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