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From DNA testing to the Dixie Mafia, we bring you new stories of true crime in American history. Join writer & host Benjamin Morris for exclusive interviews with authors from Arcadia Publishing, writing the hottest books on the most chilling stories of our country’s past.

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Haunting Poe: An interview with author Chris Semtner

Haunting Poe: An interview with author Chris Semtner

One of the most popular poems in the English language, Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" has thrilled generations of readers. In 1882, the Anglo-American artist James Carling decided to produce the definitive series of illustrations for the poem. Carling's bizarre images explore the darkest recesses of Poe's masterpiece, its hidden symbolism and its strange beauty. Although the series remained unpublished at the time of the artist's early death in 1887, the drawings reemerged fifty years later, when they entered the collection of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond. There they lined the blood-red walls of a Raven Room dedicated to their display. For the first time, author and Poe historian Christopher P. Semtner reproduces the entire series and tells the story behind these haunting works.

The curator of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, Christopher Semtner has served as author, co-author or editor of several books including the History Press title Edgar Allan Poe's Richmond: The Raven in the River City." He has created museum exhibits on Poe in the Comics, Poe's Mysterious Death and Poe in the Movies. The New York Times called the exhibit he curated for the Library of Virginia, Poe: Man, Myth, or Monster, "provocative" and "a playful, robust exhibit."

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Speakers: Benjamin Morris & Chris Semtner

Benjamin Morris (00:01):

Chris, thank you so much for joining us on Crime Capsule. We are so delighted to have you.

Chris Semtner (00:06):

Thanks for having me.

Benjamin Morris (00:09):

So, first of all, welcome all the way from beautiful Richmond, Virginia. We are recording this just a

couple of days before Halloween. Have you seen any good ghosts yet?

Chris Semtner (00:23):

Not lately. Mostly we just hear things.

Benjamin Morris (00:27):

That's quite nice. That's kind of halfway there, isn't it?

Chris Semtner (00:31):

Well, the museum's downtown in the busy neighborhoods, so I think a lot of the voices people are

hearing are just people wandering down the street, going to the bars.

Benjamin Morris (00:41):

Well, it's good to know that the tradition of the town drunk lives on. There's some things that we

have to uphold in this country, and I'm delighted you guys are carrying the torch.

Benjamin Morris (00:50):

You have a most unusual and wonderful job. You are not only an author and a researcher and a

historian, which we'll ask you about in a second, but you're also the curator of the Poe Museum.

What does that involve?

Chris Semtner (01:11):

That involves working with the world's finest collection of Edgar Allan Poe's stuff. We got everything

from the socks on his feet to the hair in his head. Although the hair is no longer in his head, we've

still got — we even have a piece of his coffin, a big old piece of his original coffin that was inches

from his decomposing corpse for the first 26 years of his afterlife. And it's on display right now.

Chris Semtner (01:33):

We've got first editions, manuscripts, letters, even the garden is made of bricks from different Poe

places that have been demolished over the years. It's really a Poe shrine. It's 101-years-old. We open

as the Poe Shrine now. They call it the Poe Museum. It sounds less fanatical that way, but it really is

the place to go for all things Poe.

Chris Semtner (01:53):


Transcribed by Smart Transcribers

So, I work with the collections and the exhibits and trying to find ways to make those historic

artifacts tell their stories because that's what we're all about is storytelling.

Benjamin Morris (02:06):

Which of course we know that he was one of the undisputed masters of the form. His reputation is

utterly sealed throughout time as being one of the greats.

Benjamin Morris (02:20):

Tell me this, I mean, do you guys have ... often museums will have sort of permanent exhibits, of

course, the things that are firmly attached and do not leave and are essential components of the

collection. But then they also have opportunities or resources to bring in traveling exhibits or

temporary sort of shows. Do you guys have the capacity for that?

Chris Semtner (02:43):

Sometimes we have temporary shows and we do have three permanent exhibits. One of them is

about his childhood, another one's about Poe's launching his literary career, and the other one's

about his death. We have a whole room just about Poe's death and the mystery surrounding his final


Chris Semtner (02:58):

But some of the great temporary exhibits we've had are things like the tell-tale hair, which was all

about Poe's hair. I wanted to see how much of Poe's hair I could get in one place. It's the most Poe

hair has all been the same place since it was still in his head.

Chris Semtner (03:15):

And the exhibit explored the different testing they've done of his hair to determine if that could

maybe give us a clue as to the cause of Poe's death. They did stable isotope analysis of the hair,

heavy metal testing of it, and even testing of his wife's hair to try to get us just that much close to

figuring out what actually killed Poe. So, I won't tell you what it was.

Benjamin Morris (03:37):

And? We have to come visit the museum, don't we?

Chris Semtner (03:40):

Yeah. Come on. Get on down there.

Benjamin Morris (03:42):

Alright. Well, I would love to. Richmond has been on my list for a long, long time. Tell me how did

the shrine/museum get started?

Chris Semtner (03:53):

Well, back in 1906, it was three years before Poe's centennial, and he'd grown up in Richmond. He

spent more of his life in Richmond than any other city. He got a start in journalism there and got

married there. So, a group of Richmond artists and writers thought we should have a Poe statue.

They were building statues all over the place for confederate generals, but no Poe statue.

Chris Semtner (04:15):


Transcribed by Smart Transcribers

And the city turned it down. The editorial, the newspaper said that Poe wrote some nice poetry, but

his character was unworthy of being remembered, so he didn't get a statue. So, then they decided,

well, let's build the international Poe Library.

Benjamin Morris (04:29):

Ooh, okay.

Chris Semtner (04:29):

And it would be the one stop shop for all Poe first editions and manuscripts and letters. So, you

wouldn't have to go from one university to another university to see the different first editions.

You’d see everything in one place. And the perfect spot for it was going to be the magazine office

where Poe used to work, the Southern Literary Messenger.

Chris Semtner (04:49):

But in 1916, the city decided that this wasn't an important enough cultural resource. So, they

demolished the building. So, now you have a different kind of cultural resource. It celebrates the

love of dancing. Now there's a strip club there.

Chris Semtner (05:03):

But fortunately, the Poe Foundation aside, well, let's save the bricks from that building that got

demolished, bring them down the street to an old junkyard and put them back together as a Poe

shrine and garden. They actually recreated the poem To One in Paradise that starts out, "Thou wast

that all to me, love, for which my soul did pine, green isle in the sea, love, a fountain and a shrine."

Chris Semtner (05:27):

So, they built the fountain, the shrine, the flowers from his poems and stories, and then eventually

expanded into three more or four more buildings. And we've collected about 4,000 pieces so far. So,

we've got-

Benjamin Morris (05:41):

That's amazing.

Chris Semtner (05:42):

First editions, letters, manuscripts, and we've got enough that we can switch out the different

manuscripts. They don't stay in the light for too long. And some of the other pieces will stay on

longer things that aren't really damaged by light, like statues and oil paintings.

Benjamin Morris (05:59):

It's incredible, Chris. I mean, what a treasure you have come to steward here. I have to say right up

front that a reconstituted body is — when you take the bricks and you break them down, and then

you reform them into a new structure. That's exactly the kind of thing that we would've expected to

see in a grizzly macabre tale of the mid-19th century, isn't it? Don't you think Poe would've

absolutely approved of that use of the materials.

Chris Semtner (06:29):

Yeah. In his stories a lot of the bodies don't stay put. So, this is perfect that we wouldn't just let any

of these buildings rest in peace. We'd take the pieces down to the museum grounds and incorporate

them into what's there.


Transcribed by Smart Transcribers

Benjamin Morris (06:44):

I love it.

Chris Semtner (06:45):

One of the fan favorites of the museum is Edgar and Pluto, the Poe Museum cats. They're black cats.

We found them about 11 years ago behind the Poe shrine as kittens and took them in. And they've

been living at the museum ever since. And they've memorized the tour. So, they will guide you

through the museum. You just follow Pluto along and he'll take you from building to building, room

to room.

Benjamin Morris (07:11):

And here I thought-

Chris Semtner (07:12):

They got their own Instagram page.

Benjamin Morris (07:12):

That I had the best cat in the world. Our regular listeners know that Snickers, my Halloween colored

tortoise shell, is clearly in the running for one of the best cats ever. But it sounds like there is strong

competition over there in Richmond. I have to tip my hat. Well done. Well done.

Chris Semtner (07:32):

Well, they found us.

Benjamin Morris (07:34):

That's what they say. They choose us, don't they? Let me ask you. So, we have a friend in common.

There's an author named Cat Baab-Muguira, who wrote a book recently called Poe for Your

Problems. Wonderful book about sort of what reading Poe can still teach us today.

Benjamin Morris (07:50):

And she has this interesting argument that I thought dovetailed with your book, Haunting Poe. She

argues that no one in sort of American literary history has been more examined, sort of picked apart,

reproduced, recreated, given new life as cameos and shows as diverse as The Simpsons. There's

hardly anyone as sort of scrutinized as Poe.

Benjamin Morris (08:25):

Which means that there's actually pending, barring any major discovery, some major new

manuscript, or a lost letter or something like that, that there's very little that is new to say. It's very

hard to find something new to say about Poe because of this extraordinary amount of scholarly and

popular attention he has received.

Benjamin Morris (08:48):

And yet you have found something new to say. You have found a fresh angle in Haunting Poe to give

us. And I wanted you to tell us about how this book came to be and what that fresh angle is, because

it really is innovative.

Chris Semtner (09:08):


Transcribed by Smart Transcribers

Well, the thing is, a lot of people have written about Poe's life, and I think just in the next few years

there's going to be three major Poe biographies coming out. So, I wanted to write about his afterlife.

So, just as a side project I'd collected stories, I heard about Poe's ghost appearing in different places.

Chris Semtner (09:31):

And at the same time, I also was very interested in different aspects. We did an exhibit called

Mesmerized, and it was all about Poe and mesmerism.

Benjamin Morris (09:42):


Chris Semtner (09:43):

And I got interested in how this was a forerunner of the spiritualist movement, how people in Poe's

day had this belief that if you were in a mesmeric trance, you were free from your mortal coil. And

when you're released from your earthly body, you could see spirits and communicate with spirits.

Chris Semtner (10:02):

And people during Poe's time were experimenting with that. And this was before the Fox sisters

started making their knocking noises and trying to communicate with ghosts through knockings.

Andrew Jackson Davis was trying to communicate just through a trance state. Much like, much later,

Edgar Cayce would try to see his visions by going into a trance state.

Chris Semtner (10:25):

So, I thought about, well, how can these build together? And also decided, well, what did Poe think

about the supernatural? What were ghost stories that Poe would've known growing up? What

traditions did they have? Because we know that, say a vampire, for instance, post Dracula is very

different than the vampires that people believed in the early 1800s or the 1700s or earlier. So, how

did ghost stories evolve?

Benjamin Morris (10:53):

You do this interesting thing where you trace the through line of Poe's fascination. Some would say

obsession with death, really from his earliest days. I mean, his absolute youth, his childhood, all the

way through to the very end of his life.

Benjamin Morris (11:17):

And as you write, I mean, he was exposed to, he was the victim of profound trauma early on that

just shaped him in irrevocable ways. So, where did you see, is there one particular place that you

locate the beginning of his fascination with death?

Chris Semtner (11:40):

Well, it'd probably have to be growing up. I mean, his mother did die when he was two-years-old,

just a month short of his third birthday. And people have speculated that maybe he didn't entirely

understand that she was dead and wasn't coming back. And maybe he did have some desire to

reconnect with her again. And this is always possible. And he could have heard some of the stories of

ghostly omens associated with the burning of the Richmond Theater.

Chris Semtner (12:06):


Transcribed by Smart Transcribers

But I wonder if it wasn't a lot of the stories he heard from the enslaved people in Richmond and said

that he heard some of their ghost stories or their hate stories. And picked up some of their traditions

and incorporated them into his fiction.

Chris Semtner (12:22):

And it's been speculated maybe the Evil Eye, and the Tell-tale Heart has their tradition going back to

some of the Afro-Caribbean traditions. And also, we know that these were traditions here because

there's actually a house in Petersburg, Virginia that was designed with the input of an enslaved

person who was using hoodoo. And he thought that there should be no right angles in the house. So,

this house was built with no right angles in the walls. And-

Benjamin Morris (12:51):

That's right. The famous Trapezium House, I believe, is that the right one?

Chris Semtner (12:56):

Yeah, that's the one. And post story, The Gold-Bug, they hang a bug from a string, and it's supposed

to lead the way to a treasure. And it seemed, that's very similar to The Walking Man, which was a

hoodoo practice where they had put a beetle in a bottle and attached a string to the bottle, which

everywhere the beetle goes, that's the way you turn the bottle, and it leads you to buried treasures.

Chris Semtner (13:18):

I thought, wow, there must be some kind of connection there. He's picking up on these different

traditions, and we even see that he was looking as far away as the Qur’an. He seems to have read an

English translation of the Qur’an, and that influenced his book, Al Aaraaf.

Benjamin Morris (13:36):

That's right, that's right. Now let me ask you this, you were most interested in Haunting Poe, not just

in Poe's life and death, but in his after lives. What was the collection process of your research

because sources on Poe's life and death and the various gaps in between that we have sources can

be all over the map as far as veracity and accuracy and people writing with agendas and so forth.

Benjamin Morris (14:10):

So, what was it like for you to sort of find all of this material and then sift through it to figure out

what was even remotely credible versus what was clearly fanciful?

Chris Semtner (14:22):

Well, the thing with a lot of the ghost stories is that I was looking them from a storytelling tradition

and not expecting they needed to be true ghost stories. Just that they reflected the people telling

the stories at the time, like in Baltimore, their tradition of Poe's ghost hopping from rooftop to

rooftop, almost like a boogeyman or something.

Chris Semtner (14:44):

I thought, well, what does this tell us about the people telling these stories? And when it came to

some of the older traditions, we had a lot of good resources here in Richmond. We had the Virginia

State Library. The Poe Museum has a big collection, and I was able to go to the Association for

Research and Enlightenment, which was Edgar Cayce's Foundation. They had a library of Andrew

Jackson Davis.

Chris Semtner (15:07):


Transcribed by Smart Transcribers

So, I was able to read through his papers, and Andrew Jackson Davis was a stage mesmerist in Poe's

day, and I was able to read what he said about Poe from these original sources.

Benjamin Morris (15:21):

What we today call parapsychology really had its roots in those traditions, didn't it, back in the early

to mid-19th century.

Chris Semtner (15:30):

Yeah. They were just really experiments with finding ways to contact the other side. And people are

still trying to just ... now we're trying it with different tactics. Now they're using electronic devices to

find electromagnetic field disturbances. But in Poe's day, this is the technology they had was animal

magnetism. Which was another word for mesmerism.

Chris Semtner (15:56):

The fellow who developed it was called Mesmer. So, he called it animal magnetism. And I was able

to look at guidebooks of mesmerism. They would tell you, you could mesmerize your chicken, make

it lay more eggs, mesmerize your cow, make it give more milk or mesmerize people, you could heal

whatever ailed them.

Chris Semtner (16:15):

And there was an actress at the time who actually went into a mesmeric trance when she was trying

to heal her body. And she said that she started contacting things from the other side. And there's

also a surgeon from Poe's day who mesmerized one of his patients, rather than giving painkillers,

just put him in a trance state to see if maybe that would help alleviate his pain.

Chris Semtner (16:42):

So, when Poe was writing his stories about mesmerism, that's the environment into which he was


Benjamin Morris (16:48):

In an age prior to anesthesia, I'm sure folks would take anything that they could get their hands on

to avoid the pain of the surgeon’s scalpel. Well, let's dive into this just a little bit, because the

chapter that you have on mesmerism comes in the context of these kind of supernatural belief

systems that are emerging in force in the middle 1800s.

Benjamin Morris (17:14):

Many of these were in strong currency up and down the eastern seaboard. And they would be sort

of practiced in these salon style settings, or in some cases in sort of lecture halls as practitioners

would perform a different — we would call them stunts today.

Benjamin Morris (17:32):

But one of the things that struck me, Chris, about your chapter on mesmerism and Poe's kind of

interest in mesmerism, was that they really did think, there's no easy way to say this, they really did

think they were onto something.

Benjamin Morris (17:50):


Transcribed by Smart Transcribers

There was a sincere belief among some of the investigators and researchers and doctors and so

forth, that they had found some kind of key or some kind of mechanism that accomplished some

therapeutic or mystical purpose or end.

Benjamin Morris (18:16):

And what I mean by that is that they really thought it worked. There were some quacks, we know,

but there were some others who really took it very seriously. So, help us to understand the tension

surrounding this emerging practice. It really is fascinating.

Chris Semtner (18:33):

Well, this was an age of innovations. Anything seemed possible. It used to take you a week or more

to get from one city to the next, now you're just taking a train, getting there in a few hours. Or you

used to have to sit and have your portrait drawn or painted, and now you could just sit for a few

more minutes and somebody would just take a Daguerreotype of you and burn your image onto

Daguerreotype plate.

Chris Semtner (18:58):

And all of a sudden you had this exact replica of yourself. So, if anything's possible that people are

putting more and more faith in science, but what exactly was science? I mean, a lot of people still

breathed in phrenology, where you could map out the bumps on people's heads, and oh, if they

have a big bump on the side of their head, it means they're a good poet or bump in the back means

they're a very angry person.

Chris Semtner (19:22):

So, people were really searching to understand the world. They didn't have exactly the tools that

we've developed since to try to understand the world. And these are still the days, if you went to a

hospital, they might just look you up and down and say, “You know what your problem is you got

too much blood in there. We should maybe bleed you a little bit, and that'll take care of it.” So,


Benjamin Morris (19:42):

Can I tell you my favorite one?

Chris Semtner (19:43):

Seem like possibilities — oh, what's that?

Benjamin Morris (19:45):

Can I tell you my absolute favorite pseudoscience of the 19th century? It's still reigns king for me, is

phlogiston. I love the theory of phlogiston. You remember that one's the one that says it's the stuff

in any substance or object that makes it burn. And things that have phlogiston will burn or burn

more readily than things that don't.

Benjamin Morris (20:10):

So, paper has a lot of phlogiston in it, whereas rocks have a lot less phlogiston. And sometimes I walk

around, I've got to confess this, you guys will have to forgive me. Sometimes I walk around looking at

objects in the world, and I'll just sort of look at it and be like, "Yep, that's pretty phlogistony, that

one over there." Or "That one over there, not a lot of phlogiston." So, call me a pseudo scientist, but

I got to own it.


Transcribed by Smart Transcribers

Chris Semtner (20:38):

Yeah. Like the four humors, like, oh, you're depressed. That's because you got too much black bile,

or you're nervous means too much blood. And people believe this because it had been around for a

while, and they assume that it was science, and they're still sort of grasping at straws, trying to make

sense of this big wide world, which seemed to be getting smaller and smaller by the day.

Chris Semtner (21:01):

And all of a sudden in the midst of this, there was this news article in the American Review about

somebody who had donated his body to science and allowed mesmerists to step in and mesmerize

him just before he died. And what do you know? He didn't die.

Chris Semtner (21:18):

His body started to decay. His tongue turned black and started swelling up, but they kept him in a

mesmeric trance for seven months after he died, and would ask him questions like, Oh, what do you

see on the other side?” And finally, after several months, he just said, "Let me die, let me die." And

the mesmerist woke him from his trance. And he just dissolved into a pile of low sum of detestable

putrescence right before their very eyes or just a big pile of hue.

Benjamin Morris (21:50):


Chris Semtner (21:50):

And all of a sudden, this story got reprinted all over the place in magazines and newspapers and

medical journals as far as London. They were picking this story up. There's a medical pamphlet that

says, well, hey, this seems like it's a fantastic story, but everybody in America believes it, so it must

be true.

Chris Semtner (22:10):

And then over at the New York Tribune, the editor Horace Greeley said, well, you know, the guy

wrote this is the same guy, Edgar Poe, who tricked us into believing somebody crossed the ocean in

a hot air balloon last year. You can't believe a word he says.

Chris Semtner (22:24):

And professional mesmerizers from Scotland, from Boston all over the place, were riding to Poe and

saying, you're just pretending this is a hoax. It really is a true story. And one doctor said that his

patient had died from drinking too much. So, he mesmerized the patient, and he came back to life.

So, people wanted to believe it was true. And even one of Poe's future fiancés, she was sort of the

19th century equivalent of cyber stalking him.

Chris Semtner (22:52):

And she couldn't google him. So, what she would do was she would write letters to people who'd

knew him and say, what's he like? Is he single? Is he available? And one of them wrote back that the

strangest stories are told and what is more believed of his mesmeric experiences at the mention of

which he always smiles.

Chris Semtner (23:11):


Transcribed by Smart Transcribers

And so, Poe was playing along with this stuff. He even went to some leading mesmers of the day, like

George Bush, not the president, another George Bush, and asked him, "Is my stuff accurate that I've

been writing about? I know it's fiction." And he said, "Oh, it's absolutely true."

Chris Semtner (23:26):

He went to Andrew Jackson Davis, and Davis said, "Oh yeah, this is all true. Everything you said, true,

even though you don't believe it, it's all true." And Davis later wrote about Poe and meeting him,

said that Poe had a ghost follow him around.

Benjamin Morris (23:42):

Yeah. I have to say, Chris, as you even tell this story, I am feeling slightly mesmerized myself over

here with the mystery of it and with the potential of it. And oh, could it be? And well, we weren't

there, but we have it on excellent authority that what transpired in the surgical chambers was

unprecedented by modern medical science, and it's sort of the more you just lay it on, I mean, it's

just like slathering it on there. It's hard not to want to believe, isn't it?

Chris Semtner (24:27):

Oh yeah. People were really buying into this, and this is one of his most widely circulated stories

during his lifetime. So, he got a lot more readership than say, the Tell-tale Heart to The Cask of

Amontillado. So, this was being printed all over Europe main to the popular record of modern

science. And people really wanted to believe.

Chris Semtner (24:44):

And they had another one of his stories, Mesmeric Revelation, which was along the same topics. And

it was supposed to be a transcription of the dialogue of the doctor and the patient who's been

mesmerized and what he sees into the other side, and giving his philosophy on what is matter made

out of.

Chris Semtner (25:03):

And what’s spirit made out of? This was something that really did interest Poe at the time. In fact,

his last book is all about the relationship between matter, energy, spirits, and everything else. So,

Poe himself was taking interest in these sort of things and incorporated them into his fiction.

Chris Semtner (25:21):

But people in Poe's day thought, well, Poe must be some kind of closet spiritualist. He won't admit it,

but we're pretty sure he must believe it. And, and it helped that Andrew Jackson Davis outlived him

and was able to write about him and also Poe's fiancée, Sarah Helen Whitman was a devout

spiritualist. So, she looked for the spiritual dimensions in Poe. That's what really drew her to him was

his mesmerism tales.

Benjamin Morris (25:49):

Well, let me ask you this. I mean, so Poe has this article about Ms. Valdemar. I mean, the only way to

describe it is it went viral. I mean, from the mid-18th century. It went absolutely globally viral. One

of his breakaway, sort of pieces by far and away.

Benjamin Morris (26:10):

And it prompts all of these responses from these experts. And we have to kind of put some scare

quotes around those of course. But what would you say was the ... or was there an end point to the


Transcribed by Smart Transcribers

sort of Valdemar saga? Was this something that continued to hound him throughout the rest of his

life with respect to this particular piece?

Benjamin Morris (26:33):

Or was there a point at which he was actually able to kind of draw a line underneath it and say,

“Okay guys, this is fiction, and I'm glad we've all had some fun here. But let's get onto more serious

topics like detective stories."

Chris Semtner (26:55):

Oh yeah. I think eventually he was able to a little bit, get away from it after say these stories and A

Tale of the Ragged Mountains, he moved beyond the mesmerism, but he still had this interest in

that relationship between spirits, matter, energy and everything else. And that's what informed his

book Eureka.

Chris Semtner (27:15):

But in that one, he didn't say that he received his visions from some mesmeric trance or from the

other side. He said that he was either from a combination of deductive reason and inductive

reasoning and intuition and imagination.

Chris Semtner (27:32):

He said, that's really what we need is intuition and imagination. If we just follow those and make a

series of useful guesses. He said, the greatest scientists of all time were just really good guessers. So,

we need to still have that freedom to guess and imagine and piece together what the universe is

made out of.

Chris Semtner (27:51):

And he thought Eureka was going to be his most important work. It wasn't. He wanted 50,000 copies

printed, but they only printed 500 and paid him about $14 for it.

Benjamin Morris (28:03):

Yeah. How many copies do you guys have at the museum?

Chris Semtner (28:06):

We have about five.

Benjamin Morris (28:08):

Yep. In good shape?

Chris Semtner (28:09):

It was an easy one to acquire back in the day when you could still acquire Poe books easily. And in

fact, we got a lot of our Poe books from a spiritualist. There was a fellow named John Wooster

Robinson who — or Robertson, he thought the Poe Museum was just the greatest.

Chris Semtner (28:24):

He ran a mental hospital, Livermore, California, and he got interested in spiritualism. And he thought

that Poe must be a closet spiritualist, that he couldn't have written things like Eureka, if not for his

sixth sense, his ability to tap into something greater.


Transcribed by Smart Transcribers

Chris Semtner (28:43):

So, he set out to try to collect every single first edition of all of Poe's works, the first printings of all

Poe's, different stories and poems from various magazines and newspapers, as many as you'd get.

And then just a few years after the Poe Museum opened, he just gave the whole collection to the


Chris Semtner (29:00):

And that formed the basis of our first edition. So, we've got one of say, 18 copies of Al Aaraaf and

one of all only about 20 copies. We've got one of those of poems of 1831. So, really some of the

great rarities all because this one guy thought that he really wanted to prove that Poe was in contact

through the process of what he called self-mesmerism.

Chris Semtner (29:23):

He could contact the other side. And he tried to find evidence in Poe's stories like Berenice, where

the guy goes into a self-induced trance state. He thought, "Well, Poe wrote about this because he

knew about it."

Chris Semtner (29:36):

So, we can't smack talk the spiritualist because they did help build our collection.

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