GETTING TO KNOW POE IN RICHMOND, VIRGINIA
If you want to know Poe, visit Richmond, Virginia. Poe pilgrims from more than thirty foreign countries and all fifty states come to Richmond's Edgar Allan Poe Museum each year and it's easy to see why. Richmond shaped his career and writing, making a visit to the city anything but scary to those who admire the writer's work.
Vincent Price, who knew a bit about horror, loved Poe. Price starred in eight movies based on Poe's writing, including "Pit and the Pendulum," which Price said had more elements of fear than almost any other film in which he had acted. Price's love of the Richmonder's work led to a Richmond visit in 1975, when he visited the museum and read from "The Raven" to honor the man and the role that Richmond played in his life and work.
"I am a Virginian," Poe wrote in a letter of 1841. "At least I call myself one, for I have resided all my life, until within the last few years, in Richmond."
The Richmond Poe knew when he lived in the city influenced him greatly. "Here he associated with business and professional men, witnessed displays of patriotism, attended private academies, and shared in the home life of a Richmond family," writes Agnes Bondurant Marcuson in the foreward to Poe's Richmond, by Agnes M. Bondurant. "Richmond nurtured him to young manhood, gave him a cultural background, and launched him into the writing profession."
Richmond's Poe Foundation and the Poe Museum are a mecca for Poe people, drawn to the work and favorite city of one of America's most famous writers. The city and the rest of Virginia are steeped in history and the museum is no exception. From the moment you step through the door of the Old Stone House, you are immersed in the writer and his Richmond. For those brave enough, it's even open on Halloween Day.
"Edgar Allan Poe is possibly the most famous person to have lived in Richmond," says Poe Museum director Ron Furqueron. His legacy and the city as he knew it have been kept alive and well with the Poe Foundation and the excellent museum.
In the nearly seven decades that have passed since the founders of Richmond's "Poe Shrine" sent announcements of their new museum and Poe repository to all corners of the globe, the Poe Foundation has accumulated a wealth of historically important Poe-related artifacts and books. The Poe Foundation has a large number of original his letters and manuscripts, as well as more than 1,000 volumes about. Paintings and photographs of the author and his friends are also an important part of the collection.
To the extent consistent with security and conservation, the entire collection is shared with scholars and the general public. However, much of the collection can be viewed year-round at the Poe Museum, where everyone can learn of the man and the city he called home.
Edgar Allan Poe was born in 1809 in Boston, but it was in Richmond that he grew up, married, and first gained a national literary reputation. Many of the places and objects in Richmond associated with his time here have been lost, but several pieces of the puzzle still remain. The Poe Museum displays many of these items.
Poe's natural parents, David and Elizabeth Arnold Poe, both actors, were engaged by Mr. Placide's Theatre Company in Boston. They had been married in Richmond while on tour in the city in 1806.
In December, 1811, while again in Richmond, Elizabeth Arnold Poe died. The two children who were with her, Edgar (not quite three) and Rosalie (only 11 months old), were taken in by different Richmond families. Edgar adopted the middle name Allan from his Richmond family, John and Frances Allan, who was a partner in the merchant firm of Ellis and Allan. They lived in quarters located above the firm's offices at 13th and East Main Street, at the center of Richmond's active role as a port city (recalled in detail by Edgar in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym).
Poe's mother, Elizabeth Poe, was buried in the churchyard of nearby St. John's Episcopal Church, where her memorial stone may be seen. St. John's is the oldest church in Richmond and is famous as the site of Patrick Henry's "liberty or death" speech. Poe probably visited this site often (he probably loved it at night).
The Richmond Theatre where Poe's mother had performed burned to the ground on December 26, 1811, only 18 days after her death. The fire took the lives of many Richmonders, including the governor, George Smith, and his wife. At the site of the tragedy on East Broad Street, the Monumental Episcopal Church was erected as a memorial to the victims. The Allans maintained a pew in the church (number 80) where young Edgar worshipped with his Richmond family.
All of the Allan homes where Poe grew up have now disappeared. A photograph of Moldavia, his last home in Richmond, does exist, and shows a fine large home with a double portico. Mr. Allan bought the home in 1825 and Edgar lived there before entering the University of Virginia in 1826.
The Royster family lived across the street from Moldavia. The daughter, Elmira, was Edgar's first love, but their relationship was broken off by disapproving parents. Though she later married, their romance blossomed again in the last year's of Poe's life when he found himself in Richmond again, after his wife's death. Her home, the Elmira Shelton House, where Poe visited in 1848 and 1849, still stands at 2407 East Grace Street and is now the headquarters of the Historic Richmond Foundation.
Poe's boyhood in Richmond can be recalled in one of his finest poems, "To Helen." The beautiful poem was inspired by Jane Stith Craig Stanard, the mother of his school mate, Robert Stanard. Ms. Stanard praised and encouraged Poe's early literary efforts and he repaid her in full with his stirring lines. Her girlhood home, the Stith house, still stands at the corner of 19th and East Grace Streets.
His life in Richmond led to a love of literature, city life, mystery, and the macabre. While in the city, he read and roamed widely, experiencing great literature and the realities of rough living. From the city library to the streets and the boats, his experiences did much to influence his horror writing.
After a quarrel with John Allan in 1824, Poe left the University of Virginia and the state and headed north to Boston. Soon after his arrival, he published his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, some of which was composed in Virginia and which reflects his rift with his Richmond family.
In Poe's Richmond, Agnes Bondurant says, "In Poe's late teens, the disappointing experiences involved in his break with John Allan, his loss of a home, the loss of his boyhood sweetheart, the death of his foster-mother, the suffering occasioned by his lack of money, the knowledge of his unappreciated genius, the lack of friends and relatives, the knowledge that his education had been cut short and that under humiliating circumstances, all probably had serious psychological effects upon him." It certainly had effects upon his writing.
After a two-year stint in the army, a few months at the Military Academy at West Point, and the publication of a second volume of poems, Poe moved to Baltimore to live with Poe relatives--his aunt Maria Clemm and her daughter, Virginia. While in Baltimore, Poe published a number of short stories and won first prize in a literary contest, with a story titled "MS found in a Bottle." His success in this contest led to a job opportunity as an assistant editor at the Richmond-based Southern Literary Messenger, which brought him back to the city.
The Southern Literary Messenger had its offices at 15th and Main Streets. Though the building was demolished in 1915, materials from it were used to construct the first memorial to Poe in Richmond, the Poe Shrine and garden, which is now the central portion of the Poe Museum complex.
Poe worked at the Messenger from August, 1835 to January, 1837. He lived at Mrs. Yarrington's boarding house on Bank Street near Capital Square. Mrs. Clemm and Virginia lived there with him and it was at Mrs. Yarrington's that Poe and his young cousin, Virginia, were married in 1836.
While working at the Messenger, Poe wrote his only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. The first part of the novel was published in the Messenger in Richmond. He also composed the play, "Politan," and gained national attention as critic, poet, and writer of tales while living in Richmond and editing the young magazine.
Poe left the Messenger for New York and Philadelphia, hoping to start his own literary journal. Though he made a decent living completing editorial work for magazines, he never succeeded as owner/editor of his own publication.
After his wife's death, Poe returned to Richmond in 1848 and 1849. During his second stay, he lectured in Richmond on "The Poetic Principle" and gave readings of "The Raven," the poem which had spread his fame in America and Europe. Tradition says that he gave his last reading of "The Raven" at Talavera, an historic home still standing at 2315 West Grace Street. He left Richmond the next day and died two weeks later.
The Poe Museum pays tribute to Poe and his Richmond. It highlights the life and career of Poe through pictures, relics, and verse, with special attention given to his many years in Richmond.
The museum opened in 1922 in the Old Stone House, Richmond's oldest standing structure. Four buildings have been added to house the ever-expanding Poe collection.
Guided tours of the museum, given by the enthusiastic director, Ron Furqueron, or another knowledgeable staff member, begin with a large model of Richmond as Poe knew it. Visitors can retrace Poe's steps as he made his way around the city.
Across the quiet walled garden, the Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building houses many items the poet knew well. Artifacts abound in the main room, including a staircase from the 14th Street Allan home; furnishings from Moldavia; a desk and chair from Poe's Messenger office; a gallery of photographs, daguerreotypes, and paintings; and a number of Poe's personal affects. The building also features the massive memorial 1885 sculpture by Richard H. Park honoring Poe and his parents.
The Exhibition Hall features a gallery of rotating exhibits downstairs. Upstairs, visitors find a small room recreating Poe's childhood bedroom, including his bed, coverlet, and mantle. You can just imagine the dreams he must of had in that head of his. Across the hall, The Raven Room displays dark illustrations created by artist James Carling in the 1880s to evoke the images in Poe's most famous poem.
The Old Stone House, a building Poe knew well, serves as the final stop on the Poe tour. In Poe's day, the house was inhabited by German emigrants who built the house shortly after the city was founded. Today, it contains a museum shop where old and new Poe fans can find a wide variety of items, ranging from valuable first editions to books, prints, postcards, and t-shirts.
As you exit the Old Stone House and the Poe Museum, you'll know Poe much better.
HISTORIC TRAVELER TRIP PLANNER
The Edgar Allan Poe Museum is open all year, except Christmas Day, but definitely including Halloween. The hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10am to 4pm and Sunday and Monday, 1pm to 4pm. Guided tours generally begin on the hour. Admission is $5 adults, $4 for senior citizens, and $3 for students. Poe Foundation membership is also available, offering many benefits to those who want to know Poe even better. Contact the museum at 1914-16 East Main Street, Richmond, VA 23223, or call (804) 648-5523.