The Death of Virginia
While Virginia was dying in the drafty cottage in the Fordham section of New York City, a friend who came to visit was struck by the heartbreaking picture of her lying on her back on a bed that had its posters sawed off in order to fit into the room with slanting eaves.
they said …
“Mrs. Poe looked very young; she had large black eyes, and a pearly whiteness of complexion, which was a perfect pallor. Her pale face, her brilliant eyes, and her raven hair gave her an unearthly look. One felt that she was almost a disrobed spirit, and when she coughed it was made certain that she was rapidly passing away.”—Mary Gove Nichols, on meeting Virginia Poe
Against the cold of the room and the death that was moving closer, all Virginia Poe had to keep her warm was the famous black greatcoat her distraught husband had wrapped her in—and, on her chest, the quiet warmth of the great, curled-up tortoiseshell cat, Caterina. One of their neighbors, a generous, divorced woman named Marie Louise (“Loui”) Shew, provided help, money, and moral support. Muddy Clemm was a Biblical figure, gleaning vegetables from neighboring fields, a Divine right granted to widows, orphans, and strangers. The itinerant Poe household qualified as all three.
Virginia Clemm Poe died on January 30, 1847. She was 25.
Poe literally collapsed at Virginia's bedside the moment she stopped breathing, and according to eyewitnesses, he could never bear to look at her after she died. At the graveside he wore the greatcoat that had been Virginia's blanket on her deathbed. Not surprisingly, Poe became sick for months, suffering from depression and an irregular heartbeat—and drink. Loui Shew and Muddy nursed him.
There is only one known portrait of Virginia Poe: a watercolor by Loui Shew, showing the poor Sissy with her head turned, her lips curving, her skin alabaster, white linen covering her chest. She had just died.
Virginia's obituary, which appeared in two New York newspapers, invited her friends to attend her funeral three days later at the Dutch Reformed Church in Fordham. Aside from Poe and Muddy, fewer than a dozen people came to bury Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe, who even in death was dependent on charity. She was buried in clothes provided by Loui Shew, in the family vault of the Poes’ landlord, John Valentine.