Time Required: 1 hour
Parking: free street parking
“Can we take pictures?”
“You can, but the ghosts don’t like it.”
This quip from Mr. Knight, the National Park ranger who greeted us at the door of the Edgar Allan Poe House on 7th and Spring Garden Streets in Philadelphia, framed our visit to the historic site. As a sign outside of the house explains, Poe lived there when he published the “The Tell-Tale Heart,” one of the five residences he occupied during his six-year stay in Philadelphia. Poe, who famously married his younger cousin, Virginia, lived in the sizable home with her and her mother, Maria Clemm (his mother-in-law and aunt), whom Poe called “Muddy.”
He watches you tour his house from a wall across the street.
On the day we stopped by, it was windy and cold outside, a day that followed a freakishly warm November day. The cold and wind lurking outside set the scene for a quiet and introspective–but fun–tour of the premises.
The museum has very little fanfare outside, just a black iron fence and a small sign from the National Park Service explaining why there is a big mural outside of a pale, mustachioed man looking into your soul and a tall statue of a black raven in front of the house. The entrance is an old, weather-worn door with a framed sign printed on paper telling the museum’s hours. It also says, “Please knock once,” a notice I took seriously and literally, picking up the door knocker and hitting it against its cradle exactly one time. I later wondered if it meant to knock like a normal person (in a series of two or three), but only one time. But, we soon were greeted by a tall, thin man in a green NPS uniform. He welcomed us in out of the cold and let us pick the order in which we would tour the site (exhibit, house, video, or reading room). We chose to view the video first.
An informative video put together by the National Park Service tells you about Poe’s life while ore portraits of him look down upon you. I later learned that he was known for being a difficult and picky editor, often holding the work he reviewed to higher standards than he held his own. When I learned that, his expression made sense.
After viewing the video, which is actually viewed in the neighbor’s house, Mr. Knight reviewed some of the information we’d just learned and shared new factoids as well. Thus we began our tour of Edgar Allan Poe’s house, the only Philadelphia house of his that historians have been able to locate.
Curiously, the house is void of furniture and the walls have been stripped of their paint and wallpaper, making the tour feel almost like a tour on “Fixer Upper,” but creepier. There are, however, pencil drawings of furniture that hang on the walls, giving you an idea of what may have been there. With a laminated information card in hand, one can follow a self-guided tour through the empty rooms and imagine Poe writing and editing furiously, or Virginia strolling through the rooms, staring out window, or Muddy bustling around and worrying about her sick daughter.
I wondered about how quiet it may have been, or if Poe was a controlling cousin-husband, or if Muddy was as stern as many accounts say she was. Or if she was simply protective of her sick daughter. Or if Virginia was controlling or manipulative. Or if there was nothing strange and interesting going on there at all, just a loving husband and wife with live-in help and money problems.
And I think that’s one of the ways the Poe house charms you and sticks in your memory, and one of the characteristics that definitely make it worth a visit. Its sparseness makes you wonder, and the stories and folklore surrounding Poe make you imagine, and hearing stories will make you ask questions.
The tour leads you outside to view the grounds, where a pretty awesome statue of a raven watches everything you do, then you go back inside and (perhaps somewhat reluctantly) venture into the basement.
From the basement, you can go back into the house to learn more or visit the reading room, where copies of Poe’s work are available in a Victorian-style room. The room is outfitted just as Poe described his ideal room in an essay called, “The Philosophy of Furniture.”
Panorama of the Reading Room
If we were to visit again, we might start in the reading room and listen to a recording of a famous Poe story, like “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and maybe read a piece in the newspaper about him. The domineering portrait of Virginia is enough to put you in exactly the right mood to check over your shoulder to make sure no one’s there when you take pictures.
The Poe house is free to visit, and street parking is available.
Address: 532 N 7th St, Philadelphia, PA 19123
Phone Number: 215.965.2305