Richmond also has a thing about Poe

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Edgar Allan Poe passed away in Baltimore during a visit to the city in 1849, and his body is buried at Westminster Cemetery downtown. But Poe spent much of his earthly existence in Richmond, Va., including most of his childhood.

So it is only fitting that the world's largest collection of Poe artifacts is housed there, at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum (1914 E. Main St., 804-648-5523, www.poemuseum.org).

Guided tours ($6, senior citizens and students $5) allow visitors to see first editions of The Raven and Other Poems; items from the offices of the Southern Literary Messenger, a Richmond magazine that published Poe's literature reviews as well as his own works; and other pieces of Poe history, such as an 1845 steel engraving that shows the writer -- best known for his dark tales of horror -- as cheery and clean-shaven.

Tour guide Rebecca Robinson says the depiction is more representative of Poe than the famous sullen, mustached 1848 daguerreotype taken four days after a suicide attempt.

The museum, founded in 1922, is in Richmond's Old Stone House, a 1737 structure that is the city's oldest home. Poe grew up nearby.

"He called himself a Richmonder, mostly," Robinson says as she stands near portraits of Poe's foster parents, Richmond businessman John Allan and his wife, Frances. A letter by John Allan to Poe's brother describes the teenage Edgar as "quite miserable, sulky and ill-tempered." (Poe and his foster father had a strained relationship.)

Baltimore visitors find particular interest in the Death Room, which contains relics and information from Poe's mysterious final few days in the fall of 1849.

The writer had been on his way from Richmond to New York City when a stranger found him in Baltimore in distress, wearing cheap, ill-fitting clothes that might not have been his own. Poe was hospitalized and died of unknown causes a few days later.

The Death Room includes the walking stick he was found with, a lock of Poe's hair, and spinning plastic cubes explaining 12 of the many theories on the cause of death: from low alcohol tolerance to rabies to an election-fraud crime of that era in which people were abducted, drugged and forced to vote repeatedly (Poe was found on Election Day).

"Remember, all of these are merely people's ideas," Robinson says. "There is no definitive theory."

Poe's connection to Baltimore goes beyond his death here. Much of his family lived in the city, including his cousin Virginia Clemm, whom he married in Richmond. Poe lived in Baltimore at times (the city's own Poe museum is at one of those residences, 203 N. Amity St. in West Baltimore), and while here he switched from writing poetry to short stories. It is short stories for which he is best known. (His MS Found in a Bottle won first place in a Baltimore newspaper's writing contest.)

Today Poe is spending his eternal rest in Baltimore. "They got his body," Robinson says. But much of the legacy of Poe's life is preserved in Richmond.

Where to visit

Haunts of Richmond (11 N. 18th St., 804-343-3700, www.hauntsofrichmond.com), a year-round Halloween haunted house of sorts near the Poe museum, is based on Richmond history and Poe's works. The attraction is open Thursday-Sunday, and it is not recommended for children under age 13.

Where to shop

Support the Edgar Allan Poe Museum by purchasing something from its gift shop -- there's the expected (books, T-shirts, key chains, magnets, mugs) and the unique, such as a two-CD set of "Edgar Allan Poe's Greatest Hits" (narrated versions of Poe's works) and -- no kidding -- Poe action figures.

There are plenty of specialty shops nearby too, in Richmond's hip and happening Shockoe Bottom area. Among them are Light Images (111 N. 18th St., 804-343-1539), which sells original, creative glassware; Pandora's Box (4 1/2 N. 18th St., 804-644-7800), a hair salon that also offers funky clothing, jewelry and artwork; TorMan (3 N. 18th St., 804-648-5900, www.tor man.biz), the owners of which make "essential energy products" -- that is, aromatherapy items such as body lotions and salt scrubs; and Kulture (2 1/2 N. 18th St., 804-644-5044), a bohemian boutique that sells clothing, 12-inch dance records and an impressive assortment of colorful water pipes.

Where to eat and drink

Just a block and a half from the Poe museum, the small, cozy dining room at Honey Whyte's All American Cafe (2116 E. Main St., 804-643-6022) offers fare such as burgers, barbecue, and fried olives and pickles.

If you want to play pool while you eat, Bottom Billiards and Grill (117 N. 18th St., 804-643-4323) has pizza, sandwiches and 11 blue-felt pool tables. For elegant dining, try Julep's (1721 E. Franklin St., 804-377-3968), where "new Southern cuisine" is served in Richmond's oldest commercial building.

For drinks and music, go to the live music club Alley Katz (10 Walnut Alley, 804-643-2816, ), the '80s-themed Mars Bar (115 N. 18th St., 804-644-6277), or Richmond's Dog House (1719 E. Main St., 804-644-3004), where music is performed on Thursday nights and motorcycles hang from the ceiling.

Getting there

The Edgar Allan Poe Museum is 2 1/2 hours from Baltimore. Take Interstate 95 south to Richmond, then take exit 74-B and make a left onto Franklin Street. Take the next right onto 15th Street, then the next left onto East Main Street. Go four blocks to the museum.

More information

For more to see and do in Richmond, go to www.ci.richmond.va.us/visitor/cixxx_visindex.asp.

For more regional trips, see Page 37.

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