Bicentennial blah: Nothing locally for Poe's 200th... yet

Edgar Allan Poe.
PHOTO BY W.S. HARTSHORN

On the eve of the 200th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe's birth, five American cities are fighting over the legendary author's legacy, but Charlottesville–- arguably the site of his literary birth–- isn't one of them. In fact, there's even a plan afoot to destroy part of the natural area that inspired one of his notable short stories.

January 19 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of the man whose elegiac poems and macabre tales have cemented his reputation as one of America's greatest writers. Yet, in Charlottesville, even the keepers of his room at the University of Virginia haven't publicly firmed up any plans for a bicentennial celebration.

There are literally dozens of events scattered among Boston, Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, and Richmond; but the Hook couldn't find anything Poe-related happening on the 19th in Charlottesville.

The Raven Society, which rewards top students with scholarships and helps preserve Poe's legacy at the University, promises a Poe celebration in March, but the date is TBA, according to the group's website.

"He certainly was writing here and sharing his writing with others," says scholar of UVA student life, Coy Barefoot. "Why not Charlottesville?"

Compounding any insult created by the absence of a bicentennial birthday party, local governments have teamed up, despite a year's worth of upheavals, to build a new reservoir at the place Poe described as "absolutely virgin" in one of his short stories, "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains."

"That's the only thing he wrote that has any direct reference to the months he spent in Charlottesville," says UVA English professor Stephen Railton.

"We are diminishing our own history," says a seemingly disgusted Dede Smith, a former director of the Ivy Creek Foundation, the group that created and now manages the Ragged Mountain Natural Area as a park. Under the government plan, however, 180 acres of forest in Ragged Mountain would be clear-cut for the reservoir.

"During the fall of the year 1827, while residing near Charlottesville, Virginia...."

Thus begins "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains," first published in 1844, seventeen years after Poe, beset by financial problems, abruptly left the University.

Smith believes Poe and other students used the Ragged Mountains as a hideout from justice, when they were avoiding the Sheriff over the crime of gambling. And Smith says she still offers an annual Poe tour along the natural area's so-called Peninsula Trail.

"There is a very cool old chimney and home site and an amazing vista, all at water level," says Smith. "Which means that site–- that so beautifully illustrated the meshing of human and natural history–- will be 45 feet underwater. Our own Atlantis."

If Poe's local legacy is soon inundated by water, history lovers may even sooner get inundated by knowledge and art at the upcoming exhibition entitled "From Out That Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Edgar Allan Poe."

Jointly organized by UVA's library along with the University of Texas and other repositories of Poe memorabilia, the exhibit will show viewers actual UVA records of Poe's student days, including the matriculation roster and a tally of overdue books that hit Poe with a 60-cent fine for hoarding a history book.

Exhibits coordinator Mercy Quintos Procaccini says the exhibition will mix high-brow and low-brow commemorations–- ranging from a Raven engraving by Gustave Dor© to a Simpsons action figure–- to help visitors understand the influence of the troubled writer.

"They'll be surprised," Procaccini says, "by how rich and broad and widespread his legacy is."

The exhibition opens March 7 at UVA's Harrison Institute, the newish library next to Alderman Library on McCormick Road, and runs through August 1.

11 comments

Let's meet at sunrise at the Reservoir on Jan.19th and read "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains" I'll bring the cake !

Charlottesvillians I call upon you to rise up !
Save my sacred Ragged Mountain, hallowed ground which gave me countless hours of inspiration and sheltered me from those who would harm me.

Have The no respect for history and thy historic personages ?

And what's this no birthday party ?

It's a crying shame to forget Edgar Allan Poe while VQR" honors today's pretentious, two-bit "writers". Grow up, wake up...and remember your heritage and his legacy.

My God! Colleges and Universities already give their students so much time off during holidays and "breaks" of all kinds, now UVA will give time off from classes to watch an inauguration! Spare me! Let them "Tivo" it! Besides, the inauguration event will actually be only half as historical as people might think because Obama is half white!

Those of you craving Poe should know that at the Virginia Festival of the Book will be a program with Harry Poe, who's written a book on the literary figure and I believe is a descendant of the man himself. C'mon...would the Festival miss one this big? The event will be held at the UVa Harrison Institute, Small Special Collections Library so you can check out the exhibit Hawes mentions.

Also, look for novelist Louis Bayard whose book "The Pale Blue Eye" is Poe-inspired. Granted, it deals with Poe at West Point--not UVa--but it's a thriller regarded as the best-ofshow among Poe fictionalizations.

Kevin, in a bookish town like Charlottesville why no birthday bash on my birthday?

What would Poe do?

Certainly not destroy the wilderness he so 'felt' for his inspiration. From "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains"....

"'You will remember,' said he, 'that it was about nine in the morning when I left Charlottesville. I bent my steps immediately to the mountains, and, about ten, entered a gorge which was entirely new to me. I followed the windings of this pass with much interest. The scenery which presented itself on all sides, although scarcely entitled to be called grand, had about it an indescribable and to me a delicious aspect of dreary desolation. The solitude seemed absolutely virgin. I could not help believing that the green sods and the grey rocks upon which I trod had been trodden never before by the foot of a human being. So entirely secluded, and in fact inaccessible, except through a series of accidents, is the entrance of the ravine, that it is by no means impossible that I was the first adventurer--the very first and sole adventurer who had ever penetrated its recesses."

You can FEEL the same landscape today. Would YOU flood such a remarkable landscape... just 2 miles from UVA?

What would Poe do?

Today's my birthday Charlottesville --guess I'll be heading to Richmond

Another Poe story about Charlottesville ? Rick Britton on Coy Barefoots WINA show on January 22 argued that " A Tale of the Ragged Mountains" is not the only story that Poe set in Charlottesville. He feels that "William Wilson" a story about a student who "falls into gambling and ruins his college experience" is also about Poe's student days while at the University of Virginia in 1826. Britton read this quote from the story to back-up his claim.

"the vortex of thoughtless folly into which I there so immediately and so recklessly plunged washed away all but the froth of my past hours, engulfed at once every solid or serious impression and left to memory only the various levities of a former existence."

Hi,

I am a photography major at VCU, from Charlottesville. I wanted to shoot my final project at the airport motel but last time I went some man yelled at me and said I had to leave. So i was wondering who you contacted to get permission to go there? Thanks for your time.
From
Brittany

There is no doubt in my mind that the list of visitors to the Airport Motel several decades ago would rock this town! It would probably cause the divorce rate in Charlottesville and Albemarle County to triple this year if all the skeletons fell out a closet at the same time. :)