'Quoth the raven, 'Nevermore'"
A raven sits on the windowsill, a stack of books beside it. In the corner stands a wooden desk, a book lying open on top.
Alongside the hustle and bustle of students rushing to and from class, there stands a room different from all the rest: West Range 13. The room that is said to have been home to Edgar Allan Poe when he was a student at the University remains frozen in time behind glass doors.
Poe began his time at the University Feb. 14, 1826 as one of 177 students enrolled for the University's second ever session, according to an article by Rick Britton in U.Va. Alumni News, Fall 1999.
Poe was "enrolled in two schools -- the School of Ancient Languages and the School of Modern Languages," Secretary of the Board of Visitors Alexander Gilliam said. "He was a good student."
Poe's room still attracts attention today, from the University community and tourists alike. It is maintained by The Raven Society, an organization that encompasses students, faculty and alumni from every school and funds student scholarships and research grants.
"The Raven Society was founded in 1904 -- it took its name from Poe's most famous poem," Gilliam said. "It led the movement to make Room 13 into a kind of Poe museum, [and] the Raven Society is still the custodian of that room."
The organization cleans the room, keeps the light on and preserves its history in many ways, including opening up the Poe room to visitors for special occasions, such as during Candlelight Tours on Family Weekend. Through these activities, the Raven Society attempts to honor Poe, according fourth-year College student and Raven Society President Ross Baird.
"When new members are elected [into The Raven Society], they write a parody of 'The Raven,' and the best parodies are read at the Raven Society banquet at the end of the year," Baird said.
Gilliam said, contrary to rumors, neither "The Raven" nor any of Poe's published works were written while Poe was at the University.
There are many such rumors and myths surrounding Poe that hide the reality of his life.
"The truth is, he led a very sad life," Gilliam said. "He married a cousin at age 13 -- she died of tuberculosis. He was estranged from his foster family. Nothing seemed to work -- he left here, went to West Point, left West Point. He was poor all of his life. He died in Baltimore -- he was found in a gutter, unconscious, [and] he died a few days later."
Gilliam said the story behind Poe's death at the time was that he died from drinking too much, but the latest theory is that Poe died of rabies.
Fourth-year College student and University Guide Marissa Kessler said Poe "is sort of a tragic figure at the University."
Kessler said many people forget that he went to the University since it was quite a long time ago.
Yet through the work of the Raven Society and others, Poe is still a presence here, and the stories and myths surrounding him and his room have by no means died away.
"There's a lot about Poe that's fairly debated," Kessler said.
Such debate is present even in the question of which room Poe lived in while at the University.
"We're not even absolutely sure that Room 13 was his room," Gilliam said. "The early housing records were burned in the Rotunda fire of 1895."
There is one area, however, where there does not seem to be reason for debate.
"Unfortunately, there aren't any ghost stories about Poe's room," Baird said. "I wish there were."
Of the stories about Poe and his room that do exist, several are not mere myth. One such story involves Poe's struggles in the face of cold weather.
"The way your rooms were heated in those days, you bought firewood," Gilliam said. "Poe ran out of money, and the last week he was here, he broke up his furniture piece by piece and used it as firewood."
Another story illustrated Poe's abilities as a storyteller.
"When Edgar Allan Poe was a student here, he used to pack his room with his friends, who would listen, spellbound, to his scary, scary stories," Baird said. "He was an incredible performer. He would throw his whole soul into [storytelling]. His voice would get louder and softer. He was famous for his storytelling ability when he was a student here."
Baird said the Raven Society tries to accomplish something similar to what Poe did with his storytelling.
"We have a Raven Symposium in the spring where students present their research, and students and faculty talk about what they've done -- the modern day equivalent to Poe telling the stories he'd just written in 13 West Range to whomever gathered there," Baird said.
Despite Poe's storytelling talent, he remained at the University for only 10 months, according to Britton. The Raven Society president said the story goes that Poe's short stay was a result of extensive gambling -- Poe left with a debt of over $2,000, a very significant sum in 1826.
While there are rumors that Poe squandered his money, the issue is "two series," Kessler said, explaining that some people say Poe was merely a gambler and a drunkard, while others say Poe gambled for a reason.
According to Irby B. Cauthen, Jr.'s booklet "Edgar Allan Poe at the University -- 1826," both of Poe's parents died before Poe turned three. He was taken in by John and Frances Valentine Allan, who sent him to school in England and then to the University.
Gilliam said, however, Poe's foster parents did not send him enough money to live on.
"Poe gambled to try to earn money," Gilliam said. "The problem was he wasn't very good at it."
Gilliam said there is no evidence that Poe was a drunkard or on drugs while at the University, though there are rumors to the contrary.
"The only blemish on Poe's record is that he left here owing something like a dollar in overdue book fines," Gilliam said.
Today, Poe still has a presence on Grounds, not only because his historical room is on display, but because there is a bust of Poe in Alderman Library and a collection of his works in the Special Collections Library.
"I think Poe was recognized as a literary genius much more after his death than in his lifetime, and initially much more abroad than in this country" Gilliam said.
Gilliam said the French particularly hold Poe to a high esteem. Generally, when foreign visitors tour the University, they "perk up when they see Room 13," Gilliam said. "They all know about Poe."