My husband, a Poe aficionado, guided our grown daughter, who remembers studying “Bells, Bells, Bells,” “The Gold Bug,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Raven” in high school, and I, a former English major, teacher, and lifelong history buff, who really didn’t appreciate the macabre for which Poe is largely remembered, to our nation’s memorial to Edgar Allan Poe— in downtown Philadelphia!. It is said that Philadelphia was the city where Poe enjoyed his greatest success as a writer, editor, and critic and, although Poe had lived at several addresses in the city, this was his only Philadelphia home that had survived, resulting in Congress’ decision to establish it as a national memorial.
Riding the train down to Center City, our hardy family decided to walk to Poe’s former 19th century rental residence on the corner of Spring Garden and North Seventh Streets at 530 North Seventh Street. (One can catch the SEPTA Route 47 bus, at 7th and Market to the site). Although the mile long walk through the 10th Street neighborhoods was not the most desirable approach to Poe’s national memorial (forsaken plots of earth long forgotten, barbed wire fences encircling establishments one dared not enter, and disheveled homes desperate for care), we were delighted when we finally arrived, only to be met by a frighteningly foreboding raven statue perched high atop a 20 foot pedestal, its massive wings outstretched in either a welcoming or scolding gesture (shades of Hitchcock’s “The Birds”). That, along with the expansive portrait of Poe painted on a neighboring building’s wall, convinced us that we had arrived at our destination.
Upon reaching the locked front door of the National Historic Site, a sign was posted which instructed us to knock only once, an eerily appropriate entrance into the world of Edgar Allan Poe. I learned later that the National Park Service employee at the front desk, Cos Cosgrove, had said that the sign had been placed on the door to keep the noise inside to a minimum— but the startling solitary knocks we kept hearing, when subsequent visitors would arrive, could have been taken from the pages of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” with its incessant “ka-thumps” emanating from beneath the floorboards. With imagination fully in gear, we were eager to explore the rest of Poe’s home. Ranger Cosgrove encouraged us to check out the gift shop and the interactive museum exhibits while we waited for our tour.
Soon we were welcomed by the knowledgeable and engaging National Park Service ranger and guide Eric Knight who continued to build on the author’s gruesome writings and unfortunate existence. Perhaps sparked by a series of melancholy events in his early life—having his mother die when he was only three, being abandoned by his birth father, being taken in by the Allan family only to be left to fend for himself at the doorstep of the University of Virginia, losing his wife (and cousin) Virginia to tuberculosis at 24, never realizing financial security or full literary success in his career—Poe’s writing reflected the desperation, struggle, and poverty that he realized in his real life. Little did he know that he would one day be revered as one of the greatest writers in our nation’s history, creating the staples of American fiction and poetry which enlightened, among others, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, and T.S. Eliot--- developing the genres of murder mystery, science fiction, treasure-mystery, tales of terror, and symbolistic poetry. Upon learning that very few National Historic Sites are dedicated to author’s homes, made Edgar Allan Poe’s 1843-1844 residence even more exceptional.
The present site is comprised of Poe’s former residence and two adjoining houses. The original creaky floorboards add to the unfurnished rooms’ creepy allure, knowing that the Poe family had trod upon that space. A foyer (with the ranger’s reception desk, exhibits, gift shop, introductory film viewing area, and Reading Room) and Poe family kitchen area make up the first floor. One can climb a very steep (one-way, for safety’s sake) staircase to Poe’s study and bedroom on the second floor, continuing to the third floor which housed the bedrooms of Poe’s wife and mother-in-law. A modern staircase leading us to the former neighbor’s adjacent home, provides our exit to the porch, garden area, and side entrance back into the home.
All rooms are in a state of restrained decay where visitors can often sneak a peek at the home’s structural components—bits of protruding joists, bricks, and mortar. Left unfurnished because the National Park Service had no idea how the Poe family decorated their residence, visitors occasionally will encounter a graphic representation of a fireplace or bookcase depicted upon a screen. Probably the creepiest room in the home is the basement which was, no doubt, a chilling inspiration for many of the gothic master’s tales.
A Reading Room has been created on the first floor (though Poe never had one in his actual home) and is decorated based on the theories presented in Poe’s essay “The Philosophy of Furniture.” An octagonal faux-marble table, from where guests can sit, read, and enjoy an in-house library of all of Poe’s publications and criticisms, an oval mirror placed at the height that presenters/readers would not be distracted while reading Poe’s writings, comfortable over-stuffed seating for attending audiences, and the most surreal window coverings—Poe had wanted to block the sunlight from coming directly into this room and chose reddened shades which created an ominous effect, capturing the essence of the great gothic writer’s mind.
With governmental cutbacks necessitating the closing of this site four days a week (Monday through Thursday), it would seem prudent to brainstorm ways to further develop the hypothetical offerings the site could give, further enriching its coffers. By bolstering the National Park Services revenues with tasteful programs enhancing guests’ understanding and appreciation of this literary genius and his time, there might be a day when visitors can, once again, visit the Poe national memorial seven days a week.
When I spoke to Park Rangers Knight and Cosgrove about this they replied that the site had, in the past, featured Halloween-time candle-light tours of the residence with readings by a ranger/interpreter dressed as Poe. Even though the site is small, because it plays such a significant role in our nation’s literary history, it should be a must-see destination for high school/college students and all interested in learning more about one of the most revered and influential writers in American history. Without initiating the type of raucously ghoulish entertainment that neighboring Eastern State Penitentiary provides during its Halloween season promotion, “Terror Behind the Walls,” The Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site could offer educationally mysterious programs in the Reading Room by Poe interpreters or characters from his writings, spooky candlelit tours across the creeky floorboards where one might chance an encounter with Poe writing feverishly at his desk, his mother-in-law Muddy attending to household duties, the frail wife Virginia doing her best to carry on, or his calico cat Catterina out for an evening’s prowl..
Garnering some ideas from other sites honoring Edgar Allan Poe, the Poe Museum, in Richmond, Virginia, has guided tours dedicated to telling Poe’s story as well as an “Unhappy Hour,” quite attractive to young guests, featuring readings of Poe’s works in a garden setting with cash bar. The Edgar Allan Poe Cottage in the Bronx and the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore, are also involved with fundraising to keep the author’s spirit and legacy alive. The Baltimore curator did confide in me that the majority of the museum's operational fees were secured by admissions and gifts, facility rentals (their gardens are rented out for weddings and other events), grants, and special events such as “The Unhappy Hour.” Though their gift shop is small, they are lucky to have a well-seasoned museum retailer and suggest obtaining a great grant writer.
In Philadelphia, I am told that the Eastern State Penitentiary, with no connection to Poe, raises its entire year’s revenue from their nationally recognized “Terror Behind the Walls” event. Although the Poe museums in Baltimore, the Bronx, and Richmond, and the Eastern State Penitentiary are not National Historic Sites, and are obviously administered by a different set of guidelines than Poe’s national memorial in Philadelphia, it would seem that some of their ideas to bolster attendance and revenue can be applied to this treasure on the corner of North 7th and Spring Garden Streets.
I can imagine readings of Poe’s repertoire in the eerie cellar and mysteriously reddened Reading Room. An “Unhappy Hour” could take place in the outside grounds underneath the hovering raven. Actual tales written by Poe could be enacted on sight by high school, college, or professional thespians. Period interpreters could bring to life Poe’s stories or convey a bit of 19th century Philadelphia’s story. I know with Rangers Knight and Cosgrove, who demonstrated such appreciation for Poe and his national memorial, this site could be further brought to the curricula of Philadelphia’s students and to the attention of literary scholars and visitors worldwide.
Hours are currently Friday to Sunday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. The site is closed for lunch between noon and 1 p.m. Admission is free. There are restrooms adjacent to the creepy cellar, as well as a drinking fountain with ice-cold water.
Own or manage this property? Claim your listing for free to respond to reviews, update your profile and much more.