|Angel Hernandez of the Bronx Historical Society looks out from the porch of Poe Cottage, which is undergoing a million dollar facelift. (Photo by Rochana Rapkins)|
Editor's note: This story first appeared in the latest edition of the Norwood News.
By ROCHANA RAPKINS
When British journalist Mary Grove visited Edgar Allen Poe’s cottage outside the village of Fordham, she described it as cozy and neat, with “floors as white as wheat.” The cottage was situated on a hill, and surrounded by creeks, rivers and farmland.
Today the 198-year-old cottage still stands -- although it’s now a few hundred yards away from its original location -- at the intersection of Kingsbridge Road and the Grand Concourse. What was once Millbrook Creek is now Webster Avenue. A stone’s throw away, children play on playground equipment and residents sit on benches in what is now Poe Park.
Ironically, when the Bronx County Historical Society kicked off a million-dollar restoration of the 198-year-old building this year, some local kids literally threw rocks to see if they could shatter the windows.
“You can still see some of the rocks up on the roof,” said Eric Stalzer, vice president of Apple Restoration, the company hired to do the job. “It was a shame.”
|(Photo by Rochana Rapkins)|
Although only the rocking chair and mirror are thought to be original, the home breathes the spirit of the poet who spent the last years of his life there from 1846 to 1849. He moved to the house with his wife Virginia, hoping the fresh country air would cure her tuberculosis.
“Unfortunately, just a year later, she died in the house and that is when his works really got emotional,” said Hernandez. “This is where he wrote ‘Annabelle Lee,’ ‘The Cask of Amontillado,’ ‘The Bells,’ and ‘Landor’s Cottage.’”
According to Hernandez, when open to the public, some 20,000 people visit the Poe Cottage each year for tours. And locals passing through the park -- especially those from Latin America – often approach him to ask about the cottage. When they learn the building’s history, they get excited.
“They’ve read ‘The Black Cat’ in Ecuador,” Hernandez said. “They’ve read ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ in Mexico. They know the name, but it’s the language barrier sometimes. It kind of prevents them from getting closer to the significance of the house. And as soon as I tell them it’s Edgar Allen Poe, they already know who it is because it was part of their education in their country.”
Funding for the project took three years to collect, but Hernandez said it wouldn’t have been possible at all in decades past.
“Just like other historic treasures in the Bronx, especially in the 70s and 80s, the politics was ‘ehh’ and crime was rampant,” Hernandez said. “There were people who cared for places like this, but because of the external factors it made it hard for them to do what they wanted to do.
“But it’s a different time now. It’s a better Bronx now. It’s better. It’s cleaner.”
Inside the cottage, the floors and walls were stripped bare and a worker hung a freshly painted window frame to dry. Katie Perry’s “California Girls” played from a stereo.
In six to eight months, the project will be complete. In the meantime, the restorers say they are treating the structure with kid gloves.
“It becomes more of a preservation than a restoration,” said Stalzer. “The idea is to keep as much of the historical element as you can intact.”
While working on the exterior of the west wall, they made one discovery that sparked speculation. Stuffed inside the walls were buttons, a child’s shoe, a fork from the 1800s, and a piece of leather.
Although the artifacts likely did not belong to Poe or his childless wife, they seem somehow fitting. They are objects rooted in daily life that had become hidden and then lost. They materialized, ghostlike, in a place they did not belong. They will be preserved as displays in the small cottage in the Bronx -- common items in a common dwelling that, despite its fragility, has withstood the test of time.
|A look inside the restoration of Poe Cottage (photo by Rochana Rapkins)|