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Saturday
Apr262008

Poe and the Wissahickon

My "Edgar Allan Poe Belongs to Philly" speech (or should I start calling it the "Let's dig up Edgar"
878004-1522381-thumbnail.jpg
PhillyPoe pontification
speech) for the Roxborough Manayunk Wissahickon Historical Society on Wed night went very well.  We had a good attendance of 25-30 people who asked some great questions following my talk.  Thanks to RMWHS president Karen Sears, and also John Hartman and Sylvia Myers, who both saw me deliver this speech at the Manayunk Arts Center in Feb. 

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showing the crowd the CP story that started it all
I had the pleasure of meeting some great people including local Poe (and Griswold) scholar, Rob Velella, who gave me some good feedback about my talk, and Nick Bucci who had lots of info about the Wissahickon Creek and whom I hope to be soon joining for a tour of the area.  The Wissahickon was a favorite spot for Poe while he lived in Philly and he wrote about it in the piece, "Morning on the Wissahiccon," later reprinted as "The Elk:"

the Wissahiccon, a brook, (for more it can scarcely be called,) which empties itself into the Schuylkill, about six miles westward of Philadelphia. Now the Wissahiccon is of so remarkable a loveliness that, were it flowing in England, it would be the theme of every bard, and the common topic of every tongue . . . The Wissahiccon, however, should be visited, not like "fair Melrose,'' by moonlight, or even in cloudy weather, but amid the brightest glare of a noonday sun; for the narrowness of the gorge through which it flows, the height of the hills on either hand, and the density of the foliage, conspire to produce a gloominess, if not an absolute dreariness of effect, which, unless relieved by a bright general light, detracts from the mere beauty of the scene.

George Lippard was also a lover of the Wissahickon (see my post on the Quaker City blog) and 878004-1522390-thumbnail.jpg
Bring Poe home!
included it as a setting in several of his works.  Lippard married his wife on a rock overlooking the creek by moonlight.  One source says they married on May 14, 1847, but I haven't been able to confirm this.  We're not even sure which rock it was.  I suggested Mom Rinker's Rock, but Nick Bucci thought it was another one across the stream.  So, if you are around the creek on May 14, don't be surprised if you see a fat, bearded, middle-aged man, huffing and puffing his way up to a rock. 

(photos by my lovely wife, Kate)

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Reader Comments (4)

Ed -

I visited both reputed sites of Lippard's wedding last summer, riding a bicycle up and down the steep sides of the Wissahickon to do so, something that almost did me in, far more than the bicycle ride from Valley Forge where I had parked my car. Mom Rinker's Rock was especially difficult to reach (the bike-able portion of the trail ended before this then 55 year old teacher of reading and statistics reached the rock). Took lots of photos. While the map that is published by Friends of the Wissahickon refers to a different site, Lover's Leap, as the site of Lippard's wedding, both sources quoted below, very reputable, refer to Mom Rinker's Rock, which is also on the same side of the Wissahickon as Germantown, something to be reckoned with before the construction of the Walnut.Lane Bridge (see Saturday's entry at http://wissahickondiary.blogspot.com/ ). I suspect there are multiple Lover's Rocks (later lover's leaps) along the stream, and the memory of Mom Rinker's Rock lost out to another with a prettier vista. Sources follow below signature.

Best wishes,
Ed
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The Chapter of Perfection: a Neglected Influence on George Lippard
Carsten E. Seecamp
Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography
April 1970
p 192 - 212

p 200

In 1847 Lippard was at the height of his success and was already regarded as a kind of literary madcap, a "young petrel who swooped, gyrated and cut his circles over the roofs and chimney tops of Philadelphia, sailing up the Wissahickon and down the Brandywine, now scouting its romantic history and now foolishness and vice." Even so, Philadelphians must have been surprised by Lippard's latest act of nonconformity. On a moonlit evening in May, 1847, a fantastic ceremony took place on the banks of the Wissahickon. On the summit of a huge rock, known as Mom Rinker's Rock, overlooking the wild waters, George Lippard and Rose Newman were married by the Reverend C. Chauncey Burr. [47] Because Lippard's sister was the only witness, speculations soon arose about the nature of the ceremonies, which some people claimed were primitive Indian rites. [48]
This strange event left many people puzzled, but John Bell Bouton writes: It was meet that he [Lippard] should be married thereā€”on a spot consecrated by his early joys and sorrows. . . . He had taken his first lessons of nature amid its [Wissahickon] grand and gloomy scenery. He had stretched himself under the huge trees that shade its waves, and dreamed strange dreams of future fame and a humanity to be helped and gladdened by his labors.

- -

George Lippard: Misunderstood Man of Letters
Joseph Jackson
Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography
October 1935
p 376 - 391

p 387

He became acquainted with a young girl, named Rose Newman, and I think we have something like an exaggerated picture of her in the novelist's tale, Rose of the Wissahickon written just after his marriage. One evening in May, 1847, Just as the sun was setting, Lippard and his betrothed walked out on Mom Rinker's Rock, also called High Rock, on the Wissahickon;
and while the birds chirruped over their heads, they took each other's hand, agreeing to live as man and wife, and raising their faces to the heavens to ask God's blessing upon their union. News of this fantastic ceremony to which none were witnesses, soon was circulated, and did nothing to make Lippard more popular where prejudice against him already was nursed. The young wife died five years later, and before her death, their two tiny children passed away, a loss from which the young writer never fully recovered. He was at the height of his career at the time of his marriage, moving into a four-story house on North Sixth Street, and enjoying more comfort and luxury than he had ever known. He was still re-

- -
April 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEdK
EdK, Thanks so much for the info. Seems to me that everything we know goes back to Bell Bouton's short life of Lippard and he doesn't give us an exact date or an exact location for Lippard's marriage. It doesn't surprise me that there would be discrepancy over which rock the ceremony was performed, but I wonder where the May 14 date comes from. Maybe someone found the marriage records on file OR May 14 happens to be the date of the full moon that month in 1847.

And frankly, it's tough to trust Bell Bouton on details, as well because his Life and Choice Writings of Lippard is more hagiography than biography.

Thanks for reading. I hope you can come to the Poe House on May 10 for my Lippard talk.
April 27, 2008 | Registered CommenterEd Pettit
Ed -

The date 1847 May 14, a Friday, was a new moon, with no moonrise at all, as far from a full moon as one can get; reports of Lippard being married under moonlit skies are imaginatively rhetorical to the point of inaccuracy. Marriage records by the municipal governments of what is now Philadelphia didn't commence until July of 1860; records before then can be found in religious archives, some of which are published. The reference to Reverend C. Chauncey Burr may be a lead, though perhaps it too is contrived.

May 10th is a possibility. Interestingly May 14th this year the moon is nearly full, though a daytime visit is recommended.

Best wishes,
Ed
April 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEdK
If Lippard was married at night at the Wissahickon then it is very likely he would have picked a night with moonlight. It's also probable that they were married around sunset, mooting the moonlight issue.

The Burr lead sounds promising. He was the minster at the Universalist Church on Callowhill St and a friend of both Lippard and Poe. The congregation is still around, although their church has moved several times. Bell Bouton names Burr as the minister.

Thanks for the info about marriage records. The church may be a good lead.
April 28, 2008 | Registered CommenterEd Pettit

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