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Newfound Poe manuscript to be displayed in Richmond

A handwritten draft of one of Edgar Allan Poe's earliest poems and a letter to author Washington Irving are among a handful of items that will be part of an exhibit opening April 26 at a Richmond, Va., museum devoted to the writer.

"This is the kind of exhibit that comes around only once in a generation," Chris Semtner, curator of Richmond's Edgar Allan Poe Museum, said of "From Poe's Quill: The Letters and Manuscripts of Edgar Allan Poe," which will run through July 11.

"Because Poe's manuscripts were not highly valued during his brief life, many have been lost or dispersed over time, making them very rare today."

The exhibit celebrates the museum's 90th anniversary.

Included will be a manuscript of one of Poe's most important early poems, "To Helen." It was discovered just last month in an album belonging to Poe's cousin, Amelia Poe of Baltimore, which has been in the museum's collection since 1930.

The poem, which features a previously unknown version of the opening stanza, was found during a cataloging and digitalization project, museum officials said.

"We knew it was in the collection," Semtner said of the album, a collection of notes from friends and other writings, "but we had never looked through it. It was just sitting in storage."

Other manuscripts in the exhibit include four letters from Poe, the only complete Poe short story in private hands ("Epimanes," published in 1836) and the earliest privately owned Poe manuscript (the poem "Spirits of the Dead," written in 1827 and included in "Tamerlane," the earliest published collection of Poe's works).

"Seeing all these letters in one place is the closest thing to standing over Poe's shoulder while he wrote," Semtner said.

Other anniversary events scheduled for the museum include an "Unhappy Hour" on April 26, where the museum's 1922 opening will be replicated, with appearances by actors portraying H.P. Lovecraft, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and James Branch Cabell.

On April 29, a tour of the museum's Enchanted Gardens, laid out in 1921 as a tribute to Poe, will feature a talk by landscape architect Drew Harrigan,

Poe, a towering literary figure of the 19th century, was an early master of the horror tale and a pioneer of the detective story. He was born in Boston but raised primarily in Richmond. He also lived for a brief time in Baltimore and died here in 1849, under circumstances never fully explained.

The future of Baltimore's Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum, where he lived for a few years in the 1830s, has become clouded in recent years. City officials cut its funding in 2010, and a recent consultant's report has suggested operating the Poe House in collaboration with the nearby B&O Railroad Museum.

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

If you go

The Edgar Allan Poe Museum is located at 1914-16 East Main St. in Richmond. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5-$6. Information: 1-888-213-2763 or poemuseum.org.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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