Part of the fun of administrating this website is hearing from YOU! This week, I was contacted by a man named Russell, who told me that he grew up right next to the Power Family Home & St. John’s Cathedral while his father worked at Brown University. His old home stands prominently at 80 Benefit Street, and its bright yellow color is as hard to miss as the deep red of Sarah Helen Whitman’s family home at 88 Benefit Street.
Living next to the notorious site of Edgar Allan Poe’s courtship with our Providence Poetess naturally comes with local lore. One myth I was able to dispel for Russell that he had heard during his youth on Benefit Street was that the graveyard of St. John’s Cathedral inspired Poe’s most famous work, “The Raven.” As cool as that would be, it’s unfortunately FALSE! Poe published “The Raven” in January of 1845, and his first visit to Providence wasn’t until July of 1845. During that brief visit, we’re not even sure Poe got a decent view of the graveyard, as he passed by in the dark of night and his attention was arrested solely on Sarah Helen Whitman in her rose garden. If he spent any time among the graves of St. John’s, it wouldn’t have been until 1848 when he returned to Providence to formally court Sarah Helen Whitman (and at that point his ebony bird had long made him a household name). Providence is connected to a few significant pieces of Poe history, but “The Raven” is not one of them. For example, Poe’s most famous daguerreotype portrait, the “Ultima Thule,” was taken right here in the city in November, 1848. The photo marked a turbulent fortnight for Poe in Providence, and it visually documents a significant period in Poe’s life.
Russell shared a few photos with me that he allowed me to pass on here. After exchanging a few emails, I think it’s safe to say we both walked away with an affirmation of enlightenment and gratitude.
I’m regrettably four days late with this post, but better late than never! On January 19, 2020, we celebrated the 211th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe as well as the 217th anniversary of the birth of Sarah Helen Whitman! That’s right, the two shared the same birthday, Helen having been born six years earlier than Poe.
I can’t think of a better occasion to share the news that The Providence Athenaeum and I collaborated after the Ravenous Exhibit to bring Poe permanently to the Athenaeum. This iconic bust of Poe is a copy of a copy of the original that remains in my private collection. He will be displayed above the main entrance of the Athenaeum directly facing a bust of Pallas (how perfectly POEtic) in the center of the library’s pantheon of busts. It’s been an absolute honor to help bring attention to Poe here in Providence and to allow his legacy to live on within the walls of this incredible institution. The same walls surrounded the living Poe while he was here in 1848 courting Sarah Helen Whitman. I can only hope that this endeavor will make future generations who enter the Athenaeum leave with a curiosity about the man portrayed in the melancholy bust above the entryway.
“A heavenly halo Kindles round thy brow;
Beyond the palms of Eden softly wave;
Bright messengers athwart the empyrean go,
And love to love makes answer o’er the
-Stanza from Sarah Helen Whitman’s “To The Angel Of Death”
Today (June 27, 2019) marks the 141st anniversary of the death of Sarah Helen Whitman. Every year, I pay tribute to our Providence Poetess at her grave in the North Burial Ground. I put together a little wild bouquet (with the exception of some dried wheat I had in the house) to leave at her tablet. I spent the late morning and majority of the afternoon reading some of her poetry from my 1879 first edition of her works. The edition was compiled by her literary executor, Mrs. Dailey, at Helen’s request to be published after her death. I left her grave with a final reading of her poem, “To The Angel Of Death,” the same poem that was read at the closing of her funeral service in 1878.
Edgar Allan Poe is associated with many places throughout the east coast of the United States. Those places include: Boston, MA, the Bronx, NY, Philadelphia, PA, Baltimore, MD, Richmond, VA, and even Charleston, SC. Scarcely does anybody ever connect Poe to Providence, RI. Although his time here was short (and he never did actually live here), there were some major events that occurred deeming quite significant to his biography. Edgar Allan Poe: Rhode Island will elaborate in those events and celebrate in all things POE! We’ll also bring attention to Providence Poetess and fiancée of Poe, Sarah Helen Whitman. Our mission here is to educate on Edgar Allan Poe’s Rhode Island story, claiming a little piece of the poet for ourselves.
As for me (the administrator of this website), I was born, raised, and still currently living here in the Ocean State. I have a tenacious passion for Edgar Allan Poe, and am a member of the Poe Studies Association. My goal is to not only educate and bring light to Poe, Whitman, and their story, but to have a neatly compiled resource for everything relating to the poets here in Rhode Island.
Thanks for taking an interest in Edgar Allan Poe: Rhode Island! I hope you enjoy all that we have to offer. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions, comments, concerns, or just to share your story! We’d love to hear from you.