It seems very appropriate that Edgar Allan Poe would have as eventful an afterlife as he did when he was up and walking about. I mean, how could there not be an interesting grave story connected with the man who penned the lines:
“And my soul from out that shadow that lies floatingEdgar Allan Poe, “The Raven”
on the floor
Shall be lifted — nevermore!”
After Poe’s mysterious death in 1849, he was rather ignominiously buried. Very few people attended his funeral – so few, in fact, that the minister dispensed with a sermon and moved right on to the burying part. He was interred at Westminster Hall in Baltimore, where many of the prominent Baltimore families laid their loved ones to rest. The Poe family had a plot there, and Edgar was buried next to his grandfather, David Poe, Sr. His estate was, however, too broke to buy a headstone, and his grave was left unmarked.
Despite the manners of his death and burial, Poe had become a bit of a celebrity, and people soon started visiting his grave to pay their respects to the great poet. As is still so often the case with tourists, these poetic pilgrims were frequently disappointed by what they saw.
The rumors started swirling, and pretty soon everyone knew that Poe had been scandalously buried without a marker in a plot that was poorly kept. Word quickly got back around to Poe’s mother-in-law, Maria Clemm, who significantly outlived both her daughter and son-in-law.
Mrs. Clemm is a bit of an interesting figure for literary historians. Some say that she was a loving and devoted mother, who clung to her son-in-law after the tragically early departure of her only child. Others say that she was conniving and manipulative, and that she benefited greatly from her son-in-law’s generous nature. I fall a bit in the middle somewhere – I think she was truly affectionate toward Poe, but that she was also between a rock and a hard place and used his name to get out of it. After all, she was a poor widow in a society that made it incredibly difficult for a woman to support herself without a man, and Poe was the only man in her life.
At any rate, it was Mrs. Clemm who kicked things into gear. She wrote a letter to Poe’s cousin, living in Baltimore at the time, asking him rather pointedly if the rumors she was hearing about his grave were true. Upon receiving her letter, this cousin decided that he would pay for a nice headstone for Poe, and he wrote to Mrs. Clemm to tell her as much. He was as good as his word, and a stone was commissioned. Sadly, though, the stone was destroyed in transit from the carver, and Poe’s cousin couldn’t afford another one. So, Poe’s grave remained unmarked.
After the Civil War, the people of Baltimore started to claim Poe as their own native son. A movement to erect a monument for him started in 1865, and people, particularly students of the nearby University of Maryland, donated their spare pennies to the effort. In 1874, one final donation provided the necessary funds, and a grand marble tombstone was commissioned.
Then, however, it became necessary to exhume Poe’s body. The family plot he’d been buried in was behind the church, tucked away in the little churchyard. A casual passer-by wouldn’t see the monument, and that just wouldn’t do. A new location was chosen, just inside the gate by the main entrance to the churchyard.
The good people of Baltimore probably thought that was it. Poe was now buried in a manner befitting a gentleman poet, with a proper headstone and everything. What more was there to do?
Well, people loved the story of Poe’s uneasy rest, and in 1913 a new stone was commissioned. This one marked the original site of Poe’s burial, next to his grandfather’s headstone.
Then, starting in the 1940s, the Toaster starting coming to visit. The Toaster is not, in this case, a kitchen appliance, but rather a person who makes a toast to Poe. Every year on January 19th, Poe’s birthday, the mysterious Toaster would come by and leave three roses and a bottle of cognac for the poet.
No one ever found out who the Poe Toaster was, but the Baltimore Sun reported in 2012 that the lovely remembrance would be made — nevermore.
Visiting the Edgar Allan Poe Grave:
Getting there: The address is 509 West Fayette Street at North Greene Street, Baltimore, Maryland. There’s plenty of public parking around. The grave is just inside the gate to the churchyard – you’ll be able to see it from the street.
Admission: There is no admission fee to visit the Edgar Allan Poe grave, and you’re welcome to come and go from the graveyard as you please. To visit the inside of Westminster Hall, though, you’ll have to arrange a tour.
Opening hours: The graveyard is open daily during daylight hours.
Website: The grave itself does not have a tomb, but you can visit the University of Maryland’s Westminster Hall webpage here.
Good to know:
- There are tours available to see the inside of Westminster Hall! Visit their website to learn more.
- The immediate area around Westminster Hall is perfectly safe – that’s the University of Maryland campus. However, if you’re coming from the east (Downtown/Inner Harbor areas), the neighborhood is a bit on the rough side. Just be aware of your surroundings, and you’ll be fine!
- Make a roadtrip of it! Be sure to check out the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia and the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage in the Bronx, New York while you’re out East! And while you’re in Baltimore, stop into The Horse You Came In On Saloon to wet your whistle and meet Edgar the Ghost.