Edgar Allan Poe's
name is closely associated with such locations as Baltimore,
Philadelphia, and New York City's Greenwich Village, but the
famed author spent the last years of his life, from 1846 to
1849, in The Bronx - at Poe Cottage, now located at Kingsbridge
Road and the Grand Concourse, located about fifty blocks north
of Yankee Stadium.
A small wooden farmhouse built about 1812, the cottage once
commanded unobstructed vistas over the rolling Bronx hills
to the shores of Long Island. It was a bucolic setting in
which the great writer penned a number of his most enduring
poetical works, including “Annabel Lee,” “The
Bells” and “Eureka.” He also wrote The Cask
of Amontadillo there.
But it was also the place where Poe sat vigil for the death
of his young wife, Virginia Clemm, and unsuccessfully battled
continuing problems with substance abuse which would ultimately
lead to his early death.
Edgar Allan Poe spent much of his life moving from place
to place in restless search of literary recognition and financial
security. In 1836 Poe married Virginia Clemm, then only 13,
and in 1837 they went to New York City for the first time.
From 1838 to 1844, Poe lived in Philadelphia, where he edited
magazines and wrote criticism which was direct and incisive
and made him a respected and feared critic. At that time he
also began writing mystery stories.
In April 1844, he and his wife, Virginia, and mother-in-law,
Maria Clemm, moved to New York, where Poe sought the opportunity
for international acclaim.
Poe hit town with a splash akin to that of Orson Welles with
his radio show "War of the Worlds." It seems that,
in need of money (Poe had $4.50 on him) and only a couple
of days in town, on April 6, he composed an entire tale about
the first Trans-Atlantic balloon flight. The events described
in this story were published as a recount of factual events
on Saturday April 13, 1844, in The New York Sun as an insert
in its daily - the Sun sending the story to the presses without
first verifying these events with officials in Charleston,
South Carolina, near the balloon's supposed landing spot.
The morning the paper hit the newsstands there was pandemonium
in New York.
Poe himself reportedly tried to stand outside of the newspaper's
offices in New York, trying to tell those people feverishly
rushing to purchase copies of the periodical featuring this
amazing tale, that it was merely fiction.
The event made him an instant celebrity in New York - and
the next year, publication of the Raven and Other Poems (1845)
won him fame as a poet both at home and abroad.
But Virginia was still ill.
Thus in early summer of 1846 Poe brought her to The Bronx,
where he hoped the country air would rescue her failing health.
There, Poe hoped its healthier atmosphere would cure his wife
Virginia who was dying of tuberculosis.
Poe, Virginia and her mother, Mrs. Maria Clemm, moved into
this simple wood frame farmhouse that had been built around
1812. He paid owner John Valentine a yearly rent of one hundred
One of Poe's friends and a member of the Literati, Mrs. Mary
Gove Nichols, gave an accurate description of the cottage
in an article she wrote titled: "Reminiscences of Edgar
Allan Poe," and published in the Six Penny Magazine in
February 1863: "Some sixteen years, ago, I went on a
little excursion with two others...to Fordham to see Poe...There
was an acre or two of greensward fenced in about the house,
as smooth as velvet and as clean as the best kept carpet.
There were some grand old cherry-trees in the yard, that threw
a massive shade around them."
Nichols reported that the house had three rooms - a kitchen,
a sitting room, and a bed chamber over the sitting-room. "The
cottage had an air of taste and gentility that must have been
lent to it by the presence of its inmates. So neat, so poor,
so unfurnished, and yet so charming a dwelling I never saw.
The floor of the kitchen was white as wheaten flour. A table,
a chair, and a little stove that it contained, seemed to furnish
it perfectly. The sitting-room floor was laid with check matting;
four chairs, a light stand, and a hanging bookshelf completed
There was a piazza in front of the house under the shade
of the cherries, otherwise "no cultivation, no flowers,
nothing but the smooth greensward and the majestic trees."
On her first visit she discovered that Poe had somehow caught
a full-grown bob-o-link. "He had put him in a cage, which
he had hung on a nail driven into the trunk of a cherry-tree."
However, in January of 1847, this tranquil scene failed terribly
- Virginia lay dying of tuberculosis. "The Autumn came,
and Mrs. Poe sank rapidly in consumption, and I saw her in
her bed chamber," writes Nichols. "Everything was
so neat, so perfectly clean, so scant and poverty-stricken...
There was no clothing on the bed, which was only straw, but
a snow white spread of sheets." Virginia died on January
Samuel Allibone wrote in 1900 that in her death Virginia,
"a sick and suffering yet a loved and loving wife was
removed from greater "evil to come."
What evil is he referring to? Not what occurred in 1848,
the following year - when we find Poe courting the poet Sarah
Sarah Helen Power Whitman (1803-78) of Providence, R.I. was
quite a catch. In 1828 she married a Boston lawyer, John W.
Whitman; after his death in 1833 she returned to Providence
and devoted herself to writing.
Poe first met Helen Whitman in 1848. Shortly after meeting
her he wrote "To Helen." In the poem he claims to
have seen her before and had apparently fallen in love then.
Shortly after meeting her Poe proposed to and, after initial
refusals, was accepted by Helen Whitman. She agreed to marry
him if he refrained from the use of alcohol.
In December of 1848 everything was set for their wedding.
The day before the wedding it was brought to her attention
that he had not kept his promise and had used alcohol - some
say Poe deliberately let her catch him shortly after. She
called off the wedding that day.
Though it was broken off, her friendly feeling for Poe did
not cease, and inspired several of her poems, notably the
elegy "Resurgamus." Mrs. Whitman contributed to
magazines prize essays on literary topics, including critical
articles on European writers, and many poems, which have been
admired for their tenderness, melody, and philosophic spirit.
She published in book-form a collection of these, entitled
"Hours of Life, and other Poems" (Providence, 1853),
and "Edgar A. Poe and his Critics," in which she
defended her friend's character from harsh aspersions (New
Meanwhile, however, in 1849 Poe returned to Richmond and
became engaged to Elmira Royster, a childhood sweetheart who
was by then the widowed Mrs. Shelton. On his way north to
bring Mrs. Clemm to the wedding, there are reports that he
became involved in a drinking debauch in Baltimore.
Allibone notes, only slightly more politely, that Poe suffered
"exposure to the night air, resulting from the debility
of intoxication, (which) brought on a raging fever.
EIther way, this indulgence proved fatal, for he died a few
days later - after two days illness, in fact, at the Baltimore
Hospital, October 7, 1849, at the age of thirty-eight years.
The last surviving house of the old Fordham village, after
Poe's death, the cottage was occupied by several residents.
In 1895, the village of Fordham was already part of New York
City. Because of urban development, the cottage was in danger
of demolition. The Shakespeare Society initiated a campaign
to save the cottage, followed by other fundraising endeavors.
In 1902, New York City created Poe Park across the street,
bought the cottage in 1913, and moved it to the park.
At the time, it was administered by the Bronx Society of
Arts and Sciences that restored it.
The Poe cottage was opened as a museum in 1917. By this time,
Poe's international reputation was so great that thousand
came from all parts of the United States and the world. The
register of visitors from April 23, 1917 to January 26, 1922,
lists guests from Argentina, Australia, Bermuda, Chile, Colombia,
Egypt, England, France, Germany, Guatemala, Holland, India,
Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Puerto Rico, Quebec,
Russia, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela. In 1923, 25,000
visitors were in attendance.
Today the Poe house is administered by The Bronx County Historical
Society - which took control of the property in 1975. In a
number of ways the cottage is restored to its original appearance,
particularly with authentic period furnishings, though there
is a fancy garden out front.