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.