poe's present day tombstone

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what is on edger allan poe's present day tombstone

-- Anonymous, September 24, 2002


When Poe was originally buried in 1849, he was placed in an unmarked grave. Over the years, the site became overgrown with weeds. Eventually, George W. Spence (the Sexton), placed there a small block of sandstone, bearing a carved number "80" (Phillips, Poe the Man, p.1512). Reports of Poe's anonymous and unkempt grave began to circulate, first privately then in the newspapers. In 1860, Maria Clemm wrote to Neilson from Alexandria, Virginia, "A lady called on me a short time ago from Baltimore. She said she had visited my darling Eddie's grave. She said it was in the basement of the church, covered with rubbish and coal. Is this true? Please let me know. I am certain both he and I have still friends left to rescue his loved remains from degradation" (letter from Maria Clemm to Neilson Poe, August 1860, reprinted in J. C. Miller, Building Poe Biography, pp. 46-49). This note of concern seems to have spurred Neilson to action. He appears to have assured Mrs. Clemm that Poe was buried in the family lot and that he would take care that the grave was better maintained. Shortly after, he ordered a headstone, which was in the process of being carved by Hugh Sisson. The three-foot high, white Italian marble tablet was inscribed with the following epitaph: "Hic Tandem Felicis Conduntur Reliquae. Edgar Allan Poe, Obiit Oct. VII 1849." (This epitaph has been translated as "Here, at last, he is happy. Edgar Allan Poe, died Oct. 7, 1849.") The reverse side of the stone read "Jam parce sepulto" (translated as "Spare these remains"). Due to the weight of the stones and the difficulty of moving them, the monument yard was next to the railroad line. Before it could be installed, the recently completed stone was destroyed in an accident in which a train ran off the tracks and directly through the yard. Not being a wealthy man, Neilson did not order a second stone. It survives only in a pencil sketch by Charles H. Dimmock. By 1865, a movement had begun, under the leadership of Miss Sara Sigourney Rice, to provide for a new monument to Baltimore's neglected poet. Through a combination of pennies accumulated by students, gifts from friends and a variety of benefits, half of the necessary amount was raised by 1871. The remainder was donated by Mr. George W. Childs of Philadelphia in 1874. The monument was designed by George A. Frederick, who was also the architect for Baltimore's City Hall, and executed by the same Hugh Sisson who had worked once before on Poe's behalf. This time only one accident befell his creation -- Poe's birthday is erroneously given as January 20 rather than January 19. (Although several possibilities were suggested by the likes of Oliver Wendell Holmes and James R. Lowell, the new monument has no epitaph, only the names and dates of its occupants.) After some discussion on the most appropriate location for the imposing edifice, it was decided that it would be best to use the front corner of the cemetery. (The church, built around 1855, would have blocked the view of the grave from the street if Poe was left in his grandfather's lot. There was also a small problem of securing rights to enough surrounding space, most of which was already occupied.)

The monument was dedicated on November 17, 1875. Among those in attendance were John H. B. Latrobe (one of the judges who awarded Poe the Baltimore Saturday Visiter prize in 1833), Judge Neilson Poe (Edgar's cousin) and Walt Whitman (the great American poet, who actually met Poe once). Letters from H. W. Longfellow, John G. Whittier, William C. Bryant and Alfred Tennyson were read. The remains of Virginia Poe, buried in 1847 in New York, were brought to Baltimore and added to those of Poe and Maria Clemm in 1885. Thus the three who had struggled together as a family for so many years were reunited for eternity.

In 1913, Orrin C. Painter placed another stone, intended to mark Poe's original burial site, in the rear of the church. For uncertain reasons, this stone was initially misplaced completely outside of the Poe family lot. It was quickly moved to a more reasonable but still dubious location. Perhaps in part due to this confusion, but mostly because people simply love a good mystery, a strange rumor has persisted that the memorial committee failed to exhume Poe's remains, instead moving those of some other poor soul. The improbability of this notion is obvious when one realizes that the exhumation in 1875 was supervised by George W. Spence, the man who buried Poe in 1849, and Poe's cousin Neilson Poe, who attended the original funeral. In the intervening 25 years, both men had frequently been called upon to take visitors to see Edgar's grave and were unlikely to have had the opportunity to forget the correct spot. Although no headstone ever marked Poe's grave, the cemetery itself is quite small and the traditional site of the grave is framed by the marble slab of the Reverend Patrick Allison at the left and a prominent mausoleum behind.

-- Anonymous, September 24, 2002

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