Among the many historic and cultural centers across Richmond is the Edgar Allen Poe Museum, dedicated to the famous American writer who spent a large portion of his life in Richmond. Much of the museum focuses on the life of Poe and his collected work while highlighting the relationship that the famous author had with both the city of Richmond and the work that he crafted. One of the interesting infographics in the museum highlights the fact that Poe never actually lived within the building, but despite this, it is still integral to the identity in which he crafted in that it still presents a living testament to the work he crafted and character that he was.
Upon immediately entering the museum, it’s evident that there is a large presence in terms of preservation of the work that Poe crafted during his life. The museum advertises that it has one of the most prominent and largest collections of original works, such as letters, manuscripts, first edition writings, personal belongings and other forms of memorabilia in the world. Another element of the museum that is prominent is the overall size of the collection of works and the relationship that he had with this work. In terms of historical and cultural significance, this museum reflects the prominence that Poe held as a pivotal member of American literature and the impact that his work had.
Poe is often regarded as the progenitor of Romanticism in America, and the essential father of detective fiction. The work that Poe crafted inspired generations of authors and helped to cultivate a type of prose that has come to define much of the conventions of fiction and science fiction. The museum is a testament to the legacy that he left as it captures the essential spirit and nature of Poe and the work that he crafted, as well as dedicates a lot of attention to the more minute facts and details of Poe’s life which are often overlooked. The museum itself is contained within a building known as the “Old Stone House”, which was constructed around 1740 and in turn is cited as being the oldest building in Richmond.
This is a part of the appeal to the building as it embodies many trappings of the era and a subsequent nostalgic effect surrounds the atmosphere of the museum and the pieces which are contained within it. As Keisha Case highlights in Edgar Allan Poe In Richmond, the museum’s appeal is a juxtaposition between “providing fans of Poe’s work with detailed, calculated bits of nostalgia and giving those unfamiliar with his work the opportunity to understand why his fans adore him so.” (Case, 31) As Case understands, the nature of the exhibit stands in stark comparison to the work of Poe and the distinct nature of his art as a reflection of both the period he lived and the society surrounding him.
The Old Stone House itself is a testament to this characteristic and the distinct impact that Poe had– while Poe was originally from Boston, much of his life was spent in Richmond and the site is important in that it stands a few blocks away from both where Poe lived and where the site of his first job was located in the city. Upon taking a tour through the building, it is evident the impact that Poe had on the city and the culture of writing itself. (Case, 31) Case continues to make the assessment of this in devising the importance of the exhibits which are displayed and the frequency of various pieces of his work in reflection to the very history of Richmond itself.
As Case recognizes, the Old Stone House came to prominence after Poe’s centinnial in 1909. After this event, several residents within the city of Richmond came to campaign for the city to recognize the works and life of the writer. (Case, 33) Case goes on to state that “there was a severe conflict of interest in the original development of a testament to Poe’s work, as the city originally denied the construction of a monument for him on the grounds that they believed he was a character of disreputable nature. This conflict of interest came to be the reason as to why the museum came to be originally.” (Case, 35) In Case’s study, the effects of Pope’s work and his prominence are duly noted and highlighted, as in this event when the integral formulation of ways to preserve his character were being discussed, the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities even came into play in 1911. (Case, 31)
This relationship was cultivated and allowed for the museum attendees to devise ways to preserve the house for the use of the site for Poe. The significance of the location continues to represent its relationship to Poe and his life, as Case notes, it is located merely a few blocks away from the grave of his mother Eliza, who happens to be buried in the graveyard located at St. John’s Church. (Case, 31) Again, this is an instrumental facet of the museum itself as much of the location and many exhibits are dedicated to the personal relationship that Poe had with his mother and the rest of his family, as well as the parents he had who essentially adopted him. While it was never made official, this adoption by the Allan family had a large effect on Poe and the way that he developed as a writer. (Case, 33)
The exhibit dedicates several pieces and documents found on Poe’s behalf to this aspect of his relationship, among many of the others. As detailed by Mary E. Phillips in her work, Edgar Allan Poe: The Man, the personal relationships that Poe had were of large prominence to the way that he devised his literature. The complex relationship that he had with his foster father, as Mary E. Phillips discusses, was a large part of the way that Poe approached his work and the complications which arose within his personal and professional life that came to define how he would approach the subject matter that he did. (Phillips, 1525)
As Phillips says, “Poe’s life was one which saw many struggles and tribulations– between abuse of drugs and alcohol, personal loss and financial burden, there was a constant period of turmoil that Poe faced and this tumultuous existence predicated and established the person he became, and the characters that he wrote about.” (Phillips, 1527) Poe’s work ushered in a vastly different approach to fiction and to writing in itself. The exhibit does a wonderful job in analyzing the different components of Poe’s life and constructing them in a cohesive manner. The parlor section of the Old Stone House is utilized for displaying furniture and other historic pieces from the era in which Poe and his sister lived. One of the central pieces in this room is a piano that Poe’s sister owned. (Phillips, 1526)
From there, the Model Building displays many elements which indicate what Richmond would have appeared as during the era that Poe lived there, including a gallery that has the furnishings from when Poe lived there as a child. (Phillips, 1525) Also, the Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building has many renditions and edits of works that Poe had, including an 1845 version of “The Raven” and one of only 12 known remaining versions of Poe’s collection Tamerlane and Other Poems. The attention to detail is evident in this section as there are many individual pieces of Poe’s clothing. In general, the museum is passionately dedicated to the preservation of Poe’s image and the way in which he historically lived and interacted. (Phillips, 1526)
The museum itself is a stark rendition of the different elements of Poe’s life, highlighting the significance of his contributions to modern literature and society. The museum itself is delicately constructed to portray many aspects of Poe’s life and the inspirations he had. As a result, the museum itself stands as a large testament to the caring nature of the Richmond community towards preserving the historic legacy of a man who helped to shape much of modern thought and art.
- Case, Keshia A.: Edgar Allan Poe in Richmond, Charleston etc., 2009, p. 31-35
- Phillips, Mary E. : Edgar Allan Poe: The Man. Chicago: The John C. Winston Company, 1926. p. 1524-1527