When I was in middle school, I was assigned Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Black Cat.” A long-time fan of felines, I was excited about it. When I reached one of the more gruesome parts of the story, I actually burst into tears. It was my first encounter with Poe’s macabre, and as a teenager, I wasn’t ready for it.
But then I read “The Gold Bug” and after I was assured that no more cats would be harmed, I moved on to his other short stories, most of which I now love, as well as his poetry. These days, I consider myself an Edgar Allan Poe fan.
The Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia
While in Richmond, Virginia, a while back, I stumbled across The Poe Museum. Poe lived in Richmond for thirteen of his forty years. Opened in 1922, the museum houses the world’s largest collection of Edgar Allan Poe artifacts and memorabilia.
The museum archives the life of one of the United States’ most famous authors and one of the country’s first to achieve international acclaim. Some have called Edgar Allan Poe America’s Shakespeare, and many authors hail him as their influence, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, Baudelaire, Tennyson, and Victor Hugo.
Poe’s Early Life & Influence
The first section of the museum is devoted to Poe’s early life, in which you learn about the early loss of his parents and life with his foster family. Another section reviews his early adulthood, which was filled with tragedy and difficulty. Though he attempted to support himself solely on his writing, he never made much money.
Though he never made a fortune, he influenced literature at home and abroad — lending inspiration to dark fiction, short stories, and science fiction. He’s often considered the inventor of detective fiction as well.
In fact, though I was unaware until this visit that he’d ever penned a novel, Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym inspired Jules Verne, author of works like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days, so much so that he wrote a sequel to it.
One of the saddest parts of the museum for me was learning about Poe’s first and last love, Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton. They fell in love as teenagers, but Elmira’s father broke off their engagement. She married someone else, and Poe married his young cousin, Virginia Clemm. Years later, when both Poe and Elmira were widowed, they reconnected. Elmira supposedly inspired many of his poems, including “Tamerlane,” “Song,” and of course, “To Elmira.” Tragically though, Poe died ten days before their wedding. Upon hearing of his death, Elmira wrote to Poe’s aunt that he had been “the dearest object on earth.”
I was also saddened to read about the many other tragedies in Poe’s life, like a foster family that didn’t always treat him well, his tendency to drink, and his constant difficulty in finding work to support himself. For such a literary genius, his life wasn’t easy.
Poe’s Writing Life
Another section of the museum contains a number of first prints of Poe’s works, plus his writing desk and snippets of his letters. (His handwriting was so neat and perfect.) All of these were under glass and off-limits for photography, but I always love seeing those sorts of things. More than a hundred years later and through the lens of a museum, it was apparent that writing was Poe’s life.
Poe in Pop Culture
The final section of the museum is an interactive series of exhibits dedicated to Poe’s continuing influence in culture. One section was a selfie booth with The Cask of Amontillado and skull props (yep, really), another featured paintings inspired by Poe’s works, and another was a room on cryptography with ciphers to solve and puzzles to play with.
Two black rescue cats named Edgar and Pluto also roam the premises. Pluto and I became fast friends, and he followed me all throughout my tour, even into one of the buildings.
Ultimately, I learned a lot about the life of Edgar Allan Poe, and I really enjoyed getting more personally acquainted with the prominent author.
In the Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building, a statue of Poe featured this inscription, which I thought summed up his life perfectly:
He was great in his genius;
Unhappy in his life;
Wretched in his death.
But in his fame he is immortal.
Visiting Information for The Poe Museum
Location: 1914-16 East Main Street, Richmond, Virginia, 23223
P.S. If you follow me on Instagram (@instathrog), check out today’s post for the very fun present I got from my in-laws which came from the Poe Museum gift shop. It’s amazingly nerdy and awesome.