Tuesday, October 7, 2014

HGB Podcast 3 - The Poe Show

Moment in Oddity – The Female Stranger GraveThere is a grave in St. Paul Episcopal Church’s Cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia with an inscription on the gravestone that reads:
"To the memory of a Female Stranger
Whose mortal suffering terminated on the 14th day of October, 1816 Aged 23 years, and 8 months
"This stone is erected by her discon- solate husband in whose arms she sighed out her latest breath, and
 who under God did his utmost to soothe the cold dull hour of death.
"How loved, how honor'd once avails the not, To whom related or by whom begot, A heap of dust remains of thee
'Tis all thou art, and all the proud shall be."
And then Acts 10:43, “To him give all the prophets witness that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.”
The grave is considered a historical mystery and an oddity.  Legend weaves a tale about a woman who died in 1816 at Gatsby’s Tavern in Room 8.  Two hundred years has helped this tale twist and turn and there are many theories about who the woman was, who her husband was and how she died.  The one clear fact is that the woman was ill and died young.  Was she Theodosia Burr Alston, wife of Governor Alston, or was she a young foreign woman who died in her lover’s arms?  Why was there a need to conceal her identity?  Is this why she purportedly haunts Room 8 at the Gatsby’s Tavern?  Does she wave from the window to the long lost love we know nothing about?  We will more than likely never know the truth, but the fact that someone would go to the effort to lay an elaborate gravestone with an elegant poem and not name the occupant certainly is odd.

This Day In History - Edgar Allan Poe dies on this day, October 7th in 1849. This show is dedicated to his memory.

The Poe Show

Edgar Allan Poe's life is a study in tragedy.  Perhaps that is why his writings seem to carry a melancholy theme throughout.  Poe was born in the city of Boston on January 19th, 1809 to parents that he would never really know because his mother died before he was three years of age and his father had already abandoned the family.  John and Frances Allan took Poe in as their own and raised him.  The Allan family was very well off and Poe was sent to the finest schools and he did very well academically, but there was something broken deep inside him that he attempted to fix via a myriad of vices.  One of those vices was gambling and the debts that he owed piled up causing a rift between himself and his foster father John when John would not loan Poe money.  The debts forced Poe to leave school in 1826.  The relationship between John and Poe would never recover.  Poe was written out of Allan's will and left in poverty.

During this time, Poe had become engaged to a young woman named Elmira Royster.  When Poe left school and returned to the Allans, he found out his fiancee had become engaged to another and Poe left heartbroken.  He decided to join the Army in 1827 and also published his first book of poetry that year, "Tamerlane and Other Poems."  The next year came a second book of poetry, but Poe's writing was receiving no attention.  He decided to go to West Point and entered in 1830.  Poe wasn't much of a soldier and he was kicked out of West Point after only a year.

Poe was a writer at heart and he latched onto prose.  He could write anything and he did.  While most people know him for his macabre horror and mystery genre works, Poe wrote romantic poems, black comedy like his story "Loss of Breath," tall tales like his story, "The Angel of the Odd," and even science fiction like his work, "Mellonta Tauta."  He started to make a name for himself as a literary critic and began selling pieces of his original writing to magazines and newspapers.  He would come to be known as the Father of the Detective Story and there is no doubt that he was THE best short story writer of all time.

In these early writing years, Poe found love again in a highly controversial way.  He had moved in with his Aunt Maria Clemm in Baltimore and fell in love with her 13 year old daughter Virginia, who was also Poe's cousin.  Virginia and Poe married when she was fourteen and moved to Richmond, Virginia where Poe became the literary editor for The Southern Literary Messenger.  Poe had also embraced another vice and became an alcoholic.  He battled depression through his most prolific writing years as well and the death of Virginia from tuberculosis just eleven years after their marriage did not help.

It was in 1845, two years before Virginia's death, that Poe wrote the piece that would make him an international sensation:  The Raven.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more.'

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; - vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Lenore -
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore -
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
`'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door -
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; -
This it is, and nothing more,'

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,' said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you' - here I opened wide the door; -
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!'
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!'
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,' said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
'Tis the wind and nothing more!'

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door -
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door -
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning - little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door -
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as `Nevermore.'

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered - not a feather then he fluttered -
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before -
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.'
Then the bird said, `Nevermore.'

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
`Doubtless,' said I, `what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore -
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of "Never-nevermore."'

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore -
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking `Nevermore.'

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,' I cried, `thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he has sent thee
Respite - respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! -
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -
On this home by horror haunted - tell me truly, I implore -
Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both adore -
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore -
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels name Lenore?'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!' I shrieked upstarting -
`Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! - quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!
The Poem was reprinted nineteen times in Poe's lifetime.  So what is your favorite Edgar Allan Poe piece?  Perhaps it was The Pit and the Pendulum or maybe The Murders in the Rue Morgue or The Mask of Red Death or The Cask of Amontillado or even The Fall of the House of Usher.  For me, it was a story that captured my attention when my fifth grade teacher read it aloud to the class: The Tell-Tale Heart.  I was hooked on Poe from that very moment.

One hundred sixty-five years ago, Edgar Allan Poe died.  He was only 40 years old and the circumstances of his death seem to be the final mystery he wrote.  He was traveling from Richmond to Philadelphia and stopped in Baltimore for a couple of days.  He was found on the street in a critical state on October 3rd and rushed to Washington College Hospital where he died four days later, crying out, "Lord, help my poor soul," before he passed.  Doctors claimed that "congestion of the brain" killed Poe, a diagnosis no one can understand in our modern terms.  Did this mean he had cholera or an alcoholic wet brain?  There are claims that he had acquired rabies from somewhere or that he had syphilis.  Was it something more mundane like heart disease?  The fact that he was traveling and a sick man would generally not start a trip when sick and the fact that he was delirious when found seems to indicate something peculiar had happened.  The mystery deepens with the fact that when Poe was found, he was not wearing clothes that belonged to him.  Was he beaten and mugged?  Was he Cooped, a practice in which men were stuffed in a box like a chicken coop and beaten and then forced to drink alcohol, dressed in clothes that were not their own and taken to polling places to vote for a certain candidate? He was incoherent the entire time he was in the hospital and so unable to explain what had happened to him, but he called out "Reynolds" several times.  The attending doctor, Dr. John J. Moran, did not help the situation as he began to embellish his tales of the death of Poe.  So we will never really know what caused Poe to succumb to the thing he wrote most about: death.

Edgar Allan Poe lived in several homes during his lifetime and many survive to this day.  His cottage in New
York is in the Bronx and known as the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage.  The last home he rented in Philadelphia is preserved by the National Park Service and known as the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site.  The oldest home in Richmond, Virginia serves as the Poe Museum there, although Poe never lived in the building.  Baltimore is home to the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum and Poe is buried in Baltimore at the Westminster Burial Ground.  His original grave was moved in 1875 to a memorial near the front of the cemetery.  A mysterious admirer paid homage to Poe at his grave every year on the writer's birthday from 1949 to 2009.  The admirer would leave three red roses and a bottle of cognac.  No one knows who the admirer was and only once was he caught in a grainy picture wearing a black fedora and a long coat.

It seems only fitting that Edgar Allan Poe would still walk the earth as a ghost.  The Poe Museum in Richmond reports hauntings, but mostly of a woman named Gertrude and never of Poe.  Typical ghostly activities are footsteps, the noise of slamming doors even though many of the doors have been removed and voices caught on EVP.  The same is true of the Poe Museum in Baltimore, which seems to have several spirits haunting it, but not Poe's spirit either.  One of the spirits seems to be a residual haunting by a woman.  Paranormal investigators and employees of the museum report icy cold spots even in the heat of summer, disembodied voices and windows and doors opening and closing on their own.

As for Poe, he is reported to haunt the Westminster Burial Ground and is seen sometimes in the catacombs under the church.  The "Horse You Rode In On" bar was established in 1775 in Fells Point and Poe used to drink there frequent.  A ghost at the bar has been nicknamed "Edgar" and he reportedly is a poltergeist, opening and closing the cash register, swinging the chandelier and pulling out bar stools of patrons, particularly if they state that Poe does not haunt the establishment.  His ghost has also been spotted roaming the halls of the hospital where he died.  And the streets of Baltimore play host to the spirit of Poe as well.  His tortured life seems to continue on even after death.

To buy a Poe Cottage Paver:  http://bronxhistoricalsociety.org/poecottagepaver
An exhaustive website of Poe Information:  http://www.eapoe.org/
The music of Kristen Lawrence featured on the show:  http://halloweencarols.com/ and https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/kristen-lawrence/id289852483?ign-mpt=uo%3D4



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