Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Edgar Allan Poe Walking The High Bridge

There is a famous lithograph of Edgar Allan Poe Walking The High Bridge by Bernard (B. J.) Rosenmeyer, 1930 that has a haunting image of Poe.
Poe Walking the High Bridge, lithograph B. J. Rosenmeyer, 1930

There is an excellent post about this lithograph here. The best we have been able to figure it out, the aqueduct was completed on July 4, 1848 and Poe died on October 7, 1849 in Baltimore. The story goes that he lived with his wife at his mother-in-law's home in the Bronx near Kingsbridge Road and The Grand Concourse. His wife died in January 1847, and he was "known for walking The High Bridge" from his home along the Croton Aqueduct. There is trouble with some of the dates and facts, given that there was such a short period of time between the time the bridge opened and his death (not in NYC).  Since the lithograph depicts a winter scene, this had to be the winter of 1848-49.
From biographical information we know that he was not in New York for much of the time of the winter of 1848-49. Increasingly unstable after his wife's death, Poe attempted to court the poet Sarah Helen Whitman, who lived in Providence, Rhode Island. Their engagement failed, purportedly because of Poe's drinking and erratic behavior. There is also strong evidence that Whitman's mother intervened and did much to derail their relationship. Poe then returned to Richmond, Virginia and resumed a relationship with his childhood sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster.

But, there are conflicting contemporary writings that have suggested that Poe, in fact, did walk the High Bridge frequently.  This has been elaborated upon in a post on Ephemeral New York. More specifically, Sarah Whitman commented on his frequent walks on the High Bridge, but Ms. Whitman was living in Providence during that period of time and we have to conclude that she based her beliefs upon conversations with or letters from Poe.  Was Poe truthful on this point?

Also, the pedestrian walkway didn't even exist, to the best we can determine, at the time Poe was still living. The brick walkway was only "added" when the expansion for the aqueduct was completed in 1864.  Is it that Rosenmeyer must have exercised artistic license with the theme of his lithograph?  Was there a predecessor walkway? Evidence now suggests that Rosenmeyer was correct in the shape and feel of this early walkway. See the picture here.  Is this factual basis or is this apocryphal?

Also note that the High Bridge that Poe is walking on has stone sides above the walkway.  This could make sense for the period from 1848 until the additional pipe was laid in the early 1860s and certainly during the time from 1848 until Poe's death in 1849.  Those sides were used during the reconstruction in the 1860s to contain the additional pipe laid between the other two pipes, thereby "eliminating" the stone sides by incorporating them into the part that held the pipes.  It was after the third pipe was laid that the surface of the pedestrian walkway was paved with bricks in a herringbone pattern and then protected with metal railings.
Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

last modified 10/7/2016


  1. Alex (Morningside Heights)June 14, 2013 at 11:37 AM

    This picture, just like Poe, is haunting. Good find.