Trailside: Richmond’s (Haunted?) Poe Museum and the Legacy of a Gothic Literary Master
Special thanks to the Poe Museum for assisting in the creation of this article.
For many people, it’s the connections to our history and culture that make rail-trails truly great. To celebrate Halloween, our TrailBlog team felt it was fitting to shine a light on a 100-year cultural attraction in Richmond, The Poe Museum, which sits just a block from the 52-mile Virginia Capital Trail and pays homage to one of America’s greatest gothic writers: Edgar Allan Poe.
Author of an esteemed body of work that helped establish both the horror and modern detective genres, Poe—who was born in Boston in 1809 and died mysteriously at age 40—is recognized today as one of the most influential American writers of all time. His well-known pieces include macabre tales such as “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Raven” (widely regarded as his masterpiece), but the prolific writer published 130 works during his lifetime.
Today, The Poe Museum, located in the historic Shockoe Bottom neighborhood, is dedicated to “illuminating Poe for everyone, evermore,” with exhibits, artifacts and special events that help to elevate his legacy. And what’s not surprising: There have been reports to suggest that the museum may have a few ghosts of its own.
We chatted with Lucy Northup, spokesperson for The Poe Museum, to learn more about the writer’s life as well as the supernatural claims around the place that now immortalizes him.
Poe Centennial Celebration – January 2023
The Poe Museum invites you to join them on Jan. 23, 2023, at the Dominion Energy Center in Richmond to celebrate the museum’s 100-year anniversary. Special guests include “Goosebumps” author R.L. Stine and Nnedi Okorafor, author of “Who Fears Death” and the “Black Panther.”LEARN MORE
The Facts in the Case of the Old Stone House
The museum compound is composed of multiple historic structures, said Northup, the oldest being that of the aptly named “Old Stone House,” constructed in the 1730s–1750s time frame. While Poe never lived there, Northup emphasized that it served as a residence for many years and was likely a place in which people not only lived rich lives, but were born and died as well.
With this history, one could assume some paranormal goings-on, and indeed museum staff have heard reports of presences there—particularly upstairs, where footsteps, a chair scooting across the ground and a ball rolling have all allegedly been heard.
“By all accounts, they are very pleasant experiences,” said Northup, adding, “It's really beautiful to me to think about people still being there—and the experiences they had within the home that they spent their lives in.”
Related: Check Out These Historical Haunted Houses and Buildings—Trailside
The Black Cats
When roaming the museum grounds, you are likely to encounter Edgar and Pluto, two felines who live on the property, serve as furry ambassadors and tour guides, and play a role in many of the reported paranormal experiences.
“Edgar and Pluto are definitely the darlings of the museum,” said Northup. “They greet the guests who come through … and perhaps they are ambassadors for our spirits as well. It is said they often react … like they are being petted [by an invisible entity]. They nuzzle in the air—and nothing is there. I sometimes think that it must be a sweet afterlife to be able to play with the cats all day.”
Spirit of the Dead
Upon passing through the memorial building, you’ll come across another section of the compound containing an original staircase from the home of John and Frances Allan, who took Poe in as a toddler when his mother died of tuberculosis. It is on the staircase, said Northup, where people have reported the only negative paranormal experiences of the museum.
“Frances was very loving to Poe, but John was not,” she explained. “He didn’t want to adopt Poe or have anything to do with him as a child.”
As Poe got older, John’s attitude did not change toward his foster son, who thrived academically but was financially derelict in John’s mind. “John thought Poe was a deadbeat and would not get anywhere in life because he wanted to be a writer. They had a strained relationship up through Poe’s late 20s, when John died,” said Northup.
To that end, people have recounted feelings of a malevolent presence when on the staircase.
“Some have said that at the top of the staircase, they felt a hand pressing on their back,” Northup affirmed. “They believe it’s the spirit of John Allan, [who is angry people have come to learn about Poe] and wants to convince them to get out of there.”
Northup spoke of more light-hearted paranormal reports, including multiple sightings of an apparition of a young boy playing with Edgar and Pluto in the Enchanted Garden, and a man with a top hat walking through the garden at night.
But there is one fun story that stands out to Northup in particular—her own.
“About a year ago, I was alone in the museum … in the early morning. I was getting the gift shop set up, and I put my phone down on the opposite side of the room. With no prompting, my phone started playing music—a song I have never played before. As I got closer, I realized it was the "Ghostbusters" theme song!”
“If there are spirits at the museum, I do think they are pretty happy here and are having a good time in their afterlife," said Northup.
Related: Atlanta's Doll's Head Trail Is an Eerily Cool Trailside Attraction—With a Great Cause
Visiting the Museum
The Poe Museum (1914 E. Main St., Richmond) is accessible from the northwest endpoint of the Virginia Capital Trail. To reach the museum, exit the trail at either S. 18th St. or S. 21st St., and head east to cut onto E. Main St. (from 18th St., turn right and go two blocks; from 21st St., turn left and go one block).
The museum is open for visitors from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays, except for major holidays. Guided tours are available at designated times.
Visitors will have a multifaceted experience complete with a memorial shrine and Enchanted Garden, and a range of exhibits, including Poe’s childhood bed, the trunk he owned when he died and—the author of this blog’s personal favorite—a first edition of “The Raven.”
Detailed information is available on The Poe Museum website.