“As a literature student in India, I never dreamed I’d visit the residence of Edgar Allan Poe, one of my favorite authors, in Philadelphia.”Our guest author, Medha Bhatt from NeoTravellers, brings us the story of her visit to the residence of Edgar Allan Poe in Philadelphia.
How I Got to Visit the Edgar Allan Poe House in Philadelphia
After I graduated, corporate life, daily chores and a mundane routine kept me busy until finally I got a break when my company decided to send me abroad for some work in 2016. I decided to make the most of this opportunity. It turned out to be the year of dreams coming true. First, I got to visit London and see Macbeth at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. After that, I found myself reliving moments in one of my favorite author’s life at the 19th century Edgar Allan Poe house in Philadelphia. The Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia is the only surviving home of Edgar Allan Poe in the city.
This story is about my visit to Philadelphia. I have long been fascinated by this city in particular because of several popular references to it in music, whether a song from Bruce Springsteen or Mark Knopfler. Philadelphia is rich in culture and history. But aside from the Reading Terminal Market (because I’m a big foodie!), the biggest priority on my interest list was to visit the residence of Edgar Allan Poe. As a student of literature in India, I became a big fan.
Similarities between Poe and Dickens
Reading and studying the 19th century utilitarian philosophies of Charles Dickens had made me believe that all writers suffer misery at some point in their lives. For me, Poe’s struggles with deprivation and loss epitomized this belief.
Both authors endured extreme hardship in their younger years: at the age of 12, Dickens was sent to work in a blacking factory to support his mother and siblings. This was a result of his father’s sentence to debtor’s prison. Poe had an absentee father as well; at the age of two, his mother died, and he and his siblings were sent to foster homes. This shared sense of abandonment and betrayal would appear in the bleak overtones of their literary efforts later in life.
In the late 1830s, Dickens had a pet raven named Grip, which eventually appeared as a character in his novel, Barnaby Rudge, published in 1841. Poe was amused, and obviously later inspired, by this.
Visiting the Edgar Allan Poe Historic Site
I had imagined the Edgar Allan Poe house to be a one-room shanty, with his clothes and furniture on display. But oh, I was so wrong. The house was neat and tidy on the outside, built in a pleasing colonial-era style. Two attached homes built after the Poes left Philadelphia have been converted into Visitors Center and retail space. I hadn’t realized prior to my visit that the house had been designated a National Historic Site! Visitors who are history and literature buffs will be delighted, as I was!
I fell in love with Poe during my late teens, and visiting his house seemed too good to be true. It may have been my imagination, but it seemed there was an eerie vibe or melancholic atmosphere at the site.When I reached the house, I was disappointed to see that the outside was under renovation. However, I managed to peek into the covers and get a glimpse of the statue of The Raven in the side yard. Just when I thought the house was closed, a sweet lady opened the door and welcomed us. And the best part – the free entry!
In the entry, a large painting (similar to fresco) of Poe overlooks a well-stocked souvenir shop where people were buying all kinds of Poe-themed merchandise. I was still trying very hard to convince myself that I wasn’t sleepwalking in a dream come true when suddenly a middle-aged man beckoned. Not sure whether he was one of the characters in Poe’s poetry come to life, I approached almost as if I had been hypnotized by the spirit of Poe himself.
Amid stares from a dozen pairs of eyes, I sat down to watch a 10-minute video on Poe’s life. This was followed by a guided tour of the house. The 45-minute tour was led by a National Parks Ranger, who discussed the author’s life in the house, as well as the writing he did during that time. As what might be considered a Poe super-fan, I was captivated, and I often relive this inspiring and dream-like tour.
Is the Poe House in Philadelphia Haunted?
Poe’s house in Philly is comprised of three stories with a cellar. It is believed that Poe rented the house early in 1843 and and lived here with his wife, Virginia, and her mother, Maria Clemm. Paying the rent was a challenge along with other trying circumstances, even though the National Park Service site describes the six years Poe lived in Philadelphia as his “happiest and most productive.” While here, he served as editor and critic for the highly regarded Graham’s magazine, and wrote several of his most famous stories: “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The House on the Rue Morgue,” “The Mask of the Red Death,” and others.
The Poes called this residence home for only a very short time. The little family relocated to New York in 1844; Virginia’s health was deteriorating as she struggled with tuberculosis. In two years, she would succumb, and three years thereafter, Poe would be dead at the age of 40.
I found the basement cellar to be the most interesting part of the house. It is the place where Poe is believed to have written his famous poem “The Black Cat.”On the rugged wall, you can see a terrified “stuff-toy” black cat. This dingy cellar evokes the macabre atmosphere and feeling of horror and mysteries in Poe’s works, which were bleakly Gothic and darkly romantic. The setting seemed analogous to Poe’s own life, which has been shrouded in mystery ever since his death.
What Can Visitors See and Learn at the Edgar Allen Poe House?
While touring the house, the park rangers narrate how Poe dealt with family poverty, Virginia’s grave illness and his own anguish. Poe’s personal demons appear to have had their genesis in feelings of abandonment: his mother died when he was in his early childhood after his father had disappeared, and he had a stormy subsequent paternal relationship with a stern foster father.
The house is empty and contains paintings illustrating how the rooms would have looked when Poe lived here, although it is believed he sold all his furniture to move to New York. Thus, even though the house is empty and does not contain any family belongings, some of their things have been recovered and can be seen at the nearby Free Library of Philadelphia.
The house does have a reading room decorated using Poe’s theories in “The Philosophy of Furniture.” This is the only furnished room in the house. The room is not part of Poe’s original home and shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that there was anything similarly decorated while he lived in the house. But, it is delightful for his fans as it includes a complete collection of Poe’s works, including criticism, and audio interpretations.My visit to Philly was an unforgettable experience. It was such a thrill to learn and see first hand how Poe’s residence in Philadelphia inspired his creativity, and similarly, it was easy to understand that aspects of Poe’s life mirrored those of many fictional characters of the time as well as his literary peers.
Author Bio: My name is Medha Bhatt. I am a storyteller by heart and want to tell my travel tales in every way possible. I believe that every place has a story. I dream of creating a community where people can share their travel experiences. In pursuit of my dreams, I have created a travel community of bloggers and storytellers!