This edition of the Storytellers Channel’s newsletter features Chris Semtner, Curator, The Poe Museum, writing more about Berenice, alittle about the other dead Brides Morella and Ligeia and highlighting an artifact from the museum’s collection.
The Love Locked Down Theatre Project gave its final performance of this most recent production last week to an appreciative audience at the Police Athletic League here in Richmond. Truth was spoken to power as the teenagers and adults alike in the audience shared candid reactions to the play and the emotions it evoked.
I’d love to hear your response to The Tell-Tale Heart. Feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with your feedback.
The Storytellers Channel
Dead Brides Part II
Two years before Edgar Allan Poe published his tale of tooth obsession “Berenice,” reports of a gruesome crime were splashed across the pages of the Baltimore Visiter. Someone in that city had been caught robbing graves in order to steal the corpses’ teeth to sell to dentists.
Not long after Poe learned of the tooth robber, one of his friends bet him he could not write a story on the subject. The twenty-four-year-old Poe had already experimented with writing poetry, science fiction, comedy, and adventure; so he was up for the challenge.
In Poe’s time, grave robbing was on the rise. Medical students needed cadavers to dissect and skeletons to study, so some schools hired resurrectionists to procure fresh bodies by any means necessary. A resurrectionist would sneak into a cemetery shortly after a burial and dig a hole down to the head of the newly buried coffin. Breaking a hole through the top of the casket, he would insert a hook or noose with which to hook the corpse’s head in order to pull it to the surface. Then it was just a matter of secreting the body to the medical school without getting caught.
Sometimes—on very rare occasions—as the resurrectionist broke into the coffin, a piercing scream rang out from within the hole. He had stumbled upon a premature burial.
At a time when most people died at home and were neither examined by a doctor nor embalmed before being buried in the local churchyard, there was a slight possibility that a person could be accidently buried alive. Screams emanated from fresh graves. The living emerged from crypts. Millions lived in fear that they could be buried alive. In preparation for that possibility, they purchased special coffins attached to above-ground bells the occupant could ring if he or she awoke in the grave.
In “Berenice,” Poe takes advantage of the fear of being buried alive in order to create a truly chilling tale. In his next story, “Morella,” Poe once again examines the vague boundaries between life and death. If people in his time had so much trouble distinguishing life from death that they accidentally buried their loved ones alive, how, asks Poe, do we really know where life begins and ends? Morella believes she can conquer death, and her husband fears this is true. In “Ligeia,” the title character similarly refuses to accept that life ends with the death of the body.
“Berenice,” “Morella,” and “Ligeia” also each tell of a husband’s obsession with his dead bride and how that obsession brings them back from the grave. A Poe biographer has suggested that these stories are a response to his mother’s death when he was only two. According to this theory, Poe was so young that he never really accepted that she was gone and consequently always retained a feeling that she would return to him.
What’s Going on at Storytellers Channel
One of the services we offer at Storytellers Channel is coaching storytellers and speakers. Joan Rozmus Bowling, (you can see one of her stories on the site) Past President of the of the Virginia Chapter of the National Speakers Association recently finished 1st Place in Toastmasters Virginia District 66 International Speech Contest. Next Stop World Semi-Finals August 2018 in Chicago. She’s available to speak, drop us a line and we’ll put you in touch.
We are so PROUD!
Last issue I wrote we’d be premiering the Poe’s Dead Brides’ audio book this issue. Events have conspired to delay the release. As such we’re going to give away 25 to the first to download the audio book upon release. Keep an eye out for the announcement in your In-Box.
This Issue’s Poe Museum Artifact
Publicity Packet for The Tomb of Ligeia
Vincent Price stars in this Roger Corman-directed adaptation of Poe’s horror tale “Ligeia.” It was the eighth and last of Roger Corman’s Poe films and the seventh to feature Price. Like most films supposedly based on Poe’s stories, The Tomb of Ligeia bears little resemblance to its inspiration. In this case, the screenwriter has included elements from “Morella,” “Ligeia,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.”
This packet contains ad art, articles about Poe and Price, and instructions on how to stage publicity stunts like distributing smelling salts to the audience in case anyone faints from fright or employing a doctor and nurse to stand outside the theater “with a display of shock naturalizers, such as a giant hypodermic, blood plasma etc.” to attend to anyone driven insane by terror. Apparently, Poe’s “Ligeia” retained its power to terrify audiences over 130 years after he wrote it.
For more information on Poe’s extraordinary life, visit The Poe Museum.