Sunday, October 07, 2012

Spinster Travelogue: Poe in New York

This weekend I went traipsing around New York in search of Poe. The timing was appropriate -- not only is October 7th the anniversary of his death, but I am also in the midst of planning an E.A. Poe walking tour.

The only extant Poe dwelling in New York City is located in the Fordham section of the Bronx. It wasn't considered New York when Poe lived there (from mid-1846 to 1849) but rather a small village 13 miles out of town. Poe would instruct people to address letters to him at "New York City, because there is no post office at Fordham."

He liked the little cottage, and enjoyed the neighborhood. He made friends with professors at St. John's University (now Fordham University) and took long, rambling walks over High Bridge, which must've been fairly breathtaking at the time.

But all was not well, of course. Virginia's health worsened again during this period and she spent a miserable winter shivering in the drafty cottage. A visitor to the house was appalled to find her on a straw mattress with Poe's overcoat as her only warm covering; the family cat was sitting on her chest and seemed almost aware of its all-important body heat, and Poe rubbed Virginia's hands while Mrs. Clemm (her mother) rubbed her feet.

This kind visitor, a Mrs. Grove, took up a subscription when she got back home to the city and succeeded in procuring a feather-bed, warm blankets, and the aid of another well-off and kind-hearted lady, Mrs. Shew. Mrs. Shew was also a nurse by training, and she tended to the sick Virginia as best she could. Alas, on January 30th, 1837, Virginia died in this room:

It was rather incredible to see the cottage first-hand. The whole place isn't larger than my 400-square foot apartment, but one could imagine it being cosy and comfortable with a fire flickering cheerfully in the fireplace, and the warmth and comforts a little money could've provided to the family. But there weren't a lot of Sunday chicken dinners in this household. And there wasn't any fuel for the fire. The bareness of the house brings home the fact of Poe's poverty in a way that I think is very representative of what his reality would have been: there is no squalor here, merely a lack of the simplest necessities.

In any case, though the entire visit to the house took about ten minutes, it was worth it to get a first-hand sense of Poe's environs. I highly recommend a visit to any Poe fan who finds themselves in New York.

Two other Poe-related sites I just had to visit this weekend were the graves of Elizabeth Ellet and Rufus W. Griswold. These two flies in Poe's ointment now reside permanently in Green-Wood Cemetery, which is across the street from my home in Brooklyn.

Ellet was one of the "literary ladies" who caused Poe so much trouble in New York. There was some business about amorous letters she claimed Poe wrote to her that, frankly, I find too trivial to recount, but essentially she sent nasty anonymous notes to Poe's sick and dying wife and Virginia on her deathbed claimed that Ellet had been "her murderer." This jackanape has a fairly nice grave in Green-Wood, though I didn't get a great picture of it (it was raining, my iPhone camera sucks, and, well, I'm a crappy photographer).

Finally, the grave site of Rufus Griswold I found in an unmarked plot, so here's a rather unimpressive photo of a tree:

Nonetheless, an interesting little bit of Poeania, right here in my backyard.

Oh, and on an related note, I found one of the most exciting graves ever, simply by accident. It's such a great grave and such a great story that I'm actually going to save it for another post. So stay tuned for that, and in the meantime, in honor of the day, here is an interesting contemporary obituary over at World of Poe.

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