By Thomas D’Agostino
Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809. His travels in his short 40-year lifespan took him to many places, including those that resided in his mind. Poe was the child of two actors. His father left when he was very young and his mother died a year later. John and Frances Allan of Richmond, Virginia, took him in. Here he would spend his childhood and early adult years.
Poe attended the University of Virginia for a semester and even became a cadet at West point after enlisting in the army in 1827. He reached the rank of Sergeant Major, the highest noncommissioned rank one could receive. Unfortunately, his writing beckoned. He began writing poems while writing for several journals and periodicals. In 1836 he married his 13-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm. She died of tuberculosis on January 30, 1847. Poe had been drinking heavily due to the stress from her illness.
Shortly after, he started courting Sarah Helen Whitman of Providence, Rhode Island, whom he had met in July 1845. Whitman, a poet and spiritualist was a fan of Poe’s work. They would exchange letters for a period until he proposed and she accepted on the condition he would remain sober until the day of the wedding. This he promised but the vow lasted only a few days. He began drinking again and even attempted to kill himself. Whitman supposedly received an anonymous letter while she was at the library (Providence Athenaeum) stating that Poe had broken his vow to her to stay sober, directly leading to an end of the relationship. Poe was also accused of trying to woo another woman. Poe wrote back in a letter to Whitman addressed, “Dear Madam,” that he blamed her mother for their failed relationship.
On October 3, 1849, Poe was wandering the streets of Baltimore in a delirious state. He was taken to the Washington Medical College, where he died four days later. It is reported his final words were, “Lord help my poor soul.”
Causes of death were speculated to be inflammation of the brain, rabies, syphilis, cholera, heart disease and meningeal inflammation, to name a few, but his actual death remains a mystery as the records mysteriously disappeared shortly after his death, including his death certificate.
Poe may be at rest but his ghost still roams the area where he lived with Sarah Whitman. Many have seen a figure dressed in black clothing resembling Poe, sitting on the steps of the Providence Athenaeum where he and his last love frequented. People who have witnessed the specter state that he looks quite melancholy and when they attempt to address him, he either walks away quickly or vanishes.
One of the rooms has portraits of Poe and Whitman. His ghost has also been spied there. Some have actually reported seeing Poe’s ghost walking along Benefit Street, the street where Whitman lived. He quietly passes by the unexpected party who then realizes that something is very strange in the visage of who just passed. As they turn, the man stops and looks up at them, revealing the face of Poe before vanishing into thin air.
Does Poe still walk the streets of Providence? Why not? It was the last place he found peace and perhaps will eternally wander and visit the building that hosted his once mortal frame.