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.
This stop brings me to the city of Charlottesville in Virginia. It is here that Edgar attended the newly opened University of Virginia. In its second session, Poe was 136th of the 177 students that enrolled on February 14, 1826. He only attended two classes, The Schools of Ancient and Modern Languages. He excelled, having taken top honors in his final exams even without being known to spend much time studying.
University of Virginia in 1826
University of Virginia today
With his classes being only from seven until nine-thirty each morning, Poe had plenty of free time to meander around and participate in University activities. It was his membership with the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society that led to a Dead Poet’s Society kinda feels having several students regularly gathering around his small dorm room listening to private readings. His spirit, paired with his voice, and stories of hauntings and curses would send shivers to his peers.
Poe’s dorm room as it’s preserved
at University of Virginia
Unfortunately Poe left the University on December 15, 1826, and never returned. His stepfather, John Allan when enrolling him, did not fund him enough for his studies even after continued pleas from Poe. As a result, Edgar turned to gambling which did not come as natural for him as writing, leaving him with debt.
Today, within the University’s library in the WWW Exhibit, a letter is on display that was written by Poe and addressed to his stepfather dated September 21, 1826 talking about campus life, the continued construction of the campus including the famous Rotunda.
Within the Rotunda is a pane of glass taken from the window of Poe’s dorm room. Legend has it that he etched the following stanza before leaving the University.
O Thou timid one, do not let thy
Form slumber within these
For herein lies
The ghost of an awful crime.
Although his time was brief at the University of Virginia, it is known he began his writing for Tamerlane while a student and seems Charlottesville was a muse for another poem, A Tale of the Ragged Mountains. It is also thought that perhaps two lines from To Helen were inspired from the historic lawn of the University.