Poe Revere’d in Boston: The Edgar Allan Poe Statue Unveil

October 6, 2014 — A photograph hangs on a wall in the Bronx Poe Cottage. It’s black and white and depicts a darkly dressed crowd of men in top hats and women in dresses surrounding a dark hunk of bronze: The Edmond T. Quinn bust of Edgar Allan Poe.

Since that day on January 19, 1909, millions have seen that bust, either there in New York or through copies and images. But only a few could say they were there for the actual unveil.

Yesterday, October 5, 2014, in Boston, Massachusetts, there was a much bigger Edgar Allan Poe unveil, a full statue in the city where Poe was born, and I can count myself among the throng who attended this historic event. I only saw two top hats.

This statue and event were exciting for me beyond being a Poe fan. I was vested in this statue and the people responsible for it. Over the course of writing Poe-Land, I got to document some of the massive effort that went into this statue, meeting, interviewing, and keeping in touch with members of the foundation, backers, the sculptor herself. It was their day as much as Poe’s and as much as Boston’s. They deserve heavy accolades for spending five years of their lives working toward getting Boston to love Poe.

I won’t go deep into the story of why Boston doesn’t already. It’s summarized elsewhere on this site, it’s in Poe-Land in detail, and it's being told in the media today as a result of the statue. In short, Poe was born in Boston and, although he didn’t grow up there, he returned regularly throughout his life. However, he had ill will toward the city due to a distaste for its popular poetry and a badly received lecture he gave there. Some of the best insults ever thrown at Boston came from Poe. And some of the staunchest apathy ever practiced toward a native son came from Boston.

But, as of yesterday, Boston is no longer Edgar Allan Poe’s second John Allan.

Left-to-right: Paul Lewis, Edgar Allan Poe, Stefanie Rocknak, Rob Velella

The event started at the Georgian Ballroom of the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, where hundreds of people packed it in to hear speeches, Poe readings, and musical performances. The highlights were easily the giddy speech of Professor Paul Lewis of Boston College (chair of the board of directors for the Edgar Allan Poe Foundation of Boston) over this culmination of so much work, a powerful dramatic reading of "The City in the Sea" by Rob Velella (also on the board of directors) backed by original music from the Planetary Quartet, and a presentation by sculptor Stefanie Rocknak, who walked us through the journey of the sculpture from concept to concrete, baby to bronze.

Once that was over, everyone adjourned in a mass exodus across two blocks of busy Boston streets to where a crowd was already packing the small brick plaza known since 2009 as Edgar Allan Poe Square. In the center, in a small space cordoned off by red velvet ropes, was a black shrouded from, too small to be ominous but too intriguing to be ignored. A few speeches later, as well as a reading of El Dorado by Robert Pinsky, the black covering was pulled off like a cloak, and there he was: Edgar Allan Poe, back in Boston…for good this time.

If you’ve been aware of this Poe statue initiative at all, then you’ve probably already seen the black-and-white images that circulated a few months back, showing a dramatic statue, Poe striding and billowing while pages flow out of his valise and a giant raven careens beside him. It seemed almost comic-book, larger than life, bold, bad-ass. And in fact, that is what I called it in my book, “Bad-Ass Poe.”

Seeing it in real life, pressed with crowds like he was the latest star of the latest blockbuster movie, we all got a new perspective on him.

First, the statue is smaller than many of us imagined. Poe was 5’8” and, since he’s being depicted mid-strive, he loses a few more inches. That plus the fact that he’s not pedestaled, his feet anchored firmly in the Boston brick, means he was easily lost in the center of the crowd. Second, the color was vivid, almost a mint-green, a shade that promises to age and weather in fascinating ways. He looked exactly like he was supposed to, I think, a ghost in the crowd of his fellow Bostonians. His countenance also appeared gentle, almost aged beyond Poe’s actual lifespan, not at all the cocky heft of the original wooden maquette.

I’m still calling him “Bad-Ass Poe.” Because it’s still a bold statue in every way. In fact, it’s big news both for Boston and the legacy of Poe for a range of reasons:

  1. In my journeys through Poe-Land, I saw only two full-length statues of Poe. The amazing Moses Ezekiel one in Baltimore and the adequate Charles Rudy one in Richmond. Boston can now claim to be only one of three cities that has a Poe statue. And it certainly has the boldest, thanks to Stefanie Rocknak.
  2. Most Poe monuments and sites in the world are off the beaten tracks, far away from the tourist streams. Not in Boston. He strides right across the street from the Common and the Public Gardens. This is a statue that will be daily seen by both the initiated and the uninitiated, that will only draw more people to Poe and link Poe’s name with Boston more and more.
  3. This statue stands out in Boston. Across the street, in the Garden, are a chessboard’s worth of statues, almost every one of them heroes on horses and politicians on pedestals. Boring. Anonymous. Inoffensive. Not Poe. Not this Poe. You can walk up to him, look him in the eye, and say, “Hello, Bad-Ass Poe. Have some pumpkin pie.”
One of the inscribed pages that have flown from Poe's valise.

Anyway, the event was a blast, a reunion of sorts for me because so many I met in Poe-Land attended the unveil. I hung around for two hours afterward talking to people and waiting for the crowd to thin enough to get a photo with the statue. If I look awkward in it, it’s because you’re not seeing the score or two of people ten feet away from me still waiting with upraised cameras to do the same.

We’ll go back one day and take some really great pictures of it. Heck I’ll probably regularly do so, documenting it as it adjusts itself right into the fabric of the city. After only an hour, it was already starting take root. As the crowd milled and took pictures, you could already hear the ripples as passersby going about their usual Sunday business asked what all the fuss was about. The enthusiastic response, “A Poe statue.”

So don’t be surprised when the media stops using the statue of Paul Revere to represent the city, switching instead to the much more fascinating, both in appearance and in story, statue of Edgar Allan Poe.