Edgar Allan Poe and Sarah Helen Whitman: A Legacy Enduring at The Poe Museum

The Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia is home to the rarest, most extensive collection of Poe artifacts in the world! Their latest acquisition will excite Poe fans (no doubt) but especially those who are interested in Poe’s courtship with Providence poetess, Sarah Helen Whitman. Here’s what The Poe Museum had to say about an ambrotype of Poe they recently acquired:

You may not recognize its name, most of you are familiar with the popular ‘Ultima Thule’ daguerreotype taken of Poe in Providence in 1848. It appears on T-shirts, internet memes, and even socks. The Poe Museum is fortunate enough to own one of the few original copies made before the plate disappeared around 1860.

Fewer of you may know the daguerreotype taken four days later and which Poe himself deemed the best picture ever taken of him. He presented it to his fiancée Sarah Helen Whitman. The Poe Museum has recently acquired an early ambrotype copy dating to the 1860s. The museum’s copy was made while Whitman still owned the original but we do not know who she made it for. This is just one of the puzzles to solve as we study this fascinating image.

Sarah Helen Whitman worked tenaciously to protect and preserve Poe’s legacy, even after their turbulent courtship ended abruptly here in Providence. This ambrotype is a solidifying example of that effort, as Helen was having her materials copied and published in numerous articles, books, and biographies on Poe in the subsequent years after his death. She even gifted some of her priceless pieces to early Poe biographers and fans around the world. The original daguerreotype in which this ambrotype was copied from is in the collection of Brown University at the John Hay Library in Providence. You can read more about that here.

This ambrotype will be on display for the very first time at The Poe Museum’s “UnHappy Hour” this month.

172 Years Ago, Edgar Allan Poe Died…

On this day in 1849, literary arts’ brightest light was extinguished.

Poe was only 40 years old. He died under mysterious circumstances in Baltimore, Maryland at a time when his life was finally looking up. His legacy continues on as fans around the world commemorate this fateful day.

In the poetic verses of Sarah Helen Whitman:

Resurgemus

I mourn thee not: no words can tell
  The solemn calm that tranced my breast
When I first knew the soul had past
  From earth to its eternal rest;

For doubt and darkness, o’er thy head,
  Forever waved their Condor wings;
And in their murky shadows bred
  Forms of unutterable things;

And all around thy silent hearth,
  The glory that once blushed and bloomed
Was but a dim-remembered dream
  Of “the old time entombed.”

Those melancholy eyes that seemed
  To look beyond all time, or, turned
On eyes they loved, so softly beamed —
  How few their mystic language learned.
How few could read their depths, or know
  The proud, high heart that dwelt alone
In gorgeous palaces of woe,
  Like Eblis on his burning throne.

For ah! no human heart could brook
  That darkness of thy doom to share,
And not a living eye could look
  Unscathed upon thy dread despair.

I mourn thee not: life had no lore
  Thy soul in morphean dews to steep,
Love’s lost nepenthe to restore,
  Or bid the avenging sorrow sleep.

Yet, while the night of life shall last,
  While the slow stars above me roll,
In the heart’s solitudes I keep
  A solemn vigil for thy soul.

I tread dim cloistral aisles, where all
  Beneath are solemn-sounding graves;
While o’er the oriel, like a pall,
  A dark, funereal shadow waves.

There, kneeling by a lampless shrine,
  Alone amid a place of tombs,
My erring spirit pleads for thine
  Till light along the orient blooms.

Oh, when thy faults are all forgiven,
  The vigil of my life outwrought
In some calm altitude of heaven —
  The dream of thy prophetic thought —

Forever near thee, soul in soul,
  Near thee forever, yet how far,
May our lives reach love’s perfect goal
  In the high order of thy star!

A Walking Tour of Poe’s Providence

The romance between Edgar Allan Poe and Sarah Helen Whitman initiated a wild and distracted story here in Providence, Rhode Island.

It was here that Poe procured two ounces of laudanum as his poison of choice for a poorly attempted suicide. It was also here that Poe sat on two separate occasions to have a daguerreotype taken, one of which would become his favorite likeness of himself, the other becoming his most infamously celebrated portrait to this day. While Poe never did live here, his visits later marked some of the most incredible and unforgettable moments in his biography. His relationship with Sarah Helen Whitman would prove vital, as she became his most staunch defender after his death in 1849, leading up until her own in 1878.

This 1.2 mile tour created by native Rhode Islander and independent Poe scholar Levi L. Leland will guide you through the sites highlighting Poe and Helen’s courtship with special focus on Sarah Helen Whitman and her legacy in Providence.

This tour is FREE of charge and by attending you acknowledge that I am not liable for you in any way as we traverse the hectic streets of Providence. The tour is completely outdoors and we will be following all Covid guidelines in place when the time comes.

The tour begins and concludes outside Sarah Helen Whitman’s home at 88 Benefit Street (it’s the red house on the top corner of Church Street and Benefit Street, overlooking St. John’s Cathedral and adjacent churchyard). Parking is usually easy and widely available along Benefit Street (and is also free on the weekends).

So please, join me, as we walk in the footsteps of Edgar Allan Poe and Sarah Helen Whitman, revisiting their tempestuous courtship here in Providence, Rhode Island.

Please feel free to reach out with any questions!

Here’s the link to the Eventbrite page so you can view the tour dates and secure your spot:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/edgar-allan-poe-rhode-island-a-walking-tour-of-poes-providence-tickets-174657153247

The First Annual Wreath Laying Ceremony For Sarah Helen Whitman: A Great Success!

Sunday, June 27, 2021, the long anticipated First Annual Wreath Laying Ceremony For Sarah Helen Whitman took place at the North Burial Ground in Providence, Rhode Island. The occasion marked the 143rd anniversary of the death of Mrs. Whitman.

Jeff Jerome, curator emeritus formerly with The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore, Maryland was our guest speaker, and Catherine Hurst, local historian and actress, played Mrs. Whitman.

We had a modest turnout of enthralled guests who traveled as far as New York and Washington D.C. One special Poe enthusiast was from Peru! It was such an honor to have them.

Towards the closing of the event, Jeff Jerome presented me with a piece of wall from Edgar Allan Poe and Virginia Poe’s honeymoon suite in Petersburg, Virginia! It was truly a day I will remember for the rest of my life.

Our wheels are already turning for next year! Hope you can make it! Until then, enjoy some photos of a few highlights from the event…

The grave of Sarah Helen Whitman with a custom wreath made by Bloom Back Flowers.
Organizer and presenter, Levi Lionel Leland.
Jeff Jerome, curator emeritus formerly with The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.
Jeff Jerome with our actress, Catherine Hurst, who played Mrs. Whitman.
Left to right: Poe enthusiast Roger Bow, who traveled from New York to attend the event, organizer and presenter Levi Leland, and curator emeritus of the Poe House, Jeff Jerome.
Our actress Catherine Hurst as Mrs. Whitman, reading selected poems from Mrs. Whitman’s works.
The enthralled audience!
Poe enthusiast from Peru, who traveled from Washington D.C. to attend the program!
After presenting me with a piece of wall from the honeymoon suite of Edgar Allan Poe and Virginia Clemm Poe!

Exciting Update For The First Annual Wreath Laying Ceremony!

There has been an exciting addition to our event coming up on Sunday, June 27…

Jeff Jerome, curator emeritus formerly with the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore, Maryland will be a guest speaker at the ceremony! He has been featured in numerous documentaries and books regarding Poe besides his service to The Poe House for decades! Jeff has been a major proponent in keeping Poe’s legacy alive and well, and it’s an honor to have him here in Rhode Island to commemorate one of the first advocates for Poe, Mrs. Sarah Helen Whitman.

If you’ve been on the fence about attending this event, now’s the time to mark it on your calendar! It’s not every day that you get to have a major authority on Poe at your disposal.

Please follow this link to the official Facebook event page, and let me know if you have any questions in the meantime!

https://www.facebook.com/events/3988005677954563?ref=newsfeed

Photo from The Baltimore Sun

Join Us For The First Annual Wreath Laying Ceremony For Sarah Helen Whitman

Sunday, June 27, 2021 will mark the 143rd anniversary of Sarah Helen Whitman’s death, and we will be having our first annual graveside commemoration at the North Burial Ground to celebrate her life and legacy. There will be a biographical overview with information regarding her courtship with Edgar Allan Poe that took place right here in the city of Providence, there will be readings from selected poetry from the works of Mrs. Whitman, and finally, we’ll close with a wreath laying tribute on her grave. Questions will be welcomed at the end!

I don’t expect a massive turnout, but masks and social distancing will be required regardless. These rules aren’t just common sense for the current times, but also the official rules of the cemetery, so they must be followed.

The event will start at 12:00pm, but we will wait a few minutes for everyone to arrive if necessary. The program will run about an hour to an hour and a half depending on the question portion. The gates of the cemetery are closed and locked at 6:45pm, so you’ll have plenty of time to explore after the event. There is a lot of beauty to behold at the North Burial Ground!

To find the exact location of the event, i.e. Sarah Helen Whitman’s grave, just head to the right of the fork after entering the front gates of the cemetery and follow the road named Eastern Ave straight through until you see Dahlia Path (or people/cars). If you have any questions prior to the event, please feel free to reach out!

Follow this link to the official event page via Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/3988005677954563/?ref=newsfeed

Hope to see you there!


Ave Atque Vale!

From Rhode Island To Ohio: Sarah Helen Whitman And Sarah “Sallie” Elizabeth Robins

Here’s the first of which I hope will be many installments on my YouTube channel featuring items from my personal collection. I’m hoping this additional platform will help gain more attention and peak further interest, not to mention they’re fun to do!

This video brings you my latest acquisition, a first edition of Helen’s “Hours Of Life and Other Poems” that belonged to her before being gifted to an aspiring Poe biographer and admirer, Sallie Robins.

I’d like to thank my good friend and Ohio Poe correspondent, Mel Grosvenor, for introducing me to Sallie before I even found this edition. She has been researching her for quite some time, and connecting dots to her, Helen, and Poe. I’m grateful for her help in making this video!

You can find a link to her “Ohio Poe Fans” Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/269675707211475

And a link to my YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMXE42RwPIBgLf6maDu3vDg

Without further ado, here is the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eK-obJDtiFA&t=36s

A special thank you to Marissa Heroux for her unparalleled help in filming and editing this video together.

Mel’s segment was filmed and edited by her team.

Happy Birthday to Our Favorite Couple!

January 19, 2021 marks 212 years since the birth of Edgar Allan Poe and 218 years since the birth of Sarah Helen Whitman. Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts to traveling actors Elizabeth Arnold Poe and David Poe Jr. Helen was born here in Providence, Rhode Island to parents Anna Marsh Power and Nicholas Power.

So yes, these Providence love-birds did in fact share a birthday—and we’re left to imagine the impressive birthday bash they would’ve thrown had they been married.

2020 was a harrowing year for us all. 2021 is looking brighter, but we’re still not out of the woods just yet. Fans across the world will be celebrating this day virtually, with many scheduled online events happening on just about every social media platform you can think of.

I had ambitious aspirations for 2020. I was going to begin my walking tours of Providence and really kick-off this whole endeavor, but of course Covid and the pandemic interfered with that. However, I’m hopeful for this year, and that’s why I want to announce the First Annual Wreath Laying Ceremony for Sarah Helen Whitman on Sunday, June 27, 2021 at the North Burial Ground in Providence, Rhode Island.

This will be an in-person event, CDC and RIDH permitting. Rules and regulations will be closely monitored in the weeks prior, and if it needs to be virtual, it will. Details will follow in the months to come, but I wanted something special to announce today!

Now go toast the poets and eat some cake. You deserve it.

(Image created by The Providence Athenaeum).

“To Him Whose ‘Heart-Strings Were A Lute'”

It was only ten months since Helen had broken off the engagement with Poe in Providence before she discovered he had died unexpectedly in Baltimore. After that tumultuous break-up, Poe had written Helen a letter, to which she did not respond. It’s safe to assume there was a lack of closure for them both, but especially for Helen now that Poe had left this earth for good. She spent the rest of her life memorializing and relishing in her connection to him. She corresponded with his friends and relatives, answered the many inquiries of early biographers, and even tried to contact Poe himself with the help of mediums and spiritualists. She staunchly defended Poe’s reputation, publishing her own book titled “Edgar A. Poe and His Critics” that refuted the lies and slander spread by Poe’s literary executor, Rufus Wilmot Griswold. Sarah Helen Whitman used her platform to secure an accurate legacy for the man she once loved.

One of the many poems Helen wrote about Poe gives us a poignant view of her response to his death. First published under the title “To Him ‘Whose Heart-Strings Were A Lute'” but then later changed to “Resurgemus” (which is the Latin word for “Rise”) Helen describes an almost sense of relief that Poe has finally found peace in death, and a comfort in knowing that his soul will live on forevermore.

Resurgemus
by Sarah Helen Whitman

I mourn thee not: no words can tell
The solemn calm that tranced my breast
When I first knew the soul had past
From earth to its eternal rest;

For doubt and darkness, o’er thy head,
Forever waved their Condor wings;
And in their murky shadows bred
Forms of unutterable things;

And all around thy silent hearth,
The glory that once blushed and bloomed
Was but a dim-remembered dream
Of “the old time entombed.”

Those melancholy eyes that seemed
To look beyond all time, or, turned
On eyes they loved, so softly beamed —
How few their mystic language learned.
How few could read their depths, or know
The proud, high heart that dwelt alone
In gorgeous palaces of woe,
Like Eblis on his burning throne.

For ah! no human heart could brook
That darkness of thy doom to share,
And not a living eye could look
Unscathed upon thy dread despair.

I mourn thee not: life had no lore
Thy soul in morphean dews to steep,
Love’s lost nepenthe to restore,
Or bid the avenging sorrow sleep.

Yet, while the night of life shall last,
While the slow stars above me roll,
In the heart’s solitudes I keep
A solemn vigil for thy soul.

I tread dim cloistral aisles, where all
Beneath are solemn-sounding graves;
While o’er the oriel, like a pall,
A dark, funereal shadow waves.

There, kneeling by a lampless shrine,
Alone amid a place of tombs,
My erring spirit pleads for thine
Till light along the orient blooms.

Oh, when thy faults are all forgiven,
The vigil of my life outwrought
In some calm altitude of heaven —
The dream of thy prophetic thought —

Forever near thee, soul in soul,
Near thee forever, yet how far,
May our lives reach love’s perfect goal
In the high order of thy star!



In Pace Requiescat

On this day, October 8, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe’s body was available for viewing at the Washington College Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. His funeral attire was donated by some of the students of the college and included a black suit with a white cravat. Poe’s shroud was sewn by his physician’s wife. His coffin was a plain one of simple mahogany. The coffin had no lining, no handles, no nameplate, and not even a cushion for his head. His body was visited by numerous ladies of the city so they could acquire a lock of his hair as a souvenir of the great poet. His funeral procession left the Washington Medical College en route to the Westminster Burial Grounds around 4 o’clock in the afternoon. It was a lugubrious day. Poe’s “cold-blooded” and “unchristian-like” funeral lasted about three minutes. The Reverend William Clemm (a relative of Poe’s) didn’t even give the eulogy he had prepared partly because of the poor weather, but mainly because there were so few people in attendance. The attendees included Poe’s cousin Neilson Poe, his uncle Henry Herring, his cousin Elizabeth Herring and her husband, his friend Joseph Snodgrass, his friend and classmate Z. Collins Lee, his early school teacher Joseph H. Clarke, the sexton George Spence, and of course the undertaker Charles Serter. It was said that Poe was buried like a dog. He was hastily lowered into the ground, and the wet earth was shoveled right upon the lid of his coffin. Poe’s closest loved ones such as his Aunt Maria Clemm, his fiancee Sarah Elmira Royster, or his sister Rosalie Poe were not even notified of his death before he was already buried in the ground.

Pictured here is an early rendering of the Westminster Church and Burial Grounds, circa 1857. The church wasn’t built until after Poe’s interment. His grave was located in back of the church in his family’s plot until 1875, when funds were raised to erect a monument to properly mark the grave of the great American poet. Poe was exhumed, and placed in the front of the the graveyard where he remains today.