POE PARK, Fordham

by Kevin Walsh

Edgar Allan Poe was a man about town in New York in the 1840s: he lived in several different locales, and while during his Bronx tenure he wasn’t officially a New Yorker since Fordham wasn’t a part of NYC until 1874, we’ll overlook that technicality.

Poe was born in Boston and lived in Providence, Baltimore, Philadelphia, all over the East Coast. His other NYC residences have been torn down (including one on West 3rd Street that was razed in favor of a New York University addition in 2002). He is universally recognized as the inventor of the detective story and his supernaturally-themed fiction and poetry is a staple worldwide.

When Poe was here between 1846 and 1849, there was no Concourse, and Bronx was not yet a part of New York City. In fact 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 Virginia, 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. It is one of four Poe museums in the USA; it is sparsely funished in the fashion Poe must have had it while here, with a cast-iron desk, rocking chair, mirror and straw bed. 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.

It is an irony that Poe might have found amusing that while the Bronx recognizes other 19th Century literary lights such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Cullen Bryant, and even lesser-known ones like Fitz-Greene Halleck with lengthy avenues, Poe rates only a short, unmarked dead-end, Poe Place, off obscure Coles Lane on East Kingsbridge Road a couple of blocks east of the cottage. Poe does have a bust at the Hall of Fame for Great Americans at the Bronx Community College campus.

Poe Park, in which the cottage is situated, contains a circular bandstand built in 1925: it was home to classical and big band concerts until the 1960s, attracting such names as Benny Goodman and Jimmy Dorsey.


1 comment

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