Edgar Allan Poe’s Bronx Inspiration

Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe, artist unknown

Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe, artist unknown

Perhaps no other American author is as associated with Halloween as Edgar Allan Poe: lyric poet, inventor of the modern detective story, and master of the macabre.  Born in Boston in 1809, he was an orphan by the age of 3, subsequently living in many places: Scotland, England, Richmond, VA and Baltimore, MD, among others – but it was during his stay in the Bronx that he penned some of his best-known works:  The Bells, Annabelle Lee, and The Cask of Amontillado.  You can visit his former home, Poe Cottage, on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx (it was originally at Kingsbridge Road, some 450 feet south).  Poe moved there in 1846 with his wife, Virginia, and his mother-in-law (and aunt) Maria Clemm, when the area was known as Fordham Village, in the hopes that by living in the “country”  Virginia’s  tuberculosis would be cured.  Alas, this was not to be – Virginia died there in January, 1847.  Poe lived in the cottage for almost another two years during which he used the library at my alma mater, Fordham University, which was then St. John’s College.  It’s been claimed that The Bells was inspired by the chimes from Fordham’s chapel??  Poe died on  October 7, 1849 in Baltimore – to this day, the cause of his death is still unknown. 

Poe Cottage, Grand Concourse, the Bronx

Poe Cottage, Grand Concourse, the Bronx

Poe Cottage is a lovely one and a half story white wooden frame farmhouse, built by the Valentine family for one of their farmhands.  Even back then, it was like many homes in today’s NYC – not enough space. 

Sitting room/living room Poe Cottage

Sitting room/living room Poe Cottage

And it also has very low ceilings.  On the ground floor you’ll find a kitchen, a living/sitting room with fireplace, as well as the very small room where Virginia lay bedridden for some six months.

Virginia's Bedroom, Poe Cottage

Virginia’s Bedroom, Poe Cottage

The house was known for being sparsely furnished, and a few of the original furnishings are on this floor. The small space upstairs had a bedroom and Poe’s study.  I took a guided tour, and had a great time.  Even if you don’t make it to Poe’s Cottage for Halloween, get up to see it another time!  The Cottage is owned by the NYC Parks Department, which has more information on its website  ; the Bronx Historical Society administers the Cottage and there’s more information on its website.

Theatre Poster for "The Raven"

Theatre Poster for “The Raven”

On Saturday, October 29th, from noon until 3:00 pm, From Poe’s Porch  will feature poets who will read from The Cottage’s porch from 12:00-1:10 P.M. This will be followed by special workshops and panel discussions in the adjacent Poe Park Visitor Center, from 1:30-3:00 P.M., just steps away from the historic house landmark. Tours of The Cottage will be available and both programs are free. More information here  

If you can find Hal Willner’s Closed on Account of Rabies, a record featuring actors and musicians such as Christopher Walken and Marianne Faithfull reading works by Poe, grab it!   You can find bits and pieces on-line at Open Culture – Iggy Pop’s rendition of The Tell Tale Heart is not to be missed!  

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