“I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow.” — Edgar Allan Poe

Poe History in Baltimore

Although Richmond is the place Poe most considered home, Baltimore defines the beginning and the end of his life. Born while his parents, both actors, were traveling in Boston, his family roots were firmly set in the soil of Baltimore and here his mortal remains rest for eternity. His great-grandfather, John Poe, established the Poe clan in Baltimore in 1755, only a year before his death. Poe’s grandparents, David and Elizabeth Cairnes Poe, raised seven children and achieved here a place of prominence if not wealth through patriotism, hard work and community service.

When asked about his origins, Poe was fond of saying that he was a Virginian gentleman, but it was in Baltimore that Poe sought refuge when he had feuded with his foster father, John Allan, and was compelled to leave the house. It was in Baltimore that Poe found his future wife, Virginia Eliza Clemm, and in Baltimore that he placed his feet on the first steps of what would be his career for the next 17 years. Perhaps most revealing, when asked for the place of his birth, Poe turned his back on Boston and claimed Baltimore instead.

It was most likely in Baltimore that Poe began his transformation from a poet to a writer of imaginative short stories. By 1831, Poe had published three collections of his poems, with little financial and only minor critical success. Although poetry clearly was and would remain his first love, it seemed obvious that Poe would need to expand his bag of tricks if he hoped to make a living as a writer. In 1827, Poe’s brother, William Henry Leonard Poe, published in the Baltimore North American a fictional narrative titled “The Pirate.” (Henry, as he was always called, lived most of his short life in Baltimore and published a number of poems and other pieces in the Baltimore North American. For a time, Henry appears to have been employed as a sailor, possibly the inspiration for Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.) Perhaps encouraged by his brother’s apparent success, Poe began to write stories. By 1833, Edgar had written eleven prose extravaganzas he hoped to publish as a set under the title “Tales From the Folio Club.”

In October of 1833, he made an important friendship with John Pendleton Kennedy, who recommended Poe to his friend Thomas W. White. White, the owner and editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, was eager for some assistance in dealing with what he had found to be the increasingly onerous responsibilities of running a magazine. Poe left Baltimore for Richmond, Virginia in August of 1835. He never again made a home in Baltimore, but thought fondly of it and often passed through on business and to visit family and friends. The last of these trips was in September and October of 1849. Much speculation has been written about his final days and everything from alcoholism to rabies has been offered as the cause for his mysterious death at the age of 40. His remains were placed in lot 27, near those of his grandparents and his brother in the Westminster Burying Ground at Fayette and Greene Streets.

Source: Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore