Pennsylvania: Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

This was the home of Edgar Allan Poe, his wife Virginia, and her mother during part of their stay in Philadelphia. It has been preserved as a memorial to a great American literary genius. It gives visitors a vivid impression of residential architecture and domestic lifestyle in a northern American city in the 1800’s.

Site Office

Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site

National Park Service

532 North Seventh Street

Philadelphia, PA 19123

ph.: (215) 597-8780

Web site: www.nps.gov/edal/

e-mail: INDE_Poe_House@nps.gov

Edgar Allan Poe is believed to have moved into this house sometime between the fall of 1842 and June of 1843 and lived there until April of 1844. It was chosen by the U.S. Congress as the nation’s official memorial to the man many consider to be America’s greatest literary genius.

Poe’s Tragic Life and Legacy

Edgar Allan Poe’s short life was characterized by tragedy, poverty, anxiety, and depression. His father deserted the family when Poe was an infant. His mother, a beautiful actress, died when Edgar was only two. He was raised, but never legally adopted, by John Allan, a wealthy Richmond, Virginia, businessman whose philistine nature was incompatible with that of his hypersensitive, imaginative, and artistic ward. By the age of eighteen, Poe, accustomed to an environment of culture and comfort, had quarreled with Allan and was forced to fend for himself. For the rest of his life he led a hand-to-mouth existence as editor, critic, lecturer, and freelance writer. He married his first cousin, Virginia Clemm, when she was only thirteen years old; her mother Maria Clemm, who had a small pension, became part of the Poe household.

Poe’s hard life and many disappointments undoubtedly affected everything he wrote. His volatile temperament made it difficult for him to hold down editorial jobs, which were poorly paid anyway. He received only one hundred dollars for his famous short story “The Gold Bug” and only ten dollars for “The Raven,” which is world-famous and has been called the most perfectly constructed poem ever written. He became a harsh but incisive and influential critic and lecturer. His poems and stories reflect his morbid outlook on life. As an editor, however, he had learned that the public delights in reading about the dark side of human nature, which explains why newspapers are still full of stories about crime and why Poe’s stories of murder, insanity, premature burial, and other horrors remain popular today.

After Virginia died in 1847, Poe became increasingly despondent. He was reputed to have become an alcoholic and died in a delirium in a Baltimore hospital at the age of forty.

Poe lived in Philadelphia for six years (1838-1844), during which time he attained his greatest successes as editor and critic and published some of his most famous tales, including “The Gold Bug,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Of Poe’s several Philadelphia homes, only the three-story brick house at 7th and Spring Garden Streets has survived.

Poe was a genius who is credited with inventing the detective story, defining the form of the modern short story, and revolutionizing modern poetry through his influence on the French Symbolists. His influence extended worldwide to such famous writers as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), science-fiction writers Jules Verne (1828-1905) and H. G. Wells (1866-1946), French poet and critic Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), Russian novelists Fyodor Dostoevski (1821-1881) and Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), and the surrealistic Austrian writer Franz Kafka (1883-1924), among countless others.

The National Historic Site

The Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site consists of a complex of three buildings. Two serve as a visitors’ center and entrance to the site. Ranger-guided tours begin here. This area contains exhibits, an audiovisual program, and a gift shop. The National Park Service has not furnished the main house because of the absence of information describing the contents during Poe’s occupancy. It is easy to imagine that the building is haunted by the ghostly characters of the author’s creation. Visitors are shown the gloomy cellar reminiscent of the one depicted in “The Black Cat,” a horror story written while Poe lived here.

The park is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. during the summer months. The rest of the year it is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It is closed on Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day. There is no admission charge.

Other Places to Visit

The Poe House is located near the center of Philadelphia, which holds many historical attractions, including Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed, and the Liberty Bell pavilion. The National Park Service also maintains the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, where Kosciuszko resided during the winter of 1797 to 1798. Kosciuszko (1746-1817), a world-famous Polish patriot, came to assist the Colonials in the Revolutionary War. In 1783, Congress promoted him to brigadier general in the Continental Army and passed a resolution recognizing “his long, faithful, and meritorious service.” This typical eighteenth century house is about 1.75 miles from the Poe House.

For Further Information
  • Baudelaire, Charles. Baudelaire on Poe. State College, Pa.: Bald Eagle Press, 1952. Baudelaire, who spent fourteen years translating Poe’s tales into French, was the person most influential in spreading Poe’s fame throughout Europe.
  • Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1992. Meyers puts Poe’s life and literature in perspective and shows Poe’s influence on subsequent writers.
  • Poe, Edgar Allan. Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Vintage Books, 1975. Contains all of the imaginative works for which Poe is best known throughout the world.
  • _______. Essays and Reviews. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1984. This beautiful book contains the most complete collection of Poe’s essays and reviews, including the classic “The Rationale of Verse” and “The Philosophy of Composition.”
  • Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York: Harper Collins, 1991. Silverman emphasizes the effect of Poe’s mother’s untimely death on his literary works. Clarifies many questions about Poe’s life and works.
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