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Commemorating Edgar Allan Poe

When Edgar Allan Poe arrived at the University in 1826, no one knew that he eventually would become one of the country's greatest literary icons.

Now, nearly 150 years after his death, the University is celebrating the legacy of one of its most famous students.

Poe was born Jan. 19, 1809 in Boston, where his mother had been employed as an actress. When she died, Poe was taken into the family of John Allan. Although Poe took Allan's last name, he never was adopted formally, said Melissa Norris, public relations coordinator for Alderman Library.

After attending schools in England and Richmond, Poe registered at the University Feb. 14, 1826 during the second session. At the time, Poe was one of only 177 students. He lived in Room 13 on the West Range. Poe was forced to leave the University when Mr. Allan refused to fund his tuition. They got into an argument, and Poe was driven from the Allan home without any money. He later went to Boston where he published "Tamerlane and Other Poems."

Poe was known for his literary reviews and sensational tales. He became famous with the phenomenal success of his poem "The Raven," published Jan. 29, 1845. But the last few years of his life were sad ones. "The Broadway Journal" failed and soon after his wife became very ill and died. Still today, the circumstances surrounding Poe's death remain a mystery.

"There's been a lot of controversy about what he died of," Norris said. She also said that some speculate he died of pneumonia and the most recent theory is that he died of rabies. He was found in Baltimore in a sickly condition and was taken unconscious to a hospital, where he died Sunday, Oct. 7, 1849.

A number of Poe's original letters and manuscripts, as well as photographs and other printed materials, have been preserved in the Special Collections Department at Alderman Library.

"They were collected shortly after Poe's death. This is important because the correspondence was with people who knew him," Director of Special Collections Michael Plunkett said.

To honor Poe and his years at the University, the Associates of the University of Virginia Library and the Raven Society -- named after his most famous poem -- will commemorate the 150th Anniversary of Poe's death today at 4:00 p.m. at the University Chapel.

The event is open to the public and will feature a talk given by Ron Furqueron of Historical Impressions, an organization specializing in period performances, entitled "Better Late Than Never: The Eulogy for Edgar Allan Poe That Should Have Been."

Following the program, participants will lay a wreath at the door of Poe's room, and then proceed to Alderman Library for a rededication of Poe's 1899 Zolnay bust.

The statue is a bronze bust of Edgar Allan Poe created by the artist George Julian Zolnay, Norris said.

Jeanne Hammer, director of development for the University Library, said that John J. Owen, graduate Class of 1939, was the person who inspired the library's staff to put the statue back on public display.

"I asked the librarians why we couldn't have it out where everyone could see it," Owen said. In 1997, he began looking for a space where the statue could be displayed. Since it was on display for some time on the third floor of Alderman and few people noticed it, Owen thought the main floor of Alderman would be an appropriate place. He said he hopes the statue will remain in the fourth floor lobby near the entrance.

The Library's Ad Hoc Chorus will provide musical entertainment and refreshments will be served compliments of the Raven Society. In addition, during the event the University Bookstore will sell books written by Poe and books about his life and work. Complimentary copies of the booklet "Poe at the University" also will be given to those in attendance.

"This is an important event because Poe made an impact on the world and the literary community," Norris said.

In conjunction with the commemoration, fans of Poe can view letters online from Special Collections at Alderman Library courtesy of Richmond's Poe Museum and the Valentine Museum.


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