Edgar Allen Poe was born in Boston Massachusetts and died in Baltimore Maryland, but it is in Richmond Virginia where he spent most of his adolescence. It is here where you will find The Poe Museum, a dedication to the life and work of one of the world’s most influential authors.
On our most recent trip to Richmond, we had the opportunity to visit the museum for an insider’s look into the life and influence of Edgar Allen Poe.
Who is Edgar Allen Poe?
I first learned about Poe in middle school when we were required to read a selection of his literary classics including “The Pit and the Pendulum”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, and “The Raven”. Based on these works, I was led to believe that Poe’s work was limited to a genre of dark macabre. This, however, is far from the truth in that Poe was an American writer, editor, and literary critic. His work extends beyond dark romanticism to include satires, science fiction, and detective fiction. In fact, Sir Author Conan Doyle, (another author from my childhood), credited Poe as a significant influence in his creation of the now iconic character, Sherlock Holmes. Furthermore, his works have influenced other specialized fields including cosmology and cryptography. These are just some of the little-known facts which we discovered at the Poe Museum.
The Poe Museum
The Poe Museum is located in the Shockoe Bottom neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia. Although the author never lived in any of the buildings which compose the museum, it is home to a large number of artifacts which once belonged to Poe or those close to him. The collection includes original manuscripts, letters and first editions of his work. There are also personal effects such as his childhood bed, mantle, and pictures.
The Old Stone House
The Old Stone House, built in 1730, is cited as the oldest original building in the city of Richmond. Because it has been occupied by the Poe Memorial Association since 1922, it is now more commonly known as the “Poe House”. As the first stop along the tour, this exhibit features pieces from Poe’s childhood. Glancing around the first floor of the Old Stone House, you will find haunting family portraits, handwritten letters, and original furnishings from his childhood home. On the right-hand side, lies his childhood bed along with a sign indicating his greatest fear as a child: the terror that he would wake up in the middle of the night to find a stranger standing over him in the darkness, lurking, and watching in silence. Again, this was new information to me, but it certainly shed light on the gothic nature of his writing for which he became famous.
The Memorial Building
The Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building was named in honor of Poe’s mother. This section of the museum commemorates Poe’s work and his growing influence around the world as an author and literary critic. The Memorial Building houses original manuscripts, first edition novels and a bust of the morose author. For those inclined to take a selfie on your trip, there is a life-size coffin which you are encouraged to step into and experience the claustrophobic terror which Poe describes in “The Premature Burial”. Also within the Memorial Building, is the original staircase from his childhood home. Follow these wooden steps to the second floor and you will find the library with a collection of Poe’s most famous works.
The North Building
The North Building centers in around his last days and mysterious death. In 1849, Poe was found intoxicated on the streets of Baltimore wearing clothes that were not his own. He was taken to the Washington Medical College where he died shortly after. With his disreputable reputation, it was unsurprising that newspapers reported Poe’s death as “congestion of the brain” or “cerebral inflammation”. These were defamatory euphemisms implying that his death was attributable to alcoholism.
The museum’s manager later revealed to us that the most common theory for Poe’s mysterious death was cooping. This was a form of electoral fraud in which political parties would round up citizens into a bar, load them up with drinks and force them to vote several times for their desired candidate. Each time, the citizen would return to the bar and change their clothing to appear as a different person when they cast their vote.
The Enchanted Garden
Located in the interior of the museum grounds is the Enchanted Garden which was inspired by Poe’s poem “To One in Paradise”. The garden incorporates stone benches from the Yarrington Boarding House, the site where Poe married his 13-year-old cousin Virginia. Ivy was taken from Eliza Poe’s gravesite and transplanted to the enchanted garden where it now serves as a border around the garden. Bricks were salvaged from the office of the Southern Literary Messenger, Poe’s employer, and now compose parts of the Memorial Building, North Building, and the walkways along the garden. The most poignant highlight of the garden is the Shrine which houses a bust of Edgar Allen Poe.
Visiting Richmond’s Poe Museum
If you enjoy good storytelling with a dark and eerie twist, the Poe Museum is a must. Listen to the wooden floorboards creak beneath your feet while you read excerpts from “The Raven”. Climb the century-old staircase to get lost in the gothic literature of Edgar Allen Poe. Gaze into the eyes of a haunting portrait while one of the resident black cats brushes against your leg. You are almost guaranteed to feel a shiver down your spine during your visit.
The Poe Museum is a museum located in the Shockoe Bottom Neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia, dedicated to the American writer Edgar Allen Poe. It houses and displays the largest collection of Poe memorabilia in the world.