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Old Capitol hosts Poe exhibit

BY ISAAC HAMLET | FEBRUARY 13, 2014 5:00 AM

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Edgar Allan Poe has captivated the imaginations of readers for around 180 years. Though most known today for macabre tales and mind-rattling poems, Poe was also a renowned literary critic in his time and many consider him the inventor of the modern detective story. He also wrote what is thought to be the first science-fiction short story in 1835, “Hans Pfaal.”

At 5 pm. today, the Old Capitol Museum will open its doors to present Poe: A Wilderness of Mirrors. The exhibition will run through May 25.

“[Poe] was a man who had all the talent in the world but walked away from it,” said Byron Preston, the museum’s collection management coordinator. “He left the University of Virginia to cover his gambling debts and later left West Point as well. He blamed his foster father for many of his problems.”

The exhibit walks visitors through Poe’s tragedy-riddled existence ending in his mysterious demise.
“We talk about his life and experiences as well as personal relationships,” Preston said. “Poe had champions who would do anything to defend him, but he also had his enemies.”

One of these enemies made it difficult to deduce what Poe was really like. Rufus Griswold, a rival writer, constructed an obituary following Poe’s death in which he attempted to put him in an ill light, portraying him as a friendless alcoholic.

The exact circumstances of Poe’s end are still unknown. In 1849, he departed Richmond, heading to New York, and stopped in Baltimore. He disappeared for days before eventually being found in a bar, barely conscious and penniless. He was then taken to Washington University Hospital, where he later died.

“One of the more popular theories now is that he was a victim of cooping,” said Preston, referring to a practice in which people were abducted and forced to vote for a specific candidate in an election.
As well as offering a summary of his life, the exhibit features a number of texts from and relating to Poe.

“Some of Poe’s work from Special Collections focusing on his life will be featured,” said Shalla Ashworth, the director of operations for the Pentacrest Museums. “It’s wonderful that we get to have these [manuscripts]; people don’t get to see them unless Special Collections brings them up.”

The featured writings include a letter handwritten to Poe as well as two first-edition manuscripts: The Collected Tales of Edgar Allan Poe Volume 2 and “The Raven.”

“The letter is unique in that there will only ever be one,” said Patrick Olson, a Special Collections librarian assisting with the exhibit. “All of the Poe books come from a donator, Thomas Ollive Mabbott. He was a renowned Poe scholar who, upon his death in 1968, donated his collection to the university.”

Though Mabbott had no affiliation with the university, he donated his collection at the behest of Leslie Dunlap, an acquaintance of Mabbott’s and former dean of UI Library Administration.

With such a massive following and rich history, it is little surprise that Poe’s works have achieved a status nearing immortality.

More than a century and a half after his death, Poe proves the merit of his own words: “Even in the grave, all is not lost.”


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