Edgar Allan Poe’s Graves

June 10, 2007 — The title of this article is not a type-o. Edgar Allan Poe, the man whom we love to think of as obsessed with death, has not just one gravestone, but 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 wrote like he had access to some secret dictionary that no other writer ever 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 body 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, Philadelphia, PA. 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 downtown Baltimore. 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 the site of 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. It was touching.  The words incised on the headstone direct you back to the front of the cemetery where Poe is actually interred.

The current residence of Poe’s bones is right at the front gates to the cemetery.Poe was moved because he was originally set in unmarked earth, and a few decades after his death, people finally started to get way into him. So they moved him to a more prominent spot, one that could fit the large memorial they designed as an apology for ignoring him in life.

Now, you can’t miss his grave.  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 the version of Poe I dig in any stylish fashion, but I’ve been to quite a few writers' graves in my time.  None of them seem to have the resonance that Poe’s grave does.  I guess that’s inevitable for an artist whose best writing is so entrenched in the subject of death.

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 Boston
Poe's Statue (Baltimore)
Poe's New York