Edgar Allen Poe’s Turbulent Beginnings and Ominous Demise

Sitting alone in my hotel room, hunched over my keyboard, I heard a haunting moan. The sound seemed to come directly at me, out of the dark, from the barren street, just outside the sunken basement window. The wailing traveled with a fierce rush of wind. It was a prolonged, low, inarticulate sound. . . . something between a sob and an anguished pleading.

Winter storms were predicted that evening. I thought there must be a frenzied animal out there, anticipating the need to find shelter, and unsure of what it would find. Or perhaps the beast was warning others, broadcasting the incoming danger he sensed. Another gust of wind slammed large branches into the glass window, making me jump. Was there something more sinister out there?

In answer, I heard a tap, tap, tap behind me, on a smaller window across the room. What on earth was that? Traveling alone, in a strange city, I wondered if I’d remembered to lock the hotel room door. What was within arm’s reach, if I needed to defend myself? Was the howling emanating from some creature that was impossible to defend myself from?

Okay, now I was just getting into my own head, unnerving myself for no reason, after reading Edgar Allan Poe, and sipping fragrant red wing, earlier that evening:

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 someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—

            Only this and nothing more.” (The Raven)


Poe spent the earliest years of his life in Richmond, VA, where I was visiting for the week. Linden Row Inn, the boutique hotel I’d chosen to stay at, is named for the linden trees planted in a beautiful, private garden that formerly enriched and decorated that corner of the city. I took a deep breath, to calm my nerves, poured a bit more wine into my glass, and settled back into my work for the evening.

The property was owned by Charles Ellis, wealthy business partner to Richmond resident, John Allan. John and Frances Allan took young Edgar Poe into their care, when he was orphaned as a young child; Edgar would spent time playing in those gardens, with the Ellis children, surrounded by the linden trees.

“The author later referred to the property as Ellison, and local legend has it that this was the “enchanted garden” that Edgar Allan Poe mentions in his famous poem “To Helen.” (National Parks Service)

Edgar was never formerly adopted by the Allan family, and never managed to get along with his volatile foster-father. There was quite a lot of friction in the household – infidelity, withholding of affection, hostile attitudes, and dangerous words. It was not a nurturing environment, to say the least.

“Poe angrily fled the Allan home – essentially for good, as it would turn out – and, obviously still fuming, wrote his foster-father a letter the same day, announcing his determination ‘to find some place in this wide works, where I will be treated – not as you have treated me.” (The World of Edgar Allan Poe)

Linden Row, where the garden once grew, is comprised of 8 attached Greek Revival row houses, on Franklin Street, in historic Richmond. The red brick buildings, 3 stories high, were built between 1840 and 1860. The houses have matching covered porches, flanked by white columns, leading to the street-facing entrances. It’s a patriotic look, enhanced by the American flags hanging at each entrance today.

The historic buildings were saved from demolition, through the efforts of preservationist Mary Wingfield Scott, founder of Historic Richmond. The architectural integrity of the buildings is now protected and maintained by the group, and open to the public, as an operating hotel. The beautifully preserved Linden Row Inn is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is featured on the National Park Service website.


Through the decades, it has been put to use as private homes, for prominent citizens and influential Richmond families, and several times operated as a school for girls. Sections of the building were once used as basic office space, and for years the row houses we broken up into an eclectic arrangement of apartments, some with shared spaces, housing some of Richmond’s “Creative Class.” Musicians, artists, actors and comedians lived here, alongside journalists, filmmakers and photographers.

“Linden Row residents basked in the romance of living in a place that exuded the picturesque, storybook-like, antebellum South — with white columns, magnolia trees and wisteria gracing the street front. Broad, if dilapidated, multilevel porches, shared brick terraces, outbuildings and an enormous mulberry tree defined the back of the place.” (Bohemian Rhapsody)

This picturesque setting, and the garden that preceded it in Poe’s day, seems in stark contrast to the sinister, haunted themes that Poe took up in his writing. Rather than plotting, torture and revenge, Linden Row was a place of creativity, good manners and domesticity.

Notably, the row houses were once home to the school of Miss Virginia Randolph Ellet, whose early pupil was Irene Langhorne Gibson. “The Gibson Girl was the personification of the feminine ideal of physical attractiveness as portrayed by the pen-and-ink illustrations of artist Charles Dana Gibson –  early 20th century in the United States and Canada.” She was presented as a composite of “thousands of American girls.” (Wikipedia)

Gibson Girl

The interior of the Linden Row Inn is bright and lively, carved into 69 rooms, with a trendy “farm-to-table” café-style restaurant attached. The buildings have functioned as an inn since 1988, and are designated as a Virginia Green property, having implemented initiatives aimed at conservation of the planet’s resources. A brick courtyard features a fountain, and can be used for special events.

The innkeepers do make reference to the history of the location on their website, including Edgar Allen Poe’s childhood time spent in the area. A reusable grocery bag was hanging on the chair in my room. It features Edgar Allen Poe’s likeness, and reads: “Linden Row: A Great American Inn – Downtown Richmond, Virginia.


Poe’s literary style, however, was far from bright and lively. Instead, this writer, editor and literary critic is best known for his fascination is the macabre, and dark tales of mystery.

Although he grew up under the roof of wealthy foster parents, his start was rather different. He was the child of two actors, which was not a well-respected, reputable profession in 1809. His birth father abandoned the small family in Edgar’s infancy. His mother died a year later, of tuberculosis, and his absent father was gone from this earth shortly after.

Richmond’s Poe Museum chronicles Poe’s financially difficult life and career, moving between schools, the military, and making a living as a writer and publisher of poetry & prose. His career took him to Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City, where you can also find opportunities to tour museums, cottages he lived in, and national historic sites, recognized by the National Park Service.

Poe’s image can be found on magnets, postcards, posters, mugs, pens and figurines. There are t-shirts, stuffed ravens and cats, puzzles, storybooks, biographies and trinkets of jewelry. Playing cards, dice and board games attract a gaming crowd, while aprons, oven mitts and utensils are targeted at a more domestic audience. Edgar Allen Poe brings in big money, in the tourist retail business.

The Richmond site is a small museum, housed in Richmond’s oldest house, the Old Stone House. Preservationists, literary enthusiasts, and Poe collectors came together to construct a courtyard, a shrine, and a cluster of additional buildings that include building materials from the Southern Literary Messenger, where Poe once worked. (The Poe Museum)

Though small, I spent several hours at The Poe Museum, on a self-guided tour of the property. The historical accounts, artifacts from every period of his life, honorary statues and models of a Poe-era Richmond, filled my head with curiosity. I was intrigued, wondering about the contents of a mind capable of creating such elaborate stories of death, dismemberment, fear and the unknown.


Dark and foreboding, The Raven is one of Poe’s most well-known works, widely read and reproduced in a variety of formats. The tale has found its way into American pop culture. “Take thy beak from out my heart,” bemoans The Joker, in the 1989 Batman film, as the villain is played ominously by Jack Nicholson. Poe’s macabre poem continues – “and take thy form from off my door! Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’”

Lines from The Raven are recited by Homer Simpson in Treehouse of Horror (S02E03). Mad Magazine references the narrative poem, as does Donald Duck in Raven Mad, with a lurking black bird maddeningly repeating the famous phrase – “Nevermore.” You can even take your pick of ominous readings of Poe’s work:

Christopher Walkin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7G_fZYv8Mg

James Earl Jones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcqPQXqQXzI

Vincent Price: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuGZ_wp_i9w


Another of Poe’s famous tales, The Black Cat, is a most gruesome account of anger and abuse, mutilation and murder, fueled by alcohol. Mysticism envelopes the telling of the story, as a mysterious feline takes revenge for his own murder, by elaborately orchestrating the death of his abuser. Black cats have long held the reputation of being close companions to witchery. Poe plays with our fears, and suggests that we are not as alone in this world, going about our business unnoticed, as we might think we are.

When I visited the Poe Museum, I was entertained by a pair of black cats that were born on the property, named Edgar and Pluto – that’s not spooky at all! Care and feeding of the cats are taken on by the staff of the museum, and funded partially by donations in the gift shop, from sales of cat-themed merchandise. Poe had a great fondness for cats, and his writing highlights their strange power over humans.

The pair of felines clearly owned the place, including the garden courtyard, leading to a large bust of Poe, covered in various shades of lipstick, presumably the result of the admiration of his literary fans. The courtyard statue is actually a replica, which was created when the original bust went missing. In a strange twist original bust was recovered, and is now housed indoors.


“The stolen bust of Edgar Allan Poe has been found at The Raven Inn, missing nevermore. An unidentified man carried the bust into the bar about midnight Tuesday and ordered a mixed drink for himself and a beer for the bust. He scribbled Poe`s Spirits of the Dead on a paper bag and left before police — who he had apparently tipped — arrived.” (Sun Sentinel)

It’s not surprising to learn that a bit of a riddle surrounds Poes own death. Poe died at 40 years old, in 1849, under mysterious circumstances, after going missing for several days. He was found in Baltimore, in a stupor. Was it alcohol that did him in? He was known for having an extremely low tolerance. It might have been brain congestion, cholera or the use of illicit drugs. Some have suggested that he died of heart disease, rabies or tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis had taken his mother, as well as his cousin Virginia Clemm, who Poe married when she was just 13 years old. There are rumors of suicide, and theories of Poe being dragged into an elaborate scheme to manipulate the polls, in a local election. The Poe Museum has a special exhibit dedicated to the speculation around Poe’s death, and features a lock of hair that was taken for analysis, just after his death.

The mystery will likely remain just that, which seems rather fitting. Back in my hotel room, in Linden Row, I queue up the 2012 film, The Raven, staring John Cusack, as Poe. In the film, the famous author is called upon to assist in solving contemporary murders that appear to be using his writing as gruesome example. After about 30 minutes, I determine that this was not the most wise of decisions to make, as I am staying alone in a creaky old hotel, with storms still threatening outside my window.

James A. Jerritt was a 1965 resident of Linden Row, when it was rented out as an eclectic assortment of apartments, and home to an odd assortment of artists and other creative types. He described the culture of the place: “Nobody was impressed with himself — everybody had a Bohemian bent,” he says. You had to be, he says — “the way the place had been pieced together.”

John Hartmann rented the entire townhouse at 102 E. Franklin St. from 1980 to 1985 for his home and office. “I don’t know whether it was a mansion in the city or a firetrap in a high-crime district,” he says. (Bohemian Rhapsody)

I suspect Poe would have fit right in!

Join me on my next adventure,

~ Kat

Related Links:

National Park Service – Linden Row: https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/richmond/LindenRow.html

Historic Richmond: Building on History: https://www.historicrichmond.com/

Linden Row, 100-114 E. Franklin Street: https://www.historicrichmond.com/property/linden-row/

Gibson Girl: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gibson_Girl

Bohemian Rhapsody: https://www.styleweekly.com/richmond/bohemian-rhapsody/Content?oid=1373427

Edgar Allan Poe Museum: https://www.poemuseum.org/

The World of Edgar Allan Poe: http://worldofpoe.blogspot.com/2012/12/poe-and-john-allan.html

Sun Sentinel: http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1987-10-21/news/8702010105_1_bust-poe-foundation-edgar-allan-poe

Poetry Foundation: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/edgar-allan-poe

The Black Cat: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Cat_(short_story)

The Raven (see text below): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Raven

       read by Christopher Walkin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7G_fZYv8Mg

       read by James Earl Jones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcqPQXqQXzI

       read by Vincent Price: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuGZ_wp_i9w


The Raven

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.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;

And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow

From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—

For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—

Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;

So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating

“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—

Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—

This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,

“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;

But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,

And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,

That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—

Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,

And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”

This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—

Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,

Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.

“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;

Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—

Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—

’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,

In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;

Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;

But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—

Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—

Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,

“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,

Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,

Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;

For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being

Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—

Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,

With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only

That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.

Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—

Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—

On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”

Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,

“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store

Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster

Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—

Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore

Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,

Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;

Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking

Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—

What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore

Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing

To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;

This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining

On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,

But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,

She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer

Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.

“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee

Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;

Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—

Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,

Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—

On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—

Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!

By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—

Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,

It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—

Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—

“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!

Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!

Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

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!


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