Saturday, February 1, 2014

A Visit to the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site

While in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to attend my first ALA Midwinter Meeting, I visited the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. Situated on the northern edge of the city, the historic site is managed by the National Park Service.
Photo taken by the author of this blog.

On a bracingly cold but sunny Friday afternoon, I arrived at the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site and discovered that it's comprised of two adjoining houses. The house on the left is where Poe lived, along with his wife Virginia, who was ill with tuberculosis, and his mother-in-law Maria, who managed the household and took care of her sick daughter and often melancholy son-in-law. The Poes lived at the North 7th Street residence, located just north of Spring Garden Street, in the early 1840s. At the time, it was a predominantly Quaker suburb.
The front view of the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia.
Photo taken by the author of this blog.

I entered the historic site through the house on the right. Inside the house on the right are a welcome area, gift shop, screening room, reading room, and a handful of exhibits that feature few actual artifacts. The National Park Service employee who was seated at a desk just inside the entrance was incredibly friendly and seemed really glad to see me. Right away, I got the impression that the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site doesn't get many visitors. After warmly greeting me, the Park Service employee darted back to his desk to answer a phone call and I began to walk around, browsing the exhibits.
Just inside the front entrance is the welcome center and gift shop - and a friendly Park Service employee.
Photo taken by the author of this blog.

As I mentioned earlier, there are few actual artifacts on display at the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. The exhibits are basically placards that explain the Poes' life in the residence and their life in Philadelphia at the time, and they also paint a biological portrait of Edgar Allan Poe as a man and as a struggling, often tormented writer. Much of what is on display are recent artistic interpretations of the likeness of Poe and assorted reproductions of photographs, pamphlets, and other materials. However, there is a rare 1843 printing of Poe's "The Tell Tale Heart," published in The Pioneer: A Literary and Critical Magazine, available for viewing. There were no restrictions on picture-taking.
The sort of exhibit you'll see at the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site.
Photo taken by the author of this blog.

Shortly after I arrived, I and the two other visitors to the historic site were rounded up by the Park Service employee to watch a documentary about Poe in a small screening room. Produced many years ago, the documentary was brief and expertly narrated, giving wonderful insight into the creative, tortured genius responsible for such haunting poems as "The Raven" and "Annabel Lee" and classic short stories like "The Masque of the Red Death" and "The Pit and the Pendulum." Speaking of "The Raven" - perhaps Poe's most famous poem - the large black bird loomed everywhere throughout the premises, including in a statue outside of the building and atop a book display in the gift shop.
Just one of the ravens - this one in the gift shop - you'll spot at the historic site.
Photo taken by the author of this blog.

After the documentary on Poe ended, I and the other visitors were allowed to roam freely in the adjacent house on the left, where Poe actually lived with his ailing wife Virginia and industrious mother-in-law Maria. The house is three stories tall and has a cellar (where the public restrooms and water fountain are located), and each story is accessible via a shockingly narrow and steep stairwell.
A typical room inside the former Poe residence, in a decaying state and absent of furnishings.
Photo taken by the author of this blog.

None of the rooms in the house contain any original furnishings or decorations, just small signs or rectangular brown plaques explaining the activities that could've taken place in these rooms. The rooms, which are in various states of decrepitude, aren't completely barren, however. There are nicknacks scattered throughout, perhaps placed there by Park Service workers or by playful visitors to the historic site. For instance, I don't think this orange orangutang stuffed animal, which I spotted on one of the shelves in the rooms, belonged to any of the Poes or says much in particular about what life was like in the residence.
Which of the Poes had a fondness for orangutangs?
Photo taken by the author of this blog.

The tours of the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site are "self-guided," and as I said earlier, there are no restrictions on picture-taking. It's completely free to visit the site, which is open to the public Friday through Sunday, from 9 a.m. to noon and then from 1 to 5 p.m. (It is closed for one hour so that the Park Service employee gets a break for lunch.) No reservations are required beforehand for either individuals or families, but if you plan on seeing the historic site as part of a large group - perhaps as a class or as part of an organization - then you will need to make a reservation, which you can do online.
Plenty of enticing souvenirs on sale inside the gift shop.
Photo taken by the author of this blog.

The Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site is a bit off the beaten path, especially if you're staying in the Center City area of Philadelphia, but it's totally worth a visit. It's easily accessible by bus or subway, but if you're new to Philadelphia and aren't feeling brave enough to tackle the public transit system, then take a cab to the historic site. I chose to walk there, which I don't recommend doing because some of the streets just south of the historic site are a bit sketchy and not really suitable for pedestrians. (Don't walk north along 6th Street!) Once there, you'll be welcomed by a National Park Service employee who is truly friendly and highly knowledgeable about Edgar Allan Poe and his peripatetic existence.
Photo taken by the author of this blog.

For more info on the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site, click on THIS LINK.

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