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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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”
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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).
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.
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).
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.