Poe was publicly critical of his birthplace of Boston, MA. Actually, he as absolutely invective of it. He didn’t like the works of its famous authors like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, he didn’t like the poor reception of his own work there, and he generally just had bad memories of his time in the city, which included a five-month stint in the military at Fort Independence on Castle Island, an embarrassingly panned public reading for the Boston Lyceum, and a failed suicide attempt. He liked to call Boston “Frogpondium,” a disparaging reference to a frog pond on its common and what he believed to be a parochial view of the world on the part of its literary set.
Poe was born on January 19, 1809, at what was then 62 Carver Street. His family moved a few years after his birth, but Poe returned to Boston regularly throughout his life. Unfortunately, most of the sites that figured in his life are long gone, but one can still find tell-tales of Poe in Boston if one practices a bit of Dupin-like sleuthing.
It was in the 1960s that the exact location of his birth was obliterated more completely than the House of Usher. It was part of a development project that entirely reconfigured the urban geography of the area. In 1989, a private group installed a small Band-Aid of a plaque on the side of one of the buildings near the spot where his original house stood. The store has been a few things over the years but these days, it’s a burrito restaurant called Boloco, referred to as Poe-loco by those who are more comfortable uttering puns in public than others. The building is located at the southeast corner of Boston Common at the intersections of Boylston and Charles Streets.
However, finally, in 2009, on the centennial of the author’s birth, the prodigal father officially recognized its macabre son, albeit in a small way. The city dubbed the courtyard at the intersection of Boylston and Charles, “Edgar Allan Poe Square” and permanently hoisted a street sign there to attest to the fact. Meanwhile, just across the common from the square is the frog pond that Poe utilized so viciously in his criticism of the city’s literary elite. These days it’s a frog-themed children’s recreation area.
According to a brochure available at the fort, the location was the site of a famous duel in 1817 that may have inspired Poe when he wrote The Cask of Amontillado.
In the front lawn of an ordinary-looking 260-year-old white house at 11 Graniteville Road is a tombstone-shaped stone marker with a weathered black raven engraven on it. Below the image of Poe’s literary familiar is an inscription that claims that Poe visited “here” in the last year of his life “exploring the town” and “nurturing his friendship with Nancy Heywood Richmond (“Annie”).”
Still, more than 160 years after his tragic death in Baltimore, MD, Poe is bigger than ever, somehow achieving superstar status in both august literary circles and an easily distracted pop culture, with no signs of it ever abating. As a result, Frogpondium has plenty of time to put together a more concerted effort to honor the morbid genius who published his first work under the byline, “A Bostonian.”