|Should you go?
|Best thing I saw or learned
|During their sojourn at the cottage Poe and his wife had a cat named Katarina. And maybe that was Mrs. Poe’s idea but still there’s an endearing humor to that which changed the way I think about Poe a little.
Edgar Allan Poe, proto-goth, inventor of the detective story, writer of gruesome tales and horror-struck poetry, quother of the raven, had a hard life. Baltimore has largely claimed him as its own (just think of their NFL team). While he did live there for while, and died there in 1849, Poe was a New Yorker for a good chunk of his life. Indeed, he was only visiting Baltimore when he shuffled off his mortal coil in circumstances that remain mysterious to this day. For the last three years of his life Poe resided in a small rented cottage in what was then the village of Fordham in Westchester County, known today as the Bronx.
Built in 1812 by the Valentine family to house farm laborers, it’s a mark of how fast esteem for Poe rose after his death that his cottage has survived to the present. In 1902 Poe Park was established, and in 1913 the cottage was moved to the park, where it has stood as a museum ever since.
Poe’s reason for moving north was as sad as anything else in his life: his wife Virginia had contracted consumption, and they hoped that by escaping from the foul miasma of the city to bucolic Fordham, she might improve. It was not to be, however, and she died less than a year after they moved to the cottage, in January of 1847.
The cottage is definitely the home of a poor man. A realtor would call it cozy. While tiny, I imagine that during the winter it was freezing. A kitchen, parlor, and small bedroom on the ground floor, and a study and bedroom on the second floor, a small porch out front, and that’s it. Poe and his wife rented it for $100 per year.
It’s furnished with a fair number of period pieces, three items of which are known to have been Poe’s: a rocking chair, a fancy gilded mirror, and the narrow bed where Virginia Poe passed away.
In addition to period furniture, the house also contains assorted Poe memorabilia: period prints of the cottage, a bust of Poe that used to be in the park, and several pictures of the man in various states of unhappiness.
There’s a brief video that describes Poe’s life in the Bronx: walking the High Bridge, wandering along the Bronx River, and visiting the Jesuits at then then brand-new St. John’s College (founded in 1841, now called Fordham), with whom he seems to have gotten on well. Poe wrote some of his best-known works while he lived at the cottage, including “The Bells,” and Fordham lays claim to having THE bell that inspired the poem.
My guide during my visit was a local kid who really loved Poe and the place. His enthusiasm helped bring the cottage to life.
And he explained the most random furnishing of the cottage: a picture of penguins on the parlor wall. They feature in Poe’s only novel, a whaling tale called The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. I asked him who comes, and he said it was about 25% New Yorkers, 50% tourists from overseas, and 25% tourists from other states.
It takes some determination to get there. It’s on the way (by subway) to the New York Botanical Garden or Woodlawn Cemetery, and kind of near Lehman College Art Gallery. But it’s not especially close to any of those. Thus, even though the city has grown up all around it, Poe’s cottage is still sort of a lonely place.
Anyone with vaguely goth or romantic tendencies should absolutely go. Underappreciated poets and anyone who can still quote the opening lines of the Raven should too. But those outside those categories could probably stick visiting other historic houses in the city, many of which are easier to get to.
|2640 Grand Concourse, the Bronx
|Bronx Historical Society Website
|General Admission: $5
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