Edgar Allan Poe’s Graves
June 10, 2007 — I’ve got a confession to make. Well, truthfully, I have too many to count, but the relevant one here is that I don’t edit O.T.I.S. articles too thoroughly. As a result, one should definitely expect to find numerous annoying misspellings, grammar gaffes, factual errors, and general nonsensical letter strings scattered liberally throughout any randomly chosen article. However, in the case of the title of this article, there is no type-o. That’s right. Edgar Allan Poe, the man obsessed with death, has more than one grave. He has two. And they’re both located in the same cemetery in Baltimore, MD.
I could write forever about Poe. He was a master wordsmith who used words of such high caliber and poesy with such skill that it puts most accomplish writers to absolute shame. It was like he had access to a private dictionary no one else earned the right to open (I mean nepenthe, for goodness sake? I’ve searched my entire life for a word like that). His vision was so palpable he had to invent entire genres of literature just to express it. So physical that it ravaged his life. Heck, his art is so undeniable that teachers are forced to assign stories about ghastly death and morbid guilt to our usually overly sheltered children. But I’m not writing about Poe today. I’m writing about his corpse.
Poe’s corpse is actually something of which Marylanders such as I should be pretty daggone proud. Everywhere Poe even stayed for a night has been turned into a museum or official landmark. Richmond, VA, Charlottesville, VA, the Bronx and Greenwich Village, NY (the bastards), Philadelphia, PA, (usually the bastards, but not in this case). I think even the Brits tacked up a plaque to claim him. They all want to be remembered for Poe. Except Boston. Poe’s birthplace hates him for some reason.
But, again, Baltimore has his corpse.
That’s right. It was our booze that sent him over the edge. Our gutter that welcomed him low. Our doctors that did the best they could. Let’s hear it for the Free State. Oh God, we killed Poe.
Poe is buried at Westminster Presbyterian Church at the corner of Fayette and Greene streets in way downtown Baltimore. City parking rules apply. Find a meter or a garage and hope to God or god or G-d that you don’t come back to a broken windshield. Especially in Baltimore. The thing about Baltimore is take a wrong turn, and you’ll be somewhere you don’t want to be. Sure, that’s true of most cities. But not like it’s true in Baltimore, although the city is getting better.
The cemetery itself is small, but densely packed with grave markers and mausoleums of widely varying design, wrapping around the church on two sides and extending underneath (Yup, catacombs. That’s a Yahtzee). At the farthest point away from the gates down a paved footpath is Poe’s original grave, marked by a headstone with a raven and the phrase, “Quoth the Raven Nevermore” chiseled at the top. Now that might seem to be a bit too obvious of a tribute to Poe, but I think the new context casts the words as the perfect symbol for an eternally silenced writer of darkness.
The location of the marker is actually a pretty placid spot considering that just behind me the dirtiness of an entire city loomed. When I visited, someone had left flowers and, oddly, a few mini candy bar wrappers at the site. I wasn’t there anywhere near Halloween, but the litter made it seem like that to me for a second. I was actually touched by it. The words incised on the headstone direct you back to the front of the cemetery where Poe is actually interred. So I guess it’s more like a sign than anything else. Which, by the way, is exactly how I want my tombstone to read: “Just kidding…buried elsewhere.”
The current residence of Poe’s bones is right at the front gates to the cemetery. It’s an interesting story. One night, before the flesh had completely dropped off his bones, Poe pushed his way through the loam and shambled wearily over to a new spot in the cemetery, much like someone would switch positions in bed. The nearby residents of Baltimore didn’t want him doing that again because it was, well, damned spooky, so they stuck a larger and heavier grave marker on top of the new spot to stop him from getting up anymore.
You can’t miss it. It’s an impressive white columnar erection with a dark, platter-sized circular shield bearing an image of Poe’s face. Other sides of the column bear the requisite death inscriptions. Besides Poe himself are mingled the remains of his wife/cousin, Virginia Clemm, and his mother-in-law/aunt, Maria Clemm.
Now, maybe neither of his grave markers is quite grotesque (or arabesque) enough to truly commemorate Poe in any stylish fashion, but I’ve been to quite a few writers' graves in my time. None of them have the resonance that Poe’s grave does. I guess that’s inevitable for an artist whose writing is so entrenched in the subject of death.
Lord, help my poor soul...and his.
More of my visits to Poe sites:
Poe's Graves, Revisited
Poe's Richmond, Part I: Edgar Allan Poe Museum
Poe's Richmond, Part II: Everything Not the Edgar Allan Poe Museum
Poe's Statue (Baltimore)
Poe's New York