Born Edgar Poe in Boston in 1809, he lived his first years in Virginia where his father was a traveling actor. His father abandoned the family and his mother died when he was three. Thereafter, he was taken in by a wealthy Virginian named John Allan, who re-christened him Edgar Allan Poe. At 17, Poe enrolled at the University of Virginia, but was forced to withdraw because of heavy drinking and gambling debts.
It was around this time, that Poe began his itinerant life of writing, wandering and wretchedness. Though he spent time in the Army (rising to the rank of Sergeant Major under an assumed name) and later matriculated at West Point, Poe decided very early on that he would make his living as a writer. Financially speaking, this was a very poor choice and doomed Poe to constant poverty.
In the 1830′s and 1840′s, America provided almost no copyright protection for authors. In effect, a great book could be copied by almost anyone and reprinted without having to give a dime to the author. Though Poe became famous worldwide with the publication of his poem “The Raven,” he only earned a reputed $9.00 for the initial publication.
Thus, as a poor writer, married to a loving but sickly wife, Poe was forced to move about the Eastern seaboard looking for work as a reporter, literary critic and editor. In this manner, he stumbled in and out of New York City, living several times in the Greenwich Village and several times near Newspaper Row in the vicinity of City Hall Park.
As an indigent patient he sought help for a cold at the Northern Dispensary in the Village (located at Christopher and Grove streets). At the time of its founding, the dispensary was envisioned as a place where the poor could come to obtain free or very inexpensive medical care.
Later, while working as a reporter for the New York Sun, he made his biggest splash in the city, reporting on the spectacular crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a hot air balloon in only 75 hours. At the time, the voyage by sailing ship could take weeks. The story whipped up intense excitement in the city. It was written with great detail and even diagrams and drawings. Unfortunately, it was all a figment of Poe’s great imagination. Yup. He made the whole thing up, and The Sun later had to print a full retraction.
But in 1845, Poe did something that would remember him to posterity forever. Mad with grief over the continued illness of his young and beloved wife, Poe wrote “The Raven.” In the poem, a deranged poet laments his dead spouse with a raven that visits at his window. At the time, he was living in a cottage in the Bronx, and according to contemporaneous rumors, he was quiet mad indeed. At the very least, he was despondent and very poor.
Experience these and other stories in our Greenwich Village tour. We offer a unique NY tour experience, told with audio narration, hundreds of pictures, video clips, gps-enabled map, trivia quizzes, local recommendations, and much more. Walk New York with Racontrs and take a walk through history.