This Way to the Raven Room
For cyber-travelers, the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore has an excellent Web site (www.eapoe.org) that has something for scholars and fans alike. The society has painstakingly pulled together a comprehensive bibliographic record of everything written by Poe, and it includes extremely interesting pieces of its own on many aspects of Poe's life and work.
In the early days, the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore (founded in 1923) presented public readings, concerts featuring compositions based on Poe's work, and exhibitions of Poe memorabilia. Moreover, society members were instrumental in preserving the Baltimore Poe house. In the past thirty years, their activities have come to include publications, the annual commemorative lecture, and construction of the Web site as a resource for Poe fans and scholars.
Richmond, Virginia, has the Poe Museum on East Main Street, within sight of the Philip Morris factory. Inside the Old Stone House, which is the oldest building in historic Richmond, you can sign the guest register and pay an admission fee (there are reduced rates for seniors and students) for a tour. Then, if you're lucky, your tour guide is the kind of Virginian whose soft drawl makes “Poe” a charming two-syllable word. First you pass portraits of Poe and his birth parents, Eliza and David, on your way to a room containing a scale model of the Richmond from Poe's time—you can see the Allans’ house, “Moldavia,” on Fifth Street, Poe's office, and the hotel where he lectured. The model spans twenty city blocks, ending at St. John's Church on 25th Street, where in those crackling pre-Revolutionary War days, Patrick Henry roared about liberty and death.
The museum is actually an enclave of five buildings, so when the tour leaves the Old Stone House, it takes you to a neighboring building that houses one of the largest collections of Poe memorabilia in the world. In some ways, what's most striking is how little there is. The secretary desk belonged to John Allan, Poe's foster father, and Poe probably used it. Poe was most likely familiar with the various Allan household furnishings. The small trunk was actually his, and contains all his personal effects at the time of his death in 1849: a walking stick, boot hooks, and the deceased Virginia's trinket box and mirror. These you can be sure he handled, so to touch Virginia's little mirror is to touch Poe's hand.
The Old Stone House, Richmond, Virginia, 1865. Today it houses the Poe Museum.
At the foot of an old staircase is a sign with an arrow pointing upstairs: Raven Room. Up you go. On exhibit in the Raven Room are the forty-three framed illustrations British artist James Carling submitted to Harper and Brothers Publishers for the 1882 edition of “The Raven.” The publisher chose work by Gustave Doré, instead, and a set of those are on display at the Poe House in Baltimore. But in twenty-first century Richmond, you can't climb the stairs to the Raven Room without hoping that it leads to a portal into Poe's dark imagination, a kind of life-sized, raven diorama with yourself as a player—vapors seeping up through the floorboards, a clattering shutter, a whiff of opium—and, of course, a bust of Pallas Athena decked out with a two-foot long, prophetic black bird.
Does Richmond have the only Poe site?
There are several other sites dedicated to Edgar Allan Poe that are open to the public. There's the Poe House and Museum at 203 North Amity Street in Baltimore, the Edgar Allan Poe National Historical Site at 532 North Seventh Street in Philadelphia, and the Poe Cottage in Poe Park at Kingsbridge Road and the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.