Poe Places: A Historical East Coast Journey in the Footsteps of Edgar Allan Poe: South Carolina

  1. It’s taken me over three years thus far to travel up and down the East Coast in search of the places entwined with the history of poet and writer, Edgar Allan Poe. His works have been such an inspiration to my own pen muse and he birthed my love of poetry. And since I’m OCD about everything, it makes perfect sense to divulge in every place Mr. Poe once lived, visited or has some historical tie to. Right? Right.

Edgar was born in Boston, Massachusetts to David and Elizabeth Poe. He had two siblings, older brother Henry and sister Rosalie. The children at a young age found themselves parentless as their father abandoned them and at the age of three, Edgar’s mother, a then actress in Richmond, Virginia, died of tuberculosis. The children were then separated. Henry was sent to live with his paternal grandparents in Boston, Rosalie to the McKenzie’s of Richmond and Edgar was adopted by John and Frances Allan, also of Richmond, Virginia.

While the places I have visited thus far are all of importance and have their own individual connection to Poe, they are not in historical order and notably the states of New York and Massachusetts I have yet to be visited which I hope to do in the future.

This stop brings me to the small barrier island near Charleston, South Carolina called Sullivan’s Island. It is here on November 18, 1827 that an 18 year old Poe, having enlisted with the United States army under the alias Edgar A Perry, arrived to take post at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island.

Fort Moultrie on the tip of Sullivan’s Island

His position was of clerk and evidence seems to show that he was well liked by his officers and received two promotions while here, the second being Sgt. Major, the army’s highest enlisted rank. He still however didn’t seem to fit in with military life. His position fortunately afforded him down time where he was able to meander along the island.

Poe notably became friends with two prominent South Carolinians during his meandering, undoubtedly.

One was Dr. Edmond Ravenel, a conchologist and professor at the Medical College, who maintained a house on Sullivan”s Island and practiced on the island. He was known to have wandered the beaches searching for shells and over time acquired quite a collection which is now housed in the Charleston Museum. It is thought that he and Poe shared ideas and wandered the beaches together searching for treasures of the sea.

office of Dr. Ravenel on Sullivan’s Island

The other, Colonel William Drayton of Charleston whom he would later dedicate his Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque to. It’s unsure the exact nature of their friendship but they would remain friends even after Drayton was transferred to Philadelphia.

His down time from his military duties reminded him too of his desire and need to write and write he did.

The island provided the inspiration and setting for The Gold Bug, published in 1843. During the time Poe arrived and spent on the island it was a place of swamps, ghostly legends, buried pirate treasure and African voodoo cults. Perfect indeed for the mind of Poe. It is thought too that the narrator of Gold Bug is modeled after his friend, Dr. Ravenel. The story itself offers all the elements of legend and folklore, much of which is still present to this day on Sullivan’s Island.  Further, Poe would also use Charleston as inspiration in a newspaper article titled The Balloob Hoax in 1844 and the Oblong Box in 1850.

The locals have claimed Poe and are quite proud of their bragging rights. Many of the streets are named after his works as well as the local library and a tavern that I undoubtedly nerded out at.

Now back to Dr. Ravenel. Of course Edgar is no stranger to legends and lore and this little island holds quite an interesting one. It is thought that Poe took a liking to a family member of Dr. Ravenel. Her name….Annabel Lee Ravenel. Yeah, you know where this is going. The two, with a disapproving father, would meet in secrecy at a local church. The Unitarian Church in Charleston. Of course I went.

Unitarian Church in Charleston

Of course the photographer and nature lover in me would go picture crazy. It’s a cemetery. It’s me. Lore of Poe. It’s expected. From a photography perspective the church grounds where the cemetery sits is fairly well manicured but sets the tone for just enough intrigue in the shadows that many of the overgrown areas offer. It’s a lovely church within the low country with its spanish moss. That for me is always breathtaking. Ok, ok, back to Poe and the reason I’m here.

So it is thought that Edgar and Annabel Lee would meet in the cemetery of the church because her father was very disapproving of Poe. Eventually Poe was transferred back up North, and Annabel fell ill and died. Allegedly, paranormal sightings of Annabel Lee sitting on a bench in the graveyard or walking along its paths seeking Poe reportedly still happen. I have to add here based on my own research over the years that it is well accepted that the infamous poem is in fact inspired from his wife and cousin, Virginia Clemm. But this lore makes for one heck of a dark romantic tale!

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

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!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

Edgar only spent thirteen months on this small island that spands only a little over three miles. It’s quite clear however that it made quite the impact on his writing and the people of Sullivan’s Island are proud to honor that.

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