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Joseph V. Ridgely, Edgar Allan Poe scholar

Joseph V. Ridgely
Joseph V. Ridgely

Joseph Vincent Ridgely, a retired university professor who studied American literature and was a specialist in 19th-century Southern writers, including Edgar Allan Poe, died of complications from atrial fibrillation Sept. 27 at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring. The longtime Roland Park resident was 93.

Born in Montgomery, Ala., he was the son of Raymond Ridgely, city manager of St. Petersburg, Fla., where the family lived. His mother was the former Eelje Scriven, a legal secretary. He earned a bachelor's degree at University of Florida, where he also received a master's degree.

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As a young man, he attended spring training baseball games held in his hometown. He caught several baseballs batted by Babe Ruth.

In 1943, Dr. Ridgely joined the Army Air Forces and served at Borinquen Field in Puerto Rico. He survived a U-boat attack on his troopship after it left New Orleans on an assignment.

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"My father was playing chess on the deck, and when he awoke after the torpedo struck, he was in a hospital and could not remember being saved or anything," said his daughter, Julia Somerset Ridgely, a software product manager who lives in Rockville.

After the war, Dr. Ridgely moved to Baltimore and enrolled at the Johns Hopkins University, where he received a second master's degree and his doctorate. He also worked at The Baltimore Sun as a copy editor from 1951 to 1957.

"My father conceived an immediate dislike for Janetta Somerset, a rising Sun star who had moved to Baltimore after being London bureau manager and heading the Paris operation, who was the daughter of Baron Lord Raglan of Usk in the United Kingdom," his daughter said. "His opinion changed when he attended a Newspaper Guild meeting and found she was chairing it. They were married in 1956."

According to an article his wife wrote in 1981, the couple decided to announce their engagement to The Sun's staff on what they thought would be a quiet Sunday night.

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"It was a dreadful evening," she wrote in 1981. "For the first time in memory, three Baltimore stories were leading the Associated Press' wire." That day, Jan. 29, 1956, H.L. Mencken died, there was a crippling transit strike and 10 people died at the Arundel Park fire at a church oyster roast. She spent much of the evening at South Baltimore General Hospital covering the aftermath of the fire.

The couple set their wedding at the Church of the Nativity in Cedarcroft at the end of July. Just before the ceremony, the Italian liner Andrea Doria sank off Nantucket.

"The bridegroom [Dr. Ridgely] rewrote and edited and made up picture pages until 4 a.m.," Mrs. Ridgely wrote, adding that her husband-to-be had four hours' sleep before the wedding.

After receiving his doctorate, Dr. Ridgely taught in the department of English and comparative literature at Columbia University in New York City. He lived on Keswick Road and rode the train weekly from Baltimore. He also taught English literature at Hopkins' night school.

An expert on 19th-century Southern literature, Dr. Ridgely wrote a 1966 biography of novelist John Pendleton Kennedy and another on writer William Gilmore Simms.

"He was well liked at Columbia," said Jack Salzman, former director of Columbia's Center for American Culture Studies. "He was nice, generous and a smart human being. He was a good man in a very difficult place to be a good man."

Margaret Vandenberg, a senior lecturer at Barnard College in New York, recalled Dr. Ridgely's seminars.

"Students actually generated the intellectual context there," she said. "You were really a voice in his room."

She also said, "He had an outsider's view of things. ... He introduced us to Thomas Bangs Thorpe's 'The Big Bear of Arkansas' by way of tracing the regional roots of William Faulkner's classic story 'The Bear' in 'Go Down, Moses.' Faulkner is usually presented as a high modernist without sufficient attention to the rich legacy of Southern storytelling in his writing."

Dr. Ridgely was also a scholar of Poe. He was the co-author, with Burton R. Pollin, of "The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe: Writings in The Southern Literary Messenger," published in 1997.

He retired as professor emeritus from Columbia University in 1989. He moved to Silver Spring's Aspenwood Senior Living in 2010.

Dr. Ridgely liked technology and was an early personal computer user. He traveled to Egypt, Peru and Turkey and made many visits to England and the Continent. He collected books and was a patron of Baltimore's annual Smith College Book Sale.

No funeral is planned.

Dr. Ridgely's wife of 30 years died in 1986. He is survived by his daughter.

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