Museum News

Poe Scholar Decodes Poe’s Gold-Bug

Illustration for the 1843 first printing of "The Gold-Bug"

Illustration for the 1843 first printing of “The Gold-Bug”

Poe was much more than the Master of the Macabre. He was also the Master of Mystery, the inventor of detective fiction, and an avid cryptographer who introduced puzzles and codes into his poems and short stories. His short story “The Gold-Bug” features an encrypted treasure map and a search for clues and codes that set the standard for such popular films as National Treasure and The Da Vinci Code. This spring the Poe Museum planted a new Gold-Bug Garden modeled after this setting of this important story. In honor of the opening of the new Gold-Bug Garden at the Poe Museum in Richmond, on Tuesday, June 23 at 6 p.m., Poe scholar Richard Kopley will deliver “Decoding the Gold-Bug,” a talk about Edgar Allan Poe’s influential treasure hunt mystery “The Gold-Bug.” Admission is free.

Richard Kopley

Richard Kopley

About Richard Kopley:

Richard Kopley is Distinguished Professor of English, Emeritus, at Penn State DuBois. He is the author of Edgar Allan Poe and the Dupin Mysteries, as well as numerous articles, chapters, and reviews on Poe. He is the editor of Poe’s Pym: Critical Explorations and the co-editor, with Jana Argersinger, of Poe Writing, Writing Poe. He has spoken on Poe widely in the United States, and he has given papers on Poe in Spain, Italy, Poland, Russia, and (by DVD) Japan.. He is a former president of the Poe Studies Association, organizer of several Poe conferences, co-organizer of the recent Fourth International Edgar Allan Poe Conference in New York City, and a member of the program committee for the next international Poe-Hawthorne Conference, scheduled for June 21-24, 2018, in Kyoto, Japan.

May 5 2015 Low Country Garden-web

About the Poe Museum’s Gold-Bug Garden:

Designed by Riely and Associates, the firm that restored the gardens at the Virginia Executive Mansion, Monticello, and the University of Virginia, the Poe Museum’s Gold-Bug Garden recreates the Low Country setting of “The Gold-Bug” with an unusual combination of palms, umbrella plants, fatsia, and banana shrubs. This garden is only one stage in the Garden Club of Virginia’s restoration of the Poe Museum’s gardens, which date back to 1922.


Interview with Illustrator of Folio Society’s new Pym Edition

David Lupton, illustrator of the Folio Society’s new edition of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, took a few minutes from his busy schedule to answer some questions about his work and his interest in Edgar Allan Poe.


Poe Museum: I have seen your illustrations for “Dracula’s Guest,” “Death & the Myrmidon,” and “The Monkey’s Paw.” What accounts for your personal interest in illustrating dark subject matter?

David Lupton: I’ve always had a predilection for a darker and melancholy subject matter. I’m not entirely sure where this comes from, but from an early age I had a love of gothic horror fiction (stories, film, artwork etc…) and I remember being particularly obsessed with the old Universal and Hammer horror films. As I grew older my love for genre fiction grew deeper and I knew that I wanted to create work that existed within the boundaries of the horror and gothic genres. I think also that I’ve always empathised with the characters of gothic fiction, who tend often to be outcasts or outsiders, and I strive to evoke a narrative that concerns these characteristics within my illustrations. My work also tends to have fantastical element (usually of a macabre and unsettling nature) and for this reason I have always created drawings and sought out commissions that would allow me to indulge in my love of this subject matter.

PM: Do you have a personal interest in the works of Edgar Allan Poe? If so, what does Poe’s work mean to you?

DL: As a lover of old horror films my first exposure to Poe’s work was through the films of Roger Corman often starring Vincent Price in the lead role (The Pit and the Pendulum and The Fall of the House of Usher being particular favourites). Although these films now seem a little schlocky they were a good inroad into his actual writing and for me to further explore the themes and ideas contained within his work.
I feel that Poe’s interest in death and the questions that surround death (physical and spiritual) have directly influenced my drawing style and the content of my work. I think that influence is evident in my attempts to create expressionistic work that represents themes of life and mortality, albeit within macabre and gothic trappings.

PM: Had you read any of his works, including The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, before taking on the project?

DL: I had read a number of the short stories but I wasn’t actually aware of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym before taking on this project. Reading Poe’s only full length novel was interesting though and although the book is a bit more of a straight forward adventure narrative, it still contains Poe’s constant themes of death and mortality (not to mention a fair amount of bloody violence and cannibalism).
I would love to go on and illustrate other works by Edgar Allan Poe. The Masque of the Red Death is a particular favourite of mine and to explore it’s visual detail; the castle setting, colour coded interiors and general atmosphere of dread would be a joy for me as a visual artist.

We look forward to seeing Lupton’s future projects and hope he will have the opportunity to illustrate more of Poe’s works. To learn more about this new edition of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, click here.


Folio Society Releases New Edition of Poe’s Only Novel


The Poe Museum recently received a small slip-cased volume in the mail. While most of the books that cross my desk contain Poe’s tales of terror (“The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Black Cat,” and the like), this case holds an edition of the only novel Poe ever finished, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket Comprising the Details of a Mutiny and Atrocious Butchery on Board the American Brig Grampus, on Her Way to the South Seas, in the Month of June, 1827. With an Account of the Recapture of the Vessel by the Survivers; Their Shipwreck and Subsequent Horrible Suffering from Famine; Their Deliverance by Means of the British Schooner Jane Guy; the Brief Cruise of This Latter Vessel in the Antarctic Ocean; Her Capture, and the Massacre of Her Crew Among a Group of Islands in the Eighty-Fourth Parallel of Southern Latitude; Together with the Incredible Adventures and Discoveries Still Farther South to Which That Distressing Calamity Gave Rise. (Let’s just call it Pym.)


The unusual title suggests something of its strange contents which feature cannibalism, a sea voyage to the Antarctic, and a ghostly white figure.

Poe printed the first installments of what was intended to be a serialized novel in the Southern Literary Messenger just before he left the magazine. After moving from Richmond to New York, Poe completed Pym while adding a preface to explain that the parts that appeared in the Messenger had been written by Poe on behalf of Arthur Gordon Pym while the rest of the book was written by Pym himself. The preface, signed by “A.G. Pym,” further confesses that Poe and Pym had previously pretended the first installments were fiction. Since “A.G. Pym” states that all the details in the novel are absolutely true, some readers believed it might be a real account. The Evening Post noted, “The air of reality in the narrative is assumed with no small skill.”

Others were unconvinced and assumed it was just another hoax by Richard Adams Locke, author of “The Moon Hoax” a few years earlier. In a December 1838 review of Pym in Burton’s Gentlemen’s Magazine, William Burton declares, “A more impudent attempt at humbugging the public has never been exercised; the voyages of Gulliver were politically satirical, and the adventures of Munchausen, the acknowledged caricature of a celebrated traveller. Sindbad the sailor, Peter Wilkins, and Moore’s Utopia, are confessedly works of imagination; but Arthur Gordon Pym puts forth a series of travels outraging possibility, and coolly requires his insulted readers to believe his ipse dixit.”

Poe saw this criticism and later wrote Burton, “You once wrote in your magazine a sharp critique upon a book of mine — a very silly book — Pym. Had I written a similar criticism upon a book of yours, you feel that you would have been my enemy for life, and you therefore imagine in my bosom a latent hostility towards yourself.”

Some reviewers were more positive in their assessments. The New York Gazette called Pym “a very extraordinary volume purporting to be a narrative of ‘Arthur Gordon Pym,’ who it is said [is] lately deceased in some melancholy way, and his adventures as well as his death are referred to as of perfect notoriety.” The New-Yorker declared it “a work of extraordinary, freezing interest beyond anything we ever read.” The Morning Courier wrote, “the volume is highly interesting in the story, well written, and to the lovers of marvellous fiction will be quite a treasure.”

Harper and Brothers published an unknown number of copies in New York in 1838, but sales were disappointing. Within a year, the book was reprinted in England where it saw its first success. When the first British edition sold well, a number of British bootleg versions appeared in a multiple editions. Herman Melville’s brother was one of many who bought one of these unauthorized copies for which the author received no compensation.

Although Americans were mainly unconvinced by this apparent hoax, some English readers believed it was a true story. George Putnam recounted, “The grave particularity of the title and of the narrative misled many of the critics as well as ourselves, and whole columns of these new ‘discoveries,’ including the hieroglyphics (!) found on the rocks, were copied by many of the English country papers as sober historical truth”

The edition now on my desk was published earlier this year by the Folio Society, which has been printing finely bound and illustrated books since 1947 because—according to their website—they believe “great books deserve to be printed in a form worthy of their contents.” Their books are designed to be read, collected, and cherished by those who love great literature. With an astute introduction by novelist Marilynne Robinson and illustrations by David Lupton, the Folio Society’s edition is sure to be a collector’s item.

The Folio Society’s Editorial Director Tom Walker explained that this new edition of Pym was originally proposed by a reader. “We then wrote to a large number of our customers about a wide range of novels and this consistently came top of their list of books they wanted to see in a Folio edition. I think that is partly because we have already (some years ago now) published many of Poe’s short stories, and this underpublished novel was seen as a natural next step. Our readers of course admire Poe as one of the greatest of nineteenth-century authors, and the combination of classic status with horror and seafaring was I think irresistible for them!”

An admirer of her work, Walker chose Pulitzer Prize winning author Marilynne Robinson to write the introduction, which he deemed “all I hoped it might be – intense and broad reaching itself, and cleverly bringing the novel into the light of [Poe’s last book] Eureka.” Walker was also pleased with Lupton’s “dark, brooding” illustrations.

Aside from the fine illustrations (see below), the Folio Society’s Pym is notable for its craftsmanship, its sturdy binding designed to be handled and read by generations of readers, and its small size—in imitation of the small size of Poe’s first editions from the 1830s and 1840s. Click here to find out more about the book. To read an interview with the illustrator David Lupton, click here.


The Latest Poe Museum Newsletter is Now Available

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.


Meet the Poe You May Not Know

Think you know Poe? Think again. On June 4 at noon, Barbara Anne Cantalupo will deliver a Banner Lecture entitled “The Poe You May Not Know” at the Virginia Historical Society at 428 North Boulevard in Richmond.

Although Edgar Allan Poe’s name is most often identified with stories of horror and fear, Barbara Cantalupo’s talk will reveal the less familiar Poe—the one who often goes unrecognized or forgotten—the Poe whose early love of beauty was a strong and enduring draw. Poe’s “deep worship of all beauty,” expressed in an 1829 letter to John Neal when Poe was just twenty, never entirely faded, despite the demands of his commercial writing and editorial career. “The Poe You May Not Know” gives us a look at Poe’s connection to such visual beauty, his commitment to “graphicality” (a word he coined), and his knowledge of the visual arts.

Click here for more information.

Barbara Cantalupo, associate professor of English at Penn State Lehigh Valley, is the editor of The Edgar Allan Poe Review and author of Poe and the Visual Arts. Copies of her latest book Poe and the Visual Arts will be available for signing at the event. You can preorder your copy here.

While you are in Richmond to hear Barbara Cantalupo’s talk, you will want to stay in town a few more hours to see her husband poet Charles Cantalupo’s performance of his new poetry series “Poe in Place” at 6 p.m. at the Poe Museum. Click here to learn more about Charles Cantalupo and his fascinating performance.

Poet Premieres New Work at Poe Museum

On Thursday, June 4 at 6 p.m. at the Poe Museum in Richmond, poet and Penn State University professor Charles Cantalupo will read a unique series of poems inspired by each of the cities in which Edgar Allan Poe lived. In researching the poems, Cantalupo travelled to the cities connected with Poe and searched for evidence of the ways those places inspired Poe as well as the continuing presence of Poe in each location. After years of research and writing, Cantalupo will perform the entire series for the first time. This thrilling performance will blend sound and rhythm with the poet’s own unique take on each of the cities featured.

As Edgar Allan Poe’s hometown, Richmond is the subject of one of the poems. Cantalupo visited Richmond and the Poe Museum last year and incorporated the city’s people and places, including Shockoe Slip and Linden Row, into the poem. For more information, please contact the Poe Museum at 804-648-5523 or [email protected]

Those coming to see Cantalupo’s performance will also want to hear his wife Barbara Cantalupo, a distinguished Poe scholar, speak about “The Poe You May Not Know” at the Virginia Historical Society earlier the same day at noon on June 4. Click here for more information about her talk.

About Charles Cantalupo
Charles Cantalupo is the author of a series of poems on the cities where Edgar Allan Poe lived throughout his life, called “Poe in Place.” Excerpts have been published in The Edgar Allan Poe Review, Poe’s Pervasive Influence, and The Spirit of Poe. Cantalupo’s reading at The Poe Museum will mark the first time “Poe in Place” has ever been performed in its entirety.

Poet, translator, scholar, and documentary filmmaker, Charles Cantalupo is Distinguished Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and African Studies at The Pennsylvania State University. His literary memoir, Joining Africa – From Anthills to Asmara (2012), won a Next Generation Indie Book Award in 2012. His newest collection of poetry, Where War Was, will be published later this year, and he has published three previous collections: Light the Lights (2004), Anima/l Woman and Other Spirits (1996), and The Art of Hope (1985). He is one of the world’s leading translators of African language poetry. A co-author of the historic Asmara Declaration on African Languages and Literatures, he is the writer and director of Against All Odds, a documentary about poets and poetry in Africa. His work has received major support from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations and the World Bank, and he is also the author of books on Thomas Hobbes, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Eritrea.

Poet Shares Work with Poe Museum

In honor of National Poetry Month, one of the Poe Museum’s former volunteers, Laura Bittner of Florida, sent us some poetry for our blog. We thank her for sharing her work with the Museum and hope you will enjoy them.

The Dark Curtain

The dark curtain
attached to stone
silently and listlessly blowing
back and forth
no sound from outside
dust particles play
in two-faced light rays;
Inevitable residence
of curled, grey leaves.

Walking at Night

after the hours/after dark
when the bars
have let out
and a
dry leaf
could make your heart
skip a beat
‘Ere I go
on my own
-so a word never spoke.
Briskly breezing
on a nightly errand,

From another’s watch
you can never surely keep.

Picking up the pace now.
Thinking I’m
Hearing steps now.
Clutching my case
closer to my side,
paying no mind
to the dim lights
flittering flames outside
the dark vendor’s signs,
store fronts
as I go by.

The Eeriness of an Open Gate

-Walking down Main Street
in the dark, past the field
located in the city, between
two buildings. Wind whipping
the several grains, the
sparse clovers. A moonlight
so dim, something hiding
could be obscured.
-Up a little ways,
past a few laughing,
bronzed, gleaming from
the bars, thorns or sharp sticks
crawl like the vines of a fist
next to the open gate.
No one is around.
But someone, did
go through or
and left standing still-
spirits passing through.
To it, time inconceivable;
These sturdy bars of iron,
whose rivulets only serve a purpose
of not striking fear
into the hearts of onlookers.

The City

The city dweller
in his bedroom
shuts his lights off.
Another day past.
And him, unaware of the
history within the
layers of wheat paste
and paper- surrounding
all he owns.
Many nights ago,
this room was someone else’s.
It all looked very
different. The streets
were not
what they are today.
A traveler looking on
unaware of linear time
observes the changes,
the people walking
down his streets,
and wanders on.

The Day Watchman

The day watchman
observing out the
dusty window,
sun beams
gleaming into
the shop. piles of
papers line the
wooden floors.
he protects his
master’s domain,
extending an out-
stretched claw
while clients

Museum Brings Poe’s Poem to Life

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.

Museum Recreates Poe’s Richmond in Miniature

The world of Poe scholarship has produced countless books, papers, and scholarly articles; but rarely has it produced a work of art. While the written works of Poe scholars like Burton Pollin (1916-2009) and Thomas Ollive Mabbott (1898-1968) have contributed greatly to our understanding of Poe’s life and work, the sculpture of Richmond schoolteacher Edith Ragland (1890-1989) has provided posterity an invaluable resource for understanding Poe’s life in Richmond. As meticulously researched as some academic papers, Ragland’s model reconstructs the city Poe knew in a way words alone cannot. That is why the model is the Poe Museum’s Object of the Month for March 2015.

Edith Ragland

According to an undated manuscript written by Poe Foundation co-founder Annie Boyd Jones (d. 1947), the sculptor Edward Valentine (1838-1930) proposed the project. Valentine studied sculpture with August Kiss in Germany before enjoying a celebrated career in Richmond. In addition to sculpting the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis for Richmond’s Monument Avenue and the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee for the National Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol, Valentine produced “The Recumbent Lee” for Washington and Lee University. Valentine was also a historian with a special interest in Edgar Allan Poe. In 1875, he became one of the privileged few to be able to interview Poe’s last fiancée Elmira Royster Shelton. In 1898, he and his brother, Mann S. Valentine II, founded the Valentine Museum, which owned a number of Edgar Allan Poe letters in addition to a portrait of Poe’s foster mother Frances Allan. After retiring from sculpting in 1910, he devoted much of his remaining years to the study of Richmond history and the presidency of the Valentine Museum. By 1922, the eighty-four-year-old Valentine took an interest in the newly opened Edgar Allan Poe Museum, speaking at its opening ceremony as well as donating a portrait of Poe’s foster mother to the Museum’s collection.

Mr. and Mrs. Archer Jones

One evening in 1924 or 1925, Mrs. Jones spent several hours talking about old Richmond in Mr. Valentine’s parlor. He told her he had spent the last sixty years researching a book about Richmond history but had accumulated so much information he could not edit it sufficiently to publish it. As she was leaving, he pointed out a photograph of a photograph of a model of old Paris and exclaimed, “Wait a minute girl; here’s what you do. Make a model of Richmond in Poe’s Time and place it in the [Poe Museum’s] Old Stone House!”

Edward Virginius Valentine in his studio

Mrs. Jones offered to manage the project if he would sculpt it, but he replied, “Oh go away girl, you know I can’t work anymore, but you are an enthusiast—you will get it done…Now go ‘long and make it.”

As soon as she returned home, she told her husband, Archer G. Jones, who enthusiastically supported the idea. She later recounted, “I could see his inventive mood creeping into his eyes.”

The first obstacle to constructing the model was finding an artist to do the work. The solution came one day when Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941) visited the Poe Museum. Borglum was an accomplished sculptor who would later rise to fame for his carving of the presidential monument at Mount Rushmore. The party accompanying Borglum to the Poe Museum included Julia Sully (1870-1948, granddaughter of Poe’s friend, the painter Robert Matthew Sully, 1803-1855) and the young teacher Edith Ragland. During the course of the afternoon, Mrs. Jones mentioned her idea for the model of Richmond to Sully, who recommended Ragland for the project. Jones asked Ragland to build the model, but Ragland replied, “I would not know the first or the remotest way to go about.”

“Nonsense,” Sully answered, “You model beautifully. None of us knows how to go about it, so will all learn together.”

In this spirit of collaboration, Edward Valentine and City Hall supplied Ragland Photostats of maps at no charge, and the Poe Museum paid the Virginia State Library for Photostats of more maps. Valentine provided his notes on Richmond history, city directories, and Virginia Mutual Insurance records. Ragland also consulted Samuel Mordecai’s (1786-1865) 1856 book Richmond in By-Gone Days, an account of life in the city during the first half of the nineteenth century.

Ragland Sculpting the Model

Archer Jones insisted that a model of Richmond needed to accurately reflect the city’s hills, so he suggested carving the topography out of wood. According to the Poe Foundation board minutes for March 18, 1925, “Miss Ragland found that she needed some knowledge of engineering in order to make the correct elevations in her model so she set to work to study that subject.” She built the model on three connected stretcher tables covered with blocks of wood nine inches thick. With the assistance of surveyors, she chiseled those blocks into the hills and valleys of 1840s Richmond.

She also wrote to artists to determine which materials to use. Because she had been advised the technique would waterproof the model, Ragland covered the piece with asphaltum, a substance similar to tar. To this, she added a thin layer of plaster. When the plaster dried, she applied a layer of lead white gesso. She modeled the houses and churches from clay and let them air dry rather than firing them. She fashioned trees from pieces of sponge and wire. She then colored them with oil paint.

Ragland built the model in the Poe Museum’s Old Stone House. Upon completion, the model measured approximately eighteen feet wide and six feet deep and represented the city from about Fifth Street to Twenty-Eighth Street and from the James River to Marshall Street. This includes depictions of such sites as Poe’s boyhood home Moldavia, Poe’s mother’s grave at St. John’s Church, and the Virginia State Capitol. The most impressive aspect of the model’s creation is that it was constructed in a room measuring only nine feet wide, leaving the artist about one and a half feet of clearance on each side. Ragland, herself, was self-deprecating when speaking of her accomplishment. In a 1976 interview with Denise Bethel, Ragland humbly recalled that the work was fairly easy because the insurance records and maps told her exactly what structures to place on each block. She boasted that some old-timers told her she had even reproduced the correct trees in the right places.

In 1926, tragedy struck when Annie Jones’s husband committed suicide for financial reasons. Mrs. Jones decided that, once complete, the model would be presented to the Museum in his memory.

When Ragland completed her model in 1927, the Poe Foundation’s president, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and journalist Douglas S. Freemen reported to the Foundation’s board, “This is undoubtedly a work of charm, art and beauty. It is the creation and expression of experts—in invention, engineering, research and execution—but as a map of Richmond complete accuracy is most desirable.” He stressed that the gift would not be accepted by the Poe Foundation “until its accuracy at every point is beyond question.”

The minutes of the January 1928 meeting of the Poe Foundation’s board state that the model’s “accuracy is now vouched for by City engineers and surveyors, by Mr. E. V. Valentine, Dr. Stanard [editor of The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography] and other authorities, and that it ties up with Mordecai—except where he himself is inaccurate.” Dr. Freeman moved that the board formally accept the model into the Poe Museum’s collection, and the motion passed. So accurate was the model that Richmond historian Mary Wingfield Scott was able to create a key that identified most of the houses and buildings. In all, the model contains twenty-two identifiable taverns and hotels, fifteen churches, at least twelve public buildings, and the homes of several “distinguished citizens.”

The Model in 1937

The model was on continuous display in the room of it construction for forty years. In 1963, the Poe Museum renovated a neighboring building for the display of the model. In order to move the model, city workmen cut it into three pieces. Then six off-duty Richmond policemen, five off-duty firemen, and four other city employees volunteered to move the pieces to their new exhibit space. Several buildings and trees detached from the model in the six-hour process.
Ragland returned to the work on her model, reconnecting the three segments and reattaching the fallen houses. The Poe Foundation agreed to pay her $600 for her work in addition to cab fare from her home to the Museum three days a week for three months. Mrs. R. S. Reynolds donated a custom-built glass case for the model. The work was complete (for a second time) by December 6, 1964 when she appeared in a Richmond Times-Dispatch photograph (below) with her freshly restored masterpiece nearly four decades after she began work on it. To protect the work from further damage, Mrs. R. S. Reynolds donated a large glass case to protect it.

Ragland with Repaired Model in 1964

The model’s story continued well after Ragland completed her work. In 1981, an anonymous donor concerned by the object’s apparent state of deterioration offered to pay for its restoration. President of the Richmond Jaycees and graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts, Sergei Troubetzkoy conducted the repairs and repainting. Because the model remained on display during this process, he was only able to work on it while the Museum was closed and when he was not working at his day job. As a friend of Edith Ragland’s, Troubetzkoy knew of some details she had intended to include if time had allowed, so he added fences and other buildings he could document. Although he planned to do so, he was unable to add the fence around Capitol Square.

In 1999, the model was almost lost when a fire started in the room housing it. In fact, much of the room was destroyed. The tables underneath the piece were severely damaged, and firemen shattered its glass case. Smoke and water caused additional harm. In the wake of the fire, the Museum called conservators to assess the damage. The wood and paint had cracked. Several houses had again become detached. Additionally, a thick layer of dust and spiders had built up on the model in the years before the fire.

In consultation with 1717 Design Group, the Museum decided to reinstall the model in a new case facing the opposite direction. In order to rotate the model, a volunteer cut it into two pieces using the 1964 cuts as a guide.

With the guidance of historic object conservation specialist Russell Bernabo, artist Chris Semtner and art historian Michelle Dell’Aria cleaned and repaired the model over the course of six months. They first divided the surface into a grid of twelve-inch squares. Each square was carefully dusted into a tiny vacuum attachment. Pieces of rubber sponge were then used to remove grime that was not loosened by the dusting. Only when needed and when it could be performed without damaging the paint layer, wet cleaning was performed using a mixture of alcohol and water. In the course of their work, the conservators found that the original paint was often too unstable to clean but that a previous restorer’s applications of acrylic paint could be cleaned without damaging the surface. Additionally, they observed that the base layer of asphaltum had bled through the plaster and paint to discolor the topcoat. They glued houses back in place and reattached flaking paint and plaster using a solution of B-72 and xylene. In painting was conducted only sparingly. When this work was complete, they reattached the two halves of the model and filled and in-painted the seam.

Carpenters carefully removed the model from its damaged original tables and attached it to a new custom-made table and built a new case around it. In order to make the piece easier for guests to view, the Museum enlisted a team of volunteers from Open High to tilt the model to a twenty degree angle while the carpenters secured it in place. The model was then displayed with one side against the wall. Because the long ends of the model were not perpendicular, the Museum added extensions to allow the long end to sit flush against the back wall.

Museum guests were able to watch the entire conservation process through a large window in the gallery and to ask the conservators questions. Seeing a large dead spider perched atop one of the houses, a guest commented, “If the spiders were that big in Poe’s time, no wonder he wrote the kind of stories he did.”

After this major conservation project, the model received occasional cleanings using soft brushes and vacuums. The most notable of these was conducted in 2008 with the help of volunteers from Hampton Hotels’ Save-a-Landmark program.

Over ninety years after Edith Ragland began her masterpiece, this model of Poe’s Richmond remains a highlight of the Poe Museum’s collection—a resource to visiting historians as well as a favorite with the Museum’s youngest visitors. Like few other historical documents, Ragland’s model helps the viewer visualize the city, its topography, and its structures as Poe would have known them.

Edith Ragland

Poe Museum is in Search of Next Edgar Allan Poe

Who will be the next Edgar Allan Poe? The Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia intends to find out. From June 21-27, 2015, the Museum will host its annual Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers’ Conference for high school students. Designed and founded in 2004 by Edgar™ Award-winning author and Edgar Allan Poe’s cousin, Dr. Harry Lee Poe, the Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers’ Conference attracts students from across the country to take part in a unique and intensive writing experience. In addition to participating in daily workshops, the students will learn from writing professionals including award-winning novelists, editors, journalists, poets, and playwrights. What makes the conference special is its Poe connection. Richmond, Virginia was home to Edgar Allan Poe for thirteen years, and it is here that he began his literary career. Students will learn from and be inspired by Poe by studying his craft as well as by visiting the sites that inspired or served as settings for his greatest works.

Past speakers have included Nero, Lefty, and Shamus Award-winning author Brad Parks; Hammett Prize winning novelist and journalist Howard Owen; Edgar Award™ winning biographer and educator Dr. Harry Lee Poe; and Theresa Pollack Award winning editor Mary Flinn.

The conference is designed to empower students to be leaders, educators, and writing professionals. So far, past students have become published authors and have been accepted into prestigious university writing programs.

To learn more about the conference or to apply, please click here of call the Edgar Allan Poe Museum at 804-648-5523 or [email protected] Click here to download an application. Applications are due April 1.

More Information about the Young Writers’ Conference:
The Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers’ Conference empowers high school students with the skills they need to become the next generation of great writers. In the tradition of Edgar Allan Poe, who encouraged and inspired young writers in his own time, the Poe Museum’s annual conference brings together students with professional journalists, editors, novelists, poets, and others who have devoted their lives to writing. The program is designed to encourage future innovation, expression, and leadership in Richmond’s literary community.

Conference Components

The participants will learn from the professionals who have devoted their lives to writing. Each morning of the conference, professional editors, technical writers, journalists, playwrights, novelists, and poets will share their experiences and advice with the participants. These speakers have included winners of such prestigious awards as the Edgar™, the Nero, the Lefty, and the Shamus.

Each day of the conference, the students will practice the craft of writing by participating in group writing exercises with an advanced writing instructor.

Practicing the Craft
Each day’s rigorous schedule would not be complete without time for attendees to practice their newly learned skills by crafting a composition that will be completed by the end of the week.

Focus on Poe
We believe great writing is grounded in an appreciation and understanding of the writers who came before us. Therefore, each day of the conference, time is dedicated to special field trips and activities focused on learn about the art and techniques of Edgar Allan Poe’s writing.

Art is not created in a vacuum but is the result of the sharing of ideas and experiences. Each evening of the conference is devoted to building a fellowship and cooperation among the participants as well as enabling them to one become leaders in the larger writing community.

Young Writers’ Conference Points of Interest
Fifty eight students have completed in the conference in its eight years
Many graduates of the conference have been accepted to prestigious writing programs and Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Virginia, and elsewhere.
Two Notable Conferees:
Joy Thomas’s work has been published in Style Weekly.
Rachel Martens has published a series of novels called The Poe Series.