It likely surprises no one that I am a high-key goth and that means I love the work of the most famous emo of all time, Edgar Allan Poe. When I was in high school, I fell for his use of rhyme and suspense and fell into a deep and dark love with the moody poet. So when another family trip brought me to Richmond, Virginia and I saw there was THE Edgar Allan Poe museum within a short Uber ride from the hotel; well, dear reader, I am contractually obligated to go: and so I did.
Here’s what I learned while visiting a loving shrine to one of my favorite poets.
First, some history. Poe’s life reads a lot like a comic book: abandoned by parents, trouble with love, did some things that are a little sketch and all the while continued to write poems, short stories and plays that twisted the mind into darker places. His writing has an unfair reputation of being melodramatic and “not really that scary” by people who are wrong and stupid and wrong. Poe’s writing is masterful, emotional and vivid enough to make you fear any black bird that is too large. His use of rhyme means that I can still recite Annabelle Lee with ease (An aside: my great-grandfather on my maternal grandmother’s side was a brilliant man who had a vast library that I got to partially inherit because he learned I was a literature person and voracious reader: me at the time, being a crappy 16 year old couldn’t possibly think the old man in front of me “got me” or “knew what I liked” only then to have him on one visit recite the last stanza of Annabelle Lee. I think nearly a decade later, part of my jaw is still on that living room floor.)
I’m also obligation to take a moment to discuss Poe’s death and “mental illness”. Poe’s death could have an entire other blog dedicated to it because of the mystery that surrounds it. Poe was meant to take a trip to Baltimore but never boarded the ship and was found eight days later in someone else’s clothes: he died in hospital days later of “brain fever” because thank you, Victorian medicine. And since Poe’s poems and works talk about death, bird hallucinations, murder and more: many are more concerned with what mental illness or illnesses that Poe had. As a writer that has struggled with the shadow of mental illness, let’s be frank: mental illness and sad childhoods do not a good writer make. Anyone can challenge their energy into a passion, Poe turned his pain into something that helped other cope with their burdens and I am eternally grateful to him for doing so. It’s easy to romanticize the mentally ill artist and I hate it and it makes it angry.
Now, then, normally my thoughts and musings posts are bulleted but this one will be a little different. Upon my visit to the museum, it was closing early so I really only had about an hour to do all of it: realistically, if the museum had normal hours: I’d still be there. So my trip was shorter than I wanted it to be. Regardless, let’s tell the story of how I got to The Edgar Allan Poe Museum and what I learned and loved about it.
The Uber trip there wasn’t bad, my driver was a little daft. He complained about the distance and I told him that I was from Texas where 20 minutes is a bare minimum to get anywhere good. The museum is nestled in a fun part of Richmond and is in the oldest house in Virginia. Poe’s family was of means, so they got a bomb-ass nice house. The museum starts with a trip into the gift shop to purchase my ticket in: immediately, I was greeted by two beautiful and loving black cats named Edgar and Pluto and I love them equally and wanted to take them.
First stop: the early days of Poe and his family. I saw his childhood bed, the parents that abandoned him and his new more strict family that did love him but just didn’t “get” him: all things I felt in my life. Religion was important to his new family and thus it mattered very little to Poe and seeing old bibles that were well-worn reminded me of all the days I sat in Catholic masses thinking that the demons clearly had more fun.
Next up: Poe as an adult and his working life! We see images of his first and questionable wife who he was related to and seemed to care about a little too much and his work in the literary scene in Virginia. Including what may be one of the best things I have ever seen, one of Poe’s chairs from work. Story goes his boss filed down the back of his chair to make sure that he worked and I admit, I one day do aspire to be that petty. There were plenty of items dedicated to his most famous poem, The Raven and even a model of his grave monument that I got to worship.
Third room tackles the poet’s death. Now, Poe’s death could be its own blog so here’s the long and short. He was meant to go to Baltimore, didn’t make it, appeared drunk and in a stupor 8 days later wearing some other dude’s clothes. Many lamented the death of the artist and to this day, I lament his death. I lament that we could have gotten more from him but he was an incredibly prolific creator. In the museum, there was a little place to write a note to him and so I did; I wrote:
Thank you for making the darkness in my heart seem a little less dark.
Outside was a shrine to Poe and I was greeted by one of the black cats from earlier. I said a little prayer and moved on. I went to the gift shop, spent more money than I should and left the museum feeling a certain sort of joy. I felt proud of myself for going somewhere alone. I felt proud of myself for standing up to one of the men in the museum who had the straight up balls to call Poe melodramatic. I felt proud that I stuck to my guns and did a thing I wanted to do.
I’d like to thank Poe for existing, for creating, for being himself. For showing me that being morose was not a sin and that darkness can breed light. For showing others that fear is vital, sadness is needed and even death can be beautiful.
Thank you, Mr. Poe.