Kate Field and the Letter from Poe

Kate Field and the Letter from Poe Kate Field, whose posthumous communication directed where the Poe letter should be sent.

Kate Field and the Letter from Poe Kate Field, whose posthumous communication directed where the Poe letter should be sent.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe so today we look at a Spiritualist tale peripherally involving Poe, or rather a letter from Poe to a sympathetic editor, Joseph M. Field.


Miss Lilian Whiting, the well-known author and journalist, declares that she has had a direct message from her friend, Miss Kate Field, the distinguished writer and lecturer, who died in Washington city a few years ago while editing her brilliant newspaper, “Kate Field’s Washington.”

At her death [1896] Miss Field left her large collection of autographs, letters and literary curiosities to Miss Lilian Whiting, her friend and biographer. The collection of autographs and letters was remarkably extensive and valuable; too much so not to be made of public benefit, Miss Whiting thought, and she decided to give it to the Boston Public Library. Among the autograph letters was one from Edgar Allan Poe to Kate Field’s father [Joseph M. Field, actor and playwright; later newspaper owner], extremely valuable in its contents, and as a missive most characteristic of the gifted, eccentric poet. Miss Whiting, who is a woman of strong practical mind, and not of the Spiritualist faith [her writings post 1896 suggest otherwise], gives this account of how the message came to her that sent the important Poe letter to another destination, and set her to interesting herself in the Society for Psychical Research:

“Suddenly, one day, before the collection had been sent, and while I was occupied with quite other matters, I heard Kate’s voice say as plainly as if she was in the room, ‘Lilian, give the Poe letter to Mr. Stedman’ (Edmund Stedman, the poet.)

“Of course I heard no physical voice, but the impression was just as vivid as if some one had actually spoken. Probably every one has experienced a sensation similar in a way. I tried to shake off the feeling that some one was speaking to me, but it persisted. Then I tried argument.

‘’Why,’ I said, ‘send it to a person?’ I asked. ‘He may die and the letter be lost. Why not send it to the library with the rest, where it will always be safe?’ But no, ‘Send it to Mr. Stedman,’ the voice insisted.

“So I did. Then a most curious thing happened.

“Not long afterwards I received a letter from Mr. Stedman, in which he exclaimed: ‘But how did you happen to send it? It is just what I need to go with my collection of Poe’s manuscripts and a fine daguerreotype of the author which I have.’

“As I was abroad when Mr. Stedman published his edition of Poe, and did not chance to see any mention of it in the papers on either side of the Atlantic, I of course, had no knowledge of the value the letter would be to him.

“I can only look upon the circumstances as an evidence of direct communication with Kate Field. I have had others, some direct, others indirect, but all equally conclusive.” Brownsville [TX] Daily Herald 24 October 1902: p. 1

Here is a transcription of the Poe letter, at the site of the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, as well as the letter’s context.

Whether Kate Field was a “distinguished” or “brilliant” writer or merely an eccentric one, is open for debate. She had many careers: a brief one as an actress and musician, a long one as a novelist, journalist, editor, and lecturer. She promoted that new invention, the telephone; she exposed the evils of polygamy, was an early enthusiast of camping in the Adirondacks, and was an outspoken advocate of Prohibition.  Perhaps because she was an attractive, unmarried, independent woman, making her own way in the world, for much of her life she was  mentioned in the newspapers of the day with a certain amount of derision. Yet whether the papers were reporting on a trip to the theatre, a visit to London, her plans for a new biography of a lionized author, or being snide about her comments on Lucretia Borgia, she was simply “Kate Field,” with the assumption that everyone knew who she was.  She died in Hawai’i of pneumonia in May of 1896.  As she grew older and after her death, she was gained the respect she deserved as a journalistic pioneer, a fighter for women’s rights, a valued friend of many writers, and an accomplished author.

Lilian Whiting was also a pioneering female journalist. For Kate she seems to have had one of those intense “pashes” 19th-century women had on their friends, or she may actually have been in love with Field–of whom she wrote: “she with whom I constantly lived in thought, whether we were together or whether half the world stretched its space between us.”

Whiting wrote a book called After Her Death, The Story of a Summer, 1897, about communicating after death with Field, both telepathically and through a medium.  Oddly, the Poe letter story does not appear in it. A later book, The Spiritual Significance: Or, Death as an Event in Life, which describes “tests” provided by the “spirit” of Kate Field via the medium Mrs. Leonora Piper, gives an abbreviated version:

Another instance that goes far to confirm the probability of telepathic communication from my friend in the Unseen [Field] to myself, irrespective of the presence of any medium, was this: —

Among her papers was a long letter from Edgar Allan Poe written to her father. I had decided to include this with her other autograph letters, all of which I gave to the Boston Public Library, where, by the courtesy of Mr. Herbert Putnam (then librarian) and the trustees, they constitute, with the manuscripts of her comediettas and a photograph of her portrait by Vedder, a “Kate Field Memorial Department.” Just before I had finished collecting these to make the gift, — on an August day of 1897, I was suddenly aware that she said to me : —

“I want you to give the Poe letter to Mr. Stedman.”

I did not at the time know of any reason for this choice of Mr. Edmund Clarence Stedman beyond the fact that he was one of her most valued friends. I sent the letter, however, and under date of August 20, 1897, Mr. Stedman wrote me, saying: —

“… As for the Poe letter, I scarcely know what to do. Don’t you know that it is rare and valuable? But of course you do, and of course that is why you give it to me. Well, I have Poe’s best daguerreotype and a famous Poe manuscript, und I need just this letter to go with them and to make my memorial complete. So I am incontinently resolved to keep it.”

Mr. Stedman’s reply indicated the peculiar appropriateness of adding this letter to his Poe memorials, and goes far to establish a probability that our mutual friend in the Unseen recognized this fitness. The Spiritual Significance: Or, Death as an Event in Life, Lilian Whiting, 1900

Why doesn’t the Poe letter story appear in After Her Death?  Given that AHD was published in 1897, while Stedman’s letter is dated August of 1897, perhaps Field’s post-mortem bequest was not made until after AHD was published. But where did the expanded version of the story in the 1902 newspaper article come from? If you know, send via white crow to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.





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