CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- Legends surrounding the mysterious life of Edgar Allan Poe have been circulating for centuries. Even the Lowcountry has ‘adopted’ some of these legends from the brief time he spent on Sullivan’s Island.
Scott Peeples is a professor at the College of Charleston and one of the nation’s leading scholars on Edgar Allan Poe. While he has published extensively on the famed poet, he says he never stops learning about him.
“The spooky stories, the tales of terror. He has that sad look, the sunken eyes. He just seems like he embodies the gothic,” says Peeples.
Peeples, a Charleston native, grew up hearing the legends of Poe’s time in the Lowcountry. Over the years, he’s been able to do some myth-busting.
It was the year 1827 when Poe enlisted in the Army under the fake name Edgar Allan Perry. He was 18 years old and broke; embodying the title ‘starving artist’ when he was shipped to Fort Moultrie.
“He was constantly trying to get ahead. Trying to achieve financial security, but was just never quite able to do it,” says Peeples.
He only spent 13 months on Fort Moultrie before his company was shipped off to Virginia. Peeples says that his time on the island had to have left a mark because his most famous short story “The Gold-bug” was set on Sullivan’s.
“Certainly was inspired enough by the time that he spent here to make it a setting of a story. Which is unusual for him because he doesn’t usually set his stories in specific American locations,” he says.
Peeples says that Poe wrote “The Gold-bug” 15 years after he left the Lowcountry; and while a few of the details don’t match up with Sullivan’s terrain, part of the story reads:
“This island is a very singular one. It consists of little else than the sea sand, and is about three miles long…It is separated from the mainland by a scarcely perceptible creek, oozing its way through a wilderness of reeds and slime, a favorite resort of the marsh-hen…”
Driving through the island it’s impossible to miss the fascination still surrounding Poe. Whether it be the streets paying homage to his name and famous literary works, the Edgar Allan Poe Library and of course Poe’s Tavern.
Poe’s Tavern has a mesmerizing hodgepodge of décor; the owners say much of the pieces were found on Ebay. The menu also boasts Poe-themed dishes like ‘The Annabel Lee’ burger.
His love affair with Annabel Lee is by far the biggest myth to come from Edgar Allan Poe’s time in the Lowcountry. Many believe that the muse of Poe’s famous poem “Annabel Lee,” was a Charleston woman named Anna Ravenel, of the prominent Charlestonian family, the Ravenels.
Annabel Lee’s body is rumored to be buried in an unmarked grave in the Unitarian Church cemetery on Archdale Street. However, the folklore doesn’t hold up to the historical record:
“You know, I wish I could say that I can verify this wonderful legend of Annabell Lee and Charleston but there’s really nothing to it. I think it’s just something that Charlestonians have kind of fabricated and run with over the years.”
Peeples says that while the story is most likely not true, he hopes it’s a story that never dies.
Whether or not you believe the legends, as you walk through the footsteps that Poe once made, you may ask yourself: is his spirit lingering in the Lowcountry?
“The believer is happy. The doubter is wise.”Edgar Allan Poe
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