265 Richmond, VA: Monument Avenue

[Monument Avenue]

Called by many the most beautiful boulevard in the South, Richmond's Monument Avenue testifies to post-Civil War glorification of "The Lost Cause." This divided parkway with memorial statues in every green was lined by grand homes and apartment buildings. The Robert E. Lee monument was the most revered. The "Stonewall" Jackson statue was the first, funded by "English admirers." And perhaps the most unusual was to Confederate Gen. A.P. Hill, who was buried under his statue in the middle of a busy intersection. Confederate memorials ended in 1929. In 1995 the Arthur Ashe statue was approved, to much controversy.

The only major monument in the city of Richmond dedicated to someone actually born here was over in the traditionally African American Jackson Ward district, where Bojangles (Bill Robinson) was born and donated a traffic light to help children cross the intersection. Also in Jackson Ward was the home of Maggie Walker, African American business woman and financier who developed a successful black-controlled bank, insurance company, and newspaper.

A non-Confederate memorial NOT on Monument Avenue was to adopted local son Edgar Allan Poe. The Edgar Allan Poe Museum was housed in the oldest surviving structure in Richmond. Poe's parents, both actors, married in Richmond while on tour here in 1806 and while again in Richmond in 1811, Elizabeth Arnold Poe died. Edgar was adopted by the local Allan family, and Poe adopted their middle name as his. Poe always considered himself a Virginian, and he returned here to edit the Southern Literary Messenger and to court Elmira Shelton. Richmond was also home to Jane Craig, his muse 'Helen.'

The Richmond Theatre where Edgar Poe's mother had performed burned to the ground on December 26, 1811, only eighteen days after her death. The fire took the lives of many Richmonders including the Governor of Virginia. On that same spot was put up as a memorial to the people who died in that fire: the Monumental Church, which was exactly that, looming up over the streetscape from a rise on a hill. It must have been intimidating to young Edgar Allan Poe when he went there. Perhaps it influenced his stories knowing that many of the victims' remains were buried in a vault under the church. Poe's American Gothic stories seem the literary equivalent of Hopper's images. One could easily imagine the house in Hopper's House by the Railroad as containing a man buried alive in a vault (as in Poe's "Cask of Amontillado") or (as in Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher") crumbling to the ground with its morbidly self-involved inhabitants trapped inside, another type of "dusk" falling on a house.

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