Richmond, Virginia’s Edgar Allan Poe Museum is home to the largest collection of Poe memorabilia in the world. Artifacts include items from Poe’s personal possessions, memorabilia such as posters and action figures, as well as manuscripts, first editions and letters. The objects provide insight into the life and work of Edgar Allan Poe.
Highlights from the collection include Poe’s childhood bed. The bed is just one of a number of pieces from Poe’s childhood home with John and Frances Allan, his foster parents. The bed was donated to the museum by the Raven Society in 1979. A daguerreotype portrait of Poe from 1848 is included in the collection. The photograph was taken just 4 days after a suicide attempt, 1 year after the death of his wife, when his proposal of marriage to the poet Sarah Helen Whitman was denied. The small photograph is just 3 inches in height, and survives after the original plate disappeared in 1860. The image was copied as a wood engraving in 1880 and published in an issue of Scribner’s Magazine, making it one of the most well known images of Poe. The museum includes a lock of Poe’s hair, cut from his brow after his death. The hair is attached to a piece of paper inscribed for authenticity. At least 50 of Baltimore’s leading citizens viewed the writer’s body after his death and clipped locks of hair for prosperity. The particular lock at the Richmond Museum was cut by John Snodgrass, a friend of Poe’s and a magazine editor. Snodgrass capitalized on Poe’s death in additional ways, by giving lectures on the subject in the years following. Poe’s walking stick inscribed with his name on the silver tip has been part of the collection since the museum opened in 1922. The walking stick was left at the home his friend, Dr John Carter, just two weeks before his death and was sold to the museum by the daughter of Carter’s caretaker. The museum’s collection includes a number of Poe’s original manuscripts, letters and first editions. Among these is Poe’s autobiography. The note was originally part of a larger letter that Poe had sent to Rufus W. Griswold, who was writing a book, The Poets and Poetry of America. The autobiography includes several lies and exaggerations, and demonstrates how Poe wished the public to see him, and why he had gained fame as a poet far before his most popular poem, The Raven, was published.
History: The Poe Museum began in 1906 as the Poe Memorial Association, founded by Poe collector and enthusiast James Howard Witty. In 1916 the group saved the remnants of the recently demolished Southern Literary Messenger building. The Messenger was where Poe began his career as a literary editor and journalist. Stones salvaged from the building were used to create pathways in the garden behind another historical building, Richmond’s Old Stone House. The garden became a shrine to Poe, and eventually, the Old Stone House became home to Witty’s collection of Poe memorabilia and possessions. The Poe Memorial Association is now the Poe Foundation, and the Shrine is now the Poe Museum. Today’s museum occupies not only the garden, but also three adjacent structures.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Events at the museum include “Unhappy Hours” which take place the last Thursday of each month. Unhappy Hours include food, drink and live music in the garden. The Museum welcomes the Holiday season each year with a garden illumination, including musical performances, hot cider and costumed interpreters who teach children what Christmastime was like while Poe was alive. The tradition of Literary Salons is alive and well at the museum. Authors are invited once monthly to lead discussions on their work and to workshop with other writers. Tours of the museum may be self-guided, or guided by audio-tour. Tours for groups may be arranged on a variety of topics. In The Tell-Tale Heart Mock Trial Tour guests enjoy a reading of the Tell Tale Heart, then split into mock groups of prosecutor and defense attorneys to decide if a person is guilty or not guilty by way of insanity. Walking Tours offer 50-minute strolls through Richmond to visit sites associated with some of Poe’s most famous short stories and poems. The Curator’s Corner Tour takes visitors on a behind the scenes look at some of the artifacts that are rarely on public display. Tours can be arranged for any sized group, although discounts only apply to groups of 10 or more.
1914-16 East Main Street Richmond, VA 23223, Phone: 804-648-5523
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