Speaker So let’s start with the the his last journey. Where did he leave, where was he going? Why?

Speaker Well, DPO is on a mission to raise money for the magazine that he wanted to start. And he was in Richmond, Virginia, to pursue financial support and also to rekindle his relationship with his childhood sweetheart, Elmira. And from there, he left. And that’s where the mystery starts to develop, because as far as it seemed to anyone, he was on his way home to New York where his aunt slash ex mother in law. Well, I guess we should decide, which I think are just Maria, maybe I’ll just say this. And as far as it seemed, he was on his way home to New York to return to Maria Klam, but he appears ultimately in Baltimore. And before that, it’s possible he makes a trip to Philadelphia or at least a partial trip toward Philadelphia and then ends up back on a train to Baltimore. And the next time we catch up with him for certain, he is in the streets of Baltimore.

Speaker And can you explain just because we probably won’t have a narrator. We’re trying not to have a narrator, maybe you could say in those days to get from Richmond to New York, you would have to take a boat from Richmond. Right. Or Amtrak trains.

Speaker But somehow Poe never got it right. So in terms of Poe’s final journey back in 1849 to go from Richmond to New York, you would have taken a boat to Baltimore, got on a train and then went to New York. Instead, it seems as though Poe took a boat to Baltimore, got on a train possibly to Philadelphia, and then on another train that took him back to Baltimore. And it seems very strange for us to think that a man like Edgar Allan Poe could just vanish. But that’s exactly what happened for about five days. Great. Thank you. Yeah, I’ll try to throw you some things.

Speaker What was Baltimore like at that moment, the fall of 1849? What was the city like in general anyway? But what was going on at that moment?

Speaker Well, at the moment that Poe arrives back in Baltimore, there’s actually an election that day and that factors into how many people perceive our side. Let me rewind that, because it’s it’s the day he’s found that there’s the election going on.

Speaker Not for five days, maybe if you wouldn’t mind just starting, say, in Baltimore in 1840, OK. Yeah, sure, sure, sure. It was, I think, the third biggest city, something that sounds right, although I’d have to make it up to get that exactly right. Yeah, sure.

Speaker Baltimore in 1849 is one of America’s busiest cities, busiest ports and commercial centers.

Speaker A lot of activity going on at the time that Poe is finally resurfaced. There is an election that day which makes the city more hectic and more active.

Speaker What what do you know, what can what can you say, I mean, if you can even do it sort of day by day as much as possible of that that missing week, I mean, do you need to remember the dates or what?

Speaker Well, let’s say October.

Speaker Um, he’s found October.

Speaker Third, um, so he could go day by day, I’d probably grab my computer if you want to go day by day. I wouldn’t mind. OK, let’s go for a online. Let me get.

Speaker OK, let me ask a question.

Speaker Oh, I could just go for you.

Speaker OK, OK, so from the evidence, we believe that Poe departed from Richmond on September 27th or September 28th, arriving that day in Baltimore and possibly going to the United States hotel, which would have been a logical choice for somewhere to stay. We know the weather was fairly mild, but would soon turn rainy that week. And it’s believed that later in the week, possibly one or two days later, he attempted to visit a friend of his named Nathan Seabrooks, who was the head of a ladies school, but also a former magazine editor.

Speaker And it would make sense, as Poe is soliciting support for his magazine, that he would be reaching out to all his contacts in Baltimore. The story was always that Poe couldn’t find Brooks’s house or did not find Brooks at home. It was very vague. One thing that I was able to uncover in the newspapers from the time was that there had actually just been a fire at Brooks’s house a few days before. So it’s very possible. The reason Poe couldn’t find his friend is that his friend was not home as the house was being repaired.

Speaker That brings us a few days later when we catch up with Poe and in the first concrete way, when he shows up at a hotel and tavern called Ryan’s on October 3rd.

Speaker And this is the famous moment of Poe allegedly being found in a gutter drunk. Well, there was no gutter that he was found in, although that story starts pretty soon after his death and extended all the way up to, for instance, the preface of the addition of post stories that I read in high school. But the truth is that he went into Ryan’s. And there are a couple of mysterious elements that that we know about. One, Poe is wearing clothes that do not seem to fit him properly. So how did this happen? Another is that he is incoherent. So is he drunk? Of course, is the natural question. He is aided by a printer from the Baltimore Sun and Poe apparently asks for Joseph Snodgrass. Now, Snodgrass, interestingly, is the former partner of Nathan Seabrook’s. And we have to wonder, why is Poe asking for Snodgrass again? We could think back to him trying to develop support for his new magazine, but he’s also clearly in distress, which are the words of the printer who finds him. And Snodgrass comes, as does one of Poe’s relatives, Henry Herring, and they send Poe off to the hospital.

Speaker I can repeat any of that if you want it broken up and maybe just go back a little bit, if you could fill in a little bit, something like, you know, after this unsuccessful visit or attempt to visit Nathan Brooks, he disappears for summer, right?

Speaker Yes. We don’t know what the next thing we know is. Sure.

Speaker After Poes unsuccessful attempt to visit Brooks, he disappears. We lose track of him for several days until he shows up again at Ryan’s Hotel on Election Day at one of the locations of a polling place.

Speaker So we’ve got him to the hospital when you start up with he he was he was taken to Washington, wants to go to Washington.

Speaker Oh, yeah. It had three different names that have been used was Washington College House. Washington College. I just want one, it seems.

Speaker OK, so we could just start there and then talk about those last two days or what?

Speaker OK, sure. Poll is taken from Ryan’s hotel to the Washington College Hospital, and he’s there for several days. That’s where he dies. We’ve had several conflicting accounts of what happened while he was in the hospital. The most reliable suggests that he, for most of the time was was fairly incoherent, but that he did cry out the name Reynolds repeatedly. This is one of the other mysteries that people have attempted to solve for for many years. And we do know that he had at least one visitor or attempted visitor, which was his cousin, Nelson Poe, who then wrote about the events and gave us some extra details. But Poe essentially is alone in the hospital and he dies alone without ever being completely clear what exactly he was suffering from.

Speaker Do you remember his last words?

Speaker That’s not reliable the last week. That’s Dr. So Dr. Moran was the attending physician and at the time of his death, he wrote a pretty long letter with the details to Maria Klemm explaining what happened at the hospital years later. Moran goes on the lecture circuit once DPO has become a popular figure and he apparently makes up an embellishes the story. So we get things like Poes supposed last words, which were this very poetic description of death. There’s no reason to believe what Moran is saying later on. Because he has an incentive to become a sort of popular figure on the lecture circuit. Oh, that’s too bad. But he was like, oh, Lord, help my poor soul. Yeah, there’s I mean, you would think he was the letter to Maria Klemens, very detailed. And and one would have to assume that that Moran would have included such details in the letter written a few days after his death rather than 20 years after his death. And we have the letter from right after the death of for some reason. You want me to read it out loud, but you probably have it so you could do something. Can you describe the burial?

Speaker The the burial of Poe is is really very sad moment both and in the life of his friends who were mourning his death. And also for us who appreciate Poe so much when Poe is buried, there were only three or four mourners at the funeral, as well as the undertaker and the minister who is performing the eulogy, who is actually a relative of Poes. And the minister later said that he had written a long eulogy, that he decided not to read because there were so few people and we have a couple of accounts of the funeral, some more reliable than others. But each figure at the at the funeral since the funeral was not publicly announced, as far as we know, had some connection to those final days of DPO, and that’s how they knew to go to the funeral. There’s one man at the funeral that it’s hard to connect the dots of how he knew had died, which is a former classmate of POWs named Daisy Collins Lee. It’s my speculation that he might have met Lee on the train when he apparently tried to go to Philadelphia. And that’s how Lee knew that Poe had fallen ill and was in the hospital and knew that he had died.

Speaker This is great, Matthew. Oh, OK, good. Perfect, embellish a little more of the scene of the funeral. I mean, sure. Was it raining? Do we know?

Speaker Yeah, we have.

Speaker Let me get let me.

Speaker And maybe that I can know that they buried him in the back of the churchyard. Yeah, that’s true. Right. They bury him in the back.

Speaker I mean, you were very good already and they kind of feel sad and pathetic, but even was always rolling.

Speaker The day of Poe’s funeral at the Westminster burial yard was appropriately enough, a very gloomy one. It was drizzly. It was raw and.

Speaker What else do we want to say? All right, maybe I could take a cough and a cough and we are in the right, right, right. Yeah, right, that’s right.

Speaker The coffin was reportedly a common pinboard.

Speaker There were no there were no planks put over under it, which was unusual even for the burial of an impoverished person, which meant it was the coffin was exposed to to the moisture and the elements. There was no tomb, certainly that it was lowered in just just a hole in the ground. And it was placed in the very back of the cemetery with no marker on it at all.

Speaker In fact, years later, Nelson proposed cousin apparently had a marker created to put onto the spot. And it was it was accidentally destroyed before it could be transported to the cemetery. So even that was not put on. It was only once a schoolteacher raised money to memorialize Poe that the the tomb, the memorial, what would you call it?

Speaker Well, why don’t we start or we OK. Oh, yeah. Because that’s like you said, we’re staying in the moment. Right. So we jump into the area. Yeah. That’s that’s after what happened to you.

Speaker Remember the year 1870 that they did that. Yeah. Yeah. That was 1875. That’s what I wanted to. Yeah. So so maybe we could just start fresh in 1975. Right. Our school teacher. Right. And what was her name. Rice.

Speaker I think I could look it up if you want, but I got just in 1875, finally, a Baltimore school teacher led a petition to move Poe’s body and to create a tomb to mark the place of his burial. So that’s why when you visit the burial yard, it’s the first thing you come upon is is Poe’s grave, whereas before you couldn’t even find it if you wanted to.

Speaker Do you feel comfortable describing that interment ceremony and how what a big hoopla and what irony it was in a way that. Yeah. Took so long.

Speaker Yeah. When Poe’s body was was moved from one part of the backyard to the other, there were reporters, there were crowds. It was a big ceremony. There was a letter read from Walt Whitman and her weight as well.

Speaker And actually, there he was, there he was there it was I think it was all around rental homes. They read a letter. There was a letter read from Oliver Wendell Holmes. There was an attendance. Walt Whitman, I believe Longfellow even wrote a note. So this was a real pivotal moment in marking this part of literary history belatedly. And when the coffin was moved, it was actually opened and people studied and described Poe’s remains, which also gives us some extra clues as to what happened when he died.

Speaker Well, since we’re on that topic, keep going.

Speaker So people today sometimes wonder if there are all these mysteries about Poe’s death and how he died, why not use our modern science, our forensic analysis, and exhume his body and study it?

Speaker This is unlikely to ever actually happen. It would require a lot of people authorizing it. However, because there is this moment in the 18 70s when Poe’s coffin was moved and his remains were studied by spectators, including at least one doctor. We do have some notes on the record that gives us some new clues. The most important one in my mind is that there was a description from multiple people of Poe’s brain having sort of posed brain having hardened and shrunk and being visible and rattling in his skull. Well, the brain is the first thing to liquefy in a skeleton. And so this could not have been his brain, but there was something there and they were seeing something that looked like a brain. And the closest thing that would resemble that is probably a tumor that had calcified and would have look what was right and would have looked like a miniature brain to the 19th century eye. And if Poe did have a brain tumor, it could explain a lot of what happened in his final days. His final years and untreated tumor could cause disinhibited behavior that could resemble drunkenness. Even when someone was not drunk, it certainly could have contributed. Sorry. It certainly could have contributed to his physical deterioration. Of course, you could have a brain tumor and still be murdered or hit by a truck. But it would it would go a long way to explaining Poe’s physical state at the time of his death.

Speaker What why is there so much intense speculation about how he died? Why do people care so much?

Speaker Well, it’s interesting to think about how curious we are about Poe’s death. And in some ways, I think you could say that Poe’s biography begins with his death, not with his birth. In fact, for many, many years, up until very recently, when when the statue was erected in Boston, most people wouldn’t know where Poe was born. But but almost everybody is interested in Poe and know where he died. Part of the reason for our interest in Poe’s death is probably that he did not become particularly respected and well known until after his death. So as a culture, we sort of worked backwards through his life. Another reason is that, of course, Poe’s own writing, at least a fair amount of it is invested in death, is interested in death. So much of his preoccupations and his own life come from deaths that he had had witnessed or that had affected his life. So that imposed death. We try to find the keys, the clues to his literature and to who he was as a person. Sometimes that leads us possibly closer to understanding Poe, and sometimes that might magnify things that that weren’t as important to his life as they seem.

Speaker It was excellent. OK, yeah, very good. And I don’t know if is taking it too far, but maybe if we could just talk a little bit about the irony that the inventor of the detective story is that after with his mysterious death, is it?

Speaker Yeah, I’m one of the other interesting twists about Poe’s death is that, of course, his own mystery stories really created the modern detective genre with the character of Agusta Pong. And one of the elements of that genre that that he crystallized was the solution, that we have a almost unsolvable question at the beginning of the story and that a detective figure steps in and through a genius that is not accessible to most of us, ties everything together into one answer. That has conditioned us, I think, as a culture to expect that kind of resolution when we face a mystery and conditions us ironically to expect the same thing about Poe’s death, which we will probably never have to an extent that would satisfy either us or against Gastropod. But it certainly makes us even more intrigued by the fact that Poe’s life ends with a mystery. It’s it’s almost a challenge to us to live up to the mystery solving skills that Poe has introduced us to.

Speaker That was great. Thank you. Very good.

Speaker I’m wondering to do it, let’s cut for a minute. Do we need more gym clothes? The straw hat, there was a missing walking stick and he had arrived. People know whether someone else is walking stick, but that seems to have been going from from what we could piece together.

Speaker PO had had a unique walking stick that we certainly don’t see that much anymore, which had a sword hidden inside of it. But probably, unfortunately for mystery lovers who like the idea of PO dying with this this concealed sword in his hand, the way that walking stick was probably left in Richmond, Virginia, before he departs. However, we still do have several mysterious clothing elements for Poe. We have this straw hat that was described that that is not associated with Poe and other parts of this journey. We have clothes that are described as being too large for him. So this this can be plugged in to too many theories or angles that people have tried to use to to make sense of these final days and of what leads up to post collapse. For instance, there was a very popular theory about Poe being cooped, cooping, being a word that applies to to politically corrupt practice of kidnapping vulnerable people on Election Day, essentially changing their clothes as you go from polling place to polling place and forcing them to vote for your candidate or candidates of choice. So because it was Election Day and because Poe was found in a polling place, this sort of forms a convenient match. Whether or not it’s it’s actually something that that might have happened to Poe there even theories about Poe being chased by some kind of murderer and trying to conceal himself by it, by wearing clothes that aren’t his. It might have been something as simple in my mind as the fact that it had been raining for a few days, post clothes might have gotten wet and he might have gone to a second hand shop and the clothes available to him for the money he had simply might not have fit him very well. What are some of the other crazy theories from the time people died? There have been a range of theories proposed about his death. I think of them as falling into a couple different categories, one category being things that Poe is responsible for doing to himself that led to his death, one category being external factors from other people who caused him harm and the more modern category being environmental or atmospheric factors that would have caused his death.

Speaker So we’ve gone to we’ve gone from a society that tried to blame people who might have had, for instance, problems with alcohol for their own death, which is what happened right away with Poe. So our first theories are he might have drank himself to death. It was described by Baudelaire as almost a suicide. An interesting expression was not quite killing yourself, but still being close to making that decision. There were later theories that Poe was an opium addict for which there’s almost no evidence for it. But again, a an instinct to find something that Poe did to lead to his death, either in a way that that helps us blame him and teach other people a lesson. Here is this famous artist who has wasted his life or to romanticize that. So someone like Baudelaire would have romanticized the fact that Poe might have drank himself to death or used opium until he died, regardless of the evidence. Later on, as Poe gathered more of a of an affectionate following, there was a cultural impulse to protect Poe and to blame someone else.

Speaker So that’s when we get theories of political corruption, having led to his death from violent thugs or robbery, being mugged and being left out in the rain for dead after being attacked or murder that the family of of his intended Elmira did not approve of their potential marriage. And so they came and they attacked him. These ways of pointing the finger at someone else or some institution that wanted to cause him harm. In the modern literature, we see more and more a trend toward finding things that are simply out there. So carbon monoxide poisoning was one theory later on using using our sort of more modern sensibility about science that the the gas lamps could have been giving off carbon monoxide. And over the years that this accumulated and DPO rabies, that he could have gotten a bite from an animal or a cat, which he did have cats in his life.

Speaker So taking the blame away from Poe, taking the blame away from some kind of far fetched plot against him, and really putting it more on the time period that in a way, the 19th century killed him, that they didn’t understand whatever medical problem he might have had.

Speaker Great. That’s good.

Speaker I think it’s a great analysis and I think I’ve never I’ve always thought that I think I always forget to say that and I write that down. So it’s not that’s good.

Speaker There was something you said in the middle of the.

Speaker And I talking about the different the violent deaths or other murder from his murder.

Speaker Well, yeah, well, maybe a little more about the election. They weren’t sure about cooping. I mean, just just very contained about how we know about them. In Baltimore at the time, politics was a violent thing. People really were kidnapped and taken from place to place.

Speaker Yeah. As far fetched as it sounds to think about political violence toward Poe, it was something that happened. Cooping is is a documented practice that during an election, someone could be forced to vote for a candidate. And the truth is, because Poe is found at a polling place or at a tavern and hotel that is being used as a polling place, the election probably had some kind of impact on the events of his death, even if it was not as direct. For instance, his family members, the herrings, one of whom was was present at Ryan’s at the time, would have been involved in the election going on. And this simply could have caused enough of a distraction where they weren’t as focused on Poes health as they might have been. It might be one reason that Poe goes to the hospital alone, for example, is that everyone is busy with this election.

Speaker OK, good, good.

Speaker Move on to some more general things.

Speaker One of the things we’re really trying to get across is how, how, how good, how was it tapping into this fairly new phenomenon at the time of urban anxiety, of concentrated inner city living, living among strangers and and real crime stories making their way onto the front pages, the kind of rising sensationalism and and stories of random crime and violence.

Speaker And Poe managed to tap into that. Could you talk about that a little bit?

Speaker Sure. You mean in his literature, you know? Yeah, sure.

Speaker You know, that was one of the ways in which I was ahead of his time. Right.

Speaker You know what, what Poe writes is is so distinct from most of his contemporaries and one way this manifests itself is his interest in and the urban environment and in the anxieties that come from living in the urban environment.

Speaker And Poe is uniquely situated to to comment on this and to create stories around this, in part simply because he lives in so many different cities. The the map of his life, the Baltimore, Boston, Richmond, Philadelphia, which happens to line up, quite interestingly, with the map of his death, where he’s going through these cities, reveals someone who’s who’s very sensitive, would be very sensitive to the way living in a city changes your perceptions of other people. And we see this in his literature, particularly his detective stories, the Dupont trilogy, part of why we need a detective to step in and solve what appear to be unsolvable crimes, unsolvable mysteries is that the city is so chaotic that it has it has lost control. And there is this this impulse to find some way to put it back together, to make sense of it. And that’s really where this modern version of a of of a detective story comes from, I think. And Poe’s mind is to to put the city in order.

Speaker Cringingly.

Speaker I’m going to race right now, and race is a complicated issue. It’s clear that in his writing there are several examples in which Poe is caricaturing ethnic people in a way that certainly we would consider racist, whether or not it was the norm back then. However, as with many things with Poe, there are also counterpoints. The most interesting, the most interesting counterpoint in my mind comes when Poe actually inherits a slave from one of his relatives. And this is an 18 29. Poe is 20 years old, as usual, has almost no money. The slave, whose name is Edwin, is also 20 years old. Now, what Poe does is really fascinating. He sells Edwin to a black family. This was done in order to save the very large expenses of freeing a slave, which states purposefully made very difficult. For someone who did not want to keep a slave that came into their possession like Poe in this instance.

Speaker But essentially, wait, let me let me rephrase something that because I make it more complicated, this.

Speaker Purcell’s Edwyn. To a black family for only forty dollars. Now, he could have gotten hundreds of dollars for this young man who’s 20 years old if he sold him through the traditional slave market, but what Poe is doing is essentially freeing. Edwin, this was one way to to more or less free a slave was to sell them to a black person or a black family. So we don’t we don’t know exactly what’s in his mind when he does this. But at the very least, it’s very thought-provoking to see people act in a way that’s that between. Between difficult choices is is helping this young man.

Speaker It’s really interesting. Yeah, that’s great. So so what do you think, though? I mean, here he is, a Virginian. Yeah. Self-identified anyway. What do you think his feelings about slavery were in general, slavery versus abolition?

Speaker Well, of course, because power dies in 1849 before the Civil War and before even much of the abolitionist movements come to the to the forefront. We don’t have anything in great detail about Poe’s beliefs, although because he’s at least partially a Southerner or culturally a Southerner, we’d have to assume that he would probably have leaned toward being against emancipation. But Poe is often a surprising figure and a contrarian, sometimes intentionally disagreeing with everyone around him. So I find it hard to predict, and it would have been really interesting to know how he would have reacted once this really became the national issue.

Speaker Yeah, that’s interesting. That’s good.

Speaker Oh, and alcohol, what are your feelings with DPO and alcohol?

Speaker It’s always been received as a given that he had a drinking problem, that he was an alcoholic. I diverge a little bit on this issue. I think he did have a drinking problem, but it wasn’t that he was an alcoholic from the actual contemporary evidence that that I can find doing a weight.

Speaker You know, let’s hold off for a second and then are you hearing the. OK, OK.

Speaker Shall I start at the beginning, I started when it comes to PO and alcohol, it’s received as a given that he had a drinking problem, that he was an alcoholic. I diverge a bit on this issue because I believe that PO did have a problem with alcohol, but it was not that he was an alcoholic. I tried to concentrate on the actual evidence from the time of Poe’s life, comments that people recorded about his behavior. And what pops out to me is that Poe would feel almost as though he’s drunk as soon as he took a sip of alcohol. And we all know that, that everyone has different levels of sensitivity to alcohol. At the time. It’s important to remember alcohol was much stronger in general than it is today and around that time. People were drinking, males were drinking more alcohol than any time in history, before or after. And the pressure to drink for a man was really extremely high. You couldn’t really substitute anything for alcohol at a social event. So if PO had a special sensitivity to alcohol, as the evidence suggests, and he was in a moment in time and a place especially in the south, where he had very little choice but to at least drink some alcohol, he would have been in a really awful position. And this has gone in and out of vogue. But this kind of sensitivity to alcohol has been given technical terms such as alcohol intoxication syndrome. And the evidence to me shows that that Poe would start feeling sick, would start feeling drunk after as little as one glass of wine. So the problem for PO with drinking was that as soon as he drank, he started losing control of himself. It doesn’t mean that he never got drunk, but I don’t think he was a habitual drinker.

Speaker All right, thanks, jumping around, that’s all right. One of the things we’re really interested in is how, of course, was obsessed with death and for understandable reasons.

Speaker But it seems as though the culture in the 1920s, 30s was obsessed with death. I mean, that’s when you see things like Mount Auburn Cemetery created by making cemeteries and beautiful landscaped worlds and funerary art is the monumental art is taking on this whole new thing.

Speaker And and instead of saying that tombstones that don’t say here lie, the remains of mankind are called way, they’re much more about the life rather than the dying. He talked a little about young people, young man being surrounded by death in his own life. And death is a sort of cultural. You sure?

Speaker Yeah, Poes fascination with death must come, at least in part from a personal interest, because from the time he was very young, he was unfortunately surrounded by death. His mother dies when he’s two years old. He probably was saw her fading on her deathbed. We’re not sure whether his father abandons the family before that or him or whether he himself dies. But this is something that is part of Poe’s life, part of his reality from the time he’s very young. Of course, his wife dies young and a few years into their marriage, actually, 10 years, I guess, is more than a few. I think they’re married for 10 years. But let me do that. But she was very young.

Speaker I actually don’t even mention. OK, well, that’s because we’re staying in the moment, right? We’re staying with young people, right? Yeah. I’m sorry. Um, but Jane Stanton died when he was 16, I think. OK, right. That’s right. His stepmother died when he was about 19. Oh, that’s right. Yeah.

Speaker Um, and as a teenager who witnesses other important people, particularly important women in his life, die, for example, Jane Standard and his stepmother, Fanny. So Poe has, I think, internalized the loss of family members, especially the loss of women as as being part of life. Of course, the country the culture itself has also been rearranging its relationship with death. This is a time where it’s very common for four children to die as soon as they get even a fairly mild illness for women to die in childbirth. And as the culture sort of comes to terms with with these kinds of losses, we start to create new ways to mourn, new ways to celebrate life. We move burials from the middle of cities out into more rural, idyllic settings, gardens, cemeteries, as they were called. We start to memorialize people with with sculptures and and statues in cemeteries and and with poetry. There’s a way in which the United States, as a culture, is trying to to find a new balance between life and death. And Poe is experiencing his own. Moments of grief through that lens.

Speaker And how about this thing, and if you don’t want to go this way, that’s fine, but, you know, is always so obsessed with it.

Speaker How do you know when someone’s dead? I mean, the whole buried alive thing. Premature burial. How do you know? And and mesmerism and catatonia. Catatonia. He didn’t call it that.

Speaker But catalepsy. Can you talk a little about that like that? Science hadn’t quite caught up yet, right?

Speaker Well, it’s important to remember when we think about PPO’s interests and in science and especially in determining how, you know, if somebody is dead or in fearing people mistaking you for being dead when you’re alive. How primitive. So much of medical science, sorry, how primitive so much of medical science was at the time. Phrenology is still considered a pretty legitimate science, studying the shape of people’s heads. So Poe is writing within a world that is is trying to figure out these same kind of life and death mysteries that that he is exploring through a literary lens.

Speaker Yeah, that’s great. Thank you.

Speaker Then jumping ahead to Virginia’s death, since we are doing this kind of a jump chronologically, OK?

Speaker Yeah, if you could just speculate on what it must have been like for him to watch her die than to, you know, be there and poverty and the death. Right. Right. Middle of winter.

Speaker Right.

Speaker I think because well, maybe, um, in terms of Poes marriage to Virginia, Klamm. I think it’s her age can be very distracting, people concentrate on the fact that she was a very young woman, which she was. But it’s important to remember Poe was completely devoted to his wife and she was sick for much of her life. And he was really her caretaker, along with her mother, Maria.

Speaker And this was a man who was struggling to make ends meet for his family, would use their cat to keep them warm when by encouraging the cat to lie on top of them.

Speaker This was a very, very bleak picture of poverty in the last years of Virginias life and to witness that and to feel as people must have felt that he was failing to to earn enough to take care of his sick wife must have been doubly heartbreaking, watching someone die and also feeling a crushing sense of guilt that sometimes he didn’t have enough heat, enough enough food, enough nutrition while watching this person that he loved, who was twice a family member, both a cousin and a wife, just slip away from him.

Speaker It’s very nice moving. Do you know the. Have you read a bit of the descriptions of him walking on the high bridge in the Bronx?

Speaker There was this big no just talk. Or if I did, I don’t remember, he would go out there and pace back and forth.

Speaker I think you’ve hit almost everything that you didn’t talk about. The reason I don’t I don’t know that I have anything that you might want to let the poets talk about, but OK. Do you know much about the Longfellow wars? Yeah, I do know about that.

Speaker Are you are you interviewing Rob Bilello hadn’t planned.

Speaker Well, he’s well, you know, he’s a do you know who he is. Yeah. The actor. Well he’s a tour guide at the Longfellow Towers and he’s a poet actor. And so he he’s the intersection and he’s right I think written a scholarly article about the one. I mean, I do know about it, but yeah, I didn’t realize he’s someone who you might want to OK, because you have to be doing another day of shoot in Boston. So at some point. Yeah, yeah. That’d be fun. I might even be fine I’m sure. Well I guess there’s no big no great excuse to shoot at the Longfellow house, but since I would have never actually been there. But if you’re if you think you’re going to devote any amount of time to the Longfellow or. Yeah. And he would. But I can say something. I could say something quick, I’m sure. Yeah. Yeah.

Speaker I mean the questions however. OK, who was Longfellow at the time. Right. And why did you single him out. Right. What did it do for Poe.

Speaker Positive or negative as usual with Poe, his motives are often unclear. And that’s the case with the so-called Longfellow war when Poe decides to to launch a literary missile essentially at Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who was the most famous poet writer in America, one of the most famous in the world. And also, it’s worth noting, and an extremely nice guy supportive of other writers, this was this was not someone that that Poe targeted who you feel sort of deserved it. On the other hand, part of what Poe is doing in his in his literary life and trajectory is to try to take down the establishment, to try to overturn the way literature works. And so that’s the reason I think that Poe would have seen Longfellow as a kind of adversary, is that Longfellow, not by his own choice, became a symbol of the establishment. And so when Poe does this and writes a series of attacks against Longfellow, not just critical of his writing, but accusing him of plagiarism, among other things, essentially the high crimes of literature. And Longfellow has many defenders who come back and respond to Poe at Longfellow actually does not respond personally. And this is this is probably what Poe wanted. It’s it’s something that’s actually very familiar in the modern age of of people being very savvy about how to get publicity for four different types of media. And as far as we know, Poe never regretted doing this. Other it fits into a pattern of of Poe pushing people away that could have been supporters and friends. And that included someone like James Russell Lowell, who had shown signs of supportiveness toward Poe. But once Poe attacked Longfellow, Lowell cut ties to him. An interesting epilogue to the Longfellow Wars is that Longfellow apparently donated money to Maria Klam, who was indigent after Poe’s death. So in typical Longfellow fashion, although he certainly was not happy about what it did to him, he he felt some level of empathy, of sympathy toward Poe for his misfortunes. And he didn’t hold a grudge.

Speaker All right, thank you. Very nice. Yeah, it is interesting. It’s just an.

Speaker Actually, this whole question of POWs wanting to take down the establishment and and yet wanting to elevate American literature to a peer status with English literature, can you talk a little bit about that that had this kind of big, lofty goal of.

Speaker Sure.

Speaker Poe’s goals with literature were were really very ambitious and and very large, almost global. It’s one of the reasons that we see PO facing stories and poems in other places around the world in Europe, even though his travel was fairly limited, at least as an adult, is that Post sees America as having a literature that’s too parochial, that’s too defined by New England specifically. And he wants to broaden this out. He wants to to make a much more international voice for American literature. And Poe, I think, was always tempted to go against whatever the mainstream trends were. So I think part of him is driven simply by reacting to what’s out there. And part of him really developed an ambitious vision of literature as encompassing more than than what’s right in front of in front of you, in your neighborhood, in your state, in your country, that it’s something that contains much more about the world, about science, even about outer space than than most writers at the time would have been thinking about.

Speaker That’s good.

Speaker When Dickens took post seriously, even after, you know, I mean, can you comment even on how that would have. How would Poe how do you think he felt when that happened? What kind of imprimatur was that? Well, what you’re thinking of well, when Dickens came to Philadelphia and agreed to meet. Yeah. And also agreed to help him get published in London. Right. Right. And anything but but here, Poe, I mean, Dickens was one of the few writers that poet Maya seems to me. And so how do you think for sure? What would it have signaled to power in terms of this quest to elevate literature, American literature?

Speaker Poe’s encounter with Charles Dickens is one of the many interesting moments of of Poe, both both appealing to another writer for help and also pushing them away at the same time and antagonizing them, which he had a tendency to do. Charles Dickens was touring America in the early 80s, 40s, and Poe had written some articles about about one of Dickens novels, in fact, claiming that that he had predicted the ending of the novel. Of course, at the time Dickens novels were serialized. So you would be reading them as they were printed. And in typical Poe fashion here, he really did not correctly predict this ending, although then he claimed he had. But all of this led to a meeting between Poe and Dickens at the hotel in Philadelphia. It’s it’s hard to know exactly what was said at the meeting. We know that they discussed writing in more or less the mystery genre and techniques of of how to do that, which both writers were and would do in their career. But whatever else transpired, which we know very little about, although we do know that Poe read an Emerson poem out loud to Dickens or recited an Emerson poem. Whatever happened, Dickens was not thrilled with Poe afterwards, and even though he had promised to look for an English publisher for Poe, that never really went anywhere.

Speaker So it’s it’s pretty clear that Poe didn’t have the best interpersonal skills.

Speaker And I think where he felt he was being hospitable or welcoming to someone, the other person would often feel he was being hostile, antagonistic. This is probably what happened with Polin Dickens. But the literary relationship continued in interesting ways. And we do see touches of influence, especially on the side of Dickens coming out of thinking about and possibly meeting Poe.

Speaker And do you how do you think people felt, though, that Dickens at least took him seriously enough to meet with them?

Speaker I think that Poe was always torn.

Speaker About wanting people to respect him, but then being anxious when he got that respect because Poe was so anti-establishment. Whenever a figure of the establishment gave him approval, on the one side, people probably felt some relief and some flattery because the working working.

Speaker Yes.

Speaker OK, so OK, so out of my question, the question that prompted that was how do you think it made right to be accepted or whatever?

Speaker Even the fact that Dickins met them and took them seriously enough to talk to them about literature. Right.

Speaker I think Poe would have been of two minds when he felt he was being accepted by a figure like Charles Dickens, someone who represented the establishment. On the one hand, Poe would have been very relieved, very flattered. He was someone who did not come from any kind of literary status or cultural status. On the other hand, because Poe identified himself as anti-establishment, both as a writer and as a person in general, it would have made him feel nervous, even hostile. And this is a pattern we see again and again with Poe, who is reaching out for help, for support, whether financial support, literary support, support for his career and at the same time pushing back from that. So when meeting with someone such as Charles Dickens, Poe would have received it very eagerly and also probably pushed back against that kind of approval even as he sought it.

Speaker Perfect. Thank you. Anything you want to add? Um, uh.

Speaker I mean, the only thing I sort of always have in my mind about PO and I might have said it in the open source scenario, is that, you know, people have these very macabre oh, well, I guess I’ll say this.

Speaker I might as well say it if I’m saying it right.

Speaker People have this very macabre, weird vision of who Poe was as a person. And I think the most surprising thing about Poe is not anything that’s imbued with particular mystery or intrigue.

Speaker It’s that what he thought was really normalcy toward the end of his life, especially when we map out what he was doing in his final years and it’s even in his final months and days. He was attempting to re-establish a normal domestic life. He wanted to marry again. He was caught in childhood, sweetheart. He wanted to start a magazine, have a more stable income and more stable career. He wanted to move Maria Klam, his aunt and mother, figure in with him back to Richmond, sort of where he started. So as opposed to this mysterious figure in a dark cloak wandering drunk through the streets, pose greatest ambition. Unfortunately, for the most part, unfulfilled was to have a stable, normal life.

Matthew Pearl
Eric Stange
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"Matthew Pearl , Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive" American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). December 12, 2014 ,
(1 , 1). Matthew Pearl , Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Matthew Pearl , Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive" American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). December 12, 2014 . Accessed June 2, 2023


PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.