of fabric are on loan from Poe scholar Dr. Richard Kopley of Penn State University, who purchased them in 1992 from a descendant of Poe’s sister’s foster brother John Hamilton Mackenzie. According to the provenance, Mackenzie’s mother-in-law paid for Virginia Poe’s wedding dress, from which these fragments were taken to be sewn into a quilt. The pieces were later removed and placed in an envelope kept with other Mackenzie and Lanier family papers. During the course of his research into Poe’s early years, Kopley acquired this collection.

John Hamilton Mackenzie

John Hamilton Mackenzie

Thanks to a generous loan from Dr. Kopley, the Poe Museum is pleased to announce it will display the two pieces of fabric cut from Poe’s wife’s wedding dress this summer until September 30. These unusual artifacts are the only known surviving pieces of Poe’s wife’s clothing and will be displayed alongside her mirror and trinket box from the Poe Museum’s permanent collection.

Fabric from Virginia Poe's Dress

Fabric from Virginia Poe’s Dress