Ravenous: The Enduring Legacy of Poe

February 20, 2019 — The Providence Athenaeum is a place where Edgar Allan Poe feels…really close. Maybe even closer than the three surviving houses where he lived.

I think that’s because, unlike Poe’s houses in Baltimore, New York, and Philadelphia—which are all museums dedicated to him now—the Athenaeum still functions as it did when Poe visited it. As a library. An enclave for book lovers.

Even though Poe never lived in Providence, he visited regularly toward the end of his life because he was romantically involved with a local poet, Sarah Helen Whitman. Poe and Whitman would often wander the stacks of the Athenaeum together, as you’d expect a couple of poets who are a couple to do.

The library’s a little different than in their day. It has a new wing, a mezzanine, and the basement is now an extension of the library instead of a meeting place for the local philosophy and natural science club it was then, but it still feels like what it was and what it is—an old place full of old books. Poe would still dig it.

Especially right now, because the Athenaeum has put on a small exhibit dedicated to him called Ravenous: The Enduring Legacy of Poe.

The Athenaeum has a couple amazing Poe artifacts in its permanent collection. All the stuff I told you about in Chapter 2 of Poe-Land, in fact. For instance, a library log book where Poe personally checked out a novel called Stanley by Horace Binney Wallace. Also, his autograph in a volume of poetry featuring his anonymously published Ulalume. It has quite a few Sarah Helen Whitman artifacts, too. They’re all on display for Ravenous. But the library has fortified the exhibit with pieces from other collectors.

Ravenous includes Poe-inspired objects from pop culture, a lock of his hair, a daguerreotype, and other rare artifacts from famed Poe collector Susan Jaffe Tane. They even have a couple of taxidermied ravens and a pallid bust of Poe himself, based on the Bronx bust of Poe and courtesy of Levi Leland (whom I ran into when I visited).

The Providence Athenaeum should be on anybody’s visit list when they’re in Providence, but right now is the perfect time since you can ogle these rare artifacts while you’re there. It’s thrilling. And that’s despite the fact that I’ve seen most everything in this collection before (and some pieces multiple times). It doesn’t get old to see authentic pieces of Poe.

So go see this free exhibit. Well, first re-read Chapter 2 of Poe-Land, and then go see the exhibit, because Ravenous flits at the end of April.