New York…October, 2009: No follower of poetry and for that matter Edgar Allan Poe I joined the EDGAR ALLAN POE GREENWICH VILLAGE TOUR* more out of curiosity. The writer was in the news for his reburial in Baltimore with 2009 his 200th birth anniversary year. Another reason for renewed interest in Poe was the ‘Balloon Boy’ fiasco in Colorado reviving images of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Balloon-Hoax” story published in 1844, complete with diagrams and specifications of the balloon. Poe’s story was about Monck Mason’s journey across the Atlantic in three days and at a time when crossing the Atlantic by air was unheard of. The story had been successful in increasing the circulation figures of the Daily. It later turned out that the saga was a fabrication or as we say today, fake news. In 2009 one Falcon Heene, a six-year old boy, probably impressed by this daring feat fabricated a similar ‘balloon journey’ little realising the implications. His parents faced felony and deportation charges as investigations revealed that Falcon was very much at home while the much publicized rescue drama was being enacted.
The Greenwich Tour : Edgar Allan Poe had close links with New York and his house in the Bronx, ‘Poe Cottage’ ,a museum now, is where he penned “The Bells,” “Ulalume,” “Eureka,” “Annabel Lee” and “The Cask of Amontillado’ among other works (1846-49).
The tour guide walked us to the clubs, theaters and coffee houses where Edgar Allan Poe, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, Barbara Streisand, Jackson Browne, Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen began their careers.
The walk started from Washington Square, formerly marsh land used as graveyard for slaves and yellow fever victims. It was a dueling and an execution place with the still sturdy Hangman’s Elm or Hanging Tree, the oldest Manhattan tree that in the past served as the hanging post for highwaymen and revolutionary traitors. We walked along New York University buildings, the Stonewall Inn, Our Lady of the Pompeii Church, the Bleecker Street with its bohemian flavored pubs, bars and music cafes, past Rocco’s pastry Shop and Café Wha from where Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Bill Cosby and other creative artists started their careers.
The West Village, hemmed in by Broadway on the East, Hudson River on the West, SoHo on South and Chelsea on North, continues with the old street pattern instead of adopting the grid system of rest of New York City. The curved and mostly paved streets, lined with shops, ‘lower’ buildings and parks tucked in corners give the area a feeling of openness. The cobbled MacDougall Alley originally was stable place for for houses on Washington Square North. Along the way we saw other ‘Poe’ landmarks, the Northern Dispensary at crossing of Waverly Place and Christopher Street, where he had gone for treatment , the house where he had recited his famous poem ‘Raven’ and his residences . Poe had lived in the Village during 1837.
From Poe we moved on to other important landmarks; Sheridan Square, the Jefferson Memorial Library and the Women’s House of Detention where legendary actress Mae West was detained for writing, producing and directing ‘Sex’. Far cry from the recent ‘Sex and the City’ scenario and the Guide pointed out the scene of house of Carrie Bradshaw and the building featured in sitcom ‘Friends’.
The Woman’s House of Detention was demolished in 1973 and replaced with a community garden, south of Jefferson Market and corner of Tenth Street and Sixth Avenue. The reason given was the noise level created by families and friends of detainees who would communicate or rather yell out news and greetings to each other. It must have been a raucous ‘party scene’ and with gawkers adding to the commotion, a disturbing element for residents.
The statues of gay couples, two men and two women, at Christopher Park on Sheridan Street, appear real till you realize they are statues by George Segal to immortalize the Stonewall Gay riots. There is an old 130 year old iron fence around the Park which has two other monuments, the Flagpole commemorating the lives lost in the 1861 fire and a statue of General Philip H. Sheridan in the eastern end.
The tour personalized different chapters of ‘Village’ history.