The Poe Museum, located in Richmond, Virginia, interprets the life and influence of Edgar Allan Poe for the education and enjoyment of a global audience.
On this site once stood the Richmond Theatre, where Poe’s mother performed to enthusiastic audiences until a few months before her death in December 1809. Two weeks and two days after her death, the theatre burned during a performance on the night after Christmas. Among the 72 victims of the fire were the Governor of Virginia and a former United States Senator. Newspapers as far away as Boston reported that the fire had been God’s punishment on the immoral world of the theatre. The city was plunged into a period of mourning, and theatrical performances were banned for eight months.
John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, was head of the committee charged with finding a suitable memorial for the victims of the fire. Monumental Church was the result. It was completed in 1814 with the help of donations made by those who would become members of the congregation. Poe’s foster father John Allan donated $230, and the Allans owned Pew #80. It was here that Poe sat with his foster mother Frances Allan for Sunday services. The pew is still marked with a brass plaque placed in memory of Mrs. Allan. One can imagine the many Biblical references in Poe’s works had their roots in Poe’s upbringing in this church.
Designed by Robert Mills (who also designed the Washington Monument in Washington, DC) this church was designed to resemble an ancient tomb and is covered with symbols of mourning and death. Monumental not only resembles a tomb but also serves as the final resting place for the remains of the fire victims. They rest in a crypt beneath the sanctuary.
The church no longer has an active congregation and is owned and maintained by the Historic Richmond Foundation. It is not open to the public on a regular basis at this time, but the Historic Richmond Foundation sometimes hosts readings of Poe’s works by Poe impersonators here.
Cover Credit: Monumental Church circa 1865. Photo from Snapshots of the Past via Flickr.