Last Update: Jan. 24, 2001         Navigation:   Main Menu    Poe Info. Menu
Threatened Loss of a Poe Monument
 
*** Update: 01/24/2001 ***

Just missing the 192nd anniversary of Poe's birthday (January 19), a settlement was reached between NYU and the lawyers representing interests to preserve the Judson and Poe houses in Greenwich Village. The agreement calls for changes in the design of the proposed Law School building. The Judson and Poe houses will be dismantled, but their facades will be rebuilt and incorporated into the new structure. For the Poe house, the facade will be returned to its appearance in 1845, and several original interior elements, such as the elegant staircase, will be preserved. Inside the Poe facade, a room will be dedicated to Poe and made available, through NYU, for readings and lectures. Historical markers, detailing the significance of each building, will be added to the exteriors. It must be admitted that this resolution is by no means an ideal one, but it is certainly preferable to the only realistic alternative, which was the complete loss of both buildings. With legal avenues essentially exhausted, and NYU's apparent disregard for the considerable moral arguments and public sentiment, there was clearly no way to compel NYU to retain the existing buildings as they currently stand. This agreement, at least, recognizes Poe's presence on the site and guarantees a prominent reminder of that presence for generations to come.
 


 
*** Update: 12/31/2000 ***

On September 29, 2000, the retraining order that protected the Judson and Poe houses was lifted by Judge Robert D. Lippmann. In his decision, the Judge admitted that there was sufficient merit to warrant preservation of the buildings, stating, "From a historical, cultural and literary point of view, the Poe House should stand." Unfortunately, he also found that there was no compelling legal ground to force NYU to change its plans. With meaningful legal efforts essentially thwarted, emphasis has returned to the ongoing efforts to persuade NYU to save the houses voluntarily. E. L. Doctorow and more than two dozen faculty members of NYU have written letters and e-mails encouraging the university to consider the impact of their plans on the community, and to balance its internal demands for expanding the law school with cultural/historical concerns. A public demonstration organized on December 18, 2000 attracted a large crowd of supporters for the Poe house. Lawyers for NYU and the pro-bono lawyers for the Judson and Poe Houses met in October to discuss alternatives to demolition. In spite of significant public pressures, NYU has remained essentially unmoved, but the fact that it has not already torn down the buildings shows that it is somewhat sensitive to the public outcry that would likely result. It is imperative that we continue to show NYU that saving the Poe house is, ultimately, in its own best interest. 
 


 
*** Update: 08/29/2000 ***

Papers were filed on August 22, 2000. A new hearing has not been scheduled. A copy of the legal papers may be accessed online. Although we are primarily concerned about the fate of the Poe House, a great deal of the case currently relies on the Judson House, which sits on the same site.
 


 
*** Update: 08/12/2000 ***

The hearing on August 8, 2000 was adjourned until August 22, 2000. This adjournment will allow the judge to more carefully review the considerable amount of material submitted by both sides. In the meantime, the injunction preventing NYU from continuing with demolition remains in effect, over the objections of NYU's rather large and flashy collection of lawyers. (NYU has been permitted to continue with asbestos removal.) Preservationists see this as a hopeful sign that the judge will give the case serious consideration.
 


 
*** Update: 08/03/2000 ***

Writer E. L. Doctorow and filmmaker Woody Allen have published letters supporting the preservation of the block that contains the Poe house. With the threat of imminent demolition, a temporary restraining order was obtained on Monday, July 31, 2000. Another hearing is scheduled for August 8. In conjunction with these efforts, a very important rally at the house was held on August 2, 2000. The rally attracted approximately 300 participants and was covered by various representatives of the press. Under the current dire circumstances, it is essential that we continue the positive momentum gained by these events.
 


 
*** Update: 06/06/2000 ***

You can help to save the Poe house in Greenwich Village. Please visit http://nmc2.itc.virginia.edu/cyclorama/poe and sign the petition posted there. The site is easy to use and includes several full-color pictures of the building.
 


 
*** Update: 04/26/2000 and 05/12/2000 ***

The Greenwich Village area Community Board held a public hearing on the Poe House.  The hearing was scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, May 10, 2000. The location was be the Judson Memorial Church (Garden Room) at 55 Washington Square South (literally around the corner from the Poe House.) After hearing presentation from both sides, the board strongly recommended saving the building. Unfortunately, NYU is not obligated to honor the recommendation of the board. 
 

New York University (NYU) owns the Greenwich Village house in which Edgar Allan Poe lived from the last third of 1845 until about March of 1846. Instead of recognizing it as an historical and literary landmark, the University wants to tear it down to expand the law school. Of the several places where Poe lived in Manhattan, this house is the last survivor. If this house is lost, only the Poe Cottage in the Bronx will remain as a witness of Poe's days in New York.

The many scholars who would prefer that the building be preserved are hoping to publicize the issue. Anyone reading this page is encouraged to write to NYU and the press, and to contact friends to join in the cause. Especially useful would be legal advice and local or national organizations who could more effectively focus efforts or provide other assistance. Also welcome would be anyone with contacts at NYU, faculty or alumni, who might plead our case and bring officials there to see the light.

Unfortunately, time is not on our side. New York City Landmark's Commission turned down a proposal, filed in the Spring of 1999, to grant the house landmark status, but without a full presentation of Poe's connection with the building. More discouragingly,  NYU officials have initiated efforts to quell the growing negative publicity surrounding the proposed demolition. They have attempted to do so primarily by downplaying Poe's association with the house, stating that nothing noteworthy was written here, and even questioning whether the current building existed in Poe's day. These assertions are clearly unfounded, revealing an unfamiliarity with evidence readily at hand, or perhaps a willingness to ignore that evidence. The following article, illustrating the position of NYU, is excerpted with permission from The Villager (New York), January 26, 2000, p. 31:

 

The Fall or Maybe Not of The House of Poe

By Lincoln Anderson

    A walking tours group is stepping up its efforts to save a small W. Third St. building where Edgar Allan Poe lived that New York University Law School wants to demolish for a new facility. There's no truth to the tale that Poe wrote his famous poem "The Raven" at the small building. But Marilyn Stults of Street Smarts New York Walking Tours, says that while Poe penned "The Raven" at a farm near W. 84th St., experts believe the macabre master substantially revised the poem and all his other poems while at 85 Amity St., today W. Third St.

    "It's probably one of the few places where the author had any pleasure, " Stults said. "After 'The Raven' was published, he got some celebrity." Poe lived at the then boarding house with his young wife, Virginia, and mother from Sept. 1845 to Feb. '46. N.Y.U. Law School owns the building, using it for offices. The Poe House is a popular attraction on Stults' Greenwich Village walking tour. [...] In support of the Poe House's survival, Stults said of the Poe Cottage in the Bronx, "it's a charming little house but many people are afraid to go up there."

    Meanwhile, N.Y.U. professor Kenneth Silverman, author of a recent Poe biography, doesn't believe Poe lived at W. Third St. or that the building even existed then. "It certainly wasn't around when Poe was alive," he said.  John Beckman, an N.Y.U. spokesperson, said: "It's pretty clear Poe didn't write or edit 'The Raven' at W. Third St. He may have read it there. That's a joke," he explained. [. . .]

[End of Article]

Response & Documentation:

Establishing a definitive account of any particular period of Poe's life is not an easy task. Generally, the specific details needed must be established through letters, recollections written by friends and associates, and other indirect sources. The following information is substantially adapted from research conducted by Michael Deas, author of The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989. It has been supplemented with corrections and additional information provided by Jeffrey A. Savoye, Secretary/Treasurer of the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, and Burton R. Pollin, the well-recognized author of numerous books and articles on Poe.

Although the name Amity Street was changed to West Third sometime after 1862, very detailed city atlases in the Maps Division of the New York Public Library clearly show that the house numbers were not altered. Luther Harris, a local historian, has examined tax ledgers available to the public in the New York City Municipal Archives. According to information he has uncovered, the house was built in 1836 as an investment. The owner, Judah Hammond, a prosperous judge of the Marine Court, lived directly behind the building, facing Washington Square. (Based on his research and on aesthetic considerations, Mr. Harris has filed, as a Plaintiff, an injunction against NYU to cease construction of a nearby student center. Regrettably, this injunction does not include the house in which Poe lived.) The lower portion of the facade has been altered, but the upper portions of the facade and the fundamental structure of the house remain.

Edgar Allan Poe moved to 85 Amity (now West Third) Street late in the summer of 1845, a year most biographers consider the most important of his life. The great scholar T. O. Mabbott called it Poe's annus mirabilis, the "year of wonders and disasters" (1). Poe, accompanied by his mother-in-law (Maria Clemm) and his wife (Virginia), moved there sometime between August 9 and October 1, 1845. The move was most likely prompted by Virginia's worsening tuberculosis. The house featured a small yard (still extant) and is in close proximity to Washington Square. These features, emphasizing outdoor space and relatively fresh air, were presumably intended to improve Virginia's health. One visitor described it as "a simple yet poetical home" and recalled Poe working "at his desk . . . hour after hour, patient, assiduous, and uncomplaining" (2).

Although Poe and his family occupied the house for no more than eight months (they moved north about March of 1846), a number of significant events occurred during his residency there. Briefly described, they include the following:

a)  On October 24, 1845 Poe achieved his lifelong goal of exclusive control over his own literary magazine, the Broadway Journal. He later described owning a magazine as "the one great purpose of my literary life" (3). Although the journal was not as elegant as what he had hoped for in The Penn and The Stylus, it was the closest he ever came to realizing this dream, and he poured himself into the effort, carefully revising and reprinting a number of his own works. While running the journal, Poe met the 26-year-old Walt Whitman and published an essay by him in the November 29, 1845 issue. Four decades later, Whitman was able to clearly recall their meeting as, "a distinct and pleasing remembrance" (4). Unable to rescue it from financial difficulties, Poe published the final issue on January 3, 1846.

b)  Although it has occasionally been wrongly suggested that Poe wrote "The Raven" at 85 Amity Street (the poem had, in fact, appeared in several periodicals some six months before he moved here), Poe did revise the poem and virtually all of his major poetical works while living at this address. These poems were compiled and published in book form as The Raven and Other Poems, issued by the New York publishers Wiley & Putnam in November 1845. It is still considered the correct and final text for many of Poe's poems. It is likely also that Poe conceived of his essay "The Philosophy of Composition" at this time. (The partially fictional account of creating "The Raven" was published in Graham's Magazine for April of 1846).

c)  "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar," one of Poe's most famous short stories, was published for the first time in the American Review for December of 1845. It was very likely written in its entirety at 85 Amity Street (5). "The Sphinx," one of Poe's lesser known tales, was also written there, and first published in Arthur's Ladies Magazine, January 1846.

d)  "The Cask of Amontillado" was probably begun while Poe was living at this address (6). An incident that may have inspired the tale a complicated quarrel involving rival editor Thomas Dunn English which later erupted into a fist fight was certainly initiated here about January 1846, when a supposedly indiscreet letter to Poe was seen lying open in the Amity Street apartment (7).

e)  In addition to articles and editorial material for his Broadway Journal, Poe managed to submit a few items to other magazines, including at least one installment of his "Marginalia" (Graham's Magazine for March, 1846) and the essay "American Poetry" (The Aristidean, November 1845). After the Broadway Journal folded, Poe provided several reviews for Godey's Lady's Book, including William G. Simm's The Wigwam and the Cabin (January 1846), Mary Hewitt's The Songs of Our Land, and Other Poems (February 1846) and Frances S. Osgood's A Wreath of Wild Flowers from New England and Poems (March 1846).

f)  While living at 85 Amity Street, Poe began writing his controversial "Literati of New York City," a series of character sketches profiling 38 of his contemporaries. Although most of this series was published after Poe had moved to Fordham, Frances Osgood specifically recalled visiting Poe at 85 Amity and seeing him at work on the manuscript for "The Literati" (8).

g)  Virginia's Poe's health continued to decline, and on Valentine's Day of 1846 she wrote a tender poem to her husband, pleading with him to leave New York City and "the tattling of many tongues," to live with her instead in the countryside, where "Love shall heal my weakened lungs." Her tragic death, less than a year later, likely served as the chief inspiration for his famous poem, "Annabel Lee."
 

Notes:

(1)  Mabbott, Collected Works, I:555. A. H. Quinn concurs with Mabbott, calling the year 1845 "a memorable one in Poe's life" and noting that "his labor was constant and intense. The revisions of his stories alone called for unremitting care, and for a time he carried on the Broadway Journal not only as editor but as contributor, almost alone. His estimate to Thomas that his working day lasted fifteen hours was not excessive" (p.495).

(2)  The dates of Poe's residency at 85 Amity Street are established by his surviving correspondence from 1845-1846, and by the valentine given to Poe by Virginia, which is addressed "85 Amity Street" and dated "February 14, 1846." See Poe to Thomas W. Field, August 9, 1845, which gives Poe's address as 195 Broadway, and Laughton Osborn to Poe, October 1, 1845, which refers to Poe as by then living at 85 Amity Street. On April 16, 1846, Poe wrote to his friend Philip P. Cooke, beginning, "Your three last letters reached me day before yesterday, all at once. I have been living in the country for the last two months (having been quite sick) and all letters addressed to 85 Amity St. were very sillily retained there, until their accumulation induced the people to send them to the P. Office." (Poe comment of "two months" should be taken as it was written, an informal estimate.) All three letters are cited in Ostrom, Letters, I:292, 301, 313. The description of Poe's "simple yet poetical home" is given by Frances S. Osgood in Woodberry, Poe, II:180-181.

(3)  Ostrom, Letters, II:330.

(4)  Walt Whitman, "Broadway Sights," p. 701-2. Tennyson, Whittier and Mallarmé all sent appreciative letters when the new Poe monument was erected in Baltimore in November of 1875, but Walt Whitman was the only important literary figure actually to attend the ceremony.

(5)  Mabbott, Collected Works, II:1228-1230.

(6)  Precisely dating the composition of "The Cask of Amontillado" is problematic since Poe does not mention it in any of his letters. Quinn, Poe, 1941, 499-500,  says that the famous tale of revenge was "probably written early in 1846, although it did not appear . . . [until] November." Although Mabbott presumes that "Poe's story was probably written in the late summer of early fall of 1846" (Mabbott, II:1256), he specifically links the tale's inspiration to Poe's feud with Thomas Dunn English, which took place in January 1846, while Poe was living at Amity Street (Mabbott, II:1252). Mabbott does not explain his conjecture of "late summer or early fall," apparently following his rule of thumb that Poe generally wrote his stories one or two months before their first publication.

(7)  Thomas and Jackson, Poe Log, pp. 622-23. It has sometimes been incorrectly stated that this incident took place at the Poe cottage in Fordham, but both the Poe Log and Kenneth Silverman's recent Edgar Allan Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991), p. 290, firmly place the event at Amity Street.

(8)  The recollections of Mrs. Osgood are given by Woodberry in Poe, II:180-181.

Bibliography:

Mabbott, Thomas O., ed., The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, 3 vols. (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1969) I:555.

Ostrom, John W., ed., the Letters of Edgar Allan Poe, 2 vols. (1948; rev. ed. New York: Gordian Press, 1966)

Quinn, Arthur H., Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (1941; rpt. New York: Cooper Square Publishers 1969)

Silverman, Kenneth, Edgar Allan Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991)

Thomas, Dwight and David K. Jackson, The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1987)

Whitman, Walt, "Broadway Sights," in Complete Poetry and Collected Prose (New York: The Library of America, 1982)

Woodberry, George E., The Life of Edgar Allan Poe, 2 vols. (1909; rpt. New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965)
 

Addresses for NYU:

Harvey J. Stedman, Provost
NYU, Bobst Bldg.
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY  10012
harvey.stedman@nyu.edu

John Sexton, Dean
NYU School of Law
Vanderbilt Hall
40 Wash Sq So, 406D
New York, NY  10012
john.sexton@nyu.edu

Robert Goldfeld, VP for Administration
NYU, Bobst Bldg.
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY  10012
robert.goldfeld@nyu.edu

Lynne Brown, VP for Administrative, Government & Community Relations
NYU, Bobst Bldg.
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY  10012
lpb1@is2.nyu.edu


Additional Material:

NYU's own web page promoting its Greenwich Village housing, which it notes is "a mecca for generations of world-renowned artists, writers, and scholars," including in the list "Edgar Allan Poe."

http://www.nyu.edu/housing/gr_reslife.shtml
 

A related article ("Experts say 'Poe House' is Historic") from the Washington Square News, the NYU daily student paper (February 23, 2000)

http://www.nyu.edu/pubs/wsn/00/02/23/NPoeMystery.htm
 

A related article from the NYU Student paper, although it does not mention the Poe connection:

http://www.nyu.edu/pubs/wsn/00/02/08/NKimmelGrievance.htm
 

Another article from the NYU Student paper, which makes a passing reference to Poe:

http://www.nyu.edu/pubs/wsn/00/02/10/NLawPurchase.htm
 

"Community Board calls on city to recognize Poe House as a landmark:"

http://www.nyu.edu/pubs/wsn/00/04/11/NPoeLandmark.htm

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