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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Postcard Thursday: The Lost Brennan Farmhouse where Poe Wrote "The Raven"


Edgar Allan Poe didn't live in New York City all that long, but he left an indelible stamp on the city. Of all the places he lived, only one still survives, Poe Cottage in the Bronx (subject of an earlier edition of Postcard Thursday). But today's postcard, which we acquired recently, depicts what is considered by many to be Poe's most important NYC residence -- the place where he wrote "The Raven."

As we write in Footprints in New York:
As [Poe's wife] Virginia’s tuberculosis worsened in 1844, the Poes took the only advice most doctors could give: move out of the city and get her into cleaner air.... [T]hey rented rooms from Patrick and Mary Brennan in “an old-fashioned, double-framed” farmhouse on the west side on what would eventually be 84th Street. The house was surrounded by 216 acres of woods. According to one of Poe’s earliest biographers, the family “received no visitors, and took their meals in their room by themselves.” Mrs. Brennan recalled Poe as a “shy, solitary, taciturn person, fond of rambling alone through the woods or of sitting on a favorite stump of a tree near the banks of the Hudson River.” In Poe’s era, Riverside Park had not been created, and the waterfront was not yet developed this far north. This meant Poe probably didn’t actually scramble all the way down the Hudson’s banks for his reveries; he watched the river drift by from the top of [a nearby outcropping of rock known as] Mount Tom.
courtesy of The Museum of the City of New York

The Poes’ room—unaltered until the house was torn down in 1888— was small but filled with light, having windows that faced the river on one side and the Brennans’ forest on the other. Years later, people who knew the house recollected that the Poes’ room was exactly like the chamber in “The Raven,” complete with the “pallid bust of Pallas” above the door. This may have been wishful thinking, but the house does seem, from photos and drawings, to have been a pleasant place. Pleasant enough, in retrospect, to make one almost forget the Poes’ straitened circumstances. Poe had difficulty making the rent. For much of his marriage, he had trouble putting food on the table. When Poe won a $225 judgment in a libel lawsuit, he used the money to buy some furnishings and a new suit; he could never afford to own more than one suit at a time, and the previous one was probably beyond repair.
Most inconveniently, the Brennan house’s distance from the city may have provided fresh air, but it also meant that any time Poe needed to meet with a publisher, he either had to take a stagecoach down the Bloomingdale Road—a costly inconvenience—or walk the ten miles round-trip.

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If don't follow us on Facebook (hint, hint), you might not have seen that James had an op-ed piece again this week in The Guardian, this one looking at the role Millard Fillmore played in the 1856 presidential election and whether Donald Trump will do the same in 2016. You can read it here.

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James was also interviewed by George Bodarky for WFUV's Cityscape about the origin of New York City private clubs. If you are in NYC, you can hear the interview when it is broadcast this Saturday, August 22, at 7:30 a.m. on 90.7FM. Those of you who are in other parts of the country can stream it or download the podcast at www.wfuv.org/cityscape



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Read our full chapter on Edgar Allan Poe in NYC in

If you haven't had a chance to pick up a copy of Footprints yet,
you can order it from your favorite online retailers (AmazonBarnes and Nobleetc.) or



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