Travel Through Edgar Allan Poe’s Grim America
Eight places in the United States that draw the odd and sinister map that Edgar Allan Poe, tirelessly, traversed.
Edgar Allan Poe cast freezing air over all the places where he resided. And he really wandered the world, taken by a sort of yearning for movement or ghostly desire —characteristic perhaps of alcoholism— to be everywhere. Figures such as him, especially after death, have the agency to delineate maps over the official map we have in the background. Poe’s United States is enormous and is traversed under the light of a black sun that deluges places with his brilliant and grim nature.
So, if you want to journey across his eclipsed America, these are the places you must visit.
Poe’s dorm at the University of Virginia
Poe grew up in Richmond, Virginia, and then studied at the University of Virginia. Apparently, this was a place for privileged white boys, a group to which Poe never fully belonged. To pay for his studies and remain at the same level of opulence as his mates, Poe began to gamble. He would eventually have to quit school.
Today, the second dormitory in which Poe lived during the one year he attended university is open to the public. The décor is not original, but it remains faithful to what it would have looked like when the writer was alive. It is known as “The Raven Room”.
Fort Moultrie: Sullivan Island, South Carolina.
When he dropped out of university, Poe was forced —due to the enormous debt he left behind in Virginia— to leave Richmond altogether. He moved to Boston, where he published Tamerlane and Other Poems, and then he enlisted in The United States Military Academy, which proved to be very attractive to him since nobody had an identity there and it was an organization that moved from place to place.
Today, Fort Moultrie, one of the three forts where he resided, remains faithful to what Poe knew while he was there. His memories of South Carolina served as the location for “The Golden Beetle” and “The Oblong Box”.
United States Military Academy, West Point, New York
In the spring of 1830, he was accepted by the United States Military Academy in West Point. Today, visitors can see Poe’s Arch, a monument to his stay at this academy.
Hiram Haines Coffee & Ale House: Petersburg, Virginia
After being discharged from West Point, he spent a few months in New York, where he wrote “For Helen”. Slipping deeper into poverty, he returned to his aging father’s home in Baltimore, where he tried to live with family members. He was rejected by all of them, except for his widowed aunt Mary Clemm.
In Baltimore, Poe finally immersed himself in literature and published several works in the Southern Literary Messenger magazine, which forced him to move to Richmond. There he wed Virginia, whom was 13 at the time, and went to Petersburg for their honeymoon. They stayed on the second floor of the Hiram Haines Coffee & Ale House, located on 12 West Bank Street.
In 2012, the venue was reopened to the general public and they can eat and drink in the same building where Poe and his young wife spent their honeymoon.
Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Little is known about Poe’s life immediately after his marriage, but we know he left the magazine in which he published his work and, after a stint in New York, he moved to Philadelphia. He spent six years there and among the houses he lived in there is one that remains intact today: The Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site on 532 North 7th Street.
The house features exhibitions on the author, although most of the rooms are empty. This is where Poe wrote his famous short story “The Tell-tale Heart.”
Fordham Cottage: Bronx, New York
In 1844, Poe, together with Virginia and his Aunt Mary, left Philadelphia to move back to New York, where the poet began to edit the Broadway Journal. There, Virginia contracted tuberculosis and they had to move to a cabin on the outskirts of the city, in the Village of Fordham. Here Poe wrote one of his most successful poems: “Annabel Lee”.
Today the Bronx occupies what was once Fordham, but Poe’s cottage is still standing, relocated near Poe Park. It has been remodeled but still holds some of Poe’s and his family’s furniture, like a rocking chair, a mirror and Virginia’s deathbed.
Providence Athenaeum: Providence, Rhode Island
In 1847, Virginia died of tuberculosis. Devastated, Poe could not write for months and spent the following years bouncing up and down the East Coast. And although he never lived in Providence, he spent a considerable amount of time there in his last years, courting the poet Sarah Helen Whitman.
The library remains open to the public and has a special collection containing two medieval manuscripts and several rare editions of works by American authors such as Whitman and Melville.
Poe’s Tomb: Baltimore, Maryland
After disappearing for several days, on October 3rd, 1849, a delirious Poe appeared wearing rags outside a bar in Baltimore. He was admitted into a hospital where he died four days later. Upon his death he left much more than horror stories and poems for great readers who were yet to be born. His genius survives in spaces, and he sowed the seed from which a dynasty of outstanding authors emerged: Charles Baudelaire, Lovecraft, Mallarmé, Borges, to name a few.
According to the Poe Museum’s curator, only seven people attended his funeral. One of them described it as “The most cold-blooded un-Christian like thing [he’d] ever seen.” Poe was buried in an unmarked tomb, and remained there for 26 years until he was moved to a place of honor in the graveyard.
Perhaps out of all the places which Poe touched, this is the one that is most worth visiting. It is literally as close as we can get to the author, six meters above his bones.
Spaces, however, always keep the ghosts of the people who inhabited them. And Edgar Allan Poe’s was undoubtedly a special and sinisterly memorable one; one which remained in the walls and that, as we said before, cast freezing air over everything he touched.
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