Cold Spots: The Edgar Allan Poe Museum
Richmond, VA – Richmond, Virginia, is a city of contrasts. Signs of the modern world abound, alongside pieces of its rich history. Downtown holds a tiny house, its walls made of stone, in which visitors gather to pay respects to a great man. Though he never lived here, many of his things are now cared for within. And while some come for a glimpse of the property of the mad genius, others can feel him watching, roaming the halls, and looking at the things that once belonged to him.
Whether it is he who walks the halls or not, too many have seen things they cannot explain. Considering the subject of the exhibits, ghosts seem to be appropriate.
There are many people in horror that fans call luminaries or heroes, but there are precious few whose names evoke such reverence and respect that it seems the horror community likens them to gods. Names like Lovecraft, King and Mattheson all evoke strong feelings, but none of them are stronger than those for the Godfather of American Gothic Horror: Edgar Allan Poe. As his death was surrounded in mystery, many travel every year to Baltimore, Maryland, to pay their respects to the master. But in Richmond, Virginia, there is another house that holds a few of Poe’s secrets, and may just receive the occasional visit from the man himself.
While the exact date of the house’s construction is the subject of debate, scientific dating of the floorboards of the tiny home suggest it was built in or around 1754. What it was at that time is unknown (likely a small private home), but in 1909 a group of concerned Richmond citizens petitioned the local government to recognize the contributions of Edgar Allan Poe. While their pleas to have a statue erected in his honor were denied (as he was deemed a disreputable citizen, thanks to the efforts of misnthrope Rufus Griswold), they did begin to build a collection of items belonging to the author. In 1911, the collection found a home inside the “Little Stone House, only a few blocks away from Poe’s boyhood home with his adopted family (the Allan’s, from whom he gained his middle name) and from his first place of employment, the Southern Literary Messenger.
Shortly after the collection took up residence, the ghost stories began. Whether the product of overactive imaginations due to the influence of Poe, or due to legitimate phenomenon, there have since been reports from hundred who claim to see and hear a myriad of strange things.
There are reputed to be at least three restless spirits that haunt the tiny house, and they make themselves known quite often. The first two, a pair of blonde-haired children, are believed to be members of the family who built the house. While they are never seen in person, nor do they make themselves known often, they do tend to show up in photographs taken by museum guests. Whether in wedding photos or holiday snaps, the pair tend to “bomb” photos at random. Most perplexing is that, while the phenomenon has been going on for more than twenty years, the children in the photos look exactly the same and never age.
The identity of the other apparition cannot be positively named, but many who work at the museum and visit feel certain they know exactly who it is and why he is there. Often seen as a shadowy figure, it is believed that the restless ghost of Edgar Allan Poe himself visits the halls, attached to some of the items displayed in the museum. He is believed to be particularly attached to a hand mirror that once belonged to his beloved young wife, Virgina, as well as his walking stick which he left in Richmond a mere two weeks before his death.
Whether him or not, there are strange things that go on in the museum. One story tells of a shipment of Poe “bobble-heads” that were mysteriously unpacked and lined up on a counter by unseen hands, and without tripping the museum’s alarm. Other’s have produced countless photographs in which both the children and the mysterious “shadow man” are clearly visible.
The house itself hasn’t changed much since it was first built, but the museum has expanded over the past eighty years. A shrine to Poe was built in the garden, erected from salvaged brick of Poe’s employer, the Southern Literary Messenger. Plants that were featured in Poe’s works were also planted in the courtyard. The museum also boasts one of the largest collections of Poe’s belongings, including his boyhood bed, dozens of his letters and poems written in his own hand, and a key that was found on his person when he died, and the trunk it unlocks.
The Edgar Allan Poe Museum features a great many events for Poe enthusiasts, from an annual Poe Birthday Bash to monthly “Unhappy Hours” that celebrate the work and life of Poe. Each month there is something new to see, and the Halloween party is not to be missed. 2009 marks Poe’s bicentennial, and has been marked with a year’s worth of events, which can be seen at their special event websiteAs for the ghosts, one needs only to visit and keep his eyes open to see if the mysterious children or the shadowy man will appear. The children seem to favor people with cameras, while the shadow man has been seen in the garden, near Poe’s more interesting possessions, and has even been captured in a few photographs, standing behind a tour guide as if he is listening. For more information about the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, visit their website.
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