Edgar Allan Poe: Life and Locations

Posted on May 2, 2012 by peter bell

La Revue blanche by Félix Vallotton (1865–1925)

Edgar Allan Poe was an American poet and writer known for his brilliant grasp of macabre storytelling, his gift for the rhythm and beauty of language, and (less complimentary) the dangers of addictive personality with maniacal artistic temperaments.

What is often left out of the discussion is that E.A. Poe was one of the first Americans who strived to support themselves entirely as a writer. He treated literature with extraordinary importance, writing stacks of literary critiques. His passion for diverse subject matters helped fuel his distinct writings, and they in turn contributed to the creation of genres that we enjoy today: science fiction, horror, detective, and gothic fantasy.

Poe was outspoken on literature as an art form, and he publicly denounced those he saw as subverting its purity. This helped to win him public attention (in conjunction with his incredibly original poems and stories), but it also brought him his fair share of enemies. He publicly denounced one of the most beloved American poets at the time, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, as a plagiarizer. He railed against corrupt practices in book promotion and publishing. He once quit a successful magazine position because he thought the work was of “a namby-pamby character.”

Rufus Wilmot Griswold, the anti-Edgar

His strong opinions led to his character assassination immediately after his death by his literary executor, Rufus Wilmot Griswold. Griswold wrote an anonymous obituary depicting Poe as a drug-addled, drunken misanthrope, and the interpretation lasted for years. Griswold continued to systematically alter public perception of the writer as retribution for Poe’s outspoken opposition to literary corruption. It wasn’t until years later that the full scope of Griswold’s distortions, half-truths, forgeries and lies had came to surface. This depiction of Poe has become intertwined with his already fascinating biography.

Edgar Poe was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston, MA. The son of two actors, Edgar’s father abandoned the family, and his mother died by the time he was three. Poe moved to Virginia to live with his foster family, the Allans (who gave him the “Allan” of E.A. Poe). Edgar was sent to a number of prestigious boarding schools, and he attended classes at the University of Virginia. Low on money, Poe took to gambling to make ends meet. Edgar was financially cut-off by his foster father when John Allan refused to pay the fledgling writer’s gambling debts.

After quitting his studies at UVA, Edgar joined the military under the name Edgar A. Perry in 1827. He served for two years, and then attended the military academy at West Point for a year and a half until he was dismissed under threat of court-martial (his way of getting out of the academy).

Poe House, Baltimore- photo: Mitch LeClair

Poe moved to Baltimore, MD in 1832 to live with his grandmother, aunt, and his then 10-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm. The Baltimore Saturday Visiter awarded Poe a prize in October 1833 for his short story “MS. Found in a Bottle.” The story caught the attention of John P. Kennedy, an author and politician in Baltimore, who introduced Poe to the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond, VA. Poe began work at the periodical in 1835.

On September 22, 1835, Poe returned to Richmond and married Virginia; he was 26 and she was 13 (although her wedding certificate said she was 21). The Poes (Edgar, Virginia, and mother-in-law Maria Clemm) moved to Richmond, VA in 1835. Edgar worked as the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger from 1835 to 1837.

In 1837, the Poes moved to Philadelphia, PA. Edgar worked at a number of publications in the City of Brotherly Love: Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, Graham’s Magazine, and Philadelphia’s Saturday Evening Post. In 1838, Poe published The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, his only complete novel. In 1839, the collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque was published in two volumes.

In 1844, the Poes moved to New York City. By this time, Virginia was suffering from tuberculosis. The Poes lived in boarding homes during their time in NYC. At that time, publishing work took place on Nassau Street in the present-day Financial District of Manhattan. Gowan’s Antiquarian Bookstore at Nassau and Liberty Street was a popular hangout for the writers in the area. E. A. Poe worked at a number of periodicals in the neighborhood: The Sun newspaper, The Evening Mirror (where he first published “The Raven” in 1845), and The Broadway Journal (which he later ran, into the ground, until 1846).

In March of 1846, the Poes moved into a small cottage in Fordham, a rural area of the Bronx. Their time here was relatively happy- Edgar enjoyed drinking and gambling with the faculty of nearby St. John’s College (now Fordham University). Virginia eventually succumbed to consumption (TB) on January 30, 1847.

Illustration of “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Harry Clarke, 1919

According to some sources, Poe’s behavior deteriorated after the passing of Virginia. He spent time trying to court a poet and transcendentalist, Sarah Helen Power Whitman, as well as his childhood sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster. His drinking became increasingly problematic. On June 29, 1849, Poe began a lecture tour to raise money and interest in his projected magazine The Stylus. On July 1, 1849, he was arrested for public drunkenness and spent the night in Moyamensing Prison in Philadelphia, PA.

The circumstances surrounding Edgar Allan Poe’s death are filled with mystery. On September 27, 1849, Poe left Richmond, VA to travel to New York. He was to spend some time in Philadelphia, but he wasn’t seen again until he appeared on the streets of Baltimore- disoriented and semi-conscious. The usually dapper-dressed Poe was in ill-fitting, filthy clothes and a straw hat, and was unable to explain his appearance or mental state. There are some that claim he had been drinking at a tavern earlier in the evening, but Poe was found outside a polling place called Gunner’s Hall (also referred to as Ryan’s Tavern).

Poe’s uncle and physician were called to assist. They were shocked by his appearance and admitted him to the nearby Washington University Hospital– a particularly gruesome place. Poe’s treatment were ineffective, and he never fully regained consciousness. He died on October 7, 1849 at the age of forty.

Poe was buried in the Westminster Burying Grounds in Baltimore. Originally placed in his family’s lot, a monument was erected to his memory in 1875. Virginia Poe was exhumed from her New York burial place and interred next to Edgar Allan Poe and Maria Clemm. Today, the grave is a destination for fans of the gothic storyteller.

Boston, MA

Charlottesville, VA

Richmond, VA

Philadelphia, PA

New York City, NY

Fordham, Bronx, NY

Baltimore, MD

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