Edgar Allan Poe in Boston

Originally published on Culture Shock.

People like to say Edgar Allan Poe hated Boston.

Which would be ironic because he was born in the city in 1809. He didn’t stay long, though. Two years later, after the death of his mother and the disappearance of his father, he moved to Richmond, Virginia to be with his extended relatives. Poe visited Boston a few times afterwards, but it’s his visit in 1845 that he’s most famous for. After performing some of his poems and receiving less than stellar responses, he described the Bostonians as having “vile ingratitude.”

photo credit: alvaro tapia hidalgo via photopin cc
photo credit: alvaro tapia hidalgo via photopin cc

He wrote a whole article on the subject that was published in the Broadway Journal (which was written in third-person plural for some reason):

We like Boston. We were born there — and perhaps it is just as well not to mention that we are heartily ashamed of the fact. The Bostonians are very well in their way. Their hotels are bad. Their pumpkin pies are delicious. Their poetry is not so good. Their common is no common thing — and the duck-pond might answer — if its answer could be heard for the frogs.

But with all these good qualities the Bostonians have no soul.

Ouch. Okay, to be fair, he was talking about the people in the city, not the city itself. Historians believe his words were directed more towards Bostonians’ affinity for the writers Poe hated and often severely criticized, particularly Longfellow and Emerson. Bostonians, in turn, didn’t like him bashing Boston’s literary favorites and called him the “tomahawk man” in response.

Considering that, it’s no surprise Poe disliked Bostonians.

CAM00170
The new Edgar Allan Poe statue near Boston Common.

But he still had a strong connection to the city. Poe published his first and last works here. His mother lived in and loved the city. He was even considering moving to Boston before he died. But for more than a century Bostonian never celebrated this connection in a large way. Philadelphia, Richmond, Baltimore, and New York City (the other cities to have played a role in Poe’s life) all have museums and/or landmarks devoted to Poe and his writings. Boston had nothing. After Poe’s death, the citizens continued their own dislike of the author, and refused to seriously celebrate Boston’s role in his life.

Until now.

In 2010, the Boston Public Library held an exhibit, showcasing the author’s connection to the city.

And, recently, on October 5th a statue of him was unveiled amongst a whirl of media and spectators. The Edgar Allan Poe Foundation of Boston campaigned for years to raise the money to create and place the statue.

You can see it now, on the corner of Boylston Street and Charles Street, across from Boston Common. It’s worth the visit. Dramatic yet personal, it shows Poe striding back into the city of his birth, a raven flying out of his briefcase while papers tumble out behind.

What Poe would think of Boston and its residents today, we will never know. But I doubt he’d object to a statue immortalizing him and his work.

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