The Layout of the House

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.

Front yard

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.

Like most of his neighbors, Poe rented his house. The area was bustling with markets, new construction, and a frequent turnover of renters as Philadelphia grew. One of Poe’s neighbors was named Mr. Lafourcade, a name that Poe borrowed for “The Premature Burial,” a story Poe wrote in Philadelphia and published in the Philadelphia Daily Newspaper. The story tells of a young woman named Victorine Lafourcade who is nearly buried alive. Victorine Lafourcade is not a direct representation of Poe’s neighbor, but the name clearly captured Poe’s imagination. As you will see, small details like a surname or a floorboard can connect Poe’s most beloved stories to this house and the life he lived here.


First Floor

Parlor

This is where you enter the house. Notice the original flooring as you step down.

The Poes would receive their guests here, many of which were writers like Poe himself. One of them, Mayne Reid, remembered, “In this humble domicile I can say that I have spent some of the pleasantest hours of my life.” During the year that he lived in this house, Poe entertained potential financial backers in this parlor to convince them to fund his idea for a literary magazine called The Stylus. It was Poe’s greatest dream to own and operate a literary magazine. He was frequently published in literary magazines, but was never able to successfully manage one.

Despite Poe’s hopes of entertaining wealthy investors, guests would have found Poe’s parlor somewhat lacking in décor. Poe did not own much furniture at this time because he moved frequently, not just around Philadelphia, but also to New York City and Richmond, Virginia. He had also been living beyond his means for several years. Around the time he lived here, his failed literary endeavors and his ailing wife’s costly medical care finally forced him to file for bankruptcy. His bankruptcy petition lists hardly any furniture or valuable material possessions.

Poe had elite tastes in furniture and décor that were beyond what he could afford, but one aspect of the parlor might have attracted his sensibilities. The mantle above the fireplace is made of marble, one of the most elegant aspects of the house. Poe may have seen the beautiful mantle as a consolation prize for renting an otherwise plain house.

One of the most notable details in the room is the word “death” carved into the plaster near the doorway to the kitchen. It is unknown whether Poe made this carving, but he did have a habit of writing and drawing on the walls of his dorm room at the University of Virginia. His beloved wife was fatally ill while he lived here, so thoughts of death were certainly on his mind.

Kitchen

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.


Second Floor

Small Room

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's Room

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.

Contrary to the common image of Poe as a dark and brooding man, his home was light and airy. His room was meticulously tidy due to his personal affinity for neatness. In Poe’s time, the house stood on the corner, which allowed more light to enter the home through its many east-facing windows. The house was quite open while Poe lived there, though it was later boxed in by surrounding properties.

In this room, Poe may have written “The Gold-Bug,” one of the three stories he published while living in this house. “The Gold-Bug” tells of a man who is bitten by a golden bug and subsequently decides he must go on a quest for buried treasure. Is it possible that Poe’s struggles with money during this time could have influenced this tale of insanity and wealth?


Third Floor

Virginia’s Room

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’s Room

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.


Back Porch
Laundry and outdoor summer cooking were done here.


Cellar

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"?


Images
See images of the site in our photo gallery.

Last updated: March 8, 2018

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