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EDGAR ALLAN POE - BIOGRAPHICAL LOCATIONS

Updated: Apr 18

Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809. The American writer, poet, editor and literacy critic was best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre. He is widely regarded as a central figure of Romanticism in the United States, and of American literature. Poe was one of the country's earliest practitioners of the short story, and considered to be the inventor of the detective fiction genre, as well as a significant contributor to the emerging genre of science fiction. Poe is the first well-known American writer to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career.


Poe died in Baltimore on October 7, 1849, at age 40, under mysterious circumstances. The cause of his death remains unknown, and has been variously attributed to many causes including disease, alcoholism, substance abuse, and suicide.

 

SULLIVAN'S ISLAND

DATE(S) VISITED: APRIL 11, 2022
LOCATION: CHARLESTON, SC
MAP

Sullivan’s Island is a two and a half-mile long barrier island near the entrance of the Charleston Harbor. The island was settled in the late 17th Century by Captain Florence O'Sullivan while he was stationed as a lookout. It has a strong military background having been the site of a major Revolutionary War battle, The Battle of Sullivan's Island, as well as being involved in the first shots of the American Civil War.


Poe arrived on Sullivan's Island in November 1827, and though he only spent a year and a month in the Lowcountry, he certainly left his mark on Sullivan’s Island, and the island apparently had quite the effect on him too, providing the setting for at least three of his stories: The Gold Bug, The Balloon Hoax and The Oblong Box. Pirates such as Stede Bonnet and Black Beard had roamed the coastline in the early eighteenth century, and so rumors of buried pirate treasure were abounded. Poe certainly would have been aware of these legends and he wove them into The Gold Bug.



Poe describes Sullivan's Island in detail in his story The Gold Bug:


This island is a very singular one. It consists of little else than the sea sand, and is about three miles long. Its breadth at no point exceeds a quarter of a mile. It is separated from the mainland by a scarcely perceptible creek, oozing its way through a wilderness of reeds and slime, a favorite resort of the marsh-hen. The vegetation, as might be supposed, is scant or at least dwarfish. No trees of any magnitude are to be seen. Near the western extremity, where Fort Moultrie stands and where are some miserable frame buildings, tenanted, during summer, by the fugitives from Charleston dust and fever, may be found the bristly palmetto; but the whole island, with the exception of this western point and a line of hard, white beach on the seacoast, is covered with a dense undergrowth of the sweet myrtle… - The Gold Bug ~ EAP


Even some of the streets on the island have been named after Poe and his stories in tribute to the writer.


 

FORT MOULTRIE

DATE(S) VISITED: APRIL 11, 2022
LOCATION: CHARLESTON, SC
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Unable to support himself, Poe enlisted in the US Army as a private in May 27 1827, using the assumed name Edgar Allen Perry. He claimed he was 22 years old even though he was only 18. On October 31 of that year, he and his brigade set sail for Charleston, where he would be stationed for the next year at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island. He was a clerk at the Fort, probably because he would have been one of the few enlisted that could read and write, and he eventually achieved the rank of Sergeant Major for Artillery (the highest rank that a non-commissioned officer could achieve)..


 

EDGAR ALLAN POE LIBRARY

DATE(S) VISITED: APRIL 11, 2022
LOCATION: CHARLESTON, SC
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Just a short walk away from Fort Moultrie is the Edgar Allan Poe Library which, since March 1977, is housed in a renovated Battery Gadsden, a former Spanish-American War four-gun battery. With walls two feet thick, this gives solid protection for the 15,000 books within, and we can only imagine that Poe would be very accepting of this. The library apparently has a small Poe exhibit, but due to time constraint's we did not have time to venture inside.


 

POE'S TAVERN

DATE(S) VISITED: APRIL 11, 2022
LOCATION: CHARLESTON, SC
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Located on Sullivan's Island is Poe's Tavern, a wonderful little gastropub that pays tribute to Poe. Inside and out you will find images of the writer and associated things related to his stories, not to mention a full menu with Poe-themed meals. If needing the bathroom be warned, it's a little cramped in there, but the whimsical wallpaper gives you something to read to take your mind off any claustrophobia, or awkward situations with other patrons.


 

CHARLESTON UNITARIAN CHURCH CEMETERY

DATE(S) VISITED: APRIL 10, 2022
LOCATION: CHARLESTON, SC
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The pathways of this cemetery are well maintained, but the plots and gravestones have certainly been given back to nature. The trees, vines, and Spanish moss grow wild, giving the place such a wonderful haunting, but peaceful atmosphere. The cemetery is one of the most popular in Charlston, SC and the church itself is the second oldest in the city, built for the first time in 1772 and then rebuilt in 1854 due to damage during the Revolutionary War when it was used as a barracks.


The churchyard is said to be haunted by a lady in white and many believe that it is that of Annabel Lee, the subject of the last ever complete poem written by Edgar Allan Poe.



The story/legend goes, Annabel fell in love with a sailor, Edward Allen, who was stationed at Fort Moultrie just across the harbor, but her father disapproved of the relationship and forbid her to see him. The two could not stay apart, and against her fathers wishes, Annabel would sneak out at night and the two would meet at the Unitarian Cemetery. One fateful night, Annabel’s father saw them together and became furious, so much so he had Edward transferred to a fort in Baltimore.



Anna became very ill and died of Yellow Fever, though many claim it was a broken heart that killed her. Edward on hearing the news rushed back to see her but it was too late, she was already dead. When he tried to attend the funeral the family stopped him at the door of the church and threw him out, her father blaming Edward for his daughter's death. It did not stop there, the family dug six different graves within the cemetery and filled them in, but never put up a headstone for Anna so poor Edward would never be able to find her grave and mourn.


Edward never found which plot belonged to his lover, so returned to Baltimore and eventually attended West Point, but insomnia, drinking and drug use would send him on a downward spiral and not only destroy his career, but also die young.



There is no evidence that Edgar Allan Poe had heard of this legend, but locals insist it was his inspiration, especially considering Poe was stationed at Fort Moultrie whilst serving in the army in 1827, and using the pseudonym Edgar A. Perry when he enlisted. The poem so closely mirrors what could possibly have happened and transpired between Poe and Anna Ravenel, and maybe that’s why he couldn’t sleep, drank and turned to drugs. We will never know the real story behind this famous piece of work. As far as anyone knows, Poe left no notes about it.



Annabel Lee By Edgar Allen Poe


It was many and many a year ago, In a kingdom by the sea, That a maiden there lived whom you may know By the name of Annabel Lee; And this maiden she lived with no other thought Than to love and be loved by me. I was a child and she was a child, In this kingdom by the sea, But we loved with a love that was more than love— I and my Annabel Lee— With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven Coveted her and me. And this was the reason that, long ago, In this kingdom by the sea, A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling My beautiful Annabel Lee; So that her highborn kinsmen came And bore her away from me, To shut her up in a sepulchre In this kingdom by the sea. The angels, not half so happy in Heaven, Went envying her and me— Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know, In this kingdom by the sea) That the wind came out of the cloud by night, Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee. But our love it was stronger by far than the love Of those who were older than we— Of many far wiser than we— And neither the angels in Heaven above Nor the demons down under the sea Can ever dissever my soul from the soul Of the beautiful Annabel Lee; 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; And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride, In her sepulchre there by the sea— In her tomb by the sounding sea.

 

ST. JOHN'S CHURCHYARD

DATE(S) VISITED: JUN 5, 2021/OCT 29, 2016
LOCATION: PROVIDENCE, RI
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Behind the houses that bank Benefit Street on the Eastside of Providence, RI is the early Gothic Revival style church of St. Johns which was built in 1810. It is speculated that the cemetery of St. John’s was a frequent meeting spot for Poe and Sarah Helen Whitman during their brief courtship.


The couple planned to have their marriage at St. John's, and at one point chose the wedding date of December 25, 1848 and to be conducted by the minister Dr. Crocker. Of course the ceremony never took place. Whitman supposedly received an anonymous letter while she was at the library suggesting that Poe had broken his vow to her to stay sober, directly leading to an end of the relationship. Poe said in a letter to Whitman (addressed "Dear Madam") that he blamed her mother for their split. Rufus Wilmot Griswold, Poe's infamous first biographer, claimed that Poe purposely ended his relationship with Whitman the day before their wedding by committing unnamed drunken "outrages" that, as he wrote in his biography, "made necessary a summons of the police".



H.P. Lovecraft makes mention of Poe's love of St. John's churchyard in his story The Shunned House:


I am lonely without that gentle soul whose long years were filled only with honour, virtue, good taste, benevolence, and learning. I have reared a marble urn to his memory in St. John's churchyard - the place that Poe loved - the hidden grove of giant willows on the hill, where tombs and head stones huddle quietly between the hoary bulk of the church and the houses and bank walls of Benefit Street. - HPL ~ The Shunned House


 

SWAN POINT CEMETERY

DATE(S) VISITED: NOV 10, 2016
LOCATION: PROVIDENCE, RI
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Due to Whitman's home overlooking St. John's church grounds it is very unlikely that they would have spent much time here due to the disapproving glares they would have received from Sarah's mother, Anna Power. It is likely that the couple would have spent the bulk of their time at Swan Point Cemetery which was much further away from the house and thus given them more time together in privacy. Whitman specifically mentions Swan Point in her sonnets to Poe and it is believed that on September 23, 1848, Poe proposed to Sarah at the cemetery.


 

THE WHITMAN HOUSE

DATE(S) VISITED: OCT 29, 2016
LOCATION: PROVIDENCE, RI
MAP

It was in 1845, on one of Poe's renown night time walks in the Eastside of Providence, RI that he first encountered Sarah Helen Whitman outside her home on Benefit Street. It was on a hot and humid July night whilst in the company of his friend Osgood that he gazed upon the veiled woman clad in all white as she was tending to her rose garden in the backyard under the moonlight. She of course immediately captured Poe's attention.


Osgood, already being friends with Sarah offered to introduce her to Poe, but when he declined the introduction so adamantly it caused a small quarrel between him and Osgood. Poe later claimed that the reason he refused the introduction was because he thought Sarah was a married woman. Despite this, Sarah Helen Whitman left a perpetual mark on Poe's mind. It would only be three years later that the pair would inevitably make contact when they exchanged flirtatious Valentine poems in February of 1848.


It was also here at this house where Poe would gaze for hours at Cephas Giovanni Thompson’s Oil Portrait of Sarah Helen Whitman that hung in the parlor of the home. And finally, it was here at the red house on Benefit Street that Poe made his final plea to Whitman not to end their engagement. The stress of the matter was so intense that she pressed an ether-soaked handkerchief to her face and fainted on the couch. Poe knelt by her side, tightly gripping her hand, begging her to say she loved him. She uttered a final “I love you” to Poe before slipping into unconsciousness. Anna Power then forced Poe out of the house and Sarah Helen Whitman never saw him again.



H.P. Lovecraft mentions Poe and Whitman and the ties to the house in his story, The Shunned House:


The latter sort is splendidly exemplified by a case in the ancient city of Providence, where in the late forties Edgar Allan Poe used to sojourn often during his unsuccessful wooing of the gifted poetess, Mrs. Whitman. Poe generally stopped at the Mansion House in Benefit Street—the renamed Golden Ball Inn whose roof has sheltered Washington, Jefferson, and Lafayette—and his favourite walk led northward along the same street to Mrs. Whitman’s home and the neighbouring hillside churchyard of St. John’s, whose hidden expanse of eighteenth-century gravestones had for him a peculiar fascination. – HPL ~ The Shunned House

 

We will no doubt be finding more Poe related locations in the near future. But for even more photo's that we took of the locations featured above, check them out via our Facebook page.

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