In 1844 Edgar Allan Poe moved into 85 West Third Street with his wife Virginia. It was here that he would create and publish one of his most famous works, The Raven. He was also a frequent guest of New York University’s Eucleian Society founded just two years earlier. This literary society held debates, orations, and poetry readings which Poe both attended and presented at.
The Eucleian Society’s magazine was called The Knickerbocker, edited by Lewis Gaylord Clark. Clark held the conservative view of New York City elites believing that American literature was inferior to British literature. New York University student and author Cornelius Mathews disagreed and attempted to create a uniquely American style with his poem Wakondah. The poem was not well received by any and in a scathing review in Graham’s Magazine, Poe wrote that it had “no merit whatever; while its faults…are of that rampant class which, if any schoolboy could be found so uninformed as to commit them, any schoolboy should be remorselessly flogged for committing” (Silverman 164). Yet despite these harsh words Mathews and Poe became friends. Mathews’ niece Frances Aymar Mathews wrote a recounting, granted an extremely romanticized one, of her uncle’s tale about the writing of The Raven in a 1921 New York University alumnus publication.
According to the story Mathews and Poe attended a play at the Park Theater on Park Row in the winter of 1944. In the fourth act the protagonist becomes convinced his mother is a witch, at which point Poe turned to Mathews to ask why they playwright would not have put a raven flying across the stage as an ill-omen at that point. Poe went on to reveal that ravens had always haunted his mind. They depart following the play and half an hour later Mathews is walking down Bleecker Street when he sees Poe standing in a puddle in the rain under a streetlamp scribbling onto a scrap of paper. At this point Poe recited the first stanza, words that would soon become famous, “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary…”. Finally Mathews persuaded Poe to let him walk him home with his umbrella, all the while Poe was muttering new verses under his breath. At least that is the tale Cornelius Mathews remembered.
On January 29, 1845 The Raven was published in the Evening Mirror. Instantly, it became a popular sensation making Poe a household name. Yet he was paid only $9 for its publishing so also had to work as an editor for the Broadway Journal. Luckily his new poem was such a success because Poe had recently alienated himself by publically accusing Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of plagiarism in the Broadway Journal. Longfellow never responded to the charges. Poe then failed to raise the $140 required to salvage the Broadway Journal so in the early months of 1846 the Poes moved to a cottage in the Bronx.
The Poes’ redbrick townhouse they left remained standing on the north side of West Third Street between Sullivan and Thompson Streets. Even though the Poes only resided there for a couple years, when New York University attempted to demolish the structure to expand the law school in 2000, there was a huge uproar from the community. There were hundreds of protestors, significant press, and even a temporary restraining order obtained. At this point the building was the home of the Delta Chapter of the Psi Upsilon fraternity. Its four-story structure was only half as tall when Poe lived there and the first two stories had been remodeled countless times. Additionally Poe had lived in countless buildings in New York City over the course of his life including the corner of Sixth Avenue and Waverly Place, 113 ½ Carmine Street, and Second Avenue and 47th Street yet this structure was the last remaining “Poe House” standing. With these considerations in mind, a settlement was reached between New York University and the lawyers representing the preservationists to demolish the interior but save the façade. Dismantled and then rebuilt incorporated into the new building, the façade still stands as a memory to Edgar Allan Poe’s time in Greenwich Village interacting with many New York University students.
Marie Bonaparte. The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe. London: Imago Publishing Company, 1949.
“Edgar Allan Poe House.” New York Preservation Archive Project. Accessed October 30, 2011 <http://www.nypap.org/content/edgar-allan-poe-house>
Jim O’Grady. “NYU Law School Agrees to Save Poe House”. New York Times. January 23, 2001 accessed October 30, 2011 <http://www.nytimes.com/2001/01/23/nyregion/nyu-law-school-agrees-to-save-part-of-poe-house.html>
Kenneth Silverman. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1991.