- Associated Press - Saturday, May 31, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Edgar Allan Poe was 3 years old the first time he met John Mackenzie, a local kid who would become a lifelong friend.

Mackenzie was 6. He’d broken his arm in December of 1811 and doctors, fearing it wouldn’t properly heal, had told his parents to keep him away from boys his own size.

So Poe, whose sister Rosalie was living with the Mackenzie family after their mother died, became his playmate.

One day, Mackenzie, to pass the time, told the younger boy a fairy tale. Poe repeated it back, but built on it by adding some of his own embellishments.

Thus began a game of literary one-upmanship and was the first sign that the little boy - described in letters as “a lovely little fellow” who was “charming everyone by his childish grace, vivacity and cleverness” - might have a gift for spinning a tale.

“Here we have the earliest evidence of Edgar’s extraordinary imagination,” said Richard Kopley, an Edgar Allan Poe scholar and professor at Penn State University, DuBois.

“The spirit of verbal competition apparent here anticipates his later successfully capping Latin verses in school and, as a professional writer, winning short story contests.”

Kopley was at the Poe Museum in Richmond in May to discuss two recently discovered stories about the writer’s childhood here. The collection of letters was linked, through distant relatives, to Mackenzie.

The first was about meeting Mackenzie. The second was about how Poe, at 16, wrote the poem “Oh, Tempora! Oh, Mores!” to drive Robert Pitts, a clerk, out of town.

Kopley has spent decades studying Poe and his work. The two stories shedding light on Poe’s early life is the result of finding some previously undiscovered letters.

The recent talk is one of the ways the museum is looking to educate on Poe’s life and helping explain that the writer’s legend is different from the reality.

Poe has been seen as a dark, brooding, haunted man who died drunk in a gutter but has transcended time with his terrifying stories.

But in his day, Poe was known as a prankster and was such a star in later years that crowds followed him down the street.

He is credited with creating the detective and science fiction story, inspired Jules Verne, and held a one-sided feud, in print, with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

And in his death, which remains shrouded in mystery and legend, he was praised around the world as an American master.

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