My Walk Up Poe’s Stairs: Discovering His Eureka!

This article was originally written by Murray Ellison and published on the Edgar Allan Poe Museum of Richmond’s Website (www.poemuseum.org).

 

Stairs in Poe’s Childhood Home

On a cold, but sunny day in February 2013,  Poe Museum Curator, Chris Semtner, took down the golden fabric rope from its old and long railing. Chris said that the staff of the museum moved the stairs and added them into the present building many years ago. The Memorial Building, where they now stand, commemorates Poe’s outstanding contributions to literature. The conference room and repository at the top of these stairs  stores many of his rare manuscripts and books, and materials. I looked up and down the old hardwood stairs and experienced a momentary chill. At the front of the steps, I saw a Raven banner (see my photo above), acknowledging his most famous poem. I felt like the illustrious bird was cheering me on to walk up the stairs and enter the game of studying Poe-like I was a football player on the famous Baltimore football team. I felt very privileged to be allowed to walk up these stairs with Chris because I was transitioning from being a retired person to a literary researcher. A month before this visit, I had  enrolled in a Master’s program of Literature  Studies at the Virginia Commonwealth University(VCU), which is only a few miles west of the museum. In my first class, English Scholarship, Professor, Joshua Eckhardt, assigned his students to find a rare book and to prepare a research term paper related to its publication history and contents. I decided to try to meet this class requirement at the Poe Museum because of a memorable guided tour I had taken a few years ago. I, then, researched the resources available at the museum on the internet. Like many avid readers, I had a working knowledge of many of Poe’s more notable poems and short stories.  However, I had never heard of, what I thought, was the most interesting listing in the catalog, a book called, Eureka: A Prose Poem.

The catalog noted that Eureka was the last work that Poe wrote under his own supervision. It described the book as a poetic, metaphysical, and scientific treatise on the Universe. This text appeared completely different from anything else that Poe had ever written. Or was it? That question turned out to be one of the main focuses of my inquiry for the next four years, as I worked on my Master’s thesis on Poe and Science. When I asked Chris about Eureka, he said he would have one or more copies first edition copies of that book available for my examination during a research visit that he later scheduled for me.

A week later, I arrived at the museum and started my journey up Poe’s Stairway, and into his research room. I looked around and saw that there were piles of boxes on a large oval-shaped hardwood table, containing books and folders that the Registrar, Jennifer Camp, was cataloging. She worked in an adjacent room that served as a heavily locked and secure storage room for the files and rare first edition books Some of these books were estimated to be worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars!  Jennifer came out to meet me and then went right back to work. On the walls, there were some paintings of Poe and busts of him and of Pallas-the Greek statue that the Raven landed on. On a corner of the table, I saw three copies of Eureka. Chris informed me that the museum generally kept one first edition copy of Eureka on display in a locked case and two others stored at the Virginia Library. He had checked two of these books out of the State Library for my inspection. I looked at all three of these books with a reserved excitement, like they were fossils from a distant time and place.

Rare First Editions of Eureka at the Poe Museum
First Editions of Eureka at the Poe Museum

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In Part II of this blog, which I plan to publish on Litchatte.com on March 30, I will discuss what I learned about Eureka and Poe’s “Moon-Notes,” the handwritten Manuscript Poe prepared in researching his last literary work.

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Murray Ellison received a Master’s in Education (1973) and in English Literature (2015). He earned a Doctorate in Education in 1987. He is married and has three wonderful adult  daughters. He retired as the Virginia Director of Community Corrections for the Department of Correctional Education in 2009. Currently, he serves as a literature teacher, board member, and curriculum advisor for the Lifelong Learning Institute in Chesterfield, Virginia. He is the founder and chief editor of the literary blog, www.LitChatte.com, an editor for the Correctional Educator Journal, and editing a book of poetry written by an Indian mystic. Murray also serves a board member and volunteer tour guide, poetry judge, and all-around helper at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond Virginia. You can write him at ellisonms2@vcu.edu or leave comments on the LitChatte.Com Blog. You can also leave your email on the sidebar on the right of this post to receive automatic postings of my Blog.

Murray Ellison at the Poe Museum

 

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