by Lisa Campbell Warren
Dare to Visit…
The Haunts of Famous American (Scary) Storytellers!
Late October, with the trees dressed up in brilliant yellow, red and gold, and the added thrill of Halloween festivities, is a fantastic time to visit colleges on the East Coast. Students and parents who appreciate the “spooky” literature of Washington Irving (“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” “Rip Van Winkle,” and other stories) and Edgar Allan Poe (“The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Raven,” and many more) might enjoy visiting some of the haunts of these uniquely American writers, including universities and historic sites in New York, Maryland, and Virginia.
Caution: Headless Horseman
Born in 1783 in lower Manhattan, and later a famous resident of Tarrytown, in New York’s Hudson River Valley, Washington Irving continues to be celebrated in both New York City and at the riverside estate of Sunnyside. By age 16, Irving traded formal education for what he could learn and write about from daily ramblings through the city. Some of his brothers attended NYC’s Columbia College (now Columbia University), and a quick check of CU’s online library catalog produces a long list of items connected to their literary brother, including manuscripts, drawings, and first editions. The city Irving nicknamed “Gotham” is home to dozens of prestigious colleges and universities; this list may include one or more that you’ll want to visit.
Outside the city, on the banks of the Hudson River, in an area named “Sleepy Hollow” by the author (but called Tarrytown in real life), Irving’s Sunnyside estate was a popular gathering spot for artists, writers, politicians and other notables of the time. Tours of Sunnyside, through December, are led by a guide dressed as Washington Irving. The Sleepy Hollow Cemetery at the Old Dutch Church is where to find the author’s final resting place (and hope NOT to encounter the legendary, night-riding “headless horseman” he created!). Within an easy and scenic drive up- or downriver are several campuses worth checking out, according to this list of Hudson Valley colleges and universities.
The Raven on the Lawn
In 1830-1831, while the middle-aged Irving was writing and entertaining luminaries of the day at Sunnyside, young Edgar Allan Poe was attending the U. S. Military Academy just up and over the river at West Point, New York. He stayed for just one semester, but was considered a bright student of mathematics and French. Later, he would attend Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, living in one of the spartan scholars’ rooms on the Lawn in front of the Rotunda. Visitors to the U.Va. “grounds” (as they term the campus) can see Poe’s room, which is furnished and maintained pretty much as it was during his residence. A statue of a raven stands on the ledge of the single, small window—added by the student Raven Society as a nod to the author’s most famous poem.
Halloween weekend visitors to U.Va. can also experience the annual “Trick-or-Treating on the Lawn” event. Since the 1980s, U.Va. Lawn residents have welcomed local children wearing their costumes to trick-or-treat at each of the 54 rooms on the Lawn.
In Baltimore, Maryland, Poe fans can combine a visit to Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, or another of the city’s fine schools, with side trips to the Poe House and Museum on Amity Street, to see the small rowhouse where he lived with relatives, and to Westminster Hall Burying Ground and Catacombs, to see Poe’s original grave and headstone, on which are carved a raven and the words “Quoth the Raven Nevermore.” In 1875, Poe’s remains were moved to a more prominent site in the front of the cemetery, under a large marble monument. Westminster Hall hosts a special Halloween program with continuous tours, readings, music, and mischief on October 31. Winter visitors, note: On Poe’s birthday, January 19, the celebration at Westminster typically includes theatrical presentations and an apple cider toast. At some point after midnight, January 19, the mysterious “Poe Toaster” might visit the original grave with a bottle of cognac, offer a toast to the dark poet, and slip back into the night unseen, leaving behind the bottle and three red roses. Boo!
Other works by Lisa Campbell Warren: