It is little secret that Richmond is a Poe enthusiast’s playground. Home to Edgar Allan Poeduring some of his most formative years, Richmond hardly has an alleyway or avenue that cannot somehow be tied back to the poet. It’s the site of his mother’s grave, the church where he worshiped as a child, the journal where he began his literary career, and the room where he gave his last reading of “The Raven.” But perhaps the city’s crowning dedication—the cherry on top, if you will—is the Poe Museum.
Only a few blocks from Poe’s first Richmond home, the Poe Museum is an ever-expanding compound of four buildings, stuffed to the rafters with furniture, fine art, photos, first editions, manuscripts, memorabilia, and an enviable reference library—more than enough to keep even the most discriminating Poephile happily mired for hours on end.
Despite the impressive size and scope of the Poe Museum today, one might be surprised to find that it sprang from rather humble ambitions. Poe always considered himself a Virginia gentleman, yet early Richmond officials were hesitant to publicly commemorate a citizen whose reputation was tainted with such a dubious departure from the world. And so, in 1921, a small band of altruistic fans took Poe’s memorial into their own hands, christening a quiet green corner of the city The Enchanted Garden. Inspired by Poe’s poem, “To One in Paradise,” (“thou wast all to me, love/For which my soul did pine—/a green isle in the sea love/A fountain and a shrine”), the garden laid the groundwork for what would become the future museum’s almost obsessive attention to authentic detail. A shrine was constructed with brick and granite salvaged from The Literary Messenger—the journal where Poe began his literary career—and the surrounding walls set with broken bottles to mimic the security device outlined in the short story “William Wilson.” The lawn was sown with thick swaths of roses in a nod to Poe’s poetry, peppered with ivy grafted from his mother’s grave, and paved with paths laid with bricks from his foster father’s office.
As the enthusiasm about the memorial grew, so did the magnitude of the project. The garden became a shrine, the shrine a museum, and the museum one of the largest collections of Poe memorabilia in existence. Over time, the four buildings on the perimeter of the garden were absorbed, giving ample room to the smorgasbord of Poe that now awaits within. Today’s visitors will find an eighteen foot wide scale replica of Poe’s Richmond, his boyhood bed, a lock of his hair, one of the original daguerreotypes taken after his brief dalliance in opiates, his sister’s piano, his wife’s trinket box, an embroidered vest and silver-tipped cane, his trunk, its key, and a thousand other treasures from tchotchkes to marble monuments. Add to this a sea of first editions, manuscripts, and notes penned in Poe’s trademark delicate hand, and it’s no wonder that the museum has become a Mecca to Poe enthusiasts worldwide.