Virginia Clemm Poe Dies

On January 29, 1847, Poe wrote to Marie Louise Shew: "My poor Virginia still lives, although failing fast and now suffering much pain."Virginia died the following day, January 30, after five years of illness.

Shew helped in organizing her funeral, even purchasing the coffin. Death notices appeared in several newspapers. On February 1, The New York Daily Tribune and the Herald carried the simple obituary: "On Saturday, the 30th ult., of pulmonary consumption, in the 25th year of her age, VIRGINIA ELIZA, wife of EDGAR A. POE."The funeral was February 2, 1847. Attendees included Nathaniel Parker Willis, Ann S. Stephens, and publisher George Pope Morris. Poe refused to look at his dead wife's face, saying he preferred to remember her living. Though now buried at Westminster Hall and Burying Ground, Virginia was originally buried in a vault owned by the Valentine family, from whom the Poes rented their Fordham cottage.

Only one image of Virginia is known to exist, for which the painter had to take her corpse as model. A few hours after her death, Poe realized he had no image of Virginia and so commissioned a portrait in watercolor. She is shown wearing "beautiful linen" that Shew said she had dressed her in; Shew may have been the portrait's artist, though this is uncertain. The image depicts her with a slight double chin and with hazel eyes. The image was passed down to the family of Virginia's half-sister Josephine, wife of Neilson Poe.

In 1875, the same year in which her husband's body was reburied, the cemetery in which she lay was destroyed and her remains were almost forgotten. An early Poe biographer, William Gill, gathered the bones and stored them in a box he hid under his bed. Gill's story was reported in the Boston Herald twenty-seven years after the event: he says that he had visited the Fordham cemetery in 1883 at exactly the moment that the sexton Dennis Valentine held Virginia's bones in his shovel, ready to throw them away as unclaimed. Poe himself had died in 1849, and so Gill took Virginia's remains and, after corresponding with Neilson Poe and John Prentiss Poe in Baltimore, arranged to bring the box down to be laid on Poe's left side in a small bronze casket. Virginia's remains were finally buried with her husband's on January 19, 1885—the seventy-sixth anniversary of her husband's birth and nearly ten years after his current monument was erected. The same man who served as sexton during Poe's original burial and his exhumations and reburials was also present at the rites which brought his body to rest with Virginia and Virginia's mother Maria Clemm.

One day while Virginia Clemm, who had a lovely voice, was singing for Poe, she coughed and a tiny drop of blood appeared on her lip. It was the first sign of the tuberculosis that would make her an invalid and eventually take her life. Poe began to drink more heavily under the stress of Virginia's illness. He left Graham's and attempted to find a new position, for a time angling for a government post. He returned to New York, where he worked briefly at the Evening Mirror before becoming editor of the Broadway Journal. There he became involved in a noisy public feud with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. On January 29, 1845, his poem "The Raven" appeared in the Evening Mirror and became a popular sensation.

The Broadway Journal failed in 1846. Poe moved to a cottage in the Fordham, The Bronx, New York. The Poe Cottage is on the south east corner of the Grand Concourse and Kingsbridge Road and is open to the public. Virginia died there in 1847. Increasingly unstable after his wife's death, Poe attempted to court the poet Sarah Helen Whitman. Their engagement failed, purportedly because of Poe's drinking and erratic behavior; however there is also strong evidence that Miss Whitman's mother intervened and did much to derail their relationship. According to Poe's own account, he attempted suicide during this period by overdosing on laudanum. He then returned to Richmond and resumed a relationship with a childhood sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster, who, by that time, was a widow.