THE POE MUSUEM, 1914 East Main Street, open 10 to 4 Tuesday through Saturday, 1:30 to 4 Sunday and Monday. Adults $2, students $1, preschoolers free; THE VIRGINIA MUSEUM, North Boulevard and Grove Avenue, open 11 to 5, Tuesday through Saturday, 1 to 5 Sunday. Adults 50 cents, under 16 free; THE VALENTINE MUSEUM, 1015 East Clay Street, open 10 to 5 Tuesday through Saturday, 1:30 to 5 Sunday. Adults $2, students $1, preschoolers free, family, $5 maximum.
Richmond, the capital of Virginia and the Confederacy, whose wide, tree-lined boulevards made it the "miniature Paris" of its day, whose outskirts boast one of the largest tobacco markets in the world, where every third building looks like a monument and the roster of street names reads like a Who's Who in Colonial America -- Henry, Monroe, Madison, Jefferson, Adams, Jackson, Clay, Marshall, Franklin.
You could take a week to wade through the wealth of American history in Richmond.But if you've got only a day, focus on three fascinating and little-known museums -- the Edgar Allen Poe Museum, a treasury of the writer's life and work; the Virginia Museum, America's first state-supported art gallery with its gorgeous collections of Faberge jewels and Easter eggs created for Russia's last czar and the playful surrealistic jewelry of Salvador Dali; and the Valentine Museum, a complex of 19-century houses that shows the old way of life in Richmond.
Edgar Allan Poe, who lived from 1809 to 1849, spent more of his life in Richmond -- 26 years -- than in any other city. His father was a native; his parents were married there. His mother, the gifted English actress Elizabeth Arnold Poe, died of tuberculosis in 1811 while on tour in Richmond and is buried in the cemetery of St. John's Church (where Patrick Henry said, "Give me liberty or give me death"). It was in Richmond that Poe was raised by a prominent tobacco merchant after his parents died, that that he married his first cousin Virginia Clemm ("Annabel Lee") when she was 14, and that he first gained national recognition as editor of the Southern Literary Messenger.
Although Poe himself was born in Boston and died in Baltimore, this museum tour shows that his roots were in Richmond. The site of Poe's childhood home is now the Richmond Public Library. THE POE MUSEUM was opened in 1922 in the Old Stone House, Richmond's oldest building (circa 1736), which was already a landmark in Poe's day. The tour begins by viewing a scale model of Richmond as Poe knew it -- you can trace the poet's steps from the Allan house at 14th and Tobacco Alley to the Exchange Hotel, where he gave his last public reading, for 25 cents.
The Memorial Building (to Poe's mother) contains original furniture from the house where Poe lived with his foster parents, his desk from the Messenger office, and the few worldly possessions he left when he died: a trunk, his wife's mirror and trinket box, a walking stick and a pair of boot hooks.
In January 1845, Poe became an overnight sensation with the publication of "The Raven" in the New York Evening Mirror. It was first purchased for $15. An itinerant artist of the time, James Carling, was taken with the poem and undertook to illustrate it line by line. He wrote: "Concerning The Raven. I have been 'dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.'" The results of those tortured dreams, done in pen, ink and wash, are displayed in the red brick-walled attic room of a converted carriage house at the Poe Museum.
The tour is spiced with anecdotes of Poe's life. You learn that in 1827, while in the Army in Boston, Poe wrote "Tamerlane and Other Poems" and sold it to friends for 11 to 14 cents a copy. Today, the book is such a rarity that a single copy has gone for $25,000. You learn that current scholarship considers Poe not an alcoholic, but a diabetic before the time of insulin. It was said that when he drank even a sip of sherry, he would go mad.
A particularly amusing story is the way Poe got himself dismissed from West Point in 1831. He had decided that he wanted out and knew that the only way was to build up demerits. The cadets were required to wear white gloves to dinner, so one evening Poe appeared without his white gloves. He was reprimanded and told to wear white gloves. The next night, he came back wearing only white gloves. He was dismissed.
Last stop on the tour is the Enchanted Garden, maintained by the Thomas Jefferson Garden Club of Richmond. This green oasis in a busy downtown district blooms with every flower mentioned in Poe's poems "To One in Paradise" and "To Helen." A bust of Poe mounted on bricks taken from the Messenger building watches over it from an alcove. With his sensitive face, brooding eyes, hair flying, Poe looks every inch the poet.
THE VIRGINIA MUSEUM, one of the South's largest, contains Oriental bronzes, porcelain and jade; South American stone sculpture; 19th- and 20th-century French paintings from the Mellon collection; Art Nouveau; two mummies in the Ancient World gallery; and a grand knight in armor (with a plumed helmet) astride his horse.
But what people come to Richmond to see are the fabulous Faberges -- 250 objects of fantasy conceived by the master jeweler Peter Carl Faberge and presented to the museum in 1947 by Mrs. Lillian Thomas Pratt of Fredericksburg. An excellent short slide show will orient you historically. Standing a mere glass away from these exquisite symbols of extravagance, you suddenly realize why there had to be a revolution.
Amethyst lovebirds on an ivory perch, a rose jasper chick with ruby eyes, a crown-shaped brooch set with diamonds, rubies and sapphires, silver icons encrusted with precious stones, tiny bejeweled frames bursting with the lively faces of those beautiful doomed royal children, agate buttercups and dandelions so dainty and fragile they never saw the sunlight. Crystal vases and snuff boxes and inkwells and pendants, calendars and cups and a silver rabbit pitcher with ruby eyes.
The collection also boasts five of the 57 imperial Easter eggs Faberge made for the czar's family, each filled with a surprise.A gold egg from 1903 contains a bronze miniature replica of the famous equestrian statue of Peter the Great that stood in St. rPetersburg (now Leningrad).
The other must-see exhibit at the Virginia Museum is a knockout called "Art in Jewels" by Salvador Dali, on loan from the Owen Cheatham Foundation.
Dali's surrealistic imagery appears in jewelry as well as paintings: The "eye of time" is seen as an enamel watch face in a diamond eye shedding a diamond teardrop. The "persistence of memory" is a diamond watch dripping over a branch. There is both humor and shock value: Ruby lips and pearly teeth are the real thing. The "grapes of immorality" has a cluster of lovely amethyst grapes becoming golden skulls. Some of the pieces move -- the "angel cross" has diamond-headed needles in rotation; in "pax vobiscum," a topaz opens to reveal an oil painting of Christ with a diamond crown of thorns. My favorite piece is the "royal heart," a gold heart shape topped by a jeweled crown. Its ruby interior throbs with life. The jewels are beautifully displayed against coral and quartz crystals.
THE VALENTINE MUSEUM is known as a cultural history museum representing the life and history of Richmond, but is really much more. An architectural gem in the Federal style, its rooms reflect changes of decor in Richmond from 1812 to 1896. The Oval Parlor has been called "one of the hundred most beautiful rooms in America." Its 19th-century basement kitchen is still used for children's cooking classes.
The museum itself has continually changing habits to highlight its vast holdings and limited exhibit space. What's not on display is open to scholars by appointment. For openers, it has the third-largest costume collection in America, 12,000 of them, reflecting the changing fashions from the 1600s to the present, and heavy in designer creations; a large collection of Indian artifacts, dating back to 10,000 B.C.; and a pipe collection including the Presidential Series of meerschaums (the presidents' heads up to Wilson), many of them created for the 1886 Exposition.
The museum also possesses a huge flat textiles collection, and collections of Virginia silver, swords and guns, tobacco paraphernalia, antique jewelry, household gadgets, 900,000 decorative arts items (ceramics, wood and metalwork), and one of the nation's finest photographic collections, comprised of 10,000 glass-plate negatives and prints made in the 1800s.
Exhibits now on display from the museum's collections are transportation Richmonders have used, including carriages, cars, bikes, sleighs and balloon baskets, through November 9; tobacco, featuring pipes, tins, broadsides and such, through November 16; Richmond silversmiths 1810 to 1910, including flatware, holloware, watches and clocks, through January 1; bed coverings, 18th- and 19th-century quilts and coverlets; and the popular Victorian Christmas exhibition, for which the museum uses its costumes to recreate an 1880s holiday dress ball, through January 1.
Downstairs is a center for children, with 19th-century craft classes and three permanent teaching areas -- a simulated archeology dig where kids "discover" and excavate Indian pots and tools buried in sand pits, and discuss them; a one-room schoolhouse complete with slates, Latin readers, quill pens and a polished apple for teacher, where a geography class is conducted as it was in 1870; and a 19th-century photographer's studio where the class can dress up in old-fashioned silk, satin, velvet and lace splendor and have their picture taken free by an old view camera.
For those with more time to spend in Richmond, the Museum of the Confederacy, the Confederate White House occupied by Jefferson David during the Civil War, is a must for Civil War buffs, with the greatest assemblage of Confederate memorabilia there is. It's at 12th and Clay Streets. And kids will enjoy the Science Museum of Virginia, in the old train station at West Broad and North Robinson Streets.
For the hungry, Stanley Stegmeyer's Hodgepodge Restaurant, known simply as Stegmeyer's, is at 4118 West Broad Street, casual, no reservations. And it is indeed a hodgepodge: You can dig into a filet mignon in the Slammer, beef brochette teriyaki in the Tropical Garden, prime rib in the Oval Office. There's a Loose Caboose if you like to dine on trains and St. Nick's Nook keeps the kids busy with toys and a train tract winding around the room. The Lone Ranger took our name and Batman took our order, and other members of the Stegmeyer team include an Indian princess, medieval bard, baseball player, cowboy, sailor, combat soldier and a Roman. The restrooms are papered with Little Orphan Annie comics and the salad bar is an old milk truck.