Posts Tagged ‘Edgar Allan Poe in New York City’

A rocky West Side knoll inspires Edgar Allan Poe

May 23, 2016

 

PoedaguerreotypeIn 1844, Edgar Allan Poe had a lot on his mind.

Though he’d already published some short stories and newspaper pieces, Poe was still a struggling writer working on a poem called The Raven and editing articles for the Evening Mirror.

He also had his young wife to worry about. Virginia Clemm was sick with tuberculosis.

Instead of living downtown or in Greenwich Village, as the couple had in 1837, they moved to a country farmhouse roughly at today’s Broadway and 84th Street.

 At the time, this was part of the bucolic village of Bloomingdale. Fresh air, the thinking was, might help ease Virginia’s illness.

Poebrennanfarmhouse1879mcny

When Poe needed to get away from the farmhouse (above, in 1879) and seek inspiration, he went to a rocky knoll of Manhattan schist in the woods overlooking the Hudson River, on the border of the not-yet-created Riverside Park.

He named it Mount Tom, after young Thomas Brennan, the son of the farmhouse’s owner. This outcropping still exists at the end of West 83rd Street (below).

Poemounttom20162

“It was Poe’s custom to wander away from the house in pleasant weather to ‘Mount Tom,’ an immense rock, which may still be seen in Riverside Park, where he would sit alone for hours, gazing at the Hudson,” states this 1903 Poe biography.

“Poe and Virginia enjoyed sitting on [Mount Tom] and gazing across the then-rural riverland north of the city,” according to this collection of Poe’s work.

Poemounttom2016Poe himself wrote about Manhattan’s rocky topography in an 1844 dispatch to a Pennsylvania newspaper, finding the city’s “certain air of rocky sterility” to be “sublime.”

In the same dispatch, he bemoaned Manhattan’s development and the end of its rural, spacious charm.

“The spirit of Improvement has withered [old picturesque mansions] with its acrid breath,” he wrote.

“Streets are already ‘mapped’ through them. . . . In some 30 years every noble cliff will be a pier, and the whole island will be densely desecrated by buildings of brick, with portentous facades of brown-stone, or brown-stonn, as the Gothamites have it.”

PoestreetnamePoe didn’t last long on West 84th Street. After The Raven was published in 1845 and turned him into a literary sensation, he and Virginia moved to a cottage in the Fordham section of the Bronx.

Tuberculosis took Virginia in 1847; Poe left the Bronx and found himself in Baltimore, where he died, perhaps from alcoholism, in 1849.

I wonder what he would think of contemporary West 84th Street bearing his name?

[Second image: MCNY.org Greatest Grid exhibit]

Edgar Allan Poe’s Upper West Side farmhouse

April 7, 2011

Edgar Allan Poe—arguably New York City’s first Bohemian—lived in a bunch of different places when he arrived in Manhattan in the 1830s.

There was a home at 130 Greenwich Street, another at 85 West Third (or Amity) Street, and a cottage on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, where his young wife Virginia died of tuberculosis in 1846.

In 1844, fleeing high rents near Washington Square, he and Virginia moved to a farmhouse near today’s West 84th Street and Broadway.

Of course, there was no city up there, as this early 1900s postcard reveals.

Manhattan was country north of Greenwich Village, dotted with tiny hamlets.

Interestingly, the postcard calls Broadway “St. Nicholas Place.” I found one reference to that forgotten street name: a New York Times piece from 1893:

“The house where ‘The Raven’ was written stands on a rocky and commanding eminence, a few hundred feet from the corner of 84th Street and St. Nicholas Boulevard, formerly the Bloomingdale Road,” the Times reported.

This corner today claims Poe as its own, naming 84th Street from Broadway through West End Avenue after him and honoring the famous resident with a long-running cafe, Edgar’s.

Edgar Allan Poe: New York’s first bohemian?

July 27, 2010

He eked out a living as a writer, drank and scored drugs, and resided in a succession of Village apartments. Oh, and he seemed to wear a lot of black.

Poe as the first bohemian is an idea put forth by Ross Wetzon in his 2002 book on Greenwich Village, Republic of Dreams.

After referencing Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Stephen Crane, and O. Henry, Wetzon wrote: 

“None of these writers could be considered more than semi-bohemians, but the Village could put in a partial claim to America’s first true bohemian, Edgar Allan Poe. In the late 1830s and early 1840s, Poe lived at 85 West Third Street, 1131/2 Carmine Street, 137 Waverly Place, and 130 Greenwich Street—at all of which he is said to have written ‘The Raven’ and at none did he live abstemiously.”

Bohemianism in the U.S. was born in the 1850s at Pfaff’s, a bar at either 653 or 647 Broadway (sources list both addresses), where artists, writers, and freethinkers hung out. 

Poe was dead by the time these early bohemians emerged, but scholars credit him as their inspiration. He’s been nicknamed the “spiritual guide” of bohemia and called its patron saint.


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