How to Party like a Poe

By Lynn Cullen
Author of Mrs. Poe

To celebrate Halloween, or really any special occasion-Valentine's Day! Labor Day! The Fourth of July!- in the manner of the delightfully dark poet Edgar Allan Poe, one must go beyond merely propping a raven upon the mantel and scattering a few black-cat-shaped candles upon the coffee table. From the research I conducted while writing my novel Mrs. Poe, I'm pleased to offer a few tips for those who want to truly go Poe at their next macabre gathering.

1. Enhance your decor with these portraits.
The popular image of Poe as a deranged drug addict comes to us courtesy of Poe's archenemy, Rufus Griswold. Griswold had an ax to grind after Poe had slammed his poetry collection and stole Griswold's title as the most popular poetry critic of their day. It didn't help that Poe most likely had an affair with fellow poet Frances Osgood, a woman that Griswold was attracted to as well. In one of the most bizarre turns in literary history, Griswold was made the executor of Poe's papers after Poe died. Griswold immediately set to work doctoring Poe's letters to fit the slanderous biography that Griswold was preparing.

The mad, opium-infused Poe is a figment of Griswold's imagination. The real Poe was so charismatic and attractive that ladies fought for his attention. For an authentic Poe touch, hang this accurate portrait of Poe done just after he wrote "The Raven." While you're at it, pair it with this lithograph of Frances Osgood, Poe's alleged lover (and not-so-coincidentally, the narrator of Mrs. Poe.) For the perfect trio of portraits, include Rufus Griswold's pugnacious mug as well. Griswold did. He died friendless and alone in his bedroom, surrounded by pictures of himself, Frances Osgood, and Poe.

 Edgar Allan Poe, c. 1846, and Frances Sargent Locke Osgood Edgar Allan Poe, c. 1846, and Frances Sargent Locke Osgood

2. Serve cheap refreshments.
"The Raven" made Poe famous, but it didn't make him rich. In fact, he rarely had enough money to pay the rent. He was so poor that the year his wife died, a drive was taken up by well-wishers to buy them blankets. It had been discovered that Virginia Poe had to rely on her husband's army greatcoat and their large tortoiseshell cat Caterina to keep her warm.

Cheap and plentiful foods from Poe's New York, where he wrote "The Raven" in 1845, include oysters and passenger pigeon. Oyster cellars were all over New York due to the abundance of oyster beds found in the harbor, estimated by some biologists to once have been the breeding grounds of 50 percent of the world's oysters. Wait-the New York oyster beds are long gone due to pollution and overfishing. Scratch them. And scratch, too, the passenger pigeons, which used to be so plentiful that they darkened the skies for days when they migrated; they are now extinct. Perhaps you can substitute graham crackers, developed during Poe's time by Reverend Sylvester Graham as a food to curb lust. There might be something to that: Who cares about feeling frisky when they've got graham crackers to dunk in milk?

3. Encourage cats to lounge about your party chambers.
While one benefit of a feline ownership is the cat's ability to supply warmth, (as demonstrated by Virginia Poe's reliance on the furry Caterina) other perks are loyal companionship and a fine complement to your decor. Poe loved cats, in spite of his macabre tale "The Black Cat." His bond with Caterina was so tight that she was said to have gone into a depression whenever he had to travel. When Poe died, their psychic tie was broken. She died two weeks later.

4. Do "The Raven."
Poe became a celebrity upon the publication of "The Raven": "Nevermore" was the catchword all over America-it was worked into plays, parodies, and everyday conversation. Kids began to follow Poe down the street, flapping their arms and cawing this famous word. Why not cut a rug by forming a circle and doing The Raven to a tune with a nice strong beat… like that of a giant pendulum?

Further ideas for celebrating Edgar style might be developed from the pages of Mrs. Poe. Caution: One party element from the book that I do not recommend is inviting a counting pig into your home. He just might gobble up your graham crackers.

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