The votes are in, and the loser is…Daniel Payne.
During the Poe Museum’s recent exhibit CSI: Poe, we asked our guests to help solve the murder of Mary Rogers. Back in 1841, the case stumped the authorities, so Edgar Allan Poe tried his hand at solving it. Here is a little background on the case:
Mary Cecelia Rogers
The lovely Mary Rogers made waves in New York when she took a job in Anderson’s Cigar Emporium. At a time when proper ladies did not work in public, Rogers became a public figure renowned for her beauty, and men from across the city came to visit Anderson’s store to flirt with her.
Timeline of Events
Seventeen-year-old Mary Cecilia Rogers and her widowed mother Phoebe Rogers moved to New York City where Mary made waves by taking a job in Anderson’s Cigar Emporium. At a time when “proper ladies” did not work in public, Rogers became a public figure renowned for her beauty, and men from across the city came to visit Anderson’s store to flirt with her. One of these gentlemen said he spent an entire afternoon in the store just to exchange glances with her, and another dedicated a poem to her.
October 4, 1838
Mary Rogers disappeared, leaving a suicide note. Her fame as the “Beautiful Cigar Girl” at Anderson’s Cigar Emporium caused the New York papers to report the event. Then, just as mysteriously as she departed, she returned the next day. The New York Sun reported that her supposed disappearance had merely been a hoax. Later that year, Mary quit working at Anderson’s Cigar Emporium and went to help her mother, who had purchased a boarding house.
Mary Rogers’s Engagement
In June 1841, Mary Rogers engaged herself to the cork-cutter Daniel Payne. Alfred Crommelin, a rejected suitor who was living in Phoebe Rogers’s boardinghouse, quickly moved out of the house, telling Mary that she could contact him if she were ever in danger.
Early on Sunday morning, Daniel Payne walked his fiancée Mary Rogers to the omnibus. She told him she intended to ride across town to see relatives and would return later that day. Payne was to have met her at that time to walk her home. A summer storm drove him into a bar in which he spent the afternoon, missing his appointment.
The Discovery of the Body
When Mary did not return home, Alfred Crommelin led a search for her. After looking for her in Manhattan, he crossed the Hudson River to Hoboken, a popular resort town for New Yorkers escaping the heat of the crowded city. Shortly after his arrival in Hoboken on July 28, three men in a rowboat found a woman’s body floating offshore near Sybil’s Cave. They carried the body to the shore, where it lay decomposing in the hot sun for an hour before the magistrate arrived. The coroner performed a cursory examination of the body and determined that the victim had been strangled with a cord that was still tied around her throat.
Some newspaper reporters doubted that the badly decomposed corpse found in Hoboken was even Mary Rogers. After all, her face was unrecognizable by the time she was pulled from the river. They speculated that Mary had simply eloped and settled in some other part of the country. Her former suitor Alfred Crommelin had identified her by her arm hair and by her clothing.
At the time of Mary’s murder, New York City Police Department did not yet exist. Instead, the city of over 300,000 was protected by a system of a hundred city marshals, about thirty constables, and a volunteer night watch responsible for patrolling the city in order to prevent crime. Once a crime had been committed, the best available investigative technique consisted of interrogating as many suspects as necessary until a confession could be obtained. Since Mary was reported missing in New York while her body was found in Hoboken, both city’s magistrates fought over who had jurisdiction in the case. After the New Jersey coroner performed an autopsy and buried the remains in Hoboken, the New York coroner had her badly decomposed disinterred and carried across the Hudson for a second autopsy days later. Four years later, dogged both by its failure to identify Mary’s killer and by its inability to control increasingly rowdy Christmas celebrations, New York City replaced its volunteer patrol with a police force of 1,200 salaried officers.
About a month after the discovery of Mary’s body, two boys claimed to find some of her clothing in a nearby thicket. A sketch of the thicket appeared in the New York Tribune. The boys were later identified as the sons of Frederica Loss, the operator of a Hoboken roadhouse where vacationers came for drinks during their visit to the river-side resort. Although many believed the thicket to be the site of the murder, Poe thought the scene might have been staged. Suspicion fell of the Loss boys when it was discovered that it was in Mrs. Loss’s roadhouse that Mary was last seen alive.
Suicide of Daniel Payne
About three months after Mary’s death, her fiancé Daniel Payne visited Hoboken and committed suicide on the spot at which he believed Mary had been murdered. He left a note saying, “To the World – here I am on the very spot. May God forgive me for my misspent life.”
Poe Tries to Find a Publisher for His Theory
While living in Philadelphia, Poe followed the Mary Rogers case in the newspapers and became increasingly frustrated with the magistrates’ inability to capture the killer. By June 1842, he had written his own solution in the form of the short story “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” in which he believed he had “indicated the assassin in a manner which will give renewed impetus to [the] investigation.” As he wrote editor Joseph Snodgrass, Poe envisioned his story would instruct police forces in the science of solving crimes by demonstrating “an analysis of the true principles which should direct inquiry in similar cases.” Magazines in Baltimore and Boston rejected the story before Poe finally found a publisher.
Weehawken, where the body was found
Poe publishes the first installment of “The Mystery of Marie Roget”
William Snowden, editor of the New York-based Ladies’ Companion, had contributed to a reward to be offered to anyone who could identify Mary’s murderer. It was likely his personal interest in the case that led Snowden to publish Poe’s story “The Mystery of Marie Roget” to (in Poe’s words) “give renewed impetus to [the] investigation.”
Although he let everyone know his story was based on a true crime, Poe was certain to change the names and locations to protect the innocent—and possibly to protect himself from a libel suit. Here is a guide to which character in the story represents each person in the case:
Mary Rogers = Marie Roget
Phoebe Rogers = Madame Roget
Mr. Anderson = Monsieur Le Blanc
Alfred Crommelin = Monsieur Beauvais
Daniel Payne = Monsieur Jacques St. Eustache
Frederica Loss = Madame Deluc
The tale was so long that Snowden decided to publish it in three installments. The same month the first installment appeared Frederica Loss died, supposedly telling a magistrate that Mary had died during a botched abortion. The new evidence caused Poe to rewrite the second and third installments to avoid being proven wrong.
Poe Publishes Final Installment of “The Mystery of Marie Roget”
Just as readers reached the final paragraphs of the last installment of “The Mystery of Marie Roget” in the February 1843 issue of Snowden’s Ladies’ Companion, expecting the revelation of the murderer’s identity, they instead saw the narrative interrupted by a note from the editor explaining why the killer’s name could not be printed. The note reads, “For reasons which we shall not specify but which to many readers will appear obvious, we have taken the liberty of here omitting, from the MSS. placed in our hands, such portion as details the following up of the apparently slight clew obtained by Dupin. We feel it advisable only to state, in brief, that the result desired was brought to pass; and that an individual assassin was convicted, upon his own confession, of the murder of Marie Rogêt, and that the Prefect fulfilled punctually, although with reluctance, the terms of his compact with the Chevalier. Mr. Poe’s article concludes with the following words. — Eds.” The suggestion was that the name was being suppressed either to avoid a libel suit or to protect someone of influence.
Literary scholars, however, believe Poe wrote this fake note himself in order to allow him to claim he had solved the mystery without actually having to solve it. Five years later, Poe supposedly told his fiancée Sarah Helen Whitman that the killer was a Naval officer named Spencer.
Payne was a heavy drinking, violent cork cutter. Although Mary’s mother did not approve of him (or because of it), Mary accepted his marriage proposal. Daniel admitted that he went to a bar instead of walking Mary home after her visit to relatives, and police accepted his alibi. One month after her death, he visited Hoboken and committed suicide on the spot at which he believed Mary had been murdered.
Crommelin, who listed his profession as “gentleman,” was a tenant in Phoebe Rogers’s boardinghouse when he became infatuated with Mary. Although he stormed out of the house after seeing Mary and Daniel engaged in indiscreet behavior, he later told Mary she should contact him if she ever felt she was in danger. The week she disappeared, Mary left a rose in Crommelin’s office. He was out of his office when she left her gift, and he did not understand what it meant.
John Anderson owned a successful New York City cigar store, which eventually employed Mary Rogers. His bold decision to flaunt respectability by hiring a beautiful woman may have been controversial, but it was great for business. After the death of Mary Rogers, critics blamed him for exposing her to the temptations that led to her death, but police ruled him out as a suspect. Some critics theorized that Poe, who knew Anderson, wrote “The Mystery of Marie Roget” to protect Anderson from implication in the murder.
Later in life, Anderson achieved enormous wealth by selling chewing tobacco wrapped in tinfoil for freshness to prospectors on their way to California. When asked to run for mayor of New York, he declined because he thought his association with the Mary Rogers case would prevent him from being elected. Later in life, Anderson became a Spiritualist and believed Mary’s ghost followed him, acting as an advisor. He is said to have cried out to her from his deathbed.
A Gang of Hoodlums
The sons of Frederica Loss reported they had seen a gang of hoodlums in their mother’s roadhouse on the night of Mary’s visit. The boys also claimed to hear a woman’s scream coming from a nearby thicket later that evening. Lacking any other solid leads, the magistrate blamed her death on an unspecified gang of Irish immigrants, and this became the accepted explanation. This became the accepted theory of her death for over a year, but Poe ruled out the theory, instead speculating that a lone killer was responsible.
In 1842, the boys later accidentally shot their mother, who on her deathbed, is said to have blamed Mary’s death on a botched abortion that may have taken place in her house. The police, however, dismissed this “confession” as a hoax.
When newspapers reported that the widow Loss, on her deathbed, implicated an abortionist in Mary’s death, the well-known New York City abortionist Madame Restell was blamed. She was arrested multiple times for performing illegal abortions but always paid her fines and was released. At one point, an angry mob surrounded her house shouting, “What happened to Mary Rogers?” It was later revealed that she was not even home because an informant on the police force had warned her in advance to flee. Despite public opinion, Restell was never really a suspect, and the magistrate to whom the Widow Loss had supposedly confessed later stated the confession had been a cruel hoax. In 1878, Restell returned home one afternoon, drew a bath, and slit her wrists.
Who do you think murdered Mary Rogers? Payne? Crommelin? Spencer? Somebody else? We asked visitors to the exhibit to cast their votes, and they decided that Daniel Payne was the winner (or loser). Here are the results:
Daniel Payne 31%
Alfred Crommelin 30%
A Gang of Hoodlums 9%
Madame Restell 9%
A Botched Abortion 6%
Fredericka Loss’s Sons 6%
John Anderson 4%
It wasn’t Mary’s body! 4%
Poe Museum Curator Chris Semtner 1%
1909 photograph of Edmond Quinn’s bust of Poe
One crisp Sunday afternoon in October 1987, tour guide Tom Rowe led a group of students across the Poe Museum’s garden to show them the treasure sitting on the pedestal in the Poe Shrine. Pointing toward the shadow recesses of the brick pergola, he announced, “And here’s the bust of Poe made by Edmond T. Quinn.”
Only after a couple kids asked, “What bust?” did Tom take a second look at the empty pedestal. The Poe Museum’s priceless sculpture was missing.
Quinn Bust in the Poe Shrine
Sculpted in 1908 by Edmond Thomas Quinn (1868-1929), the white plaster bust was the original model for a bronze copy unveiled in New York on Poe’s 100th birthday, January 19, 1909 and commissioned by the Bronx Society of Arts and Sciences. Quinn was a perfect choice for the commission. He had studied at the nation’s most prestigious art school the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under one of the nation’s most important artists, Thomas Eakins who believed only the close scrutiny of the live model as well as the dissection of cadavers could properly prepare artists to depict the subtle nuances of human faces and anatomy in their paintings. After Eakins was fired for corrupting his female students by having them paint nude male models, Quinn followed his teacher from the Academy to continue his studies at the newly formed Art Students League of Philadelphia, where he served as curator.
Unveiling Quinn’s bronze Poe bust on January 19, 1909
The training he received under Eakins instilled in Quinn such a devotion to creating such realistic portraits that a New York Times art critic in a 1919 marveled at his mastery of “recording subtleties of expression that play like rippling water over the rock structure of the human head.” Quinn excelled at both painting and sculpture, exhibiting several works in both media at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the National Academy of Design, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Over the course of a distinguished career, he produced portraits of playwright Eugene O’Neill, poet Edwin Markham, and many other leading cultural figures of his day. His best known work is a full-length statue of the actor Edwin Booth in Gramercy Park in New York.
The Bronx Society of Arts and Sciences hired Quinn to sculpt its Poe bust and organized a grand unveiling across the street from Poe’s former cottage in Poe Park in The Bronx that would mark the occasion of the author’s centennial. About two hundred people stood in the snow to witness the ceremony in the snow. The Society also decorated the Poe Cottage with flags and built a platform next to the bust’s marble pedestal. After the firing of a salute by the Second Battery Field Artillery, the presenters pulled the cover off the bust and presented it to the city of New York. Afterwards, the celebrants moved the event indoors at New York University where Poe biographer George E. Woodberry presided over the day’s presentations and readings of Poe’s best-known poems. In a photo taken at this ceremony, what would one day be the Poe Museum’s plaster bust can be seen on a flag-draped pedestal on the edge of the stage.
Quinn’s plaster bust of Poe takes the stage at the unveiling ceremony
Shortly after the excitement of the formal unveiling and dedication died down, someone vandalized the bronze bust, which was moved into the Poe Cottage for its protection. Edmond Quinn went on to achieve his greatest success with commissions for more public sculptures over the next two decades. Then, in May 1929, he swallowed poison in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Four months later, he drowned himself off Governor’s Island in New York.
Quinn’s bronze Poe bust on display in Poe Park in 1909
Quinn’s bronze Poe bust in its present location in the Poe Cottage
Two years later, the Bronx Society of Arts and Sciences donated the plaster version of Quinn’s bust to the new Poe Museum in Richmond. Over the next half-century, the bust moved from one part of the museum to another before it finally found a more permanent home in the Poe Shrine at the north end of the museum’s garden. Although it was protected from rain, the water soluble plaster was not well suited for display outdoors, so humid Virginia summers and air pollution gradually eroded the bust’s surface.
Quinn’s plaster Poe bust in the Poe Museum’s Raven Room in 1937
In the 1970s, the Poe Museum the eccentric former physicist (who supposedly worked on the Manhattan Project) Dr. Bruce English took over as the museum’s director and president. For the more than twenty years he ran the museum Dr. English oversaw a renovation of the museum’s Old Stone House, acquired adjacent property to make a parking lot, and reinterpreted a room of the Old Stone House as a Colonial Era exhibit. This period also saw the acquisition of several important artifacts, including two daguerreotypes of Poe’s last fiancée Elmira Royster Shelton.
Bruce and Virginia English in the 1970s
By October 1987, the museum was flooded with groups of visiting students from area middle schools. Dr. English discouraged the celebration of Halloween because he feared any association with the horror genre would distract from Poe’s contributions to other literary genres like detective fiction and science fiction, but teachers loved sharing Poe’s horror stories with their classes during the Halloween season. That is why, just as today, October was the busiest month for student group tours at the museum. It was during one such tour that Tom discovered the theft of the Quinn bust.
Apparently, no one had ever considered the possibility that someone might actually take the eighty pound, twenty-two inch bust over the garden’s tall brick walls, which were topped with shards of broken glass embedded in the mortar. At the very least, the thief would have needed an accomplice, if not a crane, to get it out of the garden. “They had to carry it over an eight foot wall,” English told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “They had to carry it back over an eight-foot wall. It had to be somebody very strong.”
The staff told the police that they last recalled seeing the bust on Saturday morning, October 18, around 10:40 a.m. but that nobody had noticed it was missing until 3 p.m. on Sunday, October 19. One can only imagine how many times over the weekend the guides had pointed out the empty pedestal on their hourly museum tours while the tourists played along, not bothering to point out the mistake.
By Monday, October 20, Dr. English alerted the media and announced that he would ask no questions if the culprit would simply return the bust undamaged. He told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “This is a major crime in the art world. I’m very disturbed.”
Around midnight on Tuesday he was awakened by a telephone call. The anonymous caller claimed to know the bust’s location but would only reveal it if English read him Poe’s poem “The Spirits of the Dead.” When English had looked up the early verse in a volume of Poe’s poetry and complied with the caller’s request, voice said, “It’s at the Raven Inn” and hung up the phone.
Meanwhile, across the James River in Chesterfield County, a man in a cowboy hat arrived at a biker joint called the Raven Inn and carried the sculpture up to the bar, ordering a mixed drink for himself and a beer for Poe. By the time the police arrived, the stranger was gone. Poe was sitting on the bar with his beer and a paper bag on which was written the poem “The Spirits of the Dead.”
Quinn’s plaster Poe on display in the Raven Room around 2005
Quinn’s bust returned to the museum, but, for its safety, English kept it indoors and displayed a replica in the Poe Shrine where it remains securely bolted to its pedestal. On occasion, visitors leave the replica notes and gifts. Some admirers place flowers, and others kiss it on the cheek. Many more pose next to it for photos.
Replica bust in the Poe Shrine in 2016
In 2008, the Poe Museum authorized the creation of more plaster copies of the bust. These soon sold, and one is even on display at the Poe House and Museum in Baltimore. More recently, in 2016, Dr. Bernard Means of the Virginia Commonwealth University Virtual Curation Laboratory brought his class to the museum to scan the bust in order to make a reduced-size 3-D print of it.
Striking a pose with the Poe bust in the Poe Shrine
Now that his days of traveling to local bars are over, the original plaster bust is currently on display in the museum’s Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building with no plans for future travel. After he retired from teaching Tom returned for a couple years to his old tour guide job the Poe Museum where he enjoyed telling the story of how he discovered the purloined Poe bust. No arrest was ever made in the case, and nobody every confessed to the crime. Earlier this year, a man taking a tour of the museum admitted he had known the thief and that his motivation had been the protection of the bust from further deterioration caused by its display outdoors. The Raven Inn has long since closed and was replaced by a used car dealership. When the bartender on duty that night back in 1987 passed away several years ago, his friends asked the Poe Museum it would send the bust to attend his funeral.
Replica bust in the Poe Shrine
In honor of the twenty-ninth anniversary its trip to the Raven Inn, the Poe Museum has named Edmond Quinn’s plaster bust of Poe its Object of the Month. Click here to learn about other Objects of the Month.
Quinn’s 1908 plaster Poe bust on display at the Poe Museum
Animation of Edmond Quinn’s bust of Poe courtesy of VCU Virtual Curation Laboratory
He had just made the greatest discovery in his long career of Poe collecting. This was the kind of find that could change the face of Poe studies and instantly transform the popular image of Edgar Allan Poe. By the end of the nineteenth century, Richmond historian Robert Lee Traylor (1864-1907) had been fortunate enough to acquire some truly important artifacts for his collection. Among these was the very last photograph ever taken of the author, a priceless daguerreotype once owned by none other than Poe’s last fiancée Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton. But Traylor’s latest discovery topped even that. In 1905, he announced to George E. Woodberry that he was now the owner of “the earliest known portrait of Poe,” a long-lost miniature on ivory mentioned as a “lost portrait” of a young Poe in Woodberry’s recent edition of Poe’s works.
Traylor’s Miniature of Poe
Even more than a century ago, Poe’s face was best known through the few daguerreotypes taken in the last two years of his life when he was frequently in ill-health, struggling against poverty, and close to despair. The most popular of these photographs shows the haggard poet just four days after a suicide attempt. Such portraits seemed to support the public’s caricatured image of Poe as a melancholy, haunted artist. But those who met him describe Poe as a handsome, elegant gentleman who was both a gifted athlete and a witty, amusing companion. Surely, scholars hoped, the author must have sat for his portrait before his final illness and the death of his beloved wife. Such a picture would show the young, healthy Poe—the promising young editor in the prime of his life. Locating this missing artifact would represent a major addition to Poe studies. Biographers would include it in their books. Students would analyze it. The public would finally have a chance to see Poe as his friends knew him.
That is exactly what happened with Traylor’s new portrait. Within a few years, it appeared in Benjamin Blake Minor’s book History of the Southern Literary Messenger, and James Harrison reproduced it in Last Letters of Edgar Allan Poe to Sarah Helen Whitman. Harrison declared the miniature “the earliest known portrait of [Poe].” The Valentine Museum included the portrait in it 1949 exhibit and catalog Richmond Portraits in an Exhibition of Makers of Richmond 1737-1860. In the 1926 booklet Facts About Poe: Portraits & Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe with a Sketch of the Life of Poe, Amanda Pogue Schulte writes that the miniature “represents the poet at twenty-six years of age and is evidently the earliest known portrait of him.”
The tiny painting on an ivory oval shows a youthful, clean-shaven Poe with the faintest hint of a smile. He is dressed in a grey coat with a black vest and cravat. Although the portrait is finely detailed, the expression appears slightly vacant. The piece is unsigned, and there is no indication of when or where it was painted. What is obvious from the portrait’s resemblance to authentic portraits of the author is that the subject was intended to be Poe, but it is not known whether this is truly a portrait painted of the author while he sat in a room with the artist or later copy or forgery.
James H. Whitty
It did not take long for doubts to arise about the portrait’s authenticity. In 1914, Poe collector James H. Whitty wrote Poe biographer Mary Phillips, “I was well acquainted with Mr. Traylor, and often met him during his lifetime. One day he showed me a miniature of Poe enclosed in an old time case. He told me that he had obtained it from a lady in Baltimore . . . that she was a friend of the Poe family and that the miniature had been owned by Poe himself. It was unsigned, had an unusual new appearance to me and looked like it might have been made up from two portraits of Poe I knew.”
Whitty thought Traylor’s account of the piece’s history sounded a little too good to be true, so he conducted his own investigation. One of his first discoveries was that Traylor had bought an antique case after purchasing the picture, suggesting the piece could have been installed in an old case to make it look older than it really was. Whitty later told Phillips, “I first wrote and asked Mr. Traylor for the history of the miniature in writing and have his response declining to do so.”
Traylor died just two years after announcing the discovery, so Whitty would have to continue his investigation with his help. Whitty’s account continues,
I discovered that the bare miniature was offered for sale here by an art salesman from Baltimore to Mr. English of Bell Book & Staty. Co. Mr. English told me that he knew Traylor was interested in Poe and showed him the painting and afterwards purchased it for him for $50. The art establishment wrote me that they sold the miniature but knew nothing of its history. The salesman was not then with them, but in Europe. I have a letter from the salesman in which he states that the painting came from Annapolis, Md., but that was all he knew.
The same J. T. English of the Bell Book and Stationery Company wrote, in a slightly different account, that “a Mr. W.E. Jones, representing Bendan Brothers of Baltimore, Md. Came to Bell Book and Stationery Company…making his annual visit…Mr. Jones showed the writer a medallion portrait of Poe that he wished to sell, stating that the Bendan Brothers bought it of a person said to be a representative or connection of the Poe family.”
It is unknown which Poe relative (or friend of the Poe family) in either Baltimore or Annapolis might have once owned this portrait, and there is no evidence that Edgar Allan Poe ever did. In fact, there is a good possibility that it did not even exist during Poe’s lifetime since the portrait bears a striking resemblance to a mezzotint engraving of Poe published a year after his death. This print, produced by Poe’s friend John Sartain, is based on an 1846 oil painting of Poe by Samuel Osgood. As early as the 1920s, James Southall Wilson deemed the Traylor miniature a “synthetic” portrait rather than an authentic one made from a live sitter. In The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe, Michael Deas points out that, although the facial hair has been removed and the clothing has been changed in the Traylor miniature, the shadow under the nose and the curl of hair on the forehead are identical to those in the Sartain print. Having been dismissed as a forgery, the Traylor miniature gradually declined in popularity.
Detail of John Sartain’s 1850 mezzotint of Poe
Detail of John Sartain’s 1885 mezzotint of Poe showing strong resemblance to Traylor’s miniature
Meanwhile, James Whitty, who had been one of the first and most vocal critics of the Traylor portrait’s authenticity, announced in 1909 his own discovery of “the earliest authentic portrait” of Poe, which he believed had once belonged to Poe’s sister Rosalie Mackenzie Poe. Anticipating the high demand for reproductions of the piece, Whitty quickly copyrighted the image that same year. He then published it in an edition of Poe’s poems that he edited. When the Poe Museum opened, he made a copy of his important image for the new institution to display with the caption, “This crayon portrait of Poe is from a miniature in oil painted by the Virginia artist Hubard, about 1836. It was in the possession of Rosalie Poe, the poet’s sister and copied by Davies, the old-time Richmond photographer. This picture was reproduced from Davies original negative, owned by J. H. Whitty of Richmond.”
Whitty’s Portrait of Poe
Whitty’s portrait, however, turned out to be an even more blatant forgery than Traylor’s had been. The Whitty portrait, it seems, is merely a copy of a wood engraving of Poe made about six years after the author’s death. Once of Whitty’s acquaintances, Thomas Ollive Mabbott, later wrote that he was not certain Whitty had had ever seen anything more than a photographic negative of the portrait before (or after) authenticating it.
1855 wood engraving of Poe on which Whitty’s portrait was based
This would not be the last forged Poe portrait to appear over the past century. Scores of silhouettes, watercolors, pencil sketches, and daguerreotypes have fooled some of the best Poe scholars. Today only two watercolors, one oil painting, and eight photographs of Poe are widely accepted as genuine; and the original plates of five of those daguerreotypes are missing. While it is possible there are more portraits of Poe in existence, we never when one of them might resurface. Collectors occasionally show the Poe Museum portraits and daguerreotypes they have inherited and wish to have examined, and a few of these long lost images prove very interesting. About a year ago, a lady appeared at the museum with a hand-painted photograph of Poe that had been missing for decades. Believing such an important piece should be shared with the public for the benefit of this and future generations, she said she might consider donating it to the museum but would need to consult her children on the matter. Later this week it will sell at a major auction house for far more than the museum can hope to pay.
Luckily, the Traylor miniature did not suffer the same fate. After Robert Traylor’s death in 1907, his daguerreotype of Poe (long-since ruined during a cleaning attempt) disappeared, and ownership of his miniature of Poe passed to his daughter Anne Traylor Larus, wife of Lewis G. Larus, vice-president of a tobacco manufacturing company that also founded WRVA, a radio station still serving Richmond to this day. The Laruses lived in beautiful estate called Stony Point, situated outside Richmond on a bluff so high they could supposedly see the Blue Ridge Mountains from their bedroom window.
Anne Larus’s sister Mary Gavin Traylor was a Richmond newspaper columnist as well as the secretary, curator, librarian, hostess, and tour guide at the Poe Museum during the 1930s. Mary G. Traylor devoted her time and energy to keeping the museum in business during the darkest days of the Great Depression while still making major acquisitions for the institution including a rare daguerreotype of Poe and a complete set of original illustrations for Poe’s poem “The Raven” drawn by James Carling. She must have had little difficulty convincing her sister to donate the Traylor miniature (authentic or not) to the Poe Museum, where it remains today. By the time of its acquisition, the portrait was no longer considered a life portrait of the author, but it has never been determined whether it was a forgery intended to deceive a potential buyer or if it was simply painted as a later tribute to Poe to be sold to someone who knew it had been produced after the subject’s death. It was not uncommon for portraitists well into the twentieth century to produce hand-painted replicas of earlier portraits to sell to those who cannot acquire the originals. Through no fault of the artist, such a portrait might later be mistaken for an original long after the artist and the person who commissioned the artwork have died. It is also fairly common for artists to paint pictures of Poe–like ones available today in the Poe Museum’s gift shop.
A 2016 portrait of Poe that a century from now might be mistaken for a much older picture.
Although the museum cannot claim the Traylor miniature is an authentic life portrait, it is still on display in the Model Building—not as a historical artifact from Poe’s lifetime but as an approximate illustration of Poe’s appearance as a young man. It is also an artifact related to the turn-of-the-century surge in Poe collecting and the competition to make the next great discovery at a time when the supposed missing portrait of a young Poe was the Poe researcher’s “Holy Grail.”
Since Poe is most often remembered as the caricature of the melancholy poet depicted in the museum’s late daguerreotype (above), it is important to show a more complete view of Poe’s personality by also showing the Traylor miniature as a representation of how Poe many have looked for most of his life—before that final, difficult year leading up to his early death. One might wonder if the people who knew Poe best would choose the Traylor miniature or the below daguerreotype as the best representation of how they remember the poet.
Thanks to Traylor’s devotion to collecting and researching Poe, to Mary Gavin Traylor’s dedication to building the Poe Museum’s collection, and to Anne Traylor Larus’s generosity, this stunning Poe portrait will be preserved and displayed for all to see. That is why it is the Poe Museum’s Object of the Month. Click here to read about more Objects of the Month.
The Poe Museum in Richmond is proud to announce the opening of its latest art exhibit, “A POE-tic Tribute,” featuring an international roster of contemporary artists paying tribute to Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry. A. Nancy Cintron, owner of Ohio’s Good Goat Gallery, challenged a select group of artists to make art inspired by Poe’s poetry and short stories. The results will be on display in the Poe Museum’s Exhibit Building until January 8, 2017.
If you would like to purchase one of the artworks in the exhibit, please contact the Poe Museum gift shop at 804-648-5523. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the works will benefit the Poe Museum’s educational programming. Although there is no substitute for seeing these exquisite pieces in person, we have included photographs of the artwork below.
Alexandra Soury (France)
mixed media clay, acrylic, fabric
The Island of Fay
Alexandra Soury (France)
mixed media photography acrylic
A. Nancy Cintron (Ohio, USA)
oil on wood board
A. Nancy Cintron (Ohio, USA)
graphite and oil paint on wood
Virginia’s Black Wedding
Ana Luisa Sanchez (Mexico/USA)
mixed media clay
Morella (like mother like daughter)
Ann Lim (California, USA)
gouache on gesso board
Cat the Cat (France)
Masque of the Red Death
Domenico Scalisi of Nobu Happy Spooky (Italy)
mixed media clay, acrylic fabric
Enzo Marra (United Kingdon)
oil paint on wood
Enzo Marra (United Kingdom)
oil paint on wood
Kylie Dexter of Dolldrums (Australia)
felt art doll
Sum of One
Lisa Snellings of Poppet Planet World (Oregon, USA)
The Only Me
Lisa Snellings of Poppet Planet World (Oregon, USA)
Mike Bell (New Jersey, USA)
mixed media ink
Edgar and Lenore
Samantha Meyers of Forlorn Dolls Studio (Ohio, USA)
mixed media clay, acrylic, wool, feathers vintage fabric
$250 each or for $400 for set
Deep Beneath the Earth
Scott Radke (Ohio, USA)
mixed media clay acrylic
Spirits of the Dead
Dream within a Dream
mixed media carved basswood, clay, fabric, acrylic
“I stand amid the roar of a surf-tormented shore,
and I hold within my hand
grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
through my fingers to the deep,
while I weep- while I weep!”
Valency Elise Genis (New Mexico, USA)
mixed media clay, wood, acrylic
acrylic on wood panel
acrylic on wood panel
acrylic on wood panel
Please contact the Poe Museum Gift Shop at 804-648-5523 or [email protected] to purchase any of these items.
The Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia is proud to announce that the Virginia Association of Museums has named the museum’s newly acquired portraits of Rufus and Caroline Griswold to 20i6’s list of Virginia’s Top Ten Endangered Artifacts. The program is designed to create awareness of the conservation needs of artifacts in the care of collecting institutions such as museums, historical societies, libraries, and archives throughout Virginia.
The Poe Museum recently purchased these important portraits of Edgar Allan Poe’s enemy and biographer Rufus Griswold and Griswold’s first wife Caroline with the help of a Gofundme campaign. Thirty-seven donors from across the country contributed to the fund because they believed these artifacts and the set of related letters that came with them will contribute greatly to the public’s understanding of Poe’s life. It was Griswold who wrote Poe’s first biography and fabricated many of the accounts of Poe’s addiction and madness that have since become widely accepted as facts. Only by identifying and discrediting the source of these fabrications can the Poe Museum hope to uncover the truth about Poe’s life and literary contributions. Click here to learn more about these artifacts.
Rufus Griswold portrait before conservation
The designation of the portraits as Virginia’s Top Ten Most Endangered Artifacts acknowledges both the historical significance of the objects and their critical need for conservation. Since the portraits arrived at the museum in July 2016, they have been examined by conservators who assessed their condition and recommended plans for treatment. Click here to learn more about the condition of these portraits. Click here to see detail photographs of the portraits’ condition. The portrait of Rufus Griswold is now on display in the Poe Museum’s Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building until October 16 when it will undergo a months-long conservation treatment.
Detail of damage to Caroline Griswold portrait as seen under raking light
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts is a project of the Virginia Association of Museums. This public outreach campaign for collections care was launched in 2011 with support from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts program is in its fifth year of building awareness for the important role that museums and cultural organization play in caring for our historic and cultural treasures. It has inspired numerous positive outcomes such as pairing donors with artifacts in need of conservation support, helping participating museums learn more about the provenance of their artifacts, and supporting successful grant applications for conservation care.
While the results of public voting was a factor in the final decision, the “Top 10” honorees were selected by an independent review panel of collections and conservation experts from the Library of Virginia, Preservation Virginia, Virginia Conservation Association, Virginia Department of Historic Resources, as well as an independent conservator. The panel gives particular weight to the historical or cultural significance of the item, its conservation needs, whether it has been assessed, as well as future plans and continued preservation.
Damage to Rufus Griswold portrait as seen under UV illumination
THANKS TO GRISWOLD FUND DONORS
To raise the money for the acquisition of the Griswold portraits, the museum launched a Gofundme campaign which quickly raised the money thanks to generous gifts from Susan Jaffe Tane, Stephan Loewentheil, Abbe Ancell, Michael Brazda, Teresa Carter, Christine Clements, Christopher Davalos, Escape Room Live DC, Katrina Fontenla, Mary Lee Haase, Sarah Huffman, Magdalena Karol, L. L. Leland, Aimée Mahathy, Lizzie O., Neca Rocco, Robert Rosen, Jennifer and Joe Rougeau, Justin and Elizabeth Schauer, Ernst Schnell, John Spitzer, Wayne and Pat Stith, Kurt Strom, Amy H. Sturgis, Sara Tantlinger, Patrick Tsao, Ashleigh Williams, and Seven Anonymous Donors.
What in the world happened to Caroline Griswold’s face? Rest assured, she still looks the same as she did last week. We just photographed her under different lighting conditions. By lighting the portrait from an angle, the conservator is better able to see the surface cracks that need to be repaired. Below is the portrait under normal illumination. The cracks are not quite as easy to see this time.
Now look at this photograph taken under ultraviolet illumination.
This lighting causes organic substances to fluoresce while inorganic substances absorb the light and look black. The organic resin varnish added as a protective layer over the finished painting is fluorescing, but there are also dark splotches that show the presence of paint applied on top of the varnish. This is the result of restorers covering up areas of missing or damaged paint with matching paint. The only problem is that, because they didn’t clean the painting before adding the patches, the patches match the color of the dirty paint. These means that, when the painting is cleaned, the patches will no longer match the painting. Figuring out which parts of the painting are original and which are not helps our conservator get a better understanding of how the painting originally appeared. This provides him a kind of road map to follow during the conservation process.
Notice that some of the patches are lighter than others. These are likely older patches painted by a previous restorer. The light spots on the painting appear to be another organic residue, maybe splattered food or mold.
This detail of the lower edge of the portrait shows the presence of organic residue that dripped down the paint surface.
Now let’s take a look at some of the conservator’s photos of the Rufus Griswold portrait. This is a photograph under normal illumination. Under this light, one can already see how dirty the painting is, but looking at it with different lighting will show us even more.
Here is one taken with raking light to show the cracks. Especially evident is a bulge on the lower edge of the canvas caused by the accumulation of dust and debris between the back of the canvas and the stretcher. This will have to be repaired by removing the canvas from the stretcher and flattening it before restretching it.
Here is one taken under ultraviolet illumination. (Notice the varnish on the easel is also fluorescing.) You can see some large areas where missing paint was restored.
A detail of the lower left corner of the portrait taken under raking light shows the bulge, a vertical crack with missing paint, and a major hole in the canvas.
The same area shown under ultraviolet illumination reveals extensive repairs made by a past restorer.
By taking multiple photographs using different kinds of light, our conservator will determine which parts of the painting are original and which are not as well as which parts should be cleaned and which should be removed. This guided him when he performed a test cleaning on Rufus Griswold’s face.
These kinds of tests will help the conservator get a better idea of how the portraits underneath 176 years of grime and dirty varnish should look after a successful cleaning. Only after careful study, planning, and testing, will the conservator be able to begin the treatment process, which may take months to complete.
Since the portraits of Rufus and Caroline Griswold arrived at the Poe Museum a couple months ago, we have had several visitors ask about them. If you would like to see the portrait of Rufus Griswold in its current state, please visit the Poe Museum’s Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building where it is hanging above Edgar Allan Poe’s trunk.
If you are interested in helping out with the conservation process, please vote for the Rufus Griswold portrait to be Virginia’s Most Endangered Artifact for 2016. Just click here to vote.
HP Lovecraft by Semtner
Last Saturday, August 20, would have been the 126th birthday of H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), author of such influential horror, science fiction, and fantasy tales as The Call of Cthulhu, The Dunwich Horror, and At the Mountains of Madness (which was inspired by Poe’s novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym). Lovecraft’s influence on both horror fiction and popular culture has been vast. Several of his works have been adapted to film, music, and even games. In his tales of cosmic horror he created a shared fictional universe known as the Cthulhu Mythos, which continues to live on in the works of legions of later authors.
Lovecraft was also a great admirer of Poe’s works and devoted an entire chapter of his 1935 book Supernatural Horror in Literature to him. In that chapter, Lovecraft writes,
Before Poe the bulk of weird writers had worked largely in the dark; without an understanding of the psychological basis of the horror appeal, and hampered by more or legs of conformity to certain empty literary conventions such as the happy ending, virtue rewarded, and in general a hollow moral didacticism, acceptance of popular standards and values, and striving of the author to obtrude his own emotions into the story and take sides with the partisans of the majority’s artificial ideas. Poe, on the other hand, perceived the essential impersonality of the real artist; and knew that the function of creative fiction is merely to express and interpret events and sensations as they are, regardless of how they tend or what they prove — good or evil, attractive or repulsive, stimulating or depressing, with the author always acting as a vivid and detached chronicler rather than as a teacher, sympathizer, or vendor of opinion. He saw clearly that all phases of life and thought are equally eligible as a subject matter for the artist, and being inclined by temperament to strangeness and gloom, decided to be the interpreter of those powerful feelings and frequent happenings which attend pain rather than pleasure, decay rather than growth, terror rather than tranquility, and which are fundamentally either adverse or indifferent to the tastes and traditional outward sentiments of mankind, and to the health, sanity, and normal expansive welfare of the species.
Never a terribly famous writer during his lifetime, Lovecraft would likely not have been recognized by the staff when he visited the Poe Museum in Richmond in May 1929. On May 4, he wrote Elizabeth Toldridge, “In Richmond the chief object of interest for me is the Poe Shrine—an old stone house with two adjoining houses connected as wings & used as a storehouse of Poe reliques. Here I have spent much time examining the objects associated with my supreme literary favourite—to say nothing of the marvelous model of Richmond in 1820, housed in one of the wings.”
The Poe Museum’s Old Stone House, Enchanted Garden, and model of Richmond remain much as they were in 1929, so today’s guests can still feel much of the atmosphere that must have inspired Lovecraft during his visit. The following photographs date to about that time.
The Poe Museum in June 1929.
The Enchanted Garden in early spring of 1929.
Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building in about 1928
Lovecraft was not the only famous cultural figure to make a trip to the Poe Museum. Vincent Price, Salvador Dali, and Gertrude Stein also visited. Click their names to read about their Poe Museum experiences.
[The Poe Museum is always glad to learn of poets Poe has inspired. We recently received an email from Vik Shirley, a poet based in Bristol in the UK. Vik writes, “I recently completed a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in English Literature (with Creative Writing) and was awarded First-class honours. For my final project I wrote a poetry sequence called Death: The Human Experience, based on an exhibition at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, which featured various artefacts and symbols of death from around the world and throughout history. I based each poem in the sequence on a different exhibit and one of those was the death mask of Edgar Allan Poe…When I was carrying out research for my poem, I came across the museum website, in addition to an online 2014 article of yours in Biography.com, which I found fascinating and very useful. My poem is in the voice of Edgar’s cat Catterina. I was inspired to learn that she died shortly after the death of Edgar.” Here is the poem for your enjoyment.]
I always clawed the walls when he left,
sank into a fantastic gloom. Fetched
presents to his empty room, licked
my paws, preened myself, waiting, waiting.
But this time, there was something more;
one develops a feeling for these things,
a hunch, a penchant for the peculiar
in this house. My tortoiseshell pelt prickled
from that very first day, from the moment
he departed. I remember it well. I slunk
around his trunks – circling his doomed
luggage, brushing up, pressing against
his legs, weaving eights, provoking,
coaxing for one final caress. To explain:
we were close. I would sit on his shoulder
while he wrote, everybody knew I adored
him. I learned from the master; was wise
to the clues, the omens, symbols. The days
went by. I was wondering, wondering,
fearing the worst. My stomach churned,
I yearned to nibble his finger, flip the tip
of my tail in his presence, issue him with
a slow blink, a purr, but no, still, nothing,
nothing. Then yesterday the news bludgeoned
us without mercy or warning and confirmed
the unthinkable. It was an enigma, a conundrum,
and not, as I was hoping, a hoax. So, now it’s time
for me to go. My tell-tale heart is tired of talking.
I will follow my soulmate into the shadows, trace
his footsteps with paws, all the way to Nevermore.
(c) Vik Shirley 2016
Each year, the Virginia Association of Museum’s accepts nominations for Virginia’s Most Endangered Artifacts, and this time the Poe Museum’s newly acquired portraits of Edgar Allan Poe’s worst enemy Rufus W. Griswold and his wife Caroline made the list of nominees. This honor means that people realize the significance of these historical artifacts and how important it is to preserve them. As we have seen in a previous blog post, these portrait have not been cleaned since they were painted back in 1840. The 176 years of accumulated dust and tobacco smoke have almost completely obscured the surfaces to the point that it is difficult to tell there are even portraits under there. The paintings also suffered from severe cracks and paint loss resulting from being removed from their frames and stored rolled up for years.
The good news is that much of the original paint is still intact underneath all the grime. A conservator recently tested the paintings to determine just how bright the colors once were and how easily they can be returned their original appearance. Once the process is complete, we can be among the first see the paintings as Griswold himself would have seen them.
You can help bring these treasures out of the shadows and allow the public to see them for the first time. Just click here to cast your vote for the paintings of Rufus and Caroline Griswold to be Virginia’s Most Endangered Artifact for 2016. For more information about the program, click here. To donate to the conservation effort, please click here.
Griswold portraits at the conservation studio
The Poe Museum’s newly acquired portraits of Rufus and Caroline Griswold have just returned from a visit to a conservator who examined them so that he can put together a proposal for treating them. We will post that information when it becomes available. To find out more about these portraits, click here.
The good news is that the paintings are in great shape. The bad news is that those great paintings are covered under layers of dirt, grime, and varnish. A quick examination revealed a little of what these paintings have endured over the past 176 years.
Rufus and Caroline Griswold meet George III at the conservation studio
The portraits were painted in 1840 when Rufus Griswold was twenty-five years old. Rufus and Caroline had married three years earlier, but he would leave her in New York in November 1840 in order to take a job in Philadelphia. She remained in New York, where she died just two years later. Griswold was devastated by her sudden death. He refused to leave her side until he was forced to do so by a relative thirty hours later. Then he returned to her crypt forty days later and spent the night with her corpse.
The loss of Caroline inspired Griswold to write poetry in her memory. Among these were “Five Days” and “To Elizabeth Waring—A Christmas Epistle.” The manuscript for the latter is in the collection of Griswold’s letters and manuscripts included with the above portraits. The poem begins,
A day of joy to all the world is this,
But unto me, alas! A day of gloom;
For she who was the fountain of my bliss
Is hid from me forever in the tomb.
“A happy Christmas!” comes from many a voice,–
‘Tis kindly meant,–it brings me only pain,–
She who alone could bid my soul rejoice,
Oh, wo is me! I ne’er shall see again!”
But fifty days ago,–she by my side,–
I knew no pleasure which was not mine own,–
Ah, cruel Death!—to take from me my bride!—
Thou hast the temple of my hopes o’erthrown.
With broken heart, my weary way I wend,
No stars henceforth upon my pathway shine,–
Alas, what stars like eyes of such a friend,
As thou to me, oh, sainted Caroline!
These portraits serve as a record of the young couple in the early years of their marriage. A year after this portrait was painted, Griswold met Edgar Allan Poe. Another year later, Griswold rose to literary fame with the publication of his anthology The Poets and Poetry of America. Poe faintly praised the book at first but later ridiculed it for placing too much emphasis on northern writers while overlooking southern poets. This was only the beginning of the literary feud that ended after Poe’s death with Griswold attacking him in print with a largely fabricated biography.
The painting has been attributed to the artist Charles Loring Elliott in the 1943 book Rufus Wilmot Griswold: Poe’s Literary Executor by Joy Bayless. Griswold is known to have commissioned more portraits from him, so it is possible the Poe Museum’s portraits could be Elliott’s work. These paintings are, however, so dirty that it is difficult to tell what they really look like or who might have painted them.
When Griswold died at the age of forty-two in 1857, his daughter Emily Griswold took ownership of the paintings. From her, they descended through her family until they arrived at the antique dealer who sold them to the Poe Museum. A quick look at the surface of the paintings tells us a little of what happened to them over the years.
The paintings were done with oil paint on canvas. The canvas was then nailed to a wooden frame called a stretcher. Then they were installed in frames to protect them. At some point, both canvases were removed from their stretchers and frames and rolled up to make them easier to transport. This left a series of horizontal cracks in the paint surface. You can see some of those cracks in this picture. Some of the cracks are difficult to see because a restorer painted them the same color as the surrounding paint.
Horizontal cracks in Rufus Griswold painting
When the paintings were attached to new stretchers, somebody decided to make them narrower, so he or she attached them to smaller stretchers and rolled the excess canvas around the side of the stretcher bar. Bare canvas along the bottom of Caroline’s portrait shows that the person who performed this procedure had trouble lining up the canvas on the new stretcher. Since they could not stretch Rufus’s canvas around the bottom edge of his stretcher, they just nailed the canvas through the front. That’s right. There is a nail sticking out of the picture. You can almost see it in this picture.
Lower edge of Rufus Griswold portrait
You might also notice a slight bulge in the lower edge of the canvas in that picture. The bulge was caused by the accumulation of junk between the back of the canvas and the front of the stretcher. The conservator found leaves, dust, and dead insects back there.
Then people smoked in front of the pictures, and the smoke gradually deposited on the surface of the paintings. Fortunately, the paintings had been varnished shortly after they were painted, so the smoke particles stuck to the varnish instead of adhering to the paint. Eventually, the varnish looked dull and brown from all the smoke and dust stuck to it, so somebody applied another layer of varnish on top of the first varnish. Naturally, more tobacco smoke and dust stuck to that layer.
By this time, the painting was so dark it was difficult to see, but it is still down there underneath all that dirty varnish. The conservator wanted to find out what the paint looks like under the varnish, so he used solvents to remove the tobacco smoke, dust, what appears to be some kind of liquid spilled on the surface, and both layers of varnish. The photos below show what he found.
Next time, we will post the conservator’s analysis of the paintings and what he thinks he can do for them.