The Poe Museum by Stewart Sternberg

If  you’re passing anywhere near Richmond, Virginia in the near future, or if you live in that area, give thought to visiting the Poe Museum.

The museum, according to its website,  “boasts the world’s finest collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s manuscripts, letters, first editions, memorabilia and personal belongings.” Opened in 1922, its located in The Old Stone House,  blocks away from Poe’s first home.

Recently I had an opportunity to put some questions to the curator of the museum.

Stewart Sternberg:) Edgar Allan Poe never received the recognition he deserved in life, what do you think he would make of the museum?

Chris Semtner, Curator) Poe would probably think his museum is not big enough. He is reputed to have had quite an ego.

SS)There’s been a good deal of speculation about the cause of Poe’s death, and even on your website you encourage visitors to speculate. Do you have a favorite theory? If so what is it and why?

CS) The Poe Museum has no official stance on Poe’s death because there has never been a definitive theory. Even the day after his death, newspapers were publishing conflicting accounts. Poe’s own attending physician’s various accounts conflict with each other.

SS) How many visitors does the museum receive each year? I assume this is a number which has grown with the internet?

CS) The Poe Museum sees about 20,000 visitors a year. The number grew last year with Poe’s bicentennial. With our recently expanding website, we are reaching new audiences, and we will be able to exhibit some items on the website that are not always on display at the Museum due to space limitations or sensitivity to light.

SS) What are some of the most popular attractions within the museum?

CS) The most popular attractions in the Poe Museum are the lock of Poe’s hair and his vest. The lock of hair is the closest one gets to seeing Poe in the flesh, and, seeing his vest on display, one can almost imagine Poe standing there wearing it. The Poe Museum is the owner of the only articles of Poe’s clothing that have survived to this day.

SS) Last year Poe was given a funeral, two hundred years after his passing. Apparently his cousin neglected to mention his passing…only a handful of people showed. However last year, he received a proper send off and it looks like it was quite an event. Did you attend?

CS)I did not attend the Poe funeral in Baltimore in 2009 because I was at the International Poe Conference in Philadelphia. (As his bicentennial, it was a busy year for Poe.) The Poe Museum observed Poe’s death day last year with a reenactment of Poe’s final days and death in a recreation of his hospital room. Two years earlier, in 2007, we staged a Poe funeral similar to what Baltimore would do in 2009.

In October 2010 the Poe Museum held a memorial service featuring coffin races and an appearance by Poe’s last fiancee, Elmira Royster Shelton. (Poe died just ten days before he was to have married her.) Later this month, the Poe Museum will have a “Fall of the House of Usher” Party on October 28 with performances of Poe’s works and a demonstration of ghost hunting techniques by paranormal investigators, who will also be exhibiting some of the ghost photographs taken at the Museum.

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