Traveling with Edgar Allan Poe

— “Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore.'”

Now those are words to conjure with! They are, of course, from Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous poem, “The Raven.” Poe casts a uniquely powerful spell among American writers. Even people who have never read him have probably heard bits of his poetry or know the titles of some stories, such as “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Although he is most famous for dark and gloomy tales and verses, Poe was also the inventor of the modern detective story and a pioneer of science fiction.

If you’re a true Poe aficionado, you owe it to yourself to make pilgrimages to some of the important places in his short, strange life. And when you do, get a sense of the author by reading works that he wrote in those places. Castle Books’ Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe is a handy volume to travel with. Or you can use your laptop to access all of Poe’s writings at The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore’s website.

What follows are some suggestions for visiting the important spots in his life, and some corresponding reading…Born in Boston in 1809, Poe was abandoned by his actor father in 1810. After his mother died in 1811, he became the foster son of John and Frances Allan in Richmond, Virginia. Richmond’s Edgar Allan Poe Museum is one of the finest shrines to his life and career. Although Poe never lived in the museum building, it is the oldest structure in Richmond, so it’ll give you a feeling of what life was like back then. There, you will find Poe’s actual furniture and a model of how Richmond looked in that time. While visiting, start dipping into Poe’s only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, which he wrote in Richmond. You’ll have trouble putting down this bizarre and seldom-read fantasy that influenced Herman Melville’s much more famous Moby-Dick.
Poe spent a short time studying at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The university’s Raven Society has preserved Poe’s student living quarters at 13 West Range (contact the society about visiting this room). While there, read “Song,” a short poem written in Poe’s youth.

Poe also lived in Baltimore, Maryland, where his home at 203 Amity street is now the Baltimore Poe House and Museum. It features videos, Poe memorabilia, a portrait of his wife Virginia, and a lock of his hair. During your visit, read Poe’s delightful science fiction story about a moon voyage, “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall,” which he wrote while living there.

Poe spent some of his happiest and most productive years in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At 532 North Seventh Street, you’ll find his only surviving Philadelphia home. Maintained as the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site, the house has been left eerily empty and unpreserved. But in neighboring houses, you can view a film about Poe and visit a reading room furnished in a style advocated by Poe himself. It was here in Philadelphia that Poe created the modern detective story. Indeed, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle — the creator of Sherlock Holmes — called Poe’s mysteries “a model for all time.” So while roaming Poe’s empty home, read his detective story “The Purloined Letter.”

In 1844, Poe moved with his sickly young wife, Virginia, and her mother, Maria Clemm, to New York City’s Greenwich Village. His first Manhattan residence no longer exists; it is now the site of O’Hara’s Pub at the corner of Greenwich Street and Cedar Street. Stop in, buy a drink, and read “The Balloon-Hoax,” a playful work that Poe wrote while he was living at that very spot. First published in the New York newspaper The Sun in 1844, it describes the first-ever crossing of the Atlantic in a powered balloon. Thousands of readers believed the tale, even though Poe made the whole thing up!

While in Greenwich Village, Poe and his wife and mother-in-law also lived at 85 Amity Street. The facade of this house has been moved about a half a block to 85 West 3rd Street. While standing in front of it, be sure to read a stanza or two of “The Raven,” which he wrote while living there.

Poe’s last residence was a charming and cozy cottage in the Fordham section of the Bronx in New York. Although it has been moved to its current location at Kingsbridge Road and the Grand Concourse, it is excellently preserved. Unfortunately, the house is closed for renovations during 2010-2011. Check its website for news about when it will reopen. When you are able to visit, you’ll be able to see Poe’s own rocking chair and the bed where his wife, Virginia, died of tuberculosis at 24 in January 1847. Have a handkerchief handy as you read Poe’s great poems of love, loss, and mourning, “Annabel Lee” and “Ulalume,” which were written after her death. Poe himself outlived Virginia by only two years. He died under mysterious circumstances in Baltimore in 1849 at the age of 40.

Wim Coleman is a poet, playwright, and novelist, who recently edited a unique collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s works, The Poe You Don’t Know: Humor and Speculation. Read his blog on Red Room.

[Photos: Flickr | chucka_nc; RTLibrary; RTLibrary; Gruenemann]

Theme park news roundup: The word of the day is giga-coaster

The new Intimidator 305 roller coaster has opened at Kings Dominion theme park in Richmond, VA. The coaster, named in honor of the late NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, has ride cars that look like Earnhardt’s famous black Chevy. Earnhardt’s daughter Taylor visited the park last week to open the ride.

The Intimidator 305 screams along at 92 miles per hour, thanks to a 300-foot drop at the start.

Kings Dominion says that makes it part of a new class of giga-coasters – “complete-circuit coasters with a height of 300 feet or taller.” You can now check “add a word to my vocabulary” off today’s to-do list. You’re welcome.

Universal requires 4-night stay for Harry Potter packages (Orlando, FL, USA)

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens June 18, and if you want to book Universal Orlando Resort’s vacation package to go see the wizard, you will be staying in Orlando until at least June 22.

Universal tells the Orlando Sentinel that the package was designed as a 4-night experience when it was introduced in February, but the minimum stay requirement was just set this week.

The Orlando vacation packages include a hotel stay, Universal Orlando tickets, breakfast at the new Three Broomsticks restaurant and early admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.Coney Island Cyclone opens for 83rd season (New York City, NY, USA)

The landmark Cyclone roller coaster has re-opened for its 83rd season on Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York.

It costs $8 to ride the combination wooden and steel structure that cost $175,000 to build in 1927. Although the thrill ride is on the National Register of Historic Places, it is still listed among coaster enthusiasts as one of the best current roller coasters in the country – both for its great views of the Manahattan skyline and its 60 mph hairpin turns.

Nearby, the new Luna Park is set to open its 19 rides on the Coney Island shore on May 29.

Great Wolf Lodge tries for water-slide world record (USA)

3,651 miles. That’s the distance that bathing-suit clad visitors slid at 11 Great Wolf Lodge indoor water parks last weekend, in an attempt to set a Guinness World Record.

The Great Wolf Lodges each kept one water slide open for 24 hours and asked sliders to donate to the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. The charity event/publicity stunt resulted in 47,660 trips down the designated water slides.

Guinness is still verifying the information before making the world record – which will be in the category longest distance water sliding in 24 hours in multiple venues – official. Oddly enough, there’s no previous record-holder for this very specific, new category in the company’s record books.

SeaWorld’s Aquatic water park opens new water slide (Orlando, FL, USA)

Orlando water park Aquatica has opened its new slide, the Omaka Rocka. The tube slide deposits riders in funnels designed to mimic the sensation that skateboarders feel in the half-pipe.

This is the third year for Aquatica, SeaWorld’s venture into the water park scene. Omaka Rocka is the first addition to the park since it opened.

Future questioned at Freestyle Music Park (Myrtle Beach, SC, USA)

The troubled Freestyle Music Park is facing foreclosure. The Myrtle Beach, S.C., park – which opened as Hard Rock Park in 2008 then underwent a brand change for the 2009 season – missed a debt payment deadline last week.

The Sun News reports that the theme park’s owners have not been able to find new investors and are facing bankruptcy or foreclosure. Owners are saying it is “unlikely” that the park will open for the 2010 season.

Six Flags releases iPhone app (USA)

The Six Flags Fun Finder, a free app, is now available in the App Store. Beyond the usual park maps and event listings, that app integrates with Facebook to help you find the exact location of your friends within any Six Flags theme park. The app is free.

Sail from local ports to save on airfare – Cruise tip

As a resident of Richmond, Virginia, I discovered that cruise ships leave from Norfolk after being refurbished at a shipyard in Newport News. When they leave port, the rooms have been thoroughly cleaned and upgraded. The ships are like new again.

The best part is that you can hop on board and cruise down to the Caribbean. The trips usually come back to Norfolk, so you can save on airfare both ways. For each person that cruises, you can save as much as $200 on airfare.

TSA forces Richmond airport to issue access badge to convicted felon

In today’s episode of “what did the TSA do this time?”, the agency is under fire for not only hiring a convicted felon, but demanding that his assigned airport issue him an access badge.

The unidentified TSA employee was hired by the agency after passing their background checks – but when he applied for his airport badge, Richmond airport turned him down, citing a conviction for robbery when he was 18.

When the airport denied the badge application, the TSA demanded that they reconsider, citing “unspecified consequences” if they refused. To me, this sounds an awful lot like blackmail.

The employee had not mentioned the conviction on his TSA application, and it doesn’t look like it it would have mattered, because the TSA claims he actually committed the crime when he was 17, and that they don’t really care about a conviction at that age.

The airport access badge is required to obtain access to the “sterile” area of the airport, including the baggage sorting areas and airline parking spots. Of course, the job of a TSA agent also includes passenger and luggage screening – something convicted felons should not be allowed to do if you ask me.

Politicians are now getting involved, and U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor has asked the TSA to clarify their actions. Given the recent bad press for the TSA, it never ceases to amaze me how they continue to screw up, creating even more bad PR. Lesson to be learned? If you are a criminal planning to protect our skies, make sure you don’t commit any crimes after your 18th birthday.

What do you think?


WHS new “Tentative List”: Places to Love–Thomas Jefferson Buildings

For the Gadling series “World Heritage Site new “Tentative List”: Places to Love” we are covering the 14 sites that have been submitted for possible inclusion as an official World Heritage Site in the United States. The sites will not be posted in order of importance or in the order they appear on the list.

Number 4

Name of Site: Thomas Jefferson Buildings

Location: Poplar Forest and Richmond, Virginia

Reason for importance in a nutshell: Though he had no formal training in architecture, Thomas Jefferson had a genius for drawing and constructing buildings. His home estate Monticello and the University of Virginia by his design are already on the World Heritage list. Poplar Forest and the State Capitol building (pictured) would be additions to this.

Grant’s Take: I’m always baffled by Jefferson’s areas of expertise. In addition to being the third President of the United States, he was obviously an acclaimed architect as well as an archaeologist, university founder, scholar, wine lover, writer and philosopher. I’ll be lucky if I get to one of those in my life.

No better example of Thomas Jefferson’s architectural talent exists than in Virginia. The UVA campus is a beautiful example of his work and I see more of this excellence in his Poplar Forest estate and Richmond Capitol building. All three of these sites are definitely worth a visit if you’re in the Richmond or even Washington DC area.