It is one of the stars of the Poe Museum. It has traveled the world and encountered both a U.S. president and the Queen of England. Millions of people, in fact, have seen this simple wooden walking stick. Millions more have read about it in various biographies and novels about Poe.
About thirty-six inches long, the cane is made of dark wood with a silver tip inscribed “Poe.” A hole through the shaft once held a leather strap the user would loop around the user’s wrist. This humble piece is remarkable not only because it was once owned by Edgar Allan Poe but because it might be a clue to Poe’s mysterious death.
The first recorded mention of Poe’s walking stick is in a March 1878 article entitled “The Last Days of Edgar Allan Poe” by Susan Weiss in Scribner’s Magazine. Weiss reports that, on Poe’s last night in Richmond before his ill-fated trip to Baltimore on his way to Philadelphia, he visited the home of his friend Dr. John Carter at Seventeenth and Broad Streets in Richmond. “Late in the evening he entered the office of Dr. John Carter, and spent an hour in looking over the day’s papers; then taking Dr. Carter’s cane he went out, remarking that he would step across to Saddler’s (a fashionable restaurant) and get supper. From the circumstance of his taking the cane, leaving his own in its place, it is probable that he had intended to return; but at the restaurant he met with some acquaintances who detained him until late, and then accompanied him to the Baltimore boat.”
Dr. John Carter
Dr. Carter wrote his own account of his evening with Poe in the November 1902 issue of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine.
I had not seen Poe for some days, when he one evening, about half-past nine o’clock, called at my office, which, being on Seventeenth and Broad Streets, had afforded him a half-way resting-place between Duncan Lodge and the residence of Mrs. Shelton, on Church Hill, during his brief engagement to that lady. As was well known to his intimate friends, the engagement was broken off before he left Richmond, though whether afterwards resumed is not certain. On this evening he sat for some time talking, while playing with a handsome Malacca sword-cane recently presented me by a friend, and then, abruptly rising, said, “I think I will step over to Saddler’s (a popular restaurant in the neighborhood) for a few moments,” and so left without any further word, having my cane still in his hand. From this manner of departure I inferred that he expected to return shortly, but did not see him again, and was surprised to learn next day that he had left for Baltimore by the early morning boat. I then called on Saddler, who informed me that Poe had left his house at exactly twelve that night, starting for the Baltimore boat in company with several companions whom he had met at Saddler’s, and giving as a reason there for the lateness of the hour and the fact that the boat was to leave at four o’clock. According to Saddler he was in good spirits and sober, though it is certain that he had been drinking and that he seemed oblivious of his baggage, which had been left in his room at the Swan Tavern. These effects were after his death forwarded by one of Mrs. Mackenzie’s sons to Mrs. Clemm in New York, and through the same source I received my cane, which Poe in his absent-mindedness had taken away with him.
After leaving Richmond, Poe’s disappeared for five days before being found semi-conscious at a Baltimore polling place on an election day. He had no memory of his whereabouts, and the appearance of his cheap, ill-fitting clothes suggested his own expensive clothes had been stolen. Poe spent the next four days in a hospital, but his attending physician John J. Moran was unable to determine what had happened to the poet or his clothing. Rumors spread that he had been beaten, robbed, or cooped (the practice of abducting and drugging a stranger in order to drag them from one polling place to the next to vote multiple times). Even Poe’s cause of death is open to speculation, and historians have theorized he could have been suffering from meningitis, rabies, or any number of other diseases.
In 1907, Susan Weiss wrote about the walking stick again in her book The Home Life of Poe. This time, she embellished her account by saying that Poe was carried to a Baltimore hospital with Carter’s Malacca cane in his hand, even though this seems to be contradicted by Carter’s version of the story.
Susan Archer Talley Weiss
While Dr. Carter was sure to recover his own cane from the Mackenzies after Poe’s death, he did not bother to return Poe’s walking stick to the poet’s family. Instead, Carter kept it as memento of his famous friend.
When Carter’s health declined in his later years, his cousin William Henry Booker took Carter into his home. Booker inherited the walking stick after Carter’s death. Booker’s daughter, Mrs. Mary Harnish, (b. 1874) then inherited the stick along with the rest of Booker’s possessions.
In 1923, Mrs. Catherine Campbell, custodian of the newly formed Poe Museum in Richmond, borrowed the walking stick to display at the museum. Three years later, the museum contacted Mrs. Harnish about the possibility of purchasing the piece. Harnish wrote back to say she would need $250 for it and that they should reply soon because she was fielding other offers for the artifact. Always short of funds, the museum could not afford what would have been the equivalent of $3,280 in today’s dollars.
Mrs. Archer Jones
At about this time, tragedy struck when one of the Poe Museum’s founders, Archer Jones, committed suicide. His devastated widow Annie Boyd Jones bought the walking stick and presented to the Poe Museum in memory of her husband.
The same year it entered the Poe Museum’s collection, Poe’s walking stick was mentioned in Poe biographies by Mary Phillips and Hervey Allen. In his 1941 biography of Poe, Arthur Hobson Quinn also retold the story of Poe mistakenly taking Carter’s walking stick. This seemingly humble piece of wood was quickly becoming one of the museum’s main attractions.
Walking Stick in Display Case in 1927
In 1945, William J. Burtscher wrote in his book The Romance Behind Walking Canes that “this cane could claim that it was often held by the hand that wrote “The Raven,” “The Bells,” and “Ulalume,”—and that was the only hand of all poets of all time that could have written these, and some other, Poesquian mysteries.” Burtscher believed “Richmond, indeed, is the logical place for the cane to rest, for Poe himself left it there.” The cane, however, would soon leave Richmond.
In 1957, Virginia celebrated the 350th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World. In honor of the occasion, the Virginia 350th Anniversary Commission opened the Jamestown Festival featuring a reconstruction of the original 1607 Jamestown settlement, recreations of the ships that carried the colonists to Jamestown, and a large exhibit of Virginia history. Among the 1.5 million visitors to the festival were the Queen of England and Vice President Richard Nixon. The walking stick was such a popular attraction that the Jamestown Festival Park requested an extension of the loan through 1959. The can did not return to Richmond until 1960 when the Poe Museum’s board finally decided not to renew the loan.
Poe’s Walking Stick
In 1999 the walking stick crossed the ocean for the first time when the Poe Society of Prague borrowed it for an exhibition at the First International Poe Festival. Because the Poe Museum deemed the cane too valuable to ship to Prague, Poe Museum trustee Welford Dunaway Taylor carried it with him to the festival. The walking stick would not travel again until 2014 when the Grolier Club in New York borrowed it for the exhibit The Persistence of Poe. Once again, a Poe Museum representative personally delivered and retrieved the item.
Part of the interest in this piece is its connection with Poe’s final days. Authors and researchers have speculated that the fever and the confused state that may have caused Poe to mistake his walking stick for Carter’s could be a symptoms of the still unidentified illness that would end Poe’s life a little more than a week later. Others have wondered if Poe took Carter’s sword cane because he wanted a weapon with which to defend himself on his trip to Philadelphia. The latter seems unlikely if Poe left the walking stick in Richmond, as Carter’s account implies. In his novel about Poe’s death, The Poe Shadow, Matthew Pearl explores the mystery of the switched walking sticks. Believing Poe still had Carter’s Malacca cane with him when he was found wearing someone else’s clothes in Baltimore, the novel’s detective Duponte speculates Poe was not robbed of his clothing because the thieves would have also stolen the fine Malacca cane in the process.
Poe admirers and actors portraying Poe have created replicas of the famous cane, and it has appeared in numerous books and articles. To this day, it remains one of the stars of the Poe Museum’s collection. That is why it is the museum’s Object of the Month for September 2015.
This month marks the 166th anniversary of the night Poe left his walking stick at Dr. Carter’s house just days before his death. That walking stick is now on display just six blocks from where that house once stood. You can see Poe’s walking stick the Poe Museum’s Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building alongside Poe’s vest and boot hooks.
To be buried while alive is, beyond question, the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality.
~Edgar A. Poe, “The Premature Burial”
“The Premature Burial” by Harry Clarke
From August 27 until October 18, 2015, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond will host Buried Alive, an exhibit exploring the theme of premature burial in Poe’s works. Poe called the subject of being buried alive, “the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality.” Characters are entombed alive in Poe’s tales “Berenice,” “The Premature Burial,” “Loss of Breath,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.”
When searching for explanations for Poe’s repeated use of the theme in his works, one needs look no further than the newspapers of his day. At a time when many people died at home without a doctor present, people in a cataleptic state could be mistaken for dead and accidentally buried—or almost buried. Sometimes such people awoke while the first few shovels of dirt were thrown over their coffin. Others awoke on medical school dissecting tables. Articles about real cases of premature burial abounded in the press of the day, and certain readers grew so terrified of being buried alive that they purchased “safety coffins” in which an accidentally buried person could ring a bell to alert passersby to rescue him in the event he woke up six feet underground. While several designs for such coffins were devised, there is no record of anyone being rescued from one of them. Eventually, some concerned citizens formed The Society for the Prevention of People Being Buried Alive. Among other ideas, this organization proposed a law that would prevent burial of people until they started to “smell dead.”
The Poe Museum’s Buried Alive exhibit will feature rare first printings and the only surviving portion of “The Premature Burial” in Poe’s own handwriting. When visiting the gallery, be sure to try out the life-size coffin in which you can have your picture taken. We promise not to bury you in it.
Those who visited the Poe Museum last month to see the exhibit Poe’s Cabinet of Curiosities might have noticed, among the hair art and Poe portraits, a little pressed flower in a large leather-bound album. They may not realize it, but this humble book is one of the Museum’s most important pieces, not only because it contains hundreds of autographs and letters from Poe’s prominent contemporaries but also because it tells the story of one woman’s love of literature and her dedication to collecting mementos of her favorite writers. Her name is Lucy Dorothea Henry (1822-1898).
Lucy Dorothea Henry Laighton
There was always something different about Lucy. Growing up on a Virginia plantation, she was not interested in learning to sew or to manage the household servants. When her sisters were busy with their embroidery, Lucy hid behind the boxwood hedge to read. Literature was her escape from the monotony of country life in 1840s Virginia. As the granddaughter of the famed Revolutionary War orator and Virginia Governor Patrick Henry, Lucy lived on her grandfather’s plantation Red Hill, about twenty-seven miles from the nearest town. So isolated was the family’s home that they only received mail once a week, and her mother provided the delivery boy lunch that day to thank him for making the trip. Just as literature was her escape from the boredom of country life, that weekly delivery was Lucy’s connection to the outside world. As a young girl, she began writing her favorite authors to solicit autographs, advice, and poems.
Lucy’s daughter, Fayetta Laighton, would later recall,
Her early life on a Virginia plantation was spent in the usual way, carefree, surrounded by a cultivated social class, and many servants. But this did not satisfy the active mind of Lucy Henry. She projected herself into the outer world of literature, which she loved, by means of correspondence with John A. Thompson, N. P. Willis, Rufus Griswold, [John] Keese, [Charles Fenno] Hoffman, [Henry Wadsworth] Longfellow, and others. She was especially interested in obtaining autographs of the writers of the day.
Lucy Henry was only twenty-one when she received a note from the rising literary critic and poet Edgar A. Poe who, at thirty-four, had written some of what would be remembered as some of his greatest tales, including “The Black Cat,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” but he was probably better known to Miss Henry as the former editor of the Southern Literary Messenger and as a poet who had been featured in Rufus W. Griswold’s 1842 anthology The Poets and Poetry of America. This was about to change. A few months earlier, in February 1843, the Saturday Museum had printed a profile of Poe along with his portrait. The same month Poe wrote Henry, he published “The Gold-Bug,” which would soon be his most widely reprinted tale. In fewer than two years, he would become a celebrity with the publication of “The Raven.”
Henry pasted Poe’s note into her big leather album with sealing wax. This album would eventually include letters, poems, and autographs from over 250 mid-nineteenth century celebrities including Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, and Samuel Houston, but her main focus was accumulating the autographs of writers. Among the many authors whose letters, autographs, or manuscripts she was able to acquire are William Cullen Bryant, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodore S. Fay, Horace Greeley, Rufus Griswold, Sarah J. Hale, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Anna Lynch, John P. Kennedy, John Keese, John Neal, Frances Osgood, Richard Henry Stoddard, William Makepeace Thackery, N.P. Willis, John G. Whittier, and William Wordsworth. Several of these pieces came directly from the authors.
Sonnet to Anna Lynch by J. R. Thompson
New York book and autograph dealer John Keese assisted her by requesting autographs from his fellow literati on her behalf. Many American authors were glad to oblige the granddaughter of the “orator of the Revolution,” but British poet William Wordsworth replied with a testy letter refusing to send the requested autograph. Wordsworth, however, signed the letter. Keese also supplied Henry with the papers of Virginia statesman John Randolph of Roanoke. These included letters from politician Henry Clay and author Washington Irving.
Detail of Washington Irving Letter
Henry and Keese got to know each other well enough that she visited him in New York and stayed at his home. During her New York trip, the country girl saw the famous singer Jenny Lind and the violinist Ole Bull (from whom she secured an autograph). Thereafter, Henry would keep a daguerreotype of Keese. His own fondness for her is evident in a gift he sent her, an autograph album containing a poem addressed to her by Knickerbocker poet and editor Charles Fenno Hoffman.
Another literary friend, Southern Literary Messenger editor and Poe’s friend John Ruben Thompson of Richmond also provided several pieces, including two Poe manuscripts and a pressed flower picked from the grave of poet John Keats in 1854.
Flower from the Grave of John Keats
Henry’s quest for autographs eventually brought her into contact with New Hampshire poet Octave Laighton, who had just returned from an unsuccessful attempt to strike it rich in the California Gold Rush. Not long afterwards, he struck up a correspondence with Lucy Henry, and they were married on July 18, 1857. At last, she had the opportunity to escape her family farm when she moved with her new husband to Fulton City, Illinois to start a temperance newspaper. Although Lucy thought she would have an opportunity to practice her literary talents by writing for the paper, she was disappointed to find that she was stuck cooking and cleaning for her husband. The paper failed within a few months of its inception, so the couple moved back Octave Laighton’s family home in New Hampshire in 1857. They finally settled, in 1859, at a small farm called Springdale near Petersburg, Virginia. Her daughter would later describe it as “a flat little house, with precious earth around it, to grow white pinks and honey suckle.”
Then the Civil War broke out, the Laightons’ farm was caught between the Confederate and Union lines. During these perilous times, Lucy gave birth to two daughters, Fayetta and Alberta. Given the increasing difficulty of maintaining her literary correspondences, Lucy devoted herself to her farm and family. She started a garden to raise vegetables to feed the soldiers.
In the final days of the conflict, Lucy fled to the safety of Red Hill with her most prized possessions—her daughters and her autograph collection—while her husband stayed in Petersburg. As a native of New England, Laighton believed he could convince any invading Union soldiers not to burn down his house. His efforts were at least partially successful; he saved the house but not the outbuildings.
Lucy returned to Springdale after the War and would have settled into a comfortable life if her husband had not died shortly afterwards. For the next thirty-two years, Lucy remained at Springdale with her daughters. Her daughters recalled that she was such a “striking” woman that daguerreotypists “jumped” at the chance to take her picture, free of charge.
After Lucy’s death, her daughter Alberta moved to Dutchess County, New York, and Fayetta eventually became the principal of the D.M. Brown School in Petersburg. Fayetta recalled that she burned about twenty of her mother’s albums to avoid paying to ship them during a move. The daughters did, however, preserve a few of Lucy’s things, including the present autograph album, the small album given her by John Keese, a daguerreotype of their mother, and their mother’s daguerreotype of Keese.
Word of Lucy’s album spread from Petersburg to Richmond, where Poe collector and Poe Museum co-founder James H. Whitty decided to acquire the Poe manuscripts for the Museum’s growing collection. On December 1, 1923, Whitty wrote Fayetta Laighton to ask about the documents. Over the next few years, the Museum sent a series of letters expressing its desire to borrow or purchase the Poe pieces “for the enjoyment of the public.”
James H. Whitty
Another Poe Museum founder, Mrs. Archer Jones, befriended Ms. Laighton, visiting her in Petersburg to discuss flowers, gardens, and Lucy Henry. Laighton’s interest in Poe and the Poe Museum grew until she was leading book clubs devoted to the poet and sending flowers from her garden to be planted at the Poe Museum.
Mrs. Archer Jones
The Laighton sisters debated over what to do with their mother’s Poe manuscripts until May 29, 1926 when Fayetta wrote the Poe Museum, “My sister and I have talked about the final disposition of these papers, and they will find their way to [the] ‘Poe Shrine’ some time I think.”
The Poe Museum’s secretary Mrs. Ford responded with a letter thanking her and assuring her they “were much interested in the Poe items” and expressing the wish that the items could be donated because the tiny museum “would never be able to compete with the dealers for such rare things.”
When, another year later, the Laighton sisters finally agreed to donate the manuscripts, Mrs. Ford wrote them, “I can assure you that these manuscripts will nowhere be more appreciated than here at the Edgar Allan Poe Shrine…”
Fayetta replied, “I am glad they will repose in such an appropriate place as ‘The Shrine.’”
Four years after the Poe Museum first contacted them, Fayetta and Alberta Laighton formally donated their mother’s album to the Museum. Mrs. Jones personally drove to Petersburg to retrieve them just in time to be displayed on Poe’s birthday, January 19, 1928.
The three Poe documents contained in the album were carefully removed from the book and became among the most important pieces in the Poe Museum’s collection. One of these, the manuscript for “The Rationale of Verse,” is Poe’s history of English poetry. Another is the manuscript for an article Poe wrote about the poet Frances S. Osgood, and the third document is the autograph Poe sent Lucy Henry.
Detail of Essay about Frances Osgood
While these three Poe documents have long attracted most of the attention—as well as inclusion in multiple exhibits—the rest of Lucy Henry’s album certainly deserves further study. In a surprising act of generosity, the Laighton sisters gave the Poe Museum not only the Poe manuscripts but the entire album, as a memorial to their mother. This collection of literary letters and autographs is both a document of one woman’s love of literature and a priceless snapshot of the American literary scene in Poe’s time. For a fledgling museum beginning its sixth year of existence, this was a transformative gift—the kind that instantly provided it a world-class manuscript collection which would continue to grow over the course of the next nine decades. That is why Lucy Dorothea Henry’s album is the Poe Museum’s Object of the Month for August 2015. You can see it on display on the first floor of the Exhibit Building until August 23. Poe’s manuscripts for “The Rationale of Verse” and “Frances Sargent Osgood” (both long-since removed from the album) are also currently on view in the Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building.
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.
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”
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
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.
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
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
Learn about the Poe Museum’s newest garden, its strangest artifacts, and upcoming visits by Charles Cantalupo and Richard Kopley. The latest issue of the Poe Museum’s newsletter Evermore is now online. Click here to find out more about the Poe Museum’s new exhibits, events, and acquisitions.
Since 1922, the Poe Museum has collected thousands of pieces of Poeana, but, with so many items, some have rarely or never been displayed. Now is your chance to see some of these hidden treasures. From June 25 until August 23, 2015, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia will host Poe’s Cabinet of Curiosities, an exhibit focusing on the unusual, unseen, and uncanny items in the Poe Museum’s massive collection of Poe artifacts and memorabilia. While most of the Poe Museum temporary exhibits focus on certain Poe stories or aspects of the author’s life, this show focuses on the act of collecting and some of the strange acquisitions the Poe Museum has made over the course of its ninety-three year history. These include Victorian hair art, plaster heads taken from the crown molding in Poe’s sister’s house, bricks from various homes in which Poe lived, a replica skull with the verses of “The Raven” carved into it, and a pressed flower taken from the grave of poet John Keats (1795-1821) back in 1854.
Victorian Hair Art
The term “cabinet of curiosities” refers to the encyclopedic collections that were the ancestors of modern museums. The Poe Museum’s exhibit will emulate one of these densely packed rooms or cabinets displaying a wide variety of artifacts and art.
Skull Carving by Zane Wylie
Poe’s Cabinet of Curiosities will open on Thursday, June 25 with an Unhappy Hour featuring live music by Fool’s Errand.
Countless artists have been inspired to translate Edgar Allan Poe’s works into visual art, music, sculpture, film, ballet, and opera; but few know his works have inspired landscape gardens. This will be no surprise to those who have read his short story “The Domain of Arnheim” or his many poems celebrating the beauty of gardens.
When the founders of Richmond’s Poe Museum decided to memorialize Poe with a garden based on one of his works, they chose the relatively obscure poem “To One in Paradise.” Poe was about twenty-four when he wrote the poem, which first appeared in the January 1834 issue of the Lady’s Book as part of the short story “The Visionary.” In this early story, a young man based on Poe’s boyhood idol, the British poet Lord Byron, falls in love with the young wife of a much older man. Suffering from his unrequited love for her, the young man writes the following poem on paper in a book with pages “blotted with fresh tears.”
Thou wast that all to me, love,
For which my soul did pine —
A green isle in the sea, love,
A fountain and a shrine,
All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers;
And all the flowers were mine.
Ah, dream too bright to last!
Ah, starry Hope, that didst arise
But to be overcast!
A voice from out the Future cries,
“Onward!” — but o’er the Past
(Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies,
Mute — motionless — aghast!
For alas! alas! with me
The light of life is o’er.
“No more — no more — no more,”
(Such language holds the solemn sea
To the sands upon the shore,)
Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree,
Or the stricken eagle soar!
Now all my hours are trances;
And all my nightly dreams
Are where the dark eye glances,
And where thy footstep gleams,
In what ethereal dances,
By what Italian streams.
Alas! far that accursed time
They bore thee o’er the billow,
From Love, to titled age and crime,
And an unholy pillow! —
From me, and from our misty clime.
Where weeps the silver willow!
After reading the poem, the young man’s friend answers the door to discover the lady has poisoned herself. The friend rushes to tell the young man, who has also just committed suicide. In the context of the story, the poem reads almost like a suicide note written by a man who believes “the light of life is [over].” The poem begins with a description of Paradise as “green isle in the sea” with a fountain and shrine. The garden is filled with “fruits and flowers,” possibly symbolizing ideal and carnal love. Then the narrator writes that this dream is too bright to last. The garden dies. The tree is struck by lightning and killed. He lives his days as if in a trance and spends his nights dreaming of his lost love.
Given the poem’s melancholy tone, one might wonder why it would have been chosen as the model for the Poe Museum’s garden. The answer likely lies with Museum founder and Poe collector James H. Whitty, who believed the poem references a real Richmond garden in which a teenage Poe courted his first fiancée Sarah Elmira Royster. Much like the plot of “The Visionary,” Royster married an older man in 1828, five years before Poe wrote the story and poem. Given the poem’s autobiographical nature and its connection to a lost Richmond garden Poe himself once frequented, “To One in Paradise” seemed the perfect poem for Poe Museum to recreate in its garden.
Not everyone, however, agreed with Whitty. An alternate theory, recorded in Thomas Ollive Mabbott’s edition of Poe’s poems, holds that Poe was inspired by Lord Byron. According to Thomas Moore’s biography of the poet, the day before Byron’s early love was to marry another man, Byron wrote a similar poem to her in one of her books. Since the baron in “The Visionary” very likely based on Byron, this theory makes sense. As a young man, Poe identified closely with Byron and modeled both his early poetry and his public image after the British poet. Poe went so far as to tell people he had tried to join the Greek Wars of Independence just as Byron had done.
Poe reprinted “The Visionary” in 1835 in the Southern Literary Messenger, in 1840 in Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, and in 1845 in The Broadway Journal (under the title “The Assignation.” Eventually, he decided the poem was strong enough to stand on its own. Removing the last stanza, Poe published the poem (without the story) in 1839 under the title “To Ianthe in Heaven.” In 1841, he changed the title to “To One Beloved.” Poe first printed the poem under its current title, “To One in Paradise,” in 1843.
Whether the first stanza describes Paradise, Heaven, an island in the sea, the garden in which Poe courted his first love, none of these, or a combination of the above; the vivid description provided rich inspiration for the Poe Museum’s founders who built their garden around a central green isle featuring a fountain and shrine. The perimeter of the garden is planted with flowers and shrubs mentioned in Poe’s poems and short stories. Enclosing the entire garden is a tall brick wall recalling the walled garden in which Poe and Royster spent time. Among the many building materials salvaged and repurposed for use in the Poe Museum’s garden are granite paving stones taken from the paths of the garden Poe knew. At one point, the Poe Museum’s garden also featured a stone urn and a gate latch taken from that garden.
Just as Poe inspired the Poe Museum’s garden, the garden itself has inspired generations of writers, artists, and gardeners. You can see some 1924 paintings of the garden here, and you can learn about this month’s exhibit of new paintings of the garden here. National Poetry Month is the perfect time to find your own inspiration in the Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden. When you visit, be sure to bring a copy of “To One in Paradise.” Until then, you can listen to it here.
To learn more about some of our other favorite Poe poems, click here and here.
Pastel by Kailee Cross
In a departure from the darkness and mystery usually associated with the works of author Edgar Allan Poe, the Poe Museum in Richmond will feature an exhibit celebrating the beauty of nature and gardens. From April 23 until June 21, 2015, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond will host Painting the Enchanted Garden 2, its second annual exhibition of new paintings, drawings, and photographs of its legendary Enchanted Garden. In honor of the current restoration of this ninety-three year old landmark by the Garden Club of Virginia, artists were challenged to visit the garden beginning in March in order to produce new work to display in time for the exhibit opening at 6 p.m. on April 23. The artists who took up the challenge in order to participate in the exhibit are David Bromley, Clarise Carnahan, Kailee Cross, Bill Dompke, Kim Hall, Linda Hollett, Chris Ludke, and Dwight M. Paulett.
The Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden was based on a description of Paradise in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “To One in Paradise.” The flowers, trees, and shrubs planted there are ones named in Poe’s poems and short stories. Even the paving stones, benches, and bricks were salvaged from buildings in which Poe lived or worked in Richmond and New York. Over the past nine decades, the Enchanted Garden has inspired poems, novels, and visual art from generations of artists. It has even inspired a replica garden in South Carolina.
According to Poe Museum Curator Chris Semtner, “Since the garden was inspired by Poe’s writing, it is fitting that the garden continues to inspire new artists and authors. This exhibit is a fitting document of that legacy of inspiration.”
The paintings in this exhibit will be for sale, and proceeds from the sale benefit the Poe Museum’s educational programs.
View of last year's exhibit with painting by Chris Ludke
You can be a part of the Poe Museum’s next exhibit. After the success of last year’s Painting the Enchanted Garden, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia is calling on artists to visit the Museum’s legendary Enchanted Garden to sketch, paint, collage, or photograph the site for a the exhibit Painting the Enchanted Garden 2, which will run from April 23 until June 21, 2015. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the artwork will benefit the Poe Museum’s educational programming.
The exhibit is open to all artists, including ones who participated last year. Since the first call for artists was so well received, the Museum will be displaying this year’s exhibit in a larger gallery on the first floor of the changing exhibits building.
If the weather permits, artists can begin working in the Garden on March 15 and must have their completed works ready for display by April 19. In order to avoid conflict with the Museum’s special events and facility rentals, artists must schedule their painting or sketching visits with the Museum’s curator Chris Semtner by writing him a [email protected] or by calling 804-648-5523. For those interested in joining a group painting session, the Museum will host one on Sunday, April 12 from 2-5 p.m. with artist Chris Semtner.
Interested artists can learn more about this opportunity by contacting [email protected] or calling 804-648-5534. In order to participate, please register for the show by April 1.
A copy of the prospectus can be found here: Prospectus for Painting the Enchanted Garden 2015
Artwork by Chris Ludke