Westminster has been in the news quite a bit lately for reasons I can't quite understand. (I love how this website looks pretty much like every other engagement/wedding countdown website I've ever seen. You'd think a Prince and Princess would rate... I don't know... something that doesn't look like it came out of wedding planner's template box. By the way, I slept through the entire Royal Wedding and now my life is... well... exactly as it was before.)
Baltimore has its very own Westminster too, albeit on a bit smaller scale. The Westminster Hall and Burying Ground seems appropriate to follow yesterday's post since it's where Edgar Allan Poe ended up... finally.
The details of Poe's disappearance and ultimate death are varied and mostly theoretical. What most folks agree on is that he took a boat from Richmond to Baltimore, arriving in Baltimore on September 28th. After that, it gets sketchy. He disappeared. Someone found on the street on October 3 and helped him get word to his family. His uncle came to claim him and admitted him to the hospital where he never really gained enough clarity and/or sanity to be able to tell folks what happened to him before he died on October 7. Dozens of theories have emerged to explain what happened to him in those missing days and what he died from... everything from syphilis to got mugged to cirrhosis of the liver to MuuurDeeeer (you're gonna have to read that in an ominous voice and imagine a long echo afterward). But we do know that he was buried at the Westminster Hall and Burying Grounds.
See the bronze medallion on the memorial? That's what replaced the stone one from my picture in yesterday's post.
This big monument is at the entrance to the burying grounds. Poe wasn't originally buried in this exact spot. The story of his burial is almost as long and drawn out as the story of his death. He was originally buried in an unmarked grave. Eventually they placed a small block of sandstone as a marker that simply said “80.” Around 1860, a marble headstone was ordered, but the stone was destroyed in an train accident (!!??) so it was never installed. In 1865, folks had started to embrace Poe and appreciate him as one of Baltimore's sons and the visionary he was. A movement began to raise money for a proper headstone for Poe. Children and adults were encouraged to contribute pennies to the "Pennies for Poe" program. This program raised half the money necessary by 1871. If you visit his grave today, you'll see that people still put pennies on his gravestone(s). (I am one of those people.) The other half of the necessary money was donated and the monument was placed more prominently at the front corner of the cemetery. In 1913 another stone was placed in the back of the cemetery to mark Poe’s original burial site.
I actually like this one quite a bit more:
I can't really let the discussion of Poe's grave go by without mentioning the Poe Toaster. Every year since 1949, somewhere during the night of Poe’s birthday, a mysterious stranger has entered this cemetery and left a half-consumed bottle of cognac and three roses on the original site of Poe’s grave. I learned of this tradition the first time I visited the Poe house because they had many of the half empty bottles of cognac marked by year and on display. The excited docent told me her theory that the tradition has been passed down from father to son as the descriptions of the man had changed in recent years and he no longer used a cane. Lots of people have theories about the identity of the Poe Toaster, but mostly the Edgar Allan Poe Society (where most of my information comes from for this post) has preferred to leave this as a mystery as well and hasn't made grand efforts to contact him. At one time, a limited number of people were granted permission to stay overnight in the church in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Poe toaster. You had to write an essay, explaining why you should be allowed to be among them and your essay had to be chosen by the Poe Society volunteers. I always intended to do this with The Dormouse one day when she was old enough to appreciate Poe's work. But sadly, the Poe Toaster didn't appear in 2010 or 2011 and there's been no explanation for what happened to him. It seems that the tradition may have ended in as much mystery as Poe's life did.
And for Poe, that seems perfectly apropos.
The “Poe Toaster,” published in Life Magazine, 1990