As I hoped — and as I alluded to in Monday’s piece on Poe’s 200th birthday — I managed to make it to the Poe Museum during my visit to Richmond.
It’s a cozy, though curious, place. Given Richmond’s somewhat unstable history, there are few buildings standing that Poe lived in, worked in, or visited in his lifetime, so the museum makes due by setting up shop in an old stone house that dates from Poe’s era. Still, it’s a fine place to kick off your tour, which takes you through several old buildings and a garden with a Poe shrine.
The museum boasts “one of the largest collections of Poe memorabilia in the world, much of it now currently on display” — but it’s a somewhat odd, and sparse, collection. You’ll see, for example, Poe’s walking stick — left behind in a friend’s home his last night in Richmond — his childhood bed, his boot hooks, and a lock of hair clipped from his head shortly after his death in 1849. There are also several first editions on display, as well as facsimilies of handwritten manuscript pages.
There’s also a really interesting room-sized diorama of the City of Richmond during Poe’s time, giving you a good grip on where Poe lived and worked. Sadly, most of the buildings represented on the model have been demolished, including Moldavia, where Poe lived with his foster father John Allan, and Swan Tavern, where Poe boarded during his adult years.
Fortunately, you’ve still got a chance to touch a bit of Poe’s Richmond. Out on the garden sits a Poe Shrine, built from bricks and granite taken from the offices of the Southern Literary Messenger. Here it is, squatting on the north end of the “Enchanted Garden,” which was, for the most part, dead with winter when I visited it:
Nestled inside the shrine is a bust of Poe, with droopy eyes and an almost wry smile on his face:
I wrapped up my visit gazing at a small room full of various daguerreotypes of Poe, some of which were based on actual photographs, others based on idealized drawings of the man by artists who had never seen him. The new Poe postage stamp — which had been issued only days before my visit — was also proudly on display, and stuck on First Day of Issue envelopes with Richmond cancellations.
On my way out, on the recommendation of a Poe scholar, I purchased Kenneth Silverman’s Poe biography and browsed through shelves of Poe keychains, mouse pads, and T-shirts. And it took everything I had to not buy the way-cool Edgar Allan Poe action figure. Pull his string and he says “Reynolds!” and collapses!*
* Not really.
Complete with raven. Gotta like that. Poe still baffles me, but in a good way. Like Jorge Luis Borges, which I’m reading right now. I’d say he was way before his time, it’s just that I’m not sure when his actual time is. Great, but strange stuff.
Congrats on making it to the Poe Museum – what a fortuitous time to find yourself in Richmond, of all places! The great part of the museum there is their massive collection of first editions, including the gem of any literary collection “Tamerlane and Other Poems” (1827), of which only 12 are known to still exist. It’s still my favorite Poe museum!