Touring Poe’s Boston
The famed writer finally has a foothold in the city he loved to hate.
Edgar Allan Poe had a notoriously troubled relationship with Boston, his birthplace, but the Boston Public Library’s exhibit “The Raven in the Frog Pond” suggests the city might finally be willing to embrace the author of “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” To augment the BPL display, curators Dan Currie (an independent historian) and Paul Lewis (a Boston College English professor) have compiled Poe sites across town in a map, which we’ve excerpted here. The famously gloomy author now joins the ranks of Paul Revere, Ben Franklin, and JFK as a local historical figure with a (mostly) foot-friendly route. “We’ve all heard about the general myth, how Poe was seen almost as a madman, a misfit, a lunatic akin to one of his characters; and as part of that same myth, this idea that he hated Boston fits right in,” Currie says. “We thought this map would be a good tool in helping to ground the Boston Poe story in reality.”
1. Long Wharf, Boston Waterfront In 1796 Poe’s mother, Eliza (then age nine), arrived here from England with her mother.
2. 28 State Street [previously 14 State Street] Location of the boarding house where Eliza and her mother lived in 1796.
3. 62 Charles Street South [previously 62 Carver Street] On January 19, 1809, Poe was born in a boarding house here; razed in 1959, it is now a parking lot.
4. One State Street [previously 70 Washington Street] Print shop of Calvin F. S. Thomas, who published Poe’s first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, in 1827.
5. Fort Independence, Castle Island At 18, Poe enlisted and served in Battery H of the First Artillery of the U.S. Army. Some believe he got his idea for “The Cask of Amontillado” here.
6. One Boston Place [previously 67 Washington Street] Former office of The Pioneer: A Literary and Critical Magazine. Founder and editor James Russell Lowell published what would eventually become one of Poe’s best-known short stories, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” in the first issue, in 1843.
7. Frog Pond, Boston Common Poe associated it with Boston’s croaking literary establishment, whose moralistic members he derided as “Frogpondians.”
8. 15 West Street Residence of Elizabeth Peabody, who turned her parlor into the bookshop where The Dial was published. The journal featured what Poe called “the so-called poetry of the so-called transcendentalists.”
9. One Beacon Street [previously 41 Tremont Row] Former location of the Pavilion Hotel, where Poe stayed while in Boston for his disastrous 1845 reading at the Lyceum. It also may have been the site of a Poe suicide attempt in 1848 after relationship problems with two local women.
10. 24–26 Tremont Street Formerly the Boston Museum Building, which housed The Flag of Our Union, the only American newspaper to publish the works of the impoverished Poe during the final year of his life. Fittingly, the last work published in the city of his birth was the sonnet “To My Mother.”
11. Charles Street South and Broadway Site of the original Edgar Allan Poe Square, from 1913 until it was renamed for a soldier killed in World War I. In 1924 the Boston Authors Club installed a tablet here to honor Poe, but it disappeared in the 1950s.
12. Boylston Street and Charles Street South Home of the new Edgar Allan Poe Square. The tree-lined plaza was dedicated by Mayor Tom Menino on April 27, 2009, during the Poe Bicentennial.
“The Raven in the Frog Pond: Edgar Allan Poe and the City of Boston” runs through 3/31 at the Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston St., Boston, 617-536-5400, bpl.org.