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 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 visit which I hope to do in the future.
This stop brings me to the city of Richmond in Virginia. Edgar spent most of his life here and even though he was born in Boston he always considered Richmond to be his home when asked. This city bleeds the history of the macabre master and it just so happens my nearest and dearest friend lives here so she was able to share the day with me as I dragged her around the city streets and a few cemeteries (we’re talking me here) searching for remnants of his life.
My first stop was that of St, John’s Episcopal Church It boasts the recognition of being the oldest church in Richmond and happens to be the place of a famous speech in history. “Give me liberty or give me death!” Sound familiar? Yeah it does to me. I had to memorize that damn thing in fifth grade from beginning to end. Pretty sure I could still recite it on point. I’ll spare you the test….
So yeah, none other than patriot, Patrick Henry delivered his speech here right before the start of the Revolutionary War. Side note here..when I was fourteen I was honored by the Daughters of the American Revolution with a piece I wrote. Just thought I’d add that, clearly on a factual basis bordering I know any sort of significance to this. Not looking for cool points at all. Nope.
So even though me and Patrick go back, wayyyy back, that’s not what brought me here. The graveyard does. Duh. Of course. It just so happens that it is the final resting place of Edgars’s mother, Elizabeth Arnold Poe. His mother, while performing in Richmond with a theatre company, took ill and died. Now much like Edgar’s original unmarked grave, his mother in death wasn’t respected very well either. Because she was an actress, a thought tawdry profession for a woman of that time, and although she was rightfully respected for her talent, she was placed in the back of the graveyard, in an unmarked grave and the service, held at midnight. And they wonder why Edgar was so dark….
Thankfully a memorial was placed at the back of the churchyard, although it is uncertain as to exactly where her remains are located.
My next stop was a home located just across the street from the church. A home that was thought Edgar would frequent after visiting his mother’s grave. The home of a known love interest, a girlfriend and later in life a fiance. The home of Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton. In the picture below it is the large brick building to the right.
As a teen, Edgar would find love with Elmira but unfortunately her father did not approve and sought to keep them apart. The two were a couple at the time Edgar left to study at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville but by the time he’d gotten back, two years later, Elmira was married to another. Later in life however when Poe returned to Richmond after the death of his beloved Virginia, fate found them together once again. Elmira,now a widow, renewed her relationship with Edgar and soon agreed to marriage. Unfortunately they never married as he died shortly after her acceptance to his proposal. It can not go unsaid that Elmira joins the fairly long list of love interests for the poet and she is believed to be the inspiration behind “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee” although there is a bit of a controversy with the true inspiration behind Annabel Lee, which will take me to a small island off the coast of South Carolina in another journey.
My next stop takes me to the spot where one of Edgar’s childhood homes once stood. The home of his foster-father John Allan. He, along with his wife, Francis took Edgar in to their home upon his mother’s untimely death when Edgar was just barely three years old. The home, much like many of the other homes and buildings significant to Edgar’s life has been demolished. What remains is a plaque commemorating the spot in 1907.
There is another home that is of significance to the Poe fan that actually still stands. It is the childhood home of who is believed to be Edgar’s first love. That of Jane Stith Craig Stanard. She was the mother of a school friend of Edgar’s and it’s believed his poem “To Helen” was dedicated to her. Of course this love was thought to be more a “puppy love” perhaps finding in her what he never had, a mother. Unfortunately she joined the list of women that left him early in his life. She died when Poe was just fifteen and upon her death he is noted saying “she was the first purely ideal love of my soul” and “the truest, tenderest of this world’s most womanly souls, and an angelt o my forlorn and darkened nature.” La sigh…
Of course if you are a fan of Edgar Allan Poe and you are in Richmond, Virginia then you know about the Poe Museum. The museum that boasts the world’s largest and finest of Poe memorabilia, manuscripts, letters, first editions and personal belongings. Also known as…the jackpot baby!
This by far is where I spent most of my time during my traipsing through the streets of Richmond. Located in the Old Stone House, the museum is just blocks away from another childhood home of Edgar’s. And this stone house is the oldest building in Richmond. Where’s my ghost equipment when I need it….
Even upon first walking in its as if you step back in time. Poe’s time. If the model of the entire city of Richmond during Poe’s time doesn’t stop you in your tracks, then perhaps Poe’s walking stick he accidentally left behind at a friend’s home, or the key found in his pocket when he died that later was discovered unlocked his travelling truck that held what few possessions he had. Or maybe his clothing, or wait maybe a lock of his hair! The collection is endless nearly and quite certainly took me quite a while to peruse with absolute pleasure. I’m not going to lie. I was like a kid in a candy store!
Walking the streets of Richmond I made my next stop at what is now Monumental Episcopal Church erected as a memorial at the site of the tragic fire at the Richmond Theatre where it just so happens Edgar’s mother Elizabeth performed at. The Allan’s, Edgar’s foster parents, were members of the church and would sit at Pew number 80 which has been memorialized for them. Unfortunately the church was not open to the public at the time of my visit, therefore I was only able to snap a picture.
Continuing on my journey, I found myself at the grounds of Virginia’s Capitol Building. It is here that a sitting statue of Edgar rests in Capitol Square, erected in 1958.
Of course at some point I had to eat right? Now because my dearest friend lives in Richmond, I often frequent the city and it was on a separate occasion that we stopped at a little family owned restaurant that the locals love. A place quite fitting for any Poe fan. Poe’s Pub. Unfortunately I’d find that while the restaurant bares the poets name, that is where the connection ends. Other than a single framed picture of Poe on the wall and “Raven Fries” on the menu, there is nothing else about this place that was reminiscent of the macabre master. However the food was excellent. I recommend the salmon and shrimp with fried green tomatoes and spinach. Most divine!
My final stop this day would be that of Shockoe Hill Cemetary. It is here many of Edgar’s loved ones found their final resting places.
Richmond by far holds the most history in its homes, in its streets and I’m certain in the hearts of its people of Edgar Allan Poe. I intend on going back to the few places I wasn’t able to cover this day to make this visit complete.
Thanks for reading and please make sure to check out my other installments of Poe Places on my blog.