RICHMOND, Va. -- The Edgar Allan Poe Museum is starting a fundraising effort to preserve illustrations of the American writer's famous 1845 poem, "The Raven."
Museum officials hope to raise $60,000 for the nearly 130-year-old illustrations by English street artist James Carling. The 43 works of watercolor and ink bring the haunting lines of the poem to life.
The images of death and torment were once an important part of the museum's collection and were on display for 40 years.
But the illustrations, now stacked in a series of worn cardboard boxes, were glued to cardboard, causing them to darken and deteriorate over the years. They were even named one of Virginia's top 10 endangered artifacts in 2013 by the Virginia Association of Museums.
Officials at the museum in Richmond are looking to safeguard the drawings by raising money through the Internet crowdfunding site Kickstarter. If the entire amount isn't raised by Nov. 15, the museum won't get any of the money, according to the website's rules.
The illustrations "interpret Poe's works in a way that nobody really quite has," said Chris Semtner, curator of the museum that is located blocks away from Poe's first Richmond home. "Carling really had become merged with Poe's personality. He understood Poe's motivations."
Carling, who billed himself as the "fastest drawer in the world," sought to outdo the world's most popular illustrator, French artist Gustave Doré, who did is own illustrations of the poem.
Carling wrote of his works: "Mine are stormier, wilder and more weird; they are horrible; I have reproduced mentality and phantasm."
The illustrations once graced the walls of the museum's "Raven Room," where they evoked shudders from visitors, including Kevin Williamson, writer of "The Following," a television show on Fox about a former FBI agent who is forced to recapture a serial killer.
Williamson said his mother brought him to the museum years ago, and the trip later inspired the TV show.
"And the walls were red and looked like blood, and they had `The Raven' written on the wall, and you had to follow around to read it. I remember it being most magical day," Williamson said in January at the Television Critics Association tour in California.
"The Raven," first published in the New York Evening Mirror, tells the story of a grieving man who gets a midnight visit from a strange bird that repeatedly speaks the word "Nevermore."
Poe, who was born in Boston on Jan. 19, 1809, lived in Baltimore, London, New York, Philadelphia and Richmond. He died under mysterious circumstances at the age of 40 during a visit to Baltimore on Oct. 7, 1849. The cause of his death has been the subject of much speculation over the years, with theories ranging from murder to rabies.
Kickstarter page: http://bit.ly/jcarling
Poe Museum: http://www.poemuseum.org/
Michael Felberbaum can be reached at . http://www.twitter.com/MLFelberbaum