When I decided to write a cozy mystery series starring Edgar Allan Poe and his cat, Cattarina, I knew without a doubt that I couldn’t write from the perspective of Poe. Because to do so would’ve meant accessing his genius – an impossible task for most writers. There will never be another like him, and I do not think anyone truly capable of knowing his mind. And while he’s one of the main characters of The Tell-Tail Heart, his motives are implied throughout the story. Even his dark moods are left open for interpretation by the reader.
Poe’s time in Philadelphia was creatively abundant. He moved about the city, almost like a gypsy, for one reason or another. Perhaps he traded too many times on the good favor of his landlords. Or, as I tend to think, he wanted to provide fresh, new air for his consumptive bride, Virginia.
In 1842, he lived down the block from the Eastern State Penitentiary. The building is now a ruin, but in Poe’s time, it was a model of reform. Based on Quaker theories of repentance, prisoners were not allowed to speak, not even to guards. Meals were served through slits in the door. There was no communal time. Even for walks across the compound, the prisoners had to wear hoods to minimize personal interaction. This solitary confinement lasted for the duration of a man’s sentence and drove many crazy. There were opponents to this method, including Charles Dickens. He visited the facility in 1842 and met Poe during this time.
One can only imagine the creepy inspiration the building gave Poe for his stories. Eastern State is a featured landmark in my first book, The Tell-Tail Heart, along with the Fairmount Water Works (another post! another time!).
Around the spring of 1843, Poe moved to the Eastern Spring Garden district in Philly. This house, now owned by the National Park Service, is still in existence, albeit in different form. Some early descriptions paint Poe’s home as a “lean-to” against his landlord’s home – a far cry from the stately brick structure that stands today. Was it rebuilt after Poe left? Or was the “lean-to” remark a back-handed insult by someone of lesser renown? We may never know. If you’re a Poe expert and know the answer, I’d love to hear it in the comments.
Later that year, Poe moved to New York and published “The Raven” to great acclaim. Though some of his dreams fell through – including a literary magazine he tried to get off the ground – many came true. But it was the time leading up to this success that I found so fascinating. Outside of an editorial job at Graham’s Magazine, he struggled greatly in Philly. It was here, in this great city, that his wife became ill with TB, and it was here that he made his greatest enemy, the Rev. Rufus Griswold. It was also here that he penned “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” among other great tales. Some even think he began “The Raven” while in the City of Brotherly Love.
And let’s not forget his tortoiseshell cat, Cattarina. She kept him company throughout his time in Philadelphia and moved with him to New York. Correspondence tells of their great relationship. Cattarina would even sit on Poe’s shoulder while he wrote, no doubt supervising his efforts! You can read more about their life together in my cozy series. Book One, The Tell-Tail Heart, is currently out, and Book Two, The Black Cats, is slated for release this summer.
I will leave you with this last tidbit about Poe: he was the first American writer to try and make a living solely off his writing.
Poe may have much in common with today’s writer, but his genius is matchless.
Calling all Poe fans! I’d love to hear your thoughts about his time in Philadelphia. What are your favorite Poe stories?