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Marie Louise Shew and Mrs. Maria Poe Clemm: A Photograph PATRICIA CLINE COHEN I n 2008, I embarked on a search to locate all the descendants of Marie Louise Shew, nurse and close friend to the ailing Poe family from late 1846 to mid-1848. The current keen interest in family history and the explosion of nineteenth-century databases online make it easier now to do reverse genealogy , an invaluable strategy for locating new historical manuscripts and tidbits of family lore. My search paid off when I contacted Ann Beneduce of Princeton, New Jersey, great-granddaughter to Marie Louise Shew and the keeper of some of the family treasures. In the early decades of the twentieth century, various of Mrs. Shew’s other descendants had celebrated their connection to the Poe story and joined with Poe scholars to contribute their materials and recollections. But I had tapped into a fresh line, descended from Marie Louise’s oldest son Henry (1849-1921), a line that had not been debriefed by Thomas Ollive Mabbott or Mary Elizabeth Phillips.1 Within several months I had arranged to visit Princeton. Over Mrs. Beneduce ’s mantle hung an oil portrait of a lovely young Marie Louise, appearing somewhat older than in the portrait now displayed at the Baltimore Poe House and Museum. Somewhere in this family, evidently, there was wealth and vanity enough to result in two commissioned portraits of Marie Louise done within a decade of each other. On another wall a small cluster of framed nineteenthcentury photographs displayed the youthful and handsome face of her son Henry taken sometime in the 1870s along with a picture of his young family around 1890. Nearby was a sketch of a very young girl identified as Mary (1863-c.1940), the youngest child of Marie Louise and a relation my hostess had actually known.2 A much older photograph (Fig. 1) dominated the center of this family exhibit. This striking portrait shows a large middle-aged woman dressed in somber clothes. Her long dark hair is glossed and coiled over the ears, a style common in the heyday of daguerreotypes (the 1840s to the mid-1850s). There was, unfortunately, no family lore that identified the sitter. All Mrs. Beneduce could say was that the picture had been preserved with the others, and she presumed it was some close relation. I photographed all of her pictures, and a week later, inspiration hit. Could this be a picture of Maria Poe Clemm, C  2009 Washington State University P O E S T U D I E S , VOL. 42, 2009 61 P A T R I C I A C L I N E C O H E N Fig. 1. Mystery woman from daguerreotype era, private family collection of Mrs. Ann Beneduce, Princeton, New Jersey. Poe’s mother-in-law and aunt? I googled the only two existing photographs of her. One dates from 1849 and was copied by Mrs. Annie Richmond of Lowell in the 1870s and sent to John Ingram in England (fig. 2). The other was made in 1868, when Mrs. Clemm was approaching eighty; it shows a rather older and thinner woman. My strong hunch was that this new photograph was indeed a 62 P O E S T U D I E S A P H O T O G R A P H Fig. 2. Photograph of Mrs. Maria Poe Clemm, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library. By permission. H I S T O R Y , T H E O R Y , I N T E R P R E T A T I O N 63 P A T R I C I A C L I N E C O H E N picture of Muddy, one that predates the picture Annie Richmond owned (the original of which has been lost). The woman’s high bony forehead and deepsocketed eyes suggested to me a strong resemblance to Poe himself. At this point, the evidence for a sure identification is not unequivocal. In this essay, I will explain why—and how—I sought out descendants of Mrs. Shew in the first place. Then I will lay out what is known...


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