or is it just me? I’m standing on the sidewalk, looking up at a block-long office building with its name prominently displayed across the front: POE BUILDING. It seems incongruous now, but makes sense when you consider when the building when up, in 1917. The Grand Concourse had just been laid, and the people of New York were going all out to venerate Edgar Allan Poe.
Poe spent a lot of time in the Fordham neighborhood of the Bronx, but only after hopping around from one residence to another in New York City and elsewhere.
Born in Boston in 1809, he first came to Manhattan with his wife Virginia and his mother-in-law Maria, and stayed for a few months in the West Village. They moved to Philadelphia. They returned in 1844, living in a boarding house downtown before moving to a farmhouse owned by the Brennan family, in the vicinity of what today is West 84 Street and Broadway.
Over the years he published not only Gothic poetry but short stories and criticism. He was a central figure in the movement known as Romanticism. Some of his stories (The Tell-tale Heart is an especially creepy one I like) were gold. Supernatural and detective fiction were his specialties.
Poe was apparently the first well-known literary figure to try to support himself off his writing, and it’s unclear whether he made a good job of it. He had no children – perhaps a lack of funds is why. His checkered life included marriage to his 13-year-old first cousin Virginia and an ill-fated military career, failing as a cadet at West Point.
The Raven, an overnight success, was written at the Brennan Farmhouse, and The Evening Mirror, where Poe worked as a critic, was good enough to publish it. The newspaper’s headquarters at 26 Ann Street still have a plaque devoted to Poe (though apparently you can’t get in to see it), as do seemingly all the other nooks and crannies he made his own over the years. The site of Brennan Farmhouse got a plaque, too, when it was razed in 1922.
After yet again moving to Greenwich Village, Poe leased a small cottage in the Fordham section of what was then Westchester County, from the Valentine family. The rent was $100 a year. It was the spring of 1847.
In large part Poe moved there because of Virginia’s illness, tuberculosis – it was thought that the fresh country air would banish it. However, the same year they moved in, she died, and two years later 40-year-old Poe himself was to die, raving on the streets of Baltimore, whether because of disease, substance abuse, alcohol, suicide, syphilis, or existential. The cause has never come clear.
Fast forward a few years, after Virginia’s mother Maria desperately tried to sell off the house’s furnishings (Virginia’s death bed remains). Literary-minded folks tried to save the cottage, and succeeded in 1913 when the house was moved to a new location, a newly created park with the great writer’s name.
It became a New York City landmark in 1966, standing at 2640 Grand Concourse at East Kingsbridge Road – just down the way from POE BUILDING at 2432, which went up in 1917 when the city was in the grip of Poe-mania.