During my travels, I have made a point of visiting authors’ residences, museums or gravesites. I have visited the homes of Emerson, Poe, Whitman, Lawrence and Thoreau, and I have stood before the graves of Franklin, Hamilton and Grant. As an avid reader and student of literature, I find it fascinating to learn the personal histories of such prominent writers and to discover some of their quirks and oddities.
It was on a hot July afternoon when my sister had asked if I would like to take a trip into the city of Philadelphia to visit the Poe House. I knew that Poe lived in New York, Baltimore and Richmond, but I didn’t know that he lived in Philadelphia for several years in the early 1840s. During the drive into the city, my sister told me how Poe was employed as editor for a Philadelphia Magazine. Apparently, he wrote and published some of his best known works while residing on North 7th Street. They included “The Murders in the Rogue Morgue,” “Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Gold Bug.”
On our arrival, it was an odd sight to see park rangers with their all-too-familiar “Smokey Bear” hats escorting us into the house. The Poe House is on the register of National Historic Sites. Entering the home, the rooms were spacious with various displays of Poe memorabilia. We were allowed to go upstairs and visit the bedroom where he did most of his writing. The room was quaint and furnished with a small bed and desk. The house was not air conditioned, but I sensed a coolness in the upstairs room which I found peculiar. The visit took about an hour.
We left and my sister chauffeured me to her place of employment, The Free Library of Philadelphia. My sister, unbeknownst to me, had arranged for me to view some very special documents that were housed there in The Rare Books Department.
“Would you like to see the original copy of the manuscript of Edgar’s poem ‘The Raven?’” my sister laughed. I thought she was kidding. Out came one of her colleagues who escorted me into a room. She laid the manuscript in front of me and instructed me not to remove it from the protective covering. She left, locking me in the room. If I wanted to leave, I needed to push the buzzer by the door. I sat there in amazement perusing through the poem, reading the side notes and crossed out phrases. I was flabbergasted! After some time, I rang the buzzer, and the attendant let me out of the room. But before leaving, she asked if I wished to see the actual raven. I was in disbelief. I re-entered the room, and she brought the raven, which was taxidermied and placed in a glass case. It was a little eerie, to say the least!
The raven that Poe modeled his poem after was named Grip, who was a character in the Dickens story, “Barnaby Rudge.” She was a pet owned by Charles Dickens. Grip was quite ornery and had to be relegated to the carriage house on occasion. Dickens visited Poe in Philadelphia in 1842 and the bird came with him. How the bird was obtained by the Free Library is another story.
Poe brought his poem “The Raven” to George Graham, his former employer, but he refused to buy the rights. It was later sold to The American Review for $9. “The Raven” is one of the most beloved poems in the English language and ranks as one of the most famous in American Literature. When I sat in the room alone, I noticed that Grip seemed to be watching me, no matter from which angle I was observing her. I must say, that I pushed that buzzer anxiously!