Emily Guendelsberger Emily is City Paper's arts editor. She enjoys writing about feminism, opera, television, arts ecosystems, music theory, people with weird jobs and pretty much everything involving money. You can also find her writing at the A.V. Club and other fine publications.
A raven perches upon a bust of Pallas near the door of the Free Library's Rare Book Department. It's a Halloween-prop fake, though — the real raven is just down the hushed hall, sitting on a branch inside two ventilated UV-glass cases dimly lit with fiber-optic lights. As the John Cusack movie is out this week, City Paper visited Grip the Raven, believed to be the inspiration for the one who famously quoth "Nevermore."
Grip never belonged to Edgar Allan Poe, though — in fact, the two never met. This was the first of three pet ravens owned by Charles Dickens, all of which were named Grip. "Like George Foreman," says Janine Pollock, head of the Rare Book Department. Though his name choices seem impersonal, Dickens loved animals, writing with great affection about the family's many pets in correspondence. (He loved even the tiniest pets — a small headstone for the family canary sits near Grip's case, with the epitaph "Dick, the best of birds.")
Dickens preserved some of his pets physically, but immortalized a few in his novels. Most prominent is Grip, who will forever be the companion of the titular half-wit of Barnaby Rudge, which Dickens was working on when Grip died after eating paint in 1841.
So why is Dickens' raven in the Free Library's Poe collection? There's literary connections: Poe's raven and the real and fictional Grips talked — a letter from Dickens mentions that the bird's dying words were "'Halloa old girl!' (his favorite expression)" — and the poem has echoes of a scene in Barnaby Rudge where a character asks, "What was that — him tapping at the door?" and another responds, "'Tis someone knocking softly at the shutter."
But "the smoking gun is the review in Graham's Magazine," says Pollock. Poe, living in Philadelphia, favorably reviewed Barnaby Rudge in 1842, but opined that Grip might have been used more effectively as a literary device: "The raven, too, intensely amusing as it is, might have been made, more than we now see it. ... Its croakings might have been prophetically heard. ... " From this comes the theory that "The Raven," written in 1845, is Poe's take on what he felt Dickens should have done.
This was solidified by Philly's Richard Gimbel, an avid collector of both authors. He got Grip at a Dickens auction, but at some point decided it belonged with Poe, as when he died in 1970 "he gave his Dickens collection to Yale and he gave his Poe collection to us," says Pollock.
Since then, Grip briefly journeyed across the street in the '90s to be restuffed and cleaned at the Academy of Natural Sciences ("I think he had bugs," says Pollock). He then returned to his home among the rare books — where he still is sitting, still is sitting.
Show + Tell gets into the stories behind some of Philadelphia's oddest and most interesting objects. Know something perfect for the column? Email or tweet her at