“Remembering Poe.” Sarah Helen Whitman Comes to the Betsey Williams Cottage

From the North Burial Ground Facebook page:

Celebrate National Poetry Month this April with North Burial Ground and the Roger Williams Park Museum of Natural History & Planetarium at the Betsey Williams Cottage! We are hosting a special afternoon performance of “Remembering Poe.” Join us on April 8th at 2pm in the Betsey Williams Cottage at Roger Williams Park.

Meet Sarah Helen Whitman, a descendant of one of the first families of Providence, as she courageously takes on the daunting challenge of defending the reputation of her one-time fiancée: Edgar Allan Poe. Like Poe, Whitman was an extremely intelligent poet and critic. Hear her recall in her own words what it was like to be courted by “The Raven” and her heroic efforts to counteract the libelous Poe biographer Rufus Griswold.

Whitman is performed by actress Helen McKenna, who retired from the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. Collaborating with McKenna to help provide context will be up and coming Providence Whitman scholar Levi Lionel Leland.

NBG regulars will know that Sarah Helen Whitman is one of our favorite “residents” of the cemetery. We are so excited to be able to bring you this performance and chance to encounter Whitman in a new way. We are hosting the event in partnership with our friends at the RWP Museum of Natural History and Planetarium in the Betsey Williams Cottage at Roger Williams Park (we said it twice, so you all note that this isn’t at NBG). Sarah Helen Whitman and Betsey Williams were contemporaries, and while we don’t know for sure that Whitman ever visited Williams at the cottage, we are excited to present this program to you in an amazing historic space where Whitman would have felt right at home.

This program is free, but an RSVP is required as space is limited. To RSVP, please email northburialground@providenceri.gov by April 4th to reserve your space.

Hope to see you there!

A Walking Tour of Poe’s Providence: 2022 Schedule

The 2022 tour schedule has been posted! Click on your preferred date below to reserve your spot through Eventbrite:

Saturday, October 15, 5pm-7pm

Sunday, October 16, 12pm-2pm

Saturday, October 22, 2pm-4pm

Saturday, October 29, 4pm-6pm

Saturday, November 5, 2pm-4pm

Saturday, November 19, 2pm-4pm

If none of these dates or times work for you, you can always schedule a private tour by clicking here and I will do my best to accommodate you.

Second Annual Wreath Laying Ceremony For Sarah Helen Whitman

This will be our second annual graveside commemoration of the life and legacy of Sarah Helen Whitman for the 144th anniversary of her death. The event will take place on Saturday, June 25, 2022 at 4:00pm at the North Burial Ground in Providence, Rhode Island.

There will be a biographical overview of Whitman’s life and times with details regarding her infamous courtship with Edgar Allan Poe that took place right here in Providence!

I’m pleased to announce the following guests of honor:

-Local historian, tour guide, and actress, Catherine Hurst will be reprising her role as Mrs. Whitman to recite selected poems from her body of works.

-Poet and Poe Scholar Sherri Weaver Poe will be joining us from Maryland as a guest reader.

-And finally, Jeff Jerome, curator emeritus formerly with The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore will be honoring us again this year as our guest speaker!

Following these segments will be information on Whitman’s death and funeral, closing with a wreath laying tribute on her grave. Guests will also be able to pay their own tribute to the poetess by choosing from an assortment of provided greens and flowers to place on her grave.

All questions for myself and the guests of honor will be welcomed at the end of the program!

The gates of the cemetery are closed and locked at 6:30pm, so you’ll have time to explore after the event. There is a lot of history and beauty to behold at the North Burial Ground!

To find the location of the event (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). There is also free parking on North Main Street where you can walk through North Burial Ground’s Rochambeau gates and travel on foot just a short distance to the approximate location of the event.

This annual remembrance is one of the biggest celebrations of Sarah Helen Whitman’s life and legacy in recent history! You won’t want to miss it.

If you have any questions prior to the event, please feel free to reach out on this page, email me at levi@edgarallanpoeri.com, or visit the official event page on Facebook here.

Hope to see you there!

Better Left Unpublished – “The Unpublished Correspondence of Edgar Allan Poe”

John Henry Ingram was a young, ambitious Englishman endeavoring to write the first true biography of Edgar Allan Poe. In 1873, he wrote to Sarah Helen Whitman appealing for her aid. Whitman, having already spent the last few decades of her life vindicating Poe and publishing her own pieces about him, wrote back to Ingram, beginning a very turbulent, dramatic, and peculiar correspondence over the next five years. Whitman was optimistic of Ingram’s prospects, but didn’t hesitate to assist other aspiring biographers where she saw fit. This often angered Ingram, as Whitman was such an asset to him that he didn’t want to share this treasure trove of information. The idea of having another biographer possibly take his spotlight or beat him to the punch made Ingram moody, unappreciative, and just plain crass. Sarah Helen Whitman never wavered and handled him with the utmost eloquence. She outwitted and outdid him, never making it obvious or gloating in her social superiority and etiquette. 

Despite Ingram’s capricious nature, Whitman continued to write to him, sending him a plethora of information and materials relevant to her time with Poe. But she wasn’t the only one sending Ingram very private pieces of Poe’s life. Marie Louise Shew and Nancy “Annie” Richmond also aided Ingram in his quest after he had reached out to them. These women were involved with Poe in varying degrees of romantic intensity (mostly one-sided) and they were subject of an article published by Ingram in Appleton’s Journal in May 1878 titled “Unpublished Correspondence of Edgar Allan Poe.” This article became the final straw in the five year relationship between Whitman and Ingram. 

In a hurry to get this previously unpublished material to press, Ingram made public some of the letters provided by these ladies that were written to them by Poe, and it was the letters from Poe to Annie (a married woman in Lowell Massachusetts) that had the profound effect on the seventy five year old Whitman’s ailing heart. One letter dated November 16, 1848 opens: “Ah, Annie, Annie! What cruel thoughts must have been torturing your heart during the last terrible fortnight in which you heard nothing from me—not even one little word to say that I lived…But, Annie, I know that you felt too deeply the nature of my love for you to doubt that, even for one moment, and this thought has comforted me in my bitter sorrow.” The letter continues on with more professions of love and even a request for Annie to visit him and comfort him, calling her his “pure beautiful angel.” This letter is by no means unusual for Poe in his wooing of a female interest, however, it’s the date that caused devastation for Whitman. For the first time in her life, Sarah Helen Whitman discovered Poe was writing impassioned letters to other women at the same time he was pursuing her in Providence, since November 1848 overlaps their courtship. Ingram knew the implications of this before publishing it, and he did it anyway. 

But it doesn’t stop there. Ingram included even more letters from Poe to Annie that date after Poe’s relationship with Whitman where Poe says: “Indeed, indeed, Annie, there is nothing in this world worth living for except love—love not such as I once thought I felt for Mrs. —, but such as burns in my very soul for you[…].”

It’s bold to think that Ingram was doing some kind of justice to Whitman by dashing out her name in the transcription of Poe’s letter, but she wasn’t a fool. The publication of these letters absolutely crushed her, since she truly believed that she was one of the only true loves of Poe after the death of his wife. It was a posthumous betrayal from a man she loved and came close to marrying three decades prior, and a betrayal from the friend she had invested so much of her time in over the last five years. Ingram omitted other pieces entirely from the letters that would have certainly been even more damaging to Whitman, including a line where Poe calls her mother the devil. Still, Ingram’s thoughtlessness cost him everything. Not only did it tarnish his standing with Whitman, but it inadvertently worked against what they were both working so hard to achieve in defending Poe’s name. The article made Whitman look bad, and Poe even worse. In a final act of courage and redemption, Sarah Helen Whitman published her first and only attack on Ingram in The Providence Journal, discrediting his article and questioning his discretion. A month later she was in her grave, undoubtedly put there after the realization that she could no longer linger in her efforts on this cold earth. She could only hope that her work was enough to accomplish the mission she set forth despite so much adversity, and centuries later her efforts proved not in vain.        

Bowen to Brown Street: Correcting an Error

Since the early stages of my research of Sarah Helen Whitman’s Providence, I’ve identified the site of her death as the attractive, off-white house with black exterior shutters overlooking Prospect Terrace at 97 Bowen Street. It’s embarrassing to admit, but it must be formally addressed (no pun intended) that I was incorrect in identifying that location. When Whitman moved into the Dailey home in 1878, it was at 97 Bowen Street. She spent no more than five months there before she passed away in June, and her wake was held in the house, too.

Just recently, my friend Donovan Loucks (webmaster of The H. P. Lovecraft Archive, and, by my proclamation, Master of Maps) brought to my attention that Whitman’s description of her view from the second story of the Dailey home didn’t quite make sense for the location I had pinned. So, he did what he does best and quickly found that in 1878, the Dailey home was perpendicular to Brown Street with the side of the house facing Bowen. Sometime between 1882 and 1899, Brown Street was extended to the front of the Dailey house and it was readdressed entirely to 133 Brown Street. This of course changed the numbering on Bowen Street, making today’s 97 Bowen Street completely irrelevant to Whitman and the Dailey family, and 133 Brown Street the correct location of the house on today’s map. 

Research is ever-developing, leaving the researcher everlearning. I’m chalking this one up as a learning experience and a reminder to double and triple check (hell, quadruple check) locations I’m investigating, especially those more obscure places that haven’t been covered as extensively by historians. Below is a photo taken today during my very first visit to the TRUE site of Sarah Helen Whitman’s death. The Dailey family home at 133 Brown Street:

The Dailey home where Whitman died in 1878. Located today at 133 Brown Street.

Helen & The Dragon’s Breath

On January 16, 1878, just five months before her death, Sarah Helen Whitman wrote to her English correspondent John Henry Ingram after moving into the home of her friends on Bowen Street where they would care for their elderly houseguest. In describing her room to Ingram, Helen said: “My bronze censer from the palace of the Emperor of Peking breathes myrrh & sandalwood from its dragon’s mouth, whenever the company in the parlor below wishes to be ‘drowsed in the Orient’s dusky thought.’” 

I figured it’d be appropriate to find my own little bronze censer with a dragon’s mouth to breath out the smoke. I also found myrrh and sandalwood incense that contains orris root, a scent in which Poe said brought him back to his childhood. Orris root was often put in linen drawers to add a pleasant scent to clothes, and Poe’s foster mother, Frances Allan, would often do this. Orris root always reminded him of the only mother he really knew from his childhood.

It’s an experience, at the very least, to share in some of these material things that they’ve also shared in, since we’ll never get to meet them here in the flesh on this mortal rock.

Happy Birthday, Poe and Helen! January 19, 2022

Sarah Helen Whitman and Edgar Allan Poe are North Burial Ground’s most famous literary couple. Helen (as her friends in the literary world of 19th century Providence would call her) is buried here in NBG.
Helen and Edgar shared a birthday so we are throwing them a birthday poetry salon! We like to think it’s how Helen and Edgar would have celebrated their joint-birthday while they were together.

Join NBG and independent Poe scholar, creator of edgarallanpoeri.com, A Walking Tour of Poe’s Providence, and NBG Docent, Levi Leland for an evening of poetry and history.

We’ll have a short presentation, a Q&A with Levi, and then we’ll share some poetry together. Bring your favorite poem (or an excerpt if your favorite poets are epic poets) to share! The evening starts at 6pm!

This is a virtual event and will be hosted on MS Teams. Just follow the link here on the scheduled date and time: https://teams.microsoft.com/l/meetup-join/19%3ameeting_MDA4NWUwODItMDE2Zi00ZWFiLWFlZWQtYmM1YTUxOTM2OThj%40thread.v2/0?context=%7b%22Tid%22%3a%22561baac9-45d8-4ace-90d5-f642ceb985af%22%2c%22Oid%22%3a%2259af55d4-6428-4597-91cf-e22176f00a6e%22%7d

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:


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: