The Ghost of Edgar Allan Poe in Providence

The Ghost of Edgar Allan Poe in Providence

Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809. His journeys in his short forty-year lifespan took him to many places, including those that resided in his mind. Poe was the child of two actors. His father left when he was very young, and his mother died a year later. John and Frances Allan of Richmond, Virginia, took him in. Here he would spend his childhood and early adult years.

Poe attended the University of Virginia for a semester before becoming a cadet at West Point after enlisting in the army in 1827. He reached the rank of sergeant major, the highest non commissioned rank one could receive. Unfortunately, the military was not his thing. He began composing poems while writing for several journals and periodicals. In 1836, he married his thirteen-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm. She died of tuberculosis on January 30, 1847. Poe had taken to heavy drinking due to the stress of her illness.

Shortly after Virginia’s death, he started courting Sarah Helen Whitman of Providence, Rhode Island, whom he had met in July 1845. Whitman, a poet and spiritualist, was a fan of Poe’s work. The two exchanged letters for a period until he proposed and she accepted on the condition he would remain sober until the day of the wedding. This he promised, but the vow lasted only a few days. He began drinking again and allegedly attempted to kill himself. One night after speaking in Providence, Poe went out with a few friends and imbibed a bit too much. Whitman supposedly received an anonymous letter while she was at the library (Providence Athenaeum) stating that Poe had broken his vow to her to stay sober. He reportedly showed up at her door, ranting incoherently that her mother had sabotaged their relationship. Whitman officially broke off her engagement with the author on December 23, 1848. Poe was also accused of trying to woo two other women. Poe noted in a letter to Whitman addressed “Dear Madam” that he blamed her mother for their failed relationship.

On October 3, 1849, Poe was wandering the streets of Baltimore in a delirious state, wearing clothing that was not his. He was taken the Washington Medical College, where he kept repeating the name, “Reynolds” over and over. Poe died four days later. It is reported his final words were to the physician in attendance, “Lord help my poor soul.”

Causes of death were speculated to be inflammation of the brain, rabies, syphilis, cholera, heart disease and meningeal inflammation, to name a few, but it remains a mystery, as the records mysteriously disappeared shortly after his death, along with his death certificate.

Poe’s body may lie in repose, but his ghost still roams the area where he resided while courting Sarah Whitman. People have reported seeing Poe’s ghost walking along Benefit Street, stopping at the home where Whitman lived. He quietly strolls down the sidewalk where those who witness his ghost, realize that something is very bizarre in the visage of the individual who just passed. The man then stops and looks up at the stunned witnesses, revealing the face of Poe before vanishing into thin air at the home’s doorstep.

The Providence Athenaeum was one of the couple’s favorite haunts in life. It appears to be Poe’s in death as well. A very strange event was recorded in the 1980s and has occasionally replayed many times since. A disheveled man was seen sleeping on the stairs of the Athenaeum late one night by a passerby. His rough and drunken appearance gave rise to the thought that he was homeless and could use some aid. The passerby approached the man in an attempt to aid him in any way he could. The vagabond awoke, and with a dreary, solemn look on his face, replied, “I was dreaming of the conqueror worm. I thank you for waking me.”

Satisfied that the man was in no need of assistance, the passerby continued on, but after a few feet, he turned one more time and glanced back at the character on the stairs. At that instant, the figure became misty and slowly dissipated before his eyes. As the lights from the streets shone on the face of the poor soul, the passerby saw it was none other than the countenance of Poe himself. The cemetery at St. John’s Church off Benefit Street was one of the couple’s favorite meeting spots. In fact it was there where Poe allegedly proposed to Whitman.

Does Poe still walk the streets of Providence? Many believe so and it would seem quite plausible seeing that it was the city he found much peace and happy repose.


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