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.
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.
i know not the lengths of this journey as time, unbeknownst to me, shall likely coil it’s precious and vile moments within the ruptures of my brokenness.
hear the tumultuous cries but leave me to dance in my seemingly motionless state
watch me glare into nothing yet as if the narration of my life is before me
grant me this nirvana where I shall run to the shadows for solace to bleed, to smile, to weep to laugh, to burn, to soar…
image of “Grief” taken from Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington DC. Sculpture created by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and listed on National Register of Historic Places. To read more about its elusive history read on…
So on my pursuit to retrace the steps of Edgar Allan Poe because well I can, I stumbled upon something of epic coolness.
Rock Creek Cemetery.
In the heart of Washington DC, Rock Creek Cemetery is the home to my reason for a visit, the final resting place of Rosalie Poe, sister to Edgar Allan Poe. Established in 1719, it is the home to many dignitaries as well as famous folks and owns the title of the oldest cemetery in the District of Columbia.
Upon entering the grounds with a trusty map in hand that I easily printed off their website, I easily found Rosalie’s headstone. Sadly I easily discovered it was but a small memorial against the beasts of beauty that surrounded the park-like cemetery.
I’ve always been fond of architecture and I don’t shy away from including funerary sculptures into that category. Except for me they take on a whole separate appreciation. The solemnity of them. The personal meaning that lies within each. The clear love and grief of its design that is almost staring back at you. It’s eerily beautiful. And when I began to meander about the well-groomed grounds of Rock Creek I came across many notable and breathtaking mausoleums, sculptures and tombstones that I want to share.
The first one that was more like a secret sanctuary was enclosed by walls of shrubbery that looked well cared for. Walking up the marble steps onto a square marble platform I discover this.
Of course I had to search the internet to find out what this eerily amazing piece was and who is buried here as you see it’s completely unmarked. I do love a good mystery and believe you me I already had a novel half way written.
What I found out was pretty cool. Amazingly enough this unmarked sculpture was built in 1891 and in 1972 was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Um, wow. I can see why though. Buried here is notable author Henry Adams and his wife, Clover. Heartbroken when his wife committed suicide, Henry sought out the skills of famed Irish artist, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and architect Stanford White to design a piece fitting for his wife. Over the years it has taken on the name as “Grief” from its many visitors from all over the country. However, Mr Adams left specific instructions in his will that there was never to be an inscription nor was the monument ever to be labeled with a title.
His vision was that of the Buddhist interpretation of nirvana, a state of being beyond joy and sorrow. I was easily in absolute awe of it and found myself sitting on the marble bench that surrounds it, meditating. Sigh. What a beautifully tragic love story. The love this man must have had for his wife and clearly heartbroken to want to make something so beautiful, so unique. I visualized him coming here, sitting, talking to her. I was mesmerized by her solemn beauty and had to get an up close look of her. It should be noted here that the intent of Saint-Gaudens was this not to be male nor female, but I like to imagine that it is her, his wife, trapped in her silent tomb.
Easily my most memorable piece throughout the whole cemetery I spent quite a bit of time here, captivated by the beauty, the meaning and the sadness.
Reluctantly, I continued my exploration, leaving this oasis and it didn’t take long to stumble upon another silent beauty and unlike Adams memorial, this was left to weather which I found remarkably symbolic.
Those eyes so real as if telling me their story, and the face as if covered in grief-stricken tears. Created by sculpture American, Gutzon Borglum “Rabboni” it is meant to depict that of Mary Magdalene and has a bronze marker on the back that reads:
THE END OF BIRTH IS DEATH
THE END OF DEATH IS LIFE
WHEREFOR MOURNEST THOU
This next one was a close second to the Adams Memorial and is simply titled “Memory” and designed by American sculpture William Partridge. The bronze panels along the granite bench that the mourning woman sits depicts Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Men.”
The only information I could get on this next one was that it was designed by artist Jules Dechin so I call it “The Raised Hand”
This one, the Frederick Keep Monument, I couldn’t find much information on other than it is designed by artist, James Earle Fraser.
Remaining are other images I captured throughout the grounds of various tombstones, monuments and intricate mausoleums.
Finally, the reason that brought me to this secret oasis, the tombstone of Rosalie Poe, which will undoubtedly be included in an upcoming post of my travels along the East Coast in search of Poe Places.
I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent in this oasis amidst the bustling streets of Washington DC . If you like history and are a fan of funerary sculpture or simply want to adventure somewhere off the beaten path, I would highly recommend a visit to Rock Creek Cemetery.