Day Nine in Richmond we explored the macabre. The Poe Museum was calling our name. Most of us probably know that Edgar Allan Poe wrote the famous poem, “The Raven.” I remember one of my elementary school teachers reading “The Raven” to us at Halloween, turning the lights out to set the mood. The Poe Museum was a chance to learn more about this fascinating author.
The Poe Museum is located in a group of small historic homes. You enter through the gift shop and pay a small admission fee ($6). You guide yourself through the museum with the help of a printed guide. The tour starts with a room full of furniture from Edgar Allan Poe’s childhood home (or similar period pieces). Next, you wander into a courtyard garden that was designed to reproduce the garden described in Poe’s poem “To One in Paradise.”
From the courtyard, the exhibits continue in three other small buildings. One of the buildings includes a staircase salvaged from one of Poe’s residences. There are first editions of his books, some of Poe’s clothes, photographs and artwork inspired by Poe’s writings.
I knew almost nothing about Poe going into this museum. He was quite a fascinating character and had a very hard life. He was orphaned at 2, separated from his brother and sister and went to live with a wealthy family (the Allans) in Richmond. He was a bright student and talented athlete but was known to be moody and temperamental. One classmate described him as: “Not steadily kind or even amiable.” He attended college at the University of Virginia. While there, he wrote letters to his intended fiancé, Elmira Royster but she never received them as her father burned them, deeming Poe an unfit suitor. Poe had to drop out of college due to lack of funds.
He entered the Army as an artificer (an explosives expert) and excelled in this role too. He became an officer at West Point but again could not finish his training due to financial strain. Apparently at that time, if you advanced in position in the Army, you had to pay a substitute to take over your previous job! Poe could not make these payments and ultimately got himself intentionally dismissed from West Point.
The ladies loved Poe and his romantic poetry and Poe loved the ladies. Poe married his first cousin who was only 13 years old at the time. She died of tuberculosis at age 24. Poe probably had affairs with numerous women (although the museum does not say this explicitly). At one point, Poe was uninvited from a society dinner because he had engaged in inappropriate correspondence with several married women. Many of the artifacts in the museum came from women who had meticulously saved them and passed them down within their families.
Poe began his formal literary career as the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger. At the time, Southern authors were viewed as inferior by writers in New York and Boston. Poe was out to change that impression. His specialty was penning scathing book reviews. For example, in one review, Poe advises a poet that he has no right to call himself a poet and advises him to shoot himself! It was said that Poe only read books “to ridicule their authors.” Poe earned many literary enemies from his reviews.
Poe went on to pen famous poems like “The Raven,” but never seemed to profit much from his work and struggled financially throughout his life. At the time, international copyright did not exist and Poe’s poems were widely reprinted in Europe without his permission. Poe became famous in Europe even though he never visited there. Poe inspired Jules Verne and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as well as the artists Matisse and Gaugin. Alfred, Lord Tennyson called Poe “the most original American genius” and Victor Hugo revered him as the “prince of American literature.”
Poe is credited with numerous literary innovations. He was a “master of the macabre” and a character’s descent into madness is the central theme of many of his works. Poe was among the first practitioners of the modern science fiction story. Poe also is credited as the inventor of a new literary genre- the detective story. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was inspired to create the Sherlock Holmes detective stories after reading Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue.
Poe never had children. At the end of his life, he rekindled his relationship with the newly widowed Elmira Royster, his first love. They were engaged to be married but Elmira’s children opposed the union. Elmira was willing to marry Poe despite the threat of losing nearly all of her inheritance from her first husband. Poe died mysteriously at age 40 in Baltimore.
After Poe’s death, Rufus Griswold, Poe’s literary rival, wrote an obituary for Poe intending to defame him. The obituary had the exact opposite effect, heightened public interest in Poe and created the Poe mystique.
One of the best parts of the Poe Museum was the gift shop. Someone has been very clever in the shop’s selections and there is an etsy-like vibe to it. You can find steampunk Poe items, clever items from the The Unemployed Philosophers Guild, mustache-related items and even absinthe lip gloss. I purchased a few reproductions of Poe’s writings in his own hand.
We picked up my daughter for lunch and decided to check out Great Shiplock Park in downtown Richmond.
When we arrived, we learned that the park is currently under construction and a new and revamped park is scheduled to open sometime in the next year. There wasn’t much to see but we found a nice spot to sit down to eat lunch and throw stones in the water.
After lunch, we walked on the nearby trails and found some gorgeous wildflowers growing in the shady forest. I am not sure if these were purposely planted. I have never seen a collection growing this densely.
Great Shiplock Park is the extreme end of the Canal Path so we decided to walk that. My daughter remembers walking the canal path with me last year. It was hot and the canal path is quite long. There was a lot of whining along the way. We stopped frequently for water and shade breaks.
I kept my daughter going by promising that we were on our way to see the fun sculpture of the canal locks with running water. When we finally reached the sculpture, we learned that the city had turned off the water to it and the sculpture was dry. This went over well . . . . not.
We kept on the path and found Brown’s Island. We saw the Christopher Newport cross and the graffiti wall and then my children told me they had had enough. I never manage to make it all the way to the end of the canal path. I don’t think it goes too much further beyond the graffiti wall but that is always the spot where my kids give up and we need to turn back. Something to look forward to next year, I suppose.
We retraced our steps in the heat and closed our touring with a chance discovery of another awesome wildflower growing in clumps near the train tracks.