To give the public a better idea of the variety of artifacts and memorabilia that makes up the Poe Museum’s world renowned collection, we will be profiling a different object each month. Some of these objects may be long-time favorites like Poe’s bed or Poe’s vest, but others may be lesser known pieces that are rarely, if ever, displayed. When making the list of items to profile, we began by asking which pieces tell stories or reveal unknown aspects of Poe’s life or work. We then considered which objects we wish could receive more attention or more time on display. Finally, we wondered which would be the first item to be profiled.
It made perfect sense to begin with a little known object that nonetheless attracts, repulses, and intrigues many of the guests who see it. Our tour guides regularly point it out on their tours because it is small enough to go unnoticed but too important to miss.
That is why the Poe Museum’s first Object of the Month is a lock of Eliza White’s hair.
Eliza White (ca.1820-1888) was the daughter of Poe’s employer, Thomas White, the owner of the Southern Literary Messenger. What little is known of Eliza White is a mixture of exaggeration, legend, and an occasional fact. Poe’s friend Susan Archer Talley Weiss wrote in her notoriously unreliable 1907 book Home Life of Poe, “When I was a girl I more than once heard of Eliza White and her love affair with Edgar Poe. ‘She was the sweetest girl that I ever knew,’ said a lady who had been her schoolmate; ‘a slender, graceful blonde, with deep blue eyes, who reminded you of the Watteau Shepherdesses upon fans. She was a great student, and very bright and intelligent. She was said to be engaged to Poe, but they never appeared anywhere together. It was soon broken off on account of his dissipation. I don’t think she ever got over it. She had many admirers, but is still unmarried.’”
Susan Archer Talley
According to Weiss, when Poe moved to Richmond in 1835 to work at the Southern Literary Messenger, “Mr. White, as a safeguard from the temptation to evil habits, received him as an inmate of his own home, where he immediately fell in love with the editor’s youngest daughter, ‘little Eliza,’ a lovely girl of eighteen [actually twenty-three]. It was said that the father, who idolized his daughter, and was also very fond of Poe, did not forbid the match, but made his consent conditional upon the young man’s remaining perfectly sober for a certain length of time. All was going well, and the couple were looked upon as engaged, when [Poe’s aunt] Mrs. Clemm, who kept a watchful eye upon her nephew, may have received information of the affair, and we have seen the result…Poe now, at once, plunged into the dissipation which was, according to general report, the occasion of Mr. White’s prohibition of his attentions to his daughter. It was she to whom the lines, ‘To Eliza,’ now included in Poe’s poems, were addressed.”
For her 1906 article “Some Memories of Poe” in Bob Taylor’s Magazine, Tula D. Pendleton interviewed Ms. White’s cousin, Miss Bell Lynes, a niece of Thomas H. White. In the resulting article, Cummings reports that, “Eliza, the handsome young daughter of Mr. White, inspired Poe with great admiration, and it was said that he singed his wings at the candles of her shrine. ‘To Eliza’ is his tribute to this fair girl.”
The poem “To Eliza,” originally published in the Southern Literary Messenger under the title “Lines Written in an Album,” reads:
Eliza! — let thy generous heart
From its present pathway part not!
Being every thing which now thou art,
Be nothing which thou art not.
So with the world thy gentle ways —
Thy unassuming beauty —
And truth shall be a theme of praise
Forever — and love a duty.
Though this poem was likely dedicated to Eliza White at that time, Poe had already written it in the album of his cousin Eliza Herring. He would later dedicate the poem to Frances S. Osgood and publish it under yet another name.
Thomas W. White
Of the supposed love affair between Poe and Ms. White, Pendleton continues, “But Mr. White would hear none of Poe as a suitor for his daughter. Miss White rarely spoke of the poet. ‘But,’ said Miss Lynes, ‘Eliza never married…’ Miss Lynes remembers seeing Poe at a party at her ‘Uncle White’s’ house. He and the fair girl made such a handsome couple that all present remarked upon it. “Mr. Poe was the most enthusiastic dancer I ever saw,” said Miss Lynes, “although he remained cold and calm, showing his delight only in his eyes.”
Poe and White remained friends for the rest of his life. She even visited Poe while he was living in Fordham, New York. In an April 22, 1859 letter to Poe’s friend Sarah Helen Whitman, Poe’s mother-in-law Maria Clemm writes of Eliza White, “She passed many months with us at Fordham, before and after Virginia’s death, but he never felt or professed other than friendship for her.”
If Poe’s relationship with White was not romantic, the two certainly shared an affinity for poetry. White’s poems appeared a number of times in the pages of the Southern Literary Messenger. Here is a poem of hers in the December 1835 issue.
The first mention of this lock of Eliza White’s hair comes from the above mentioned article by Tula D. Pendleton. The author writes of Ms. White, “Her greatest physical charm was her beautiful hair. Miss Lynes showed me a long braid of exquisite texture and of a fairness so extreme that when laid upon her own silver head there was scarcely any perceptible difference of shade. This hair was cut from Eliza White’s head many years before her death, which occurred about ten years ago.”
Pendleton acquired the lock from Miss Lynes and donated it to the Poe Museum in 1922. The piece had not been displayed for several years when the present curator, having read about it in the old accessions book, decided to take it out of storage. As a poet and as a friend of Poe’s, Eliza White deserved to have her story told. In the absence of a surviving portrait of her (since her only known portrait was destroyed in a fire in the nineteenth century) this hair serves as a tangible link to this often overlooked figure in Poe’s life.
If you think 2014 has been cold, you should see this picture of Getrude Stein (1874-1946) taken during her February 7, 1935 visit to the Poe Museum.
The poet spent a few days in Richmond during her six-month tour of the United States in 1934-35. While in the River City, she was entertained at the home of Richmond novelist Ellen Glasgow, gave a lecture about English Literature at the University of Richmond, and was given a reception by the board of the Poe Foundation in the Poe Museum’s Tea House (now its Exhibits Building).
Stein’s friend, the photographer and writer Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964), took these photos of her at the Poe Museum. Each photograph is autographed by both Stein and Van Vechten, and Stein wrote captions. Here are the images with their captions.
“To the Poe Foundation with much pleasure”
“For the Poe Shrine and open”
“For the Poe Shrine [illegible]”
This is the same hitching post, in a different location, today.
Stein and Van Vechten are just two of the important literary and cultural figures who have visited the Poe Museum over the past ninety-two years. Others include H.P. Lovecraft, Henry Miller, and Salvador Dali.
One of the questions the Poe Museum’s tour guides hear most often is, “Who is Annabel Lee?” Since Poe’s classic poem “Annabel Lee” first appeared in print two days after the author’s death in 1849, readers have speculated about whether or not the poem refers to a real person from the author’s life. Opening just in time for Poe’s Birthday Bash on January 18, the Poe Museum’s new exhibit “By the Name of Annabel Lee” will explore the poem and the people who may have inspired it.
The exhibit will profile the multiple women considered to be inspirations for the poem, and visitors will learn in the words of Poe’s close friend Frances S. Osgood who she believed was “the only woman whom he ever truly loved.” Rare artifacts to be displayed include the manuscript for Poe’s essay about Osgood, original letters by Osgood and others, and stunning portraits of Poe’s muses including Sarah Helen Whitman. The show promises to reveal the rarely seen romantic side of Poe and his work.
The exhibit opens during the Poe Birthday Bash on January 18, and, in honor of the exhibit, the day’s festivities will begin with historical interpreters portraying Poe and Osgood reading their love poetry to each other. The show continues until April 20, 2014.
Here is the latest issue of the Poe Museum’s newsletter Evermore. With updates on recent acquisitions, new Poe Foundation officers, and the Poe Birthday Bash. PoeMuseum-winter2013newsletter
Most the Poe Museum’s holdings never go on display. In addition to its museum collection of Edgar Allan Poe artifacts and memorabilia, the Poe Museum also holds an extensive group of objects in its reference library. This study collection features thousands of books, articles, videos, and audio recordings exploring Poe’s life and influence. Accessible by appointment, the reference library is a rich source of information compiled over the past nine decades for the benefit of students and researchers. As would be expected, the collection contains several volumes of scholarly works of biography and criticism, but there are also numerous photographs, drawings, and prints of Poe, the people he knew, and the places he lived, worked, and visited. There are also manuscripts, letters, illustrations, advertisements, facsimiles, and rare documents.
While the Poe Museum’s library is a great place to look for scholarly works and materials on Poe and his oeuvre, it also documents the evolution of other authors’ and artists’ responses to Poe. That is why one will find several works of fiction inspired by Poe here. These vary from novels featuring Poe as a character (like The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard and An Unpardonable Crime by Andrew Taylor) to ones with Poe-inspired elements (like Kelly Creagh’s teen romance Nevermore and Linda Fairstein’s mystery thriller Entombed). There are even historical novels focusing on Poe’s life. Among these are John May’s Poe and Fanny and Barbara Moore’s The Fever Called Living.
Other novels focus on the lives of those he knew. Harriet Davis’s Elmira tells the story of Poe’s first fiancée Elmira Royster Shelton while Lenore Hart’s The Raven’s Bride gives Poe’s wife’s perspective. Poe’s mysterious death is the subject of novels including Matthew Pearl’s The Poe Shadow and Frank Lovelock’s Lenore. The Poe Museum is featured in the short story “Murder at the Poe Shrine” by Nedra Tyre. Obsessive Poe collecting is the theme of Robert Bloch’s “The Man who Collected Poe.” Poe has inspired other authors to write sequels to his works. In 1897, Jules Verne wrote The Sphinx of the Ice Fields (also known as An Antarctic Mystery) as a sequel to Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. More recently, Clive Barker wrote “New Murders in the Rue Morgue,” a sequel to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”
Poe’s works have also been reimagined in music, plays, and an opera. Then there are the comics. Richard Corben’s masterful interpretations of Poe’s stories and poems into comics are among the best to date, but Berni Wrightson, Michael Golden, and others have also produced great adaptations. Let us not forget to mention MAD Magazine’s parody of “The Raven” and the Scooby Doo mystery “Cravin’ the Raven.” Then there are entire series like Jason Asala’s Poe and Dwight Macpherson’s The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allan Poo. In the 2003 series Batman Nevermore, Poe joins forces with the Dark Knight to fight crime, but Poe had already battled evildoers alongside the “World’s Smallest Superhero” The Atom back in 1950.
The study collection abounds in illustrated editions of Poe’s works by artists including Dore, Dulac, Clarke, and Robinson. More recent illustrated editions have been produced by artists including Mark Summers (this edition has a preface by Neil Gaiman), Greg Hildebrandt, and Gris Grimly.
If you would like to visit the study collection for research purposes, simply contact the curator to schedule an appointment.
The Poe Museum is regularly contacted by Poe family members looking for information about their relationship to Edgar Allan Poe. Although, the Museum’s main focus is Edgar Allan Poe, but its archives do contain some material related to his extended family. Among the pieces concerning Poe’s genealogy, George Poe, Jr.’s bible and the typescript of The Poe Family of Maryland are the most informative. These documents from the museum’s collection may not be of use to everyone seeking Poe genealogical information, but we hope they will be of interest to both Poe family members and the general public. You can read the documents by clicking on the links below.
The first piece is a Poe family that originally belonged to George Poe, Jr. (1778-1864). George’s father was Edgar’s grandfather’s brother, which means George and Edgar Poe’s father, David Poe, Jr., were first cousins. George Poe, Jr. was a successful banker, and both Edgar Poe and his father asked him for loans. George rejected a 1809 request from Poe’s father but did send Edgar Poe $100 in 1836 in order to help Edgar‘s mother-in-law open a boardinghouse.
This is a picture of George Poe, Sr. (1744-1823) and his wife Catherine Poe (1742-1806).
The most interesting feature of this bible is the family history contained on the pages seen here. Notice the diagram of a Poe family burial plot at Westminster Burying Grounds in Baltimore. Edgar was buried in the same cemetery but in a different plot—that of his paternal grandfather David Poe, Sr. In 1875, Edgar’s remains were moved to their present location near the cemetery gate.
This following link takes you to a PDF of the pages of Poe family births and deaths from the bible:
George Poe’s Bible
The next piece reproduced here is a typescript entitled The Poe Family of Maryland. It was given to the Poe Museum in 1930 by the granddaughter of Edgar Poe’s cousin Amelia Poe, twin sister of Neilson Poe (1809-1888). Edgar called Nielson his “worst enemy in the world.” Before Edgar married his cousin Virginia Clemm, Neilson, who was married to Virginia’s half-sister Josephine Emily Clemm, offered to take Virginia into his own home to see that she was properly educated.
Here is a fine photograph of Neilson Poe’s father Jacob Poe, brother of George Poe, Jr.
The link below takes you to a PDF of the typsecript:
The Poe Family of Maryland
The above images were pasted onto pages of the typescript. Also included was this photograph of a pastel portrait of Edgar Allan Poe. Notice it is copyrighted 1893. That is the year Neilson Poe’s daughter Amelia Poe requested that the original 1868 pastel by Oscar Halling (then in the possession of Neilson’s son John Prentiss Poe) be photographed in order to sell the photos at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
Over the years, Poe relatives have contributed to the Poe Museum’s collections by donating pieces like Virginia Clemm Poe’s trinket box, Edgar Allan Poe’s vest, and Amelia Poe’s album containing Poe’s manuscript for “To Helen.” They have also donated portraits of various Poe family members. This is said to represent William Poe (1755-1804), the youngest brother of Edgar’s grandfather David Poe, Sr.
The Poe Museum would not have survived for the past ninety years without the help of Edgar Allan Poe’s relatives around the world. The museum will always be grateful for their contributions.
This photograph of the Poe Museum’s Old Stone House dates to around 1881. The bearded man standing by the front door is R. L. Potter, the Wheelbarrow Man. Long before anyone ever thought to have a Poe Museum in the Old Stone House, Potter used the building to display his own collection of 1,600 curiosities, which included rattlesnakes, two wolves, rocks and minerals collected on his travels, and—according to one source—a live bear. Admission was probably about fifteen cents, which is the price he charged when his collection was on display on Marshall Street, according to an advertisement in the November 29, 1881 Daily Dispatch.
Potter was born in Marietta, Ohio but moved to Albany, New York, where he had a wife and three children. When Grant won the Presidency, Potter refused to shave his beard until a Democrat was in office. He earned the name Wheelbarrow Man by pushing a wheelbarrow carrying 100 pounds from Albany to San Francisco in 1878. He walked the 4,100 miles in just 160 days, becoming famous in the process. During the trip, he adopted and tamed two wolf cubs, which followed him for the rest of his life. He also filled his wheelbarrow with rocks, minerals, live specimens, and other “curiosities” he found along the way. Upon Potter’s arrival in San Francisco, the poet Samuel Booth wrote “The Song of the Wheelbarrow Man,” a stanza of which reads, “He started from Albany five months ago,/ And trundled his wheelbarrow steady and slow,/ In storm and in sunshine, through dust, wind, and rain,/ Four thousand odd miles trudged the Wheelbarrow Man.”
When asked why he took the trip, Potter told reporters he wanted to make his name doing something no one else had ever done. That distinction was short-lived. In a publicity stunt to sell papers, newspaper owner George Hearst offered a prize to whoever could win a wheelbarrow race from San Francisco to New York. Potter’s competition was L. P. Federmeyer of Paris, France. Federmeyer won the race, but Potter continued to tour the country, never returning to his home in Albany because, according to a May 19, 1881 interview in the National Republican, “I have three children there. The reason I don’t go home is that if I get there with my children I can’t get away.”
In the same interview, Potter mentions that he has exhibited his collection of curiosities in a number of cities and will take it to Virginia. By July 27, 1881, he was showing his “museum of natural curiosities” in Woodstock, Virginia, according to the Shenandoah Herald of that date. By November 27, 1881, when an advertisement for his museum appeared in the Daily Dispatch, he was in Richmond.
The exact dates of his time in the Old Stone House are unknown. An 1894 guide to the Old Stone House (which was then in service as the Washington’s Headquarters Antiquarium and Relic Museum) states that Potter rented the house for eight months beginning in 1879. Poe Museum trustee Rosemarie Mitchell, who is researching a history of the Old Stone House, theorizes Potter might have rented the house in late 1882 or early 1883. By 1883, he returned to New York to accept the challenge of pushing his wheelbarrow from New York City to New Orleans.
Potter died shortly afterwards. The April 30, 1883 issue of the New York Times reported that he was killed while crossing the railroad bridge over the Yadkin River in North Carolina. His last surviving pet wolf remained at his master’s side and was retrieved by Potter’s widow.
As the Poe Museum celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, it is easy to forget that the Old Stone House was already a Richmond landmark—and even a museum—decades before the Poe Foundation took over the property. Although the bear, wolves, and rattlesnakes are long gone, we still like to think we have an interesting, if slightly less dangerous, collection of Poeana.
One fine day in April, 1945, a group of industrious young members of the John Marshall Chapter of the International Quill and Scroll Society gathered in the Enchanted Garden of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum for tea and an initiation of several new members.
Quill and Scroll Society Members visiting the Poe Museum, April 26,1945
Old photographs such as this provide a curious window into the past, an invaluable record of how it was. Many of the people in these pictures have long since passed away – yet the memory of these moments in time lives on through the muted sepia tones of a photographic image. As Collections Coordinator of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, I have the opportunity to ensure that these records remain intact for future generations to enjoy, through both diligent record-keeping and proper handling and storage.
Because 2012 marks the 90th anniversary of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, I am taking this opportunity to share with you some images from the museum’s yesteryear. The Poe Museum has a long standing history of welcoming school groups for tours, as evinced through several of the photographs I have stumbled upon recently.
Several happy young people dip their toes into the pond of the Enchanted Garden of the Poe Museum. This pond was in the place of the current fountain. Photograph dated April 17, 1942.
A school group gathers in front of the Poe Shrine. Photograph circa 1945.
The Poe Museum is proud to have inspired generations of young literature enthusiasts and will continue to offer poetry and insight for many years to come.
First blog here from the Poe Collections Manager. We have some amazing artifacts on view that have to do with our favorite author. We are always moving things around and showing off new books – will update soon.
Come see our new Poe Revealed temporary exhibit and our permament exhibits. You will be able to see great works on paper, clothing, hair (!) and much much more!!!!!