A Murder of Crows: Retracing Edgar Allan Poe’s Steps in Providence

The famous poet became familiar with the area when he courted the Creative Capital's resident poet, Sarah Helen Whitman.

Photography by Wolf Matthewson

In a scene that might have sprung from the imagination of Edgar Allan Poe, a murder of crows erupts into the night over Benefit Street in Providence. The famous writer, as it turns out, was familiar with the neighborhood, once courting its resident poet, Sarah Helen Whitman. The two were often seen at the Providence Athenaeum, where — like the raven in his famous poem — Poe’s bust presides from a perch above the door. “Her mother and friends were against the match, so it took some convincing for her to agree to marry him,” says Robin Wetherill, the library’s director of membership and external relations, adding a condition of the engagement was that Poe stop drinking. Two days before their scheduled Christmas wedding, a messenger delivered a note to Whitman in the library revealing her fiance had failed to keep his promise. Heartbroken, she called off the nuptials. The pair never saw each other again — Poe died ten months later under mysterious circumstances — but his ghost is said to still roam the library stacks. He’s also rumored to have cursed the fountain outside so those who drink from it are bound to return to Providence. (Wetherill insists Poe, who died before its construction, could not have cursed the fountain, though no one would argue Rhode Islanders are loath to leave their state.) “I love to think that if there was a ghost of Poe out there, that he would occasionally stop by,” she says. To browse, perhaps. But to set foot where two lovers once wandered … arm in arm? Nevermore.