Edgar Allan Poe, “The Raven,” and New York City
During their campaign to save the faculty garden, the main characters of The Professors’ Wives’ Club uncover a surprising secret about a lost draft of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “The Raven.” Mary, Sofia, Hannah, and Ashleigh also discover that Poe lived and worked in the same downtown New York streets where they live. Although some of the details in the novel about Poe are fictionalized – namely the lost documents – most of the details about Poe, “The Raven,” and his life in New York are true.
Poe wasn’t a native New Yorker, but he did spend an important period of his life in New York’s Greenwich Village. In 1837 Poe, his young wife, and mother-in-law relocated from Richmond to New York and resided at 113½ Carmine Street. Mrs Clemm, Poe’s mother-in-law, set up a boarding house at this Greenwich Village address while Poe wrote and published two short stories: “Von Jung, The Mystific” and “Siope – A Fable.” The family didn’t stay long in New York, however. Mrs. Clemm struggled with the boarding house and with not much fame or fortune heading Poe’s way, the family borrowed money and moved to Philadelphia in early 1838.
Poe returned to the city in the Spring of 1844, however. This time he brought only his wife, Virginia, and the couple set up home at 130 Greenwich Street. But the price of board was too high for Poe and by the summer he and Virginia had moved to Brennan Farm in Upper Manhattan . If the farmhouse still existed today it would be the corner of West 84th Street and Broadway. In Poe’s time, however, the two story dwelling was surrounded by two hundred and sixteen acres of farmland extending to the Hudson River. It was on this windswept New York farm that Poe began writing his most famous poem “The Raven.” According to Arthur Hobson Quinn’s biography of Poe, a relation of the farmhouse’s landlord identified “a room in the Brennan house as the identical one described by Poe in ‘The Raven.’”
After six months at Brennan, the cold and isolation of the farm drove Poe and Virginia back downtown. In January 1845, the couple moved into 15 Amity Street (now 15 West 3rd Street). The house was very close to the Carmine Street house Poe and his family had lived in during their first stay in New York. However, this time around Poe’s stay in Greenwich Village would be a lot more successful. Indeed, 1845 and his time in New York is considered by many the most important period of Poe’s life.
On January 29th 1845 “The Raven” was published for the first time in New York’s Evening Mirror. It was actually first accepted by a literary magazine called The American Review, but the New York paper was ran the poem prior to this publication. “The Raven” was an instant hit and reprinted many times. One humorist, according to Quinn’s biography, took over an entire page of New York’s Weekly Mirror (April 26, 1845) to suggest how the poet might be related to Lenore, the lost love famously lamented in the poem.
During this time, while his poem was gaining popularity and acclaim, Poe, his wife, and eventually his mother-in-law too moved from 15 Amity Street, to 195 East Broadway, and then in the Fall 1845 they moved to 85 Amity Street (now 85 West Third).
The Poe Museum website states that this final move was “most likely prompted by Virginia’s worsening tuberculosis. The house featured a small yard (still extant) and is in close proximity to Washington Square. These features, emphasizing outdoor space and relatively fresh air, were presumably intended to improve Virginia’s health. One visitor described it as ‘a simple yet poetical home’ and recalled Poe working ‘at his desk … hour after hour, patient, assiduous, and uncomplaining.’”
The small house was an extremely important place for Poe. He revised “The Raven” – and virtually all of his major poetical works – while living at 85 Amity Street. These poems were compiled and published in book form as The Raven and Other Poems and, according to the Poe Museum, they are “still considered the correct and final text for many of Poe’s poems.”
In spite of all the important work done there, Poe and his family lived at 85 Amity for just eight months. In May 1846, the family moved to a cottage in Fordham, New York. Not long after this move, Virginia Poe died. Poe stayed in the cottage another two years until, in 1849, Poe himself died suddenly in Baltimore on his return trip to the cottage from a lecture tour.
85 Amity Street Today
In 2000, New York University who now own 85 Amity/West Third caused a furor by threatening to tear the house down to make way for a new Law School building. The construction went ahead but thanks to lobbying by Poe enthusiasts and historical societies a compromise was reached where the façade of the old house was reconstructed to its 1845 appearance and incorporated into the new structure. Several original interior elements, such as the elegant staircase, were also preserved and a room inside was dedicated to Poe and made available for readings and lectures. This wrangle over the Poe house appears in The Professors’ Wives’ Club.
For more information on Edgar Allan Poe, visit…
- The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore – http://www.eapoe.org/
- The Poe Museum in Richmond – http://www.poemuseum.org/
- Edgar Allan Poe Fordham Cottage – http://www.bronxhistoricalsociety.org/about/poecottage.html
- Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore – http://www.ci.baltimore.md.us/government/historic/poehouse.php
- Philadelphia historic site http://www.nps.gov/edal/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Allan_Poe_National_Historic_Site
- Poe’s short stories http://www.poestories.com/
- EA Poe Virtual Library http://www.houseofusher.net/
- New York Poe Walking Tours http://www.newyorktalksandwalks.com/tours_haunted.html#top