Edgar Allan Poe called many places home including Boston, Richmond, Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia. I was interested to learn that the two cities I call home, Philadelphia, where I grew up, and Baltimore, where I currently reside as a student, overlap with two of Poe’s hometowns. I created a collection of seven objects selected from the exhibition at the George Peabody library called The Enigmatic Edgar A. Poe in Baltimore & Beyond. While the exhibit at the library highlights some of Poe’s time while in Philadelphia, it mainly explores Poe’s relationship to Baltimore. Therefore, I decided to further survey Poe’s experiences while in Philadelphia.
Figure 1: Edgar Allan Poe, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, volume I. Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1840. From the Susan Jaffe Tane Collection.
Poe lived in Philadelphia for a total of six years from 1838 until 1844. It is during this time that Poe produced much of his quality work and was arguably at the height of his literary achievement. Philadelphia was where Poe was his “happiest and most productive” according to the national park service website, which lists Poe’s only remaining home in Philadelphia as a national historic site. While in Philadelphia, he published some of his major works like Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, the title page of which is pictured above in figure 1. These stories and poems are still read today and are admired as some of the best literary works ever produced.
Figure 2: Edgar Allan Poe, letter to James Russell Lowell, November 24, 1842, Philadelphia. From the Susan Jaffe Tane Collection.
Although Poe was content in Philadelphia, he also faced difficult financial struggles. This is demonstrated through a letter Poe wrote to James Russell Lowell in 1842 while in Philadelphia, pictured above in figure 2. In this letter, Poe asks for payment in advance of submitting a literary assignment for Lowell’s magazine. The story in question is one of Poe’s most famous, “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
Figure 3: Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, February 1840. Contains Edgar Allan Poe, “The Journal of Julius Rodman,” chapter 2. From the Susan Jaffe Tane Collection.
In order to seek some sort of financial stability, Poe contributed to and edited for many magazines while in Philadelphia. In figure 3 above, you can see Poe’s contribution to a Philadelphia based publication Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine.
Figure 4: Edgar Allan Poe, The Conchologist’s First Book. Philadelphia: Haswell, Barrington, and Haswell, 1839. From the Susan Jaffe Tane Collection.
Figure 5: Edgar Allan Poe, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Graham’s Magazine, April 1841. From the Susan Jaffe Tane Collection.
While some people only know Poe for his famous poems and short stories, he was also incredibly well versed and wrote in a variety of genres including science and science fiction, mysteries, his most well-known genre, horror, as well as many essays and reviews. Poe explored the various themes that he found interesting like science and mystery while living in Philadelphia. Poe’s variety of works can be demonstrated in figure 4 and figure 5 above. Figure 4, shows the revisions to a science textbook about conchology. Figure 5 displays Poe’s exploration into the genre of mystery. This was the first in a trio of tales that follow the main character’s adventure to solving murder mysteries. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was published in the Philadelphia based magazine Graham’s Magazine.
Figure 6: Edgar Allan Poe, prospectus for the Penn Magazine. The Daily Chronicle and General Advertiser, October 16, 1840. From the Susan Jaffe Tane Collection.
Poe contributed to numerous magazines and journals throughout his time in Philadelphia. In the newspaper clipping pictured above in figure 6 from The Daily Chronicle and General Advertiser, Poe explains his longing to start his own literary magazine. He was hoping to gain financial support but unfortunately, due to reoccurring financial issues, it never came to fruition.
Figure 7: John Philip Sousa, “Annabel Lee: Song,” lyrics by Edgar Allan Poe. Philadelphia: Thomas Presser Co., 1931. From the Susan Jaffe Tane Collection.
Although Poe was often in financial trouble and according to the depiction of Poe by various writers, artists, and publishers, seemingly struggled with depression, he caused an everlasting effect on American literature and art generally. He inspired many writers and artists and his works have often been adapted into drawings, movies, and even songs. This is demonstrated in figure 7 above. John Phillip Sousa published music in Philadelphia to the words of one of Poe’s poems.
Even though Poe calls many places home, Philadelphia is the hometown where some of his most famous stories and poems were published. However, it is also the location in which his beloved wife, Virginia, contracted Tuberculous in 1824, which later lead to her death in 1847. Philadelphia plays a crucial role in Poe’s narrative, signifying both happiness and grief, triumph and struggle. Without Philadelphia, Poe would not be the same influential writer we all know and love.