Poetry News

Another mystery, "Once upon a midnight dreary"

By Harriet Staff

Continuing with the mystery theme this morning, this article in the New York Times delivers an interesting missing person (or rather, mantel) story:

One hundred and sixty-eight bleak Decembers ago or thereabouts, Edgar Allan Poe sat before a fireplace in a farmhouse on a high bluff on what would someday be called the Upper West Side, composing a poem.

The fireplace, encased by a wooden mantel carved with vines and fruit, found its way into the poem: the place from which “each separate dying ember / Wrought its ghost upon the floor.”

Poe soon moved out of the Brennan Farmhouse in 1845. Four years later, he was dead and by 1888, the farmhouse, too, was bound for the next world, condemned to make way for the extension of West 84th Street. But by then, Poe was a literary hero, “The Raven” his most celebrated work, and news of the house’s demolition brought out a history buff named William Hemstreet, who salvaged the fireplace mantel.

In 1907, as Poe’s centenary approached, Mr. Hemstreet decided, he wrote, to donate the mantel to a public institution. Competition was fierce, but Columbia University beat out a dozen suitors, largely on the strength of its promise to display the mantel prominently.

On Jan. 4, 1908, the Raven Mantel was presented to Columbia.

And then, for more than 100 years, it vanished into obscurity.

Jump over to find out what happened the Raven Mantel.

Originally Published: August 13th, 2012