Like so many other New Yorkers, Edgar Allan Poe was known to take long, contemplative walks.
After he moved from a farmhouse in today’s Upper West Side to a wooden cottage in rural Fordham (below), Poe regularly journeyed across the High Bridge, opened in 1848, two and a half miles from his home.
A graceful feat of engineering, the High Bridge carried fresh Croton Aqueduct water from Westchester to Manhattan.
“During Mr. Poe’s residence at Fordham a walk to the High Bridge was one of his favorite and habitual recreations,” wrote Sarah Helen Whitman, a literary contemporary who Poe tried and failed to court.
The dramatic views of the Harlem River and the rocky shores must have suited Poe’s mood. After all, his life was in free fall.
His wife, Virginia Clemm, succumbed to tuberculosis in 1847. And though he would write some of his best work during his Fordham years, including “The Bells” and “Annabel Lee,” Poe’s literary career was falling apart.
He was broke, he drank a lot, and his behavior was becoming increasingly erratic.
“In the last melancholy years of his life—’the lonesome latter years’—Poe was accustomed to walk there at all times of the day and night; often pacing the then solitary pathways for hours without meeting a human being,” continued Whitman.
The 1930 lithograph by B.J. Rosenmeyer (top) captures Poe crossing the High Bridge.
There’s some contention that the dates and image don’t line up. The lithograph depicts a winter scene; Poe wasn’t in New York much during the winter of 1848-1849, the last winter of his life, according to this High Bridge website.
On the other hand, another witness decades after Poe’s death gave a colorful and distressing chronicle of his High Bridge walks.
“With a faded old army cloak over his shoulders, a relic of his old West Point life, he was a familiar object to the staid villagers as he went loitering by through the lanes and over the fields,” a former Fordham acquaintance of Poe’s told a New York Times writer in 1885.
“His favorite route was the aqueduct road, leading over the High Bridge.”
[Top photo: NYPL; second photo: Wikipedia; third photo: NYPL]