POE PLACE- A Bronx tribute to a literary master

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Since the mysterious
 Poe Toaster did not show up this year [Jan. 19, 2010] in Baltimore at Edgar Allan Poe’s gravesite as he usually does on Poe’s birthday, I thought it appropriate to pay homage of my own in Forgotten NY. If you’re not familiar with the story, a mysterious figure, or figures (the tradition started in 1949) bearing a silver tipped cane, proceeds to Poe’s gravesite in early morning at Westminster Hall and Burying Ground, hoists a Cognac toast, and leaves three red roses and the Cognac. It is thought that the toaster has been one person and his son. Jeff Jerome, curator of the cemetery, has no contact with the Toaster, and does not know why he didn’t turn up this year.

The Crotona Park and Hunts Point neighborhoods in the Bronx boast a number of streets named for the literary lights of the USA in the early to mid 1800s, such as [William Cullen] Bryant, [Henry Wadsworth] Longfellow, [John Greenleaf] Whittier, [Joseph Rodman] Drake, and Fitz-Greene Halleck. Another, Edgar Allan Poe, is also remembered, not by an avenue, but by a dead-end alley issuing from another little-remembered lane in Fordham, not far from the small cottage where he lived beginning in 1846 with his cousin-wife, Virginia, and her mother, Maria, until 1849; Virginia died of tuberculosis in 1847. I cannot but feel that Poe would have chuckled at the inconsequential lane that bears his name in the Bronx, while his contemporaries received much longer thoroughfares; Poe once accused Longfellow of plagiarism. A longer Poe Avenue was mapped in Hunts Point in the 1800s, but has either disappeared or was never built.

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From an atlas made during the 1910s, note Coles Lane running between Briggs Avenue at East Kingsbridge Road and Bainbridge Avenue, and the dead end Poe Place running north from it. I’m not sure when each lane first appeared, but I’d guess it would be the late 1800s.

Coles Lane

This short street, which is in the line of East 192nd Street but somehow avoided getting numbered, was named for the Postmaster of Fordham in the 1860s, Jacob Cole; he and his brother Andrew were residents here in the 1870s, and I’d have to guess this was the road that led to their homes, perhaps a carriage path.

Coles Lane, at the junction of Briggs Avenue (foreground) and East Kingsbridge Road (right). The narrow lane has been closed to traffic from the Kingsbridge Road side for quite a few years.

Bronx Pawnbrokers, minus the traditional 3-ball symbol, is at the corner of Coles and Kingsbridge.

I really should do a Kingsbridge Road page soon – it’s among the Bronx’ oldest roads, built along the path of a pre-colonial trail. Though it officially ends at Fordham Road, its trail east of that can be traced in the paths of Third Avenue, East 182nd Street and Grote Street.

Coles Lane is on a steep hill between Kingsbridge and Bainbridge. A pedestrian walkway allows entry from KIngsbridge to the actual lane, which is a few feet below.

The dead-end section of Coles Lane, looking toward Kingsbridge. We see the remnants of an ancient railing pedestrians can grab onto during slippery weather.

A look at the pedestrian staircase, which ends near the almost-never-trafficked intersection of Coles Lane and Poe Place. The dead-end Poe Place has a one-way sign: you can get in, but you can’t get out.

The rear end of an Art Deco classic fronted on Bainbridge Avenue faces Coles Lane and Poe Place.

Coles Lane, looking from Bainbridge Avenue (left), and toward. Note that the lane is lit by a single streetlight (Poe Place, see below, has just one as well)

Fordham Public Library building, 2556 Bainbridge, facing Coles Lane, was slated to be transformed into an animal shelter in 2008 despite community opposition; it has stood empty after it closed in 2005.

Poe Place

As we’ve said, Poe Place honors Edgar Allan Poe, the literary master and poet, born in Boston in 1809 and died in Baltimore in 1849. He lived in many places along the East Coast, with two stints in NYC proper (when he lived in the Bronx in 1846-1849, it was part of Westchester County) as well as in Philadelphia, Providence, Richmond, VA among others. He dealt in horror, wrote some of the first detective fiction, and even some early forays into science fiction. A dead-end alley named for Poe is oddly fitting, as he battled many personal demons including alcoholism …

I looked upon the scene before me - upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain – upon the bleak walls – upon the vacant eye-like windows – upon a few rank sedges – and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees – with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium – the bitter lapse into everyday life – the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart – an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it – I paused to think – what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher?

The last thing you’d expect to find on Poe Place is a boat, but here one is, far from the shore. What eldritch turn of events caused this barque to beach at this remote point?

My name is Arthur Gordon Pym. My father was a respectable trader in sea-stores at Nantucket, where I was born. My maternal grandfather was an attorney in good practice. He was fortunate in every thing, and had speculated very successfully in stocks of the Edgarton New Bank, as it was formerly called. By these and other means he had managed to lay by a tolerable sum of money. He was more attached to myself, I believe, than to any other person in the world, and I expected to inherit the most of his property at his death. He sent me, at six years of age, to the school of old Mr. Ricketts, a gentleman with only one arm and of eccentric manners- he is well known to almost every person who has visited New Bedford. I stayed at his school until I was sixteen, when I left him for Mr. E. Ronald’s academy on the hill. Here I became intimate with the son of Mr. Barnard, a sea-captain, who generally sailed in the employ of Lloyd and Vredenburgh- Mr. Barnard is also very well known in New Bedford, and has many relations, I am certain, in Edgarton. His son was named Augustus, and he was nearly two years older than myself. He had been on a whaling voyage with his father in the John Donaldson, and was always talking to me of his adventures in the South Pacific Ocean. I used frequently to go home with him, and remain all day, and sometimes all night. We occupied the same bed, and he would be sure to keep me awake until almost light, telling me stories of the natives of the Island of Tinian, and other places he had visited in his travels. At last I could not help being interested in what he said, and by degrees I felt the greatest desire to go to sea. I owned a sailboat called the Ariel, and worth about seventy-five dollars. She had a half-deck or cuddy, and was rigged sloop-fashion- I forget her tonnage, but she would hold ten persons without much crowding. In this boat we were in the habit of going on some of the maddest freaks in the world; and, when I now think of them, it appears to me a thousand wonders that I am alive to-day.

The waters of the river have a saffron and sickly hue; and they flow not onwards to the sea, but palpitate forever and forever beneath the red eye of the sun with a tumultuous and convulsive motion. For many miles on either side of the river’s oozy bed is a pale desert of gigantic water-lilies. They sigh one unto the other in that solitude, and stretch towards the heaven their long and ghastly necks, and nod to and fro their everlasting heads. And there is an indistinct murmur which cometh out from among them like the rushing of subterrene water. And they sigh one unto the other.

The doorway on Poe Place, with its ceramic ornamentation, seems to be the back end of the Bainbridge Avenue Group Home …

Back into the chamber turning, all my sour within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping something louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is and this mystery explore–
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;–
‘Tis the wind and nothing more.

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he,
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door–
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door–
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then the ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore–
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

Fedders Specials of Bainbridge and the tenements of Briggs turn their backs on the mysterious Poe Place, which, by the way, is unmarked by a NYC green and white street sign. Only neighborhood denizens with detailed street maps know its name. What nameless form of activity could be going on behind that poorly locked fence?

It was now midnight, and my task was drawing to a close. I had completed the eighth, the ninth, and the tenth tier. I had finished a portion of the last and the eleventh ; there remained but a single stone to be fitted and plastered in. I struggled with its weight ; I placed it partially in its destined position. But now there came from out the niche a low laugh that erected the hairs upon my head. It was succeeded by a sad voice, which I had difficulty in recognising as that of the noble Fortunato. The voice said -

“Ha ! ha ! ha ! – he ! he ! – a very good joke indeed – an excellent jest. We will have many a rich laugh about it at the palazzo – he ! he ! he ! – over our wine – he ! he ! he !”

“The Amontillado!” I said.

“He ! he ! he ! – he ! he ! he ! – yes, the Amontillado. But is it not getting late? Will not they be awaiting us at the palazzo, the Lady Fortunato and the rest? Let us be gone.”

“Yes,” I said, “let us be gone.”

” For the love of God, Montressor! “

“Yes,” I said, “for the love of God!”

But to these words I hearkened in vain for a reply. I grew impatient. I called aloud -

“Fortunato!”

No answer. I called again -

“Fortunato!”

No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells. My heart grew sick – on account of the dampness of the catacombs. I hastened to make an end of my labor. I forced the last stone into its position ; I plastered it up. Against the new masonry I re-erected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat!

A rusting barbecue is found among the weeds and garbage of the ill-remembered Poe Place.

But see, amid the mimic rout
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes!–it writhes!–with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food,
And the angels sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.
Out–out are the lights–out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
And the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”
And its hero the Conqueror Worm.

Poe Place, an unusually lengthy blind alley, peters to a conclusion after about 75 yards. It is not on official city maps, hence the absence of a street sign.

“M. Valdemar, can you explain to us what are your feelings or wishes now?”

There was an instant return of the hectic circles on the cheeks; the tongue quivered, or rather rolled violently in the mouth (although the jaws and lips remained rigid as before;) and at length the same hideous voice which I have already described, broke forth:

“For God’s sake! — quick! — quick! — put me to sleep — or, quick! — waken me! — quick! — I say to you that I am dead!”

I was thoroughly unnerved, and for an instant remained undecided what to do. At first I made an endeavor to re-compose the patient; but, failing in this through total abeyance of the will, I retraced my steps and as earnestly struggled to awaken him. In this attempt I soon saw that I should be successful — or at least I soon fancied that my success would be complete — and I am sure that all in the room were prepared to see the patient awaken.

For what really occurred, however, it is quite impossible that any human being could have been prepared.

As I rapidly made the mesmeric passes, amid ejaculations of “dead! dead!” absolutely bursting from the tongue and not from the lips of the sufferer, his whole frame at once — within the space of a single minute, or even less, shrunk — crumbled — absolutely rotted away beneath my hands. Upon the bed, before that whole company, there lay a nearly liquid mass of loathsome — of detestable putridity.

Poe Cottage

Fortunately, the City offers a more respectable tribute to the horror master. The cottage where he lived from 1846-1847 with his cousin/wife Virginia and his mother-in-law has been preserved in Poe Park, at the Grand Concourse and East Kingsbridge Road, just a couple of blocks away.

When Poe lived in this small farmhouse there was no Grand Concourse, and the house stood far out in the country. That’s what Poe was looking for, believing the clear country air would invigorate his ailing young wife, who had tuberculosis.  Tragically, it did not work and Virginia died; one of his best-known poems, “Annabel Lee”, is thought to memorialize her.

Poe and his family were destitute while living in the little farmhouse. He was a literary success but had lost his savings in a failed magazine venture. The author and his mother-in-law had to forage in nearby fields for the family’s sustenance. The cottage itself was built in 1812 by farmer John Wheeler and stood on Kingsbridge Road until it was moved to its present location in 1913.

The house is one of four Poe museums in the USA; it is sparsely furnished in the fashion Poe must have had while here. It is thought that the bed, gold-framed mirror and rocking chair belonged to Poe himself. Tours of Poe Cottage can be arranged with the Bronx Historical Society at (718) 881-8900.  The cottage is under renovation and a new visitor center is being constructed. The BHS is also running a Poe retrospective honoring the 200th anniversary of his birth (he was born the same years as Abe Lincoln). The program runs until April 15, 2010.

Annabel Lee

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love -
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her high-born kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me -
Yes! that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud one night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we -
Of many far wiser than we -
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling -my darling -my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea -
In her tomb by the sounding sea





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