Philadelphia: Touring the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site
The Poet Lives in My Memory
by Habeeb Salloum
Ever since I was a teenager, I have been enamored with the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, one of America’s most famous poets. As a teenager I had memorized much of his poems such as The Raven, parts of which I still remember even in my old age.
When going for my walks I often recite such verses as this to myself:
“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
‘Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, ‘tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.'”
Today I had a feeling of elation as with my grandson, Laith, a budding star in the engineering world, I walked through the doors of Edgar Allan Poe’s National Historic Site – the former home of the poet-writer extraordinaire, located in the Spring Garden neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
My grandson described the atmosphere well when he remarked: “Now that we are entering Poe’s world you must be happy!”
“Indeed!” I grinned as I proceeded to take pictures of Poe’s mementoes, which consisted mostly of papers, photos, and writings relating to the author and his world. For me the place had an aura of poetry and stories imbued with a touch of a sinister that had inspired the initiation of the modern detective fiction story.
One of the world’s most renowned but controversial and unhappiest of the famous world poets, Poe was born in 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts, to parents who were stage actors.
In his short life span of forty years he became the most prolific literary journalist in U.S. history and was to become the master of hair-raising tales that pushed the boundaries which divide life from death, and a world-famous poet of his time.
A master of the macabre, his works first became well-known in Europe before his fame spread to America.
Poe’s life was not normal. It was full of tragedies. His father left the family when he was very young and his mother died when he was only a tot of three. A Richmond merchant, John Allan took Poe as one of his own children.
Poe took on the merchant family name as his middle name. However in later years he quarrelled with his beneficiary and broke up the relationship.
At one time Poe enlisted in the U.S. army then entered West Point, but was discharged four years later due to neglect of duty. Before this event and until his death, alcoholism, drugs and gambling caused many of the problems in his life.
At times he suffered from depression and even bouts of madness. Perhaps these afflictions gave him the inspiration for a number of his renowned works such as The Black Cat and The Pit and the Pendulum.
Poe was a man of the world of his day. He lived in England for a time and was partly educated in that country before returning to the U.S. to continue his studies at the University of Virginia.
His family life was no less tragic than the other incidents of his life. In his teens Poe fell in love with a girl named Elmira Royster and they became engaged, but her parents broke off the engagement and she was married to another man.
In 1836 Poe married his 13-year-old cousin Virginia Clemm. She became a virtual invalid six years after marriage then in 1847 died of tuberculosis. Poe, mourning her death, eulogized her in his poem Annabel Lee which included these lines:
“For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee…”
In 1848 Poe became engaged to Sarah Helen Whitman, but she broke off the engagement two days before the wedding because Poe did not keep his promise to give up alcohol. In 1949 he once again became engaged to Elmira who now was the widow Mrs. Shelton but Poe died before they were married.
It was early in life that the poetic abilities of Poe were first noticed. At that age he could recite verses of poetry. Later, one of his teachers in Richmond wrote that ‘Poe was a born poet who wrote genuine poetry’.
Poe wrote stories and poetry galore. One of his most famous poems is The Raven – for me, the most important of poems. A dark poem of lost love, it became a national sensation and brought him fame and recognition throughout the world.
The poem appeared and was reprinted in newspapers and periodicals across the country. As for me it is the poem that has always been with me from my youthful years.
Even in death, Poe was controversial. On his way to New York via Baltimore and Philadelphia from Richmond on October 7, 1849, Poe died in Baltimore and was buried in that city. Today some in Philadelphia think that his remains should be transferred to the city where he lived from 1837 to 1844 – the most productive years of his life.
During this span of his career Poe wrote some of his renowned stories relating to horror and the supernatural. He published 31 stories during his time in Philadelphia, from among which were: The Gold-Bug, The Tell-Tale Heart and The Murders in the Rue Morgue. Also, in this period he fulfilled his dream of having his own magazine.
However, even with all his literary connections with the city there is no indication that the moving of his remains will happen soon. Poe will rest in Baltimore while Philadelphia will continue to glorify his name and works.
All the stories about Poe and his works came to mind as we examined the mementoes of that giant of literary figure, reflecting on his far from happy life. The pleasant lady greeting the visitors at Poe’s Philadelphia home seemed to be truly enamored with his works. As she guided us she flowed with information about the poet and his eventful short life.
After stopping at the tiny gift shop located next to the entrance we left the house which has some additions added since the time of Poe. I felt fulfilled after the visit. Outside the door, I turned to my grandson, now a handsome young man in his early 30s, reciting this verse as I took a photo of a large statue of a raven on the outside of the site – a reminder of Edgar Allan Poe and his poetry:
“And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!”
For More Information, Contact:
Edgar Allan Poe’s National Historic Site
143 S. Third Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19106
Tel: Edgar Allan Poe House: (215) 597-8780
Fax: (215) 861-4950.
Philadelphia travel and tourism:
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