Saturday, July 22, 2023

A place-based writing retreat in Richmond- the former Ellis Garden

I’m sitting in what used to be the Ellis Garden once filled with roses, jasmine, and linden trees. I brought my own rose- one my friend rescued from an old southern cemetery lovingly propagated and now thriving in my own garden. This land was once part of a much larger property owned by Thomas Rutherfoord whose fortunes were in tobacco and real estate. In 1816, Charles Ellis purchased a portion of the land, including the area where I sit. Ellis lived across the street and used this spot for his garden.

Ellis was the business partner of John Allan, Edgar Allan Poe’s foster father. The Allans, including young Poe, lived with the Ellis family after returning from England. It was here that Poe and the Ellis children played. The local legend is that this was once the enchanted garden mentioned in Poe’s “To Helen” and where a teen Poe courted Elmira Royster. 


The property today is the Linden Row Inn, and its history extends beyond Poe’s time but I’m here because of Poe’s connection and I’m using this for my own place-based writing retreat. There are hanging baskets and potted plants throughout this courtyard but there are no other roses except the one I brought in my tiny vase. To be fair, most roses thrive in sun and this courtyard is shaded by trees making a rather hot afternoon feel much more inviting. Linden trees live about 150 years. Poe died 174 years ago this October. These probably are not the same trees and Richmond is not the same city. 


The Souls of Edgar Allan Poe: Graves of His Family, Friends and Foes will be published in a month. While sitting in this garden, I found that my book now has its own page on Arcadia Publishing. I drank two To Helens (lavender infused gin, lemon juice, Cointreau, and simple syrup) at the restaurant. I’m trying to find a connection to Poe in this inn. There is no lack of décor. I had read that each room had a copy of Poe’s collected works. I did not realize that the artwork in the room and even the Do Not Disturb door signs would also include nods to Poe. 

"To Helen" cocktail

It strikes me that today when visiting Capitol Square, I was most connected to both of my books-The Souls of Edgar Allan Poe and Women Writers Buried in Virginia


Capitol Square has a statue of Poe by Pennsylvania sculptor Charles Rudy who designed and build the statue in 1956- first from a plaster model and then a bronze cast was made. The statue includes a seated Poe whose hands are on his lap- one holds a pen while the other holds papers. Under the chair is a pile of books. I always admire books in bronze and in stone. I suppose I just appreciate book décor. The face of the Poe statue does not resemble the author as much as I would like but then it took Virginia forever* to even erect a statue of him. The statue was dedicated in 1959 so it seems that even with the completed statue ready, Richmond couldn’t get around to placing the statue for a few years. Maybe placing the statue near the 150th anniversary of the author’s birth was significant to the city leaders. 

Statue of Poe by Charles Rudy

In 2017, the statue was moved to the northwest corner to make room for other statues- one being the Virginia Women’s Movement, which I had specifically gone to visit earlier in the day. I first visited Poe’s statue now tucked away in the corner behind the security gate building. It’s a rather pleasant place to stand and gaze upon a statue considering it is shaded and away from foot traffic. 

Voices from the Garden by Ivan Schwartz

In the Poe statue’s former location is Voices from the Garden: The Virginia’s Women’s Monument, which was the “first monument honoring [a] full scope of women’s achievements.” There are a dozen life-sized bronze statues representing four centuries of Virginia’s history, including Clementina Rind, the first woman printer in Virginia. I’ve written about her before


With the monument, there is also a Wall of Honor with names etched in glass. Names such as V.C. Andrews, Rosa Dixon Bowser, Ellen Glasgow, Mary Johnston, Eudora Ramsay Richardson, Anne Spencer and Amélie Rives Troubetzkoy who are each profiled in Women Writers Buried in Virginia; and Elizabeth Van Lew who is included in The Souls Close to Edgar Allan Poe.


I also recently learned that Edith Mansford Fitzgerald, the Deaf educator who developed the Fitzgerald Key and who worked at the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind (VSDB) in Staunton, Virginia and a Gallaudet alum is included on the Virginia Women’s Monument Wall of Honor. I don’t know how I missed that. 

While sitting in the garden, my thoughts return to women and Elmira Royster Shelton who was young and in love. She, too, walked these grounds, and lived so much of her life in Richmond. She was kind and caring, she managed her money well, she was a woman of faith, and she just happened to love a poet. Perhaps she was too nostalgic when reacquainting herself with a first love near the end of his life. She was 34 when her husband passed and 38 when Poe came back into her life.

While scholars may disagree which ladies Poe’s poems were written for or to, I’ve always believed that he wrote about not one woman but the woman he loved in that moment (Ms. Right Now), perhaps a combination of qualities of the women he loved at different times. While sitting in the garden in Linden Row Inn watching a wedding party gather for someone’s special day, I read “Song,” “Annabel Lee,” and “The Raven” since Elmira was often referred to Poe’s Lost Lenore later in life. She didn’t have her second chance with Poe. A death notice took the place of a wedding announcement. 


“Leave no black plume as a token…” 


On this trip, I did not find a feather. There’s a metaphor there.  


Catterina's cousin poses
I snuck a postcard in the Poe collection.

*over a century

Friday, July 14, 2023

Book release signing table decor and a craft project

Today’s craft project included a focus on my book release signing table, which will be a nod to the Poe Toaster from yesteryears. Yes it’s a prop and not at all authentic (the lace is to cover the bat on top of the tombstone prop which I already had in the house and the roses are not real- I’m still fussy they’re too big) but I knew if I got the cognac wrong some Poe enthusiasts would mutter. The only problem is that the Poe Toaster’s brand does not come in mini bottles in my region so a girl’s gotta improvise. 

Shout out to my local ABC who let me take a picture of the Martell label so I could shrink it down for my mini bottle. 

Don’t worry, I promise to take a sip before my book signings so it looks even more legit 🤓

Monday, July 10, 2023

July 8, 2023 Presentation at The American Mensa Annual Gathering in Baltimore

I’m exhausted after another trip to Baltimore. This time for a presentation at The American Mensa Annual Gathering in Baltimore where I discussed my forthcoming book, The Souls Close to Edgar Allan Poe. 

I think my presentation went pretty well. I had some good questions, and many seemed interested in purchasing the book when it is released. I hope that I also inspired some to visit the cemeteries in Baltimore, especially after sharing the tooth story. 

Seriously, someone left a tooth at the original burial place for Poe. 

Tooth next to the penny on the left of the stone branch the raven rests upon. 
I believe it was real although when I shared the picture with my innkeeper, she said that the tooth looked too white. I just assumed that if someone was going to leave a tooth at a grave that they would bleach it first. Maybe that is weird but then leaving a tooth is also a little strange although when I was in high school and had my wisdom teeth removed, I gave them to a friend who proceeded to make a necklace with them. She is an artist so perhaps The Poe Tooth-ster (ha! Get it, a play on The Poe Toaster!) is also an artist. Anyway…. 

Bathroom photo 1
Bathroom photo 2
The fun began when friends met me at Annabel Lee Tavern where I enjoyed a fancy grilled cheese and a William Wilson cocktail (High West American Prairie Whiskey, Liquor 43, Orange Bitters, Muddled Orange and Bing Cherry). After dinner, I proceeded to take some pictures in the bathroom for my album “pictures taken in bathrooms.” This bathroom was so fancy that I took two! 

The numbering of the conference rooms where I presented was interesting (which is my mother's term for strange. It challenged my brain more just looking at them) and I feel an opportunity was lost when I walked down an adjacent hall and discovered an actual Poe room. The room was smaller and did not have the right technology but still. 

Overall, it was a lovely time meeting some interesting* folks. [*my use of interesting is traditional unlike my mother's.]

Numbers begin with 1, 5, 4 and end with 6.
The Poe room