From Pits and Pendulums to Pastoral Porches: Edgar Allan Poe’s Bronx Getaway

The cottage rented by Edgar Allan Poe from 1846 until his death in 1849, located in Poe Park in the Bronx.
The cottage rented by Edgar Allan Poe from 1846 until his death in 1849, located in Poe Park in the Bronx.

Once upon a morning dreary, I left Brooklyn with eyes bleary, Wearily I took the subway to a poet’s old forgotten home.

In 1844, Edgar Allan Poe and his young wife Virginia moved to New York City. It was Poe’s second time living in the city and just one of many homes for the peripatetic author. Unfortunately, after two years and several Manhattan addresses, Virginia fell ill with tuberculosis. With the hope that country air might improve her condition, or at least make her final days more peaceful, Poe moved the family out to a small, shingled cottage in the picturesque woods and green pastures of Fordham Village – better known today as the Bronx.

The six-room cottage was built in 1812 as worker’s housing for farm hands. Poe rented it from landowner John Valentine for $100 per year – no small sum for the constantly struggling writer who sold “The Raven,” his most famous work, for a flat fee of $8. During his time at the cottage, Poe cared for his ailing wife, who died three years after they moved in, and wrote some of his most celebrated poems, including the darkly romantic “Annabel Lee”

This modest building also served as the inspiration for the final Poe story published during the author’s life, “Landor’s Cottage,” which appeared in the June 9, 1849, issue of Flag of Our Union, four months before his death. A far cry from the tales of woe and horror Poe is widely known for, the story of “Landor’s Cottage” is quite simple: a man hiking through the bucolic setting of rural New York comes across a small house and marvels at its picturesque perfection, finding that it “struck me with the keenest sense of combined novelty and propriety — in a word, of poetry”.  What follows is the narrator’s depiction of the cottage. Warning: in the following excerpt, there’s no secret rooms, no woe-begotten protagonists or menacing visions. Just pure, straightforward, even banal description:

The main building was about twenty-four feet long and sixteen broad- certainly not more. Its total height, from the ground to the apex of the roof, could not have exceeded eighteen feet. To the west end of this structure was attached one about a third smaller in all its proportions:-the line of its front standing back about two yards from that of the larger house, and the line of its roof, of course, being considerably depressed below that of the roof adjoining. At right angles to these buildings, and from the rear of the main one-not exactly in the middle-extended a third compartment, very small- being, in general, one-third less than the western wing. The roofs of the two larger were very steep-sweeping down from the ridge-beam with a long concave curve, and extending at least four feet beyond the walls in front, so as to form the roofs of two piazzas. These latter roofs, of course, needed no support; but as they had the air of needing it, slight and perfectly plain pillars were inserted at the corners alone. The roof of the northern wing was merely an extension of a portion of the main roof. Between the chief building and western wing arose a very tall and rather slender square chimney of hard Dutch bricks, alternately black and red:-a slight cornice of projecting bricks at the top. Over the gables the roofs also projected very much:-in the main building about four feet to the east and two to the west. The principal door was not exactly in the main division, being a little to the east-while the two windows were to the west. These latter did not extend to the floor, but were much longer and narrower than usual-they had single shutters like doors- the panes were of lozenge form, but quite large. The door itself had its upper half of glass, also in lozenge panes-a movable shutter secured it at night. The door to the west wing was in its gable, and quite simple-a single window looked out to the south. There was no external door to the north wing, and it also had only one window to the east.

The blank wall of the eastern gable was relieved by stairs (with a balustrade) running diagonally across it-the ascent being from the south. Under cover of the widely projecting eave these steps gave access to a door leading to the garret, or rather loft-for it was lighted only by a single window to the north, and seemed to have been intended as a store-room….

The pillars of the piazza were enwreathed in jasmine and sweet honeysuckle; while from the angle formed by the main structure and its west wing, in front, sprang a grape-vine of unexampled luxuriance. Scorning all restraint, it had clambered first to the lower roof-then to the higher; and along the ridge of this latter it continued to writhe on, throwing out tendrils to the right and left, until at length it fairly attained the east gable, and fell trailing over the stairs.

The whole house, with its wings, was constructed of the old-fashioned Dutch shingles-broad, and with unrounded corners. It is a peculiarity of this material to give houses built of it the appearance of being wider at bottom than at top-after the manner of Egyptian architecture; and in the present instance, this exceedingly picturesque effect was aided by numerous pots of gorgeous flowers that almost encompassed the base of the buildings.

Despite the patoral setting, it seems clear that Landor’s cottage is an idealized vision of Poe’s own Fordham residence. Beyond the formal resemblance, the interior layout of Landor’s cottage, described briefly by the narrator, is very similar to Poe’s cottage, with a kitchen, main room and bedroom on the first floor. Poe ends his architectural fiction by noting that another article may elaborate on the events that transpired at Landor’s cottage. Had he not died, perhaps we might have discovered more about the kind but enigmatic residence and his picturesque cottage.

Read the full article at Smithsonian

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New York by Gehry: A Review In Which Your Architecture Critic’s Personal Issues May Be Interfering With His Job

New York by Gehry

The following post was originally written as an entry to McSweeney’s 2011 Column Contest. It didn’t win. But I had a lot of fun writing it so I thought I’d post it here. As proposed, it was an architectural criticism column written from the perspective of a somewhat emotionally dysfunctional critic who sees his own failures in the monumental structures that obsess him. In the resulting reviews, personal narratives converge with professional critique. Descriptions and opinions of the buildings emerge through seemingly inadvertent revelations of his personal crises and social conflicts. Over the course of the columns, a larger narrative is revealed in which the reader learns more about the critic – his failures, fears, aspirations, and his romantic and professional pursuits. In this introductory column, your critic experiences the five stages of grief –denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance– in his critique of the Lower Manhattan skyscraper New York by Gehry.

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Sol LeWitt: Structures, 1965-2006: The Ruins of a New York that Wasn’t

Sol LeWitt's Pyramid (Munster)

Sol LeWitt's Pyramid (Munster)

Standing in front of the concrete blocks on a warm June morning, I found myself wondering if they were the ruins of a forgotten city – or maybe a fragment of this city’s forgotten history. The fractured masonry corner before me couldn’t truly be a ruin, though. It was perfectly crafted – too perfectly crafted. Its edges were precisely stepped and though it stood in the middle of City Hall Park, no vines or weeds had broken through the flawless mortar. What kind of ruin doesn’t age or weather? Yet there it was, as if it had always been there. In fact, when I looked at it, it seemed as if I couldn’t not remember it being there. But beyond that there was another feeling; something tugging at the edges of my consciousness, challenging me to look closer, to remember something else.

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The Reading Room

20110614-120715.jpg
The iron tracery of the library windows outline stained glass depictions of campus heraldry beside scenes of history’s most famous writers and scholars. As the summer haze seeped into the reading room, its dark wood-paneled walls somehow grew more oppressive. The haze was once much thicker though, and had carried with it the scents of Connecticut tobacco, back when the room was used as the library’s smoking parlor. But those halcyon days are long gone. The reading room has long since been scrubbed clean and its walls are now lined with travel writings and medieval texts. Now, people come here to escape –into descriptions of distant cities or into the records of another time– but at that moment, Walter Field felt more like a prisoner.
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Ghostmodernism

[Harold Lime, Walter Gropius, and others look on as the Static Engine is activated for the first time.]
French playwright Alfred Jarry invented practical time travel in 1899. In an essay that shattered the scientific community, he theorized that a time machine “is no more difficult to conceive of than a Space Machine,” and continued to describes his design for an an ebony and ivory apparatus of levers, springs, and flywheels that isolates its occupant from the passing of time. This pivotal discovery was almost lost to ahistory when, just moments moment before he completed the famous equation that would make time travel possible, the Father of Pataphysics was murdered by an splinter group of non-practicing Ghostmodernists. Thankfully, the Established Lobbyists simultaneously traveled back in time to prevent the murder of Alfred Jarry from taking place. Yet this was not the end of that particular story. The rogue Ghostmodernists persevere with their efforts to destroy chrono-liminality – and so continues the atemporal crusade that will eventually never be documented as “The Perpetual Lobby.”

The above is an excerpt from my contribution to Junk Jet no4. Check out the full issue to learn more about Static Engines, Paradox Designers, and the Alt-Bauhaus.

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The Reading Room