During his six years in Philadelphia, Poe lived in five different houses. Only this house survives. Just before moving here, Virginia, Edgar Allan Poe’s young wife, was diagnosed with tuberculosis. The family moved into this bright, airy house to help heal Virginia’s lungs. In addition to Edgar and Virginia, the household also included Virginia’s mother Maria Clemm, or “Muddy,” and a cat named Catterina.
During Poe’s time, there was a porch roof attached the exposed brick wall, under which the Poe family might have enjoyed pleasant evenings. There was a spacious lawn facing Seventh Street, where Muddy could frequently be seen. One Spring Garden resident said, “Mrs. Clemm was always busy… clearing the front yard, washing the windows and the stoop, and even white-washing the palings [a fence made from pointed wooden stakes]. You would notice how clean and orderly everything looked.” The Poes were respected, though neighbors sometimes speculated about the strange and insular family. One neighbor claimed to have only seen Poe leave the house a dozen times, yet another remembers him frequently laughing outdoors with his wife and mother-in-law.
This is where you enter the house. Notice the original flooring as you step down.
The Poe family could not afford a housekeeper or cook, so Muddy carried out most of the family’s domestic affairs—cooking, cleaning, and caring for her ailing daughter. She was described by Mayne Reid as “the ever-vigilant guardian of the house, watching it against the silent but continuous sap of necessity.” Even though Poe’s Philadelphia neighborhood was a center for urban development, he did not have the creature comforts that people in that same neighborhood take for granted today. Like most other middle-class households of Philadelphia in the 1840s, Poe’s house did not have electricity or running water. Muddy would have cooked their meals on a wood stove.
The wall separating this small room from the hallway was probably added to create a bathroom for a later tenant. In Poe’s day, it would have been an open space that may have served as a sitting area for the family. In this room, there is now a drawing of Poe at his writing desk with Catterina, the family cat. Poe loved animals and cats especially. Can you think of any Poe stories that might stem from a love for his feline friends?
Poe was under constant pressure to produce writing and provide for his family. He kept irregular hours, writing whenever an idea inspired him. He may have slept alone in this room because Virginia was ill with tuberculosis, which is contagious.
On the far wall, there is a window looking down onto Seventh Street and the front yard. Only two stoves were installed in the house while the Poes lived here, one of them in this room. Because stoves are much better than fireplaces at keeping a room warm, we think frail Virginia slept here during the winter months. Neighbors said they saw Virginia and Muddy outside, “watering the flowers, which they had in a bed under the windows.” During this time, Virginia was not so ill as to be completely confined to her room, but it would have been a welcome respite from the stress of daily life.
Muddy slept near Virginia, whom she cared for. Devoted to Virginia and Edgar, she "served as messenger, doing the errands, making pilgrimages between the poet and his publishers..." There is a loose floorboard in this room that is reminiscent of one of Poe’s most famous stories, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” which was written during his time in Philadelphia. In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” a paranoid man murders his neighbor. The murderer “cut off the head the arms and the legs…then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings.” There is no body under the floorboards in Poe’s house, but as the old boards creak and shudder, it is not hard to imagine how Poe found inspiration for his chilling tale.
Laundry and outdoor summer cooking were done here.
In Poe’s horror story, “The Black Cat,” the murderer confesses, “I had walled the monster inside the tomb” in the cellar. Poe published (and probably wrote) the story while he lived in this house. Take a close look at the false chimney. Could it be the inspiration for the "tomb" mentioned in "The Black Cat"?
See images of the site in our photo gallery.
Last updated: November 3, 2018