Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Visiting Edgar Poe at Castle Island (sort of)

Castle Island, Boston Harbor
In late 1826, Edgar Poe (he never used the name "Allan" on his published works), 17, was having yet another confrontation with his foster father, John Allan, in Richmond, Va., their home. Since Poe had entered his teen years, the tension between him and Allan had boiled and bubbled in a witch's brew that soon overwhelmed all. Poe had recently messed up at the University of Virginia--though he had done well in some courses. Drinking. Gambling debts. Embarrassment for Allan, who was publicly virtuous, though privately? Another matter. He had affairs outside his marriage. Children. He would leave money for them in his will--but nothing for Edgar (or "Eddie," as the family called him). At the time of his death, Allan was one of the richest men in Virginia.

Anyway, Allan was angry now with his foster son--those embarrassing incidents at university--so he refused to allow Edgar to return to school, and the young man, always very emotional (a good thing for literary, if not personal, history), left home early in 1827. His foster mother gave him a little money, which he promptly used to sail to Boston. There, he fooled around for a few months--arranged for the publication of Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827)--and then, on May 26, 1827, enlisted in the U. S. Army as "Edgar A. Perry." Early in June, his first assignment: artillery, Battery H at Fort Independence overlooking Boston Harbor from Castle Island.

On Halloween that year (appropriate for Poe!) he was transferred to Fort Moultrie, Sullivan's Island, Charleston (S. C.) Harbor. This is not the place to expatiate--but Poe loved the military (and had since he was a boy). He would eventually go to West Point, where he was doing well--until another flameout with his foster father. Poe showed him by behaving in such a way as to force West Point to dismiss him. A good thing, again, for literary history.


This past Sunday--September 7--my older brother, Richard (who lives in Dorchester, Mass.), escorted Joyce and me to Castle Island, now a historical site/museum. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and crowds swarmed all around the fort--not the fort that Poe knew, but its next incarnation (Civil War era). Still, the views from the fort give the same perspective--if not the same sights--that Poe would have seen. (I'm sure EP, who died in 1849, did not get any glimpses, as we did, of airliners landing at Logan Airport.)

We arrived just moments before the final tour began (at 3), so we were lucky: In the fall, tours are only on Sundays. The tour took about an hour and was conducted by a man who had taught high school English in the Boston Public Schools for more than thirty years--so we immediately established a good connection. We went up onto the ramparts, circling around the fort, then into its bowels where we saw an approximation of the spot where Poe would have bunked during his time there.

The guide--and the guidebook I purchased there (Castle Island and Fort Independence, Boston Public Library, 1995)--offered the claim that at Castle Island, Poe had heard a story about some soldiers who had once walled up an obnoxious fellow--and thus provided the source for Poe's masterful story "The Cask of Amontillado."

Good legend. But just a legend. The scholarly works on Poe point to an 1844 piece in the Columbian Magazine (in the same issue appeared Poe's story "Mesmeric Revelation") called "A Man Built in a Wall," a piece about a skeleton discovered in a church wall in Italy. Some other sources are likely, as well, but the scholarly collection of Poe's stories edited by Thomas Ollive Mabbott mentions nothing about the tale from Castle Island.

But such things happen. When I was in Santa Clara, Calif., some years ago doing research on The Call of the Wild, a city official told me that Buck (the hero of Wild) had pranced around Santa Clara in the control of the Bond brothers, who had met London in the Klondike and whose dog (oddly named "Jack") had been the inspiration for Buck. Just one problem, though: The Bonds had bought Jack in Seattle on the way north and had lost him on the way home. He'd never been to Santa Clara.

Anyway, we had a lovely afternoon at Castle Island--as the photos show--and I was glad to have had the chance--thanks to my bro--to visit one of the few Poe sites I've not seen.

Next ... Sullivan's Island?!
view from ramparts
"Poe's area"
Fort Independence
Dickie & Danny

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