Text: Christopher Scharpf, “Where Lies the Noble Spirit?,” Masques, Mysteries and Mastodons: A Poe Miscellany (2006), pp. 194-222 (This material is protected by copyright)


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[page 194, unnumbered:]

WHERE LIES A NOBLE SPIRIT? — AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE CURIOUS MYSTERY OF EDGAR ALLAN POE’S GRAVE IN BALTIMORE

Christopher Scharpf

A popular after-dinner topic among Baltimoreans has long been the controversy over the location of Edgar Allan Poe’s remains in the Westminster Presbyterian Cemetery. Is Poe really buried, as he should be, under the large marble and granite tombstone — the Poe Monument — that stands near the cemetery’s main gate? Or, as local legend has it, did the gravediggers who moved Poe’s remains from the Poe family lot to that monument in 1875 exhume and re-bury a young War of 1812 soldier named Philip Mosher, Jr. instead?

For years, most local Poe enthusiasts dismissed the Poe-Mosher legend as wild rumor, noting that macabre stories about Westminster Presbyterian Cemetery in general and Poe’s grave in particular are legion.(1) But in 1978 the legend was elevated from tales of local lore into a journal of local history when the Maryland Historical Magazine published “A Tale of Ratiocination: The Death and Burial of Edgar Allan Poe” by Charles Scarlett, Jr.(2) Citing the testimony of several Baltimoreans who knew of a cover-up involving the supposed removal of Poe’s remains, Scarlett presents a plausible and seemingly incontrovertible explanation of how an unknown War of 1812 militiaman came to occupy the final resting place of one of the world’s most famous writers.

How did the Poe-Mosher legend begin, and what credence, if any, can be given to its claims and this recent analysis of them? To answer these questions we must first examine information about Poe’s original burial in 1849; thence we can learn what the gravediggers should have found and where they should have found it when they exhumed Poe twenty-six years later. Then we will examine the details of Scarlett’s findings. Along the way we will encounter a great deal of fascinating, if not particularly relevant, minutiae about the graves and burials of Edgar Allan Poe.

I

Most of Scarlett’s evidence supporting the Poe-Mosher legend is based on observations that in 1875 remains were exhumed from a [page 195:] grave outside the Poe family lot, and that the wrong type of coffin was found; therefore, any discussion of Poe’s original grave and how it relates to the subsequent mystery must answer two questions: 1) Of what kind of wood was Poe’s coffin made? 2) Precisely where in the Poe family lot was he buried? But one cannot enter into this discussion without uncovering a welter of information, much of it conflicting, concerning Poe’s funeral and original grave. Since no one has heretofore attempted to collect and review all this material, the following assessment may be worthwhile.

In August 1875, a few months before the exhumation, a visitor to Poe’s grave wrote: “It is a quiet old graveyard, with many quaint old monuments, and full of shrubs and trees — mimosas, fig trees, spiraea, and especially peaches. A large peach tree, laden with fruit, partly overhangs the poet’s grave, which is a grassy mound.”(3) Despite this bucolic tranquility, Poe’s “grassy mound” had already become the subject of relocation, controversy and rumor, as well as the victim of a sad twist of fate.

In 1854, Sarah Anna Lewis, who cared for Poe and Maria Clemm in the difficult period after Virginia’s death, started a campaign to move Poe’s remains to Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Her plans eventually came to naught, although she did manage to gain Neilson Poe’s consent, if Mrs. Clemm desired it (Building pp. 197-198).

The sad twist of fate came six years later when a noble attempt to mark the grassy mound ended in fragments. In February 1860 Neilson Poe ordered a white Italian marble headstone and footstone from a Baltimore stonecutter named Hugh Sisson (who later constructed the Poe Monument). One side read: “Hic / Tandem Filicis / Conduntur Reliquae / EDGAR ALLAN POE / Obiit Oct. vii. / 1849.” The other side: “Jam parce sepulto.” But the stones were destroyed when a freight train from the Northern Central Railroad jumped the tracks and crashed through the stonecutter’s shop.(4) Later that same year, Maria Clemm wrote Neilson Poe because she feared that Poe’s grave was “in the basement of the [Westminster Presbyterian] church, covered with rubbish and coal.”(5)

Dr. J. E. Snodgrass added to this curious history when he published his own reminiscence of Poe’s death and burial in 1867. Actually a temperance lecture in disguise, Snodgrass’ account put the lie to one story — that Poe was “buried in the Potter’s Field of his native city” — but started another: [page 196:]

A grave had been dug among the crumbling mementos of mortality. Into this the plainly-coffined body was speedily lowered, and then the earth was shoveled directly upon the coffin-lid. This was so unusual even in the burials of the poor, that I could not help noticing the absence of not only the customary box, as an inclosure for the coffin itself, but of even the commonest boards to prevent the direct contact of the decomposing wet earth with it.(6)

Several years later William P. Meaney, a reporter, attempted to clarify the record. In 1879 he wrote of a visit to the cemetery the morning after Poe’s body was exhumed. He spoke with Robert Davidson, “the old man of all work about the church,” and asked him if anything remained of Poe’s original grave. Davidson “kicked a small piece of mahogany timber with his right foot and said: ‘Yes, there’s a piece of the coffin in which the skeleton was encased. You can have it if you wish.’ The memento was eagerly picked up and has long since been converted into a pen-holder, as a relic from the poet’s grave.”(7) What happened next is unclear. Meaney apparently mistook the coffin fragment to be a liner fragment and concluded “that if Dr. Snodgrass was correct in what he wrote, the monument of Poe was over the wrong remains!” Meaney continued his investigation:

A visit only two years ago [circa 1877] to “Old Mortality [Davidson’s nickname],” Neilson Poe, Esq[.], and Mr. [George W.] Spence, the undertaker, settled the matter. The first named vowed that the coffin was protected by boards (exhibiting a portion of them as proof), and Mssrs. Poe and Spence were not only positive in support of the same, but stated unhesitatingly that Dr. Snodgrass was not at the funeral at all. “Why,” added Mr. Spence, whom I found seated outside Mssrs. Jenkins & Son’s Undertaking Store on Light Street, “I saw the boards made and the coffin too, in this very shop. The casket was of the best mahogany, and I remember as distinctly as if it was yesterday, lowering it into what we call a ‘shoulder’ grave, and fixing the boards above it to protect it from contact with the earth.”

The issue of the liner must have been a sore spot for Spence. In 1893 he again proclaimed that a liner was used; the source of this rumor, he said, originated with someone (probably Snodgrass) who “started the story in the papers that Mr. Poe had been buried like a dog. . .” (Evans p. 10). [page 197:]

Meaney’s article is a significant item in the literature concerning Poe’s grave, containing what is probably the earliest recorded suggestion that Poe may not be under the Poe Monument. A few clarifications, however, are in order. George W. Spence’s position at the time of Poe’s funeral was, to be completely accurate, that of caretaker, not undertaker; in 1845 he succeeded his father as sexton of the Westminster Cemetery, and got into the undertaking business in 1860.(8) His claim that Poe’s coffin was made at the Jenkins & Son’s shop on Light Street is probably a fabrication. According to Mabbott (M 1:569 n. 10), the undertaker was a cabinet-maker named Charles E. Suter, who, it appears, was working out of his own shop on Baltimore Street in October 1849.(9)

Meaney’s claim that Spence and Neilson Poe both denied that Snodgrass attended the funeral raises an important question: Who did witness the ceremony on Monday 8 October 1849? The earliest list comes from the 11 October 1849 letter in which Neilson Poe wrote Maria Clemm that only four people besides himself attended the graveside service: the Reverend William T. D. Clemm, the officiating clergyman and a cousin of Poe’s wife; Z. Collins Lee, a classmate of Poe’s from the University of Virginia; Henry Herring, Poe’s uncle by marriage; and, interestingly enough, Dr. Snodgrass.(10 ) In 1875 Herring said that the only witnesses were Neilson Poe, Suter and himself.(11) And in an 1898 article Spence listed seven people: Neilson Poe, Clemm, Lee, Herring, Herring’s daughter Elizabeth and her husband Edward Morton Smith, “and some say the editor of the paper in which Poe’s prize story was printed, but I don’t remember him.”(12) This would have been Snodgrass, who joined the Baltimore Saturday Visiter seven years after “MS. Found in a Bottle” was published. Other persons who may have been present include a gravedigger named Andrew Jackson Davis and Poe’s Richmond schoolmaster Joseph H. Clarke (this last is highly doubtful).(13) Standing in the distance, perhaps looking over a wall or peering through a gate, was a young man named J. Alden Weston.(14)

Without question, the most reliable testimony is Neilson’s; written just three days after the funeral, it appears irrefutable. How, then, do we account for Meaney’s 1879 claim about Neilson and Snodgrass? Was it an innocent slip of memory on Neilson’s part? Was Neilson lying in order to cover up the embarrassing fact that a liner was not used — or, if a liner was used, to squash a nasty rumor? Or should we [page 198:] just question Meaney’s accuracy and dismiss his claim entirely,especially since he never directly quotes Neilson on the subject? Truth is, we will never know whether a liner was used; the controversy will always remain a curious mystery in the history of Poe’s grave.

Other curiosities abound, and they can all be attributed to Dr. John J. Moran’s infamous Defense of Edgar Allan Poe, a book which has victimized Poe biographers for over a century. For example, Moran claimed that Poe lay in state in the rotunda of the Washington College (now Church) Hospital, “where hundreds of acquaintances and friends came to see him” and “at least fifty ladies received a lock of his hair.”(15) But a letter by Ella L. Warden accompanying the contribution of Poeana to the Enoch Pratt Free Library states that the public viewing was held elsewhere: “Lock of hair of Edgar Allen [sic] Poe cut by my mother from his head when his body was lying in the coffin in my Grandfather [Henry] Herring’s house, from which Poe was buried, and not from the hospital. . ., as is commonly believed.”(16)

Moran also wrote a wholly fictitious account of the funeral cortege. “It is my privilege to furnish this link and to make this part of the poet’s history complete,” he said, describing a procession of at least twenty-eight individuals, mostly fellow physicians and medical students.(17) This markedly contradicts all other reminiscences of the event. Snodgrass, for example, called the procession a “little cortege.”(18) J. Alden Weston used the exact words — “little cortege” — adding that “five or six gentlemen, including the officiating minister, descended from the carriages and followed the coffin to the grave.”(19) And George W. Spence said, “You would have been surprised to see that funeral procession as it came up to the burial ground. Nobody would have thought that it was anybody famous-like. There was only just the hearse with one hack coming after it. There wasn’t any flowers, not one” (Evans p. 10).

The simplicity of the cortege continued into the graveside ceremony. William Clemm said that the funeral was “comparatively quiet and utterly without ostentation.”(20) Spence intimated that the weather and the turnout made an already brief service briefer; Clemm, he recalled, “had prepared an address, but the day was so bad and there were so few people present that he didn’t deliver it, but only said the usual words according to the Methodist way.”(21) But what was tastefully simple for Spence and Clemm was, for Weston, a most shameful display. “The burial ceremony,” he remarked, “which did not [page 199:] occupy more than three minutes, was so cold-blooded and unchristianlike as to provoke on my part a sense of anger difficult to suppress” (Clark pp. 1-2). Moran, in keeping with the tenor of his book, said the service was “solemn and impressive,” although he wasn’t even present (Moran p. 80).

The final piece of testimony we’ll examine from Moran’s book brings us back to one of the two questions with which I began this discussion — in what kind of coffin was Poe buried? According to Moran, the coffin “was a plain one, simple in structure, void of cushion for his head, and without lining, plated handles, or plate for his name. . . .lt represented walnut, but it was not; it was simply a poplar coffin stained to imitate walnut.”(22) In fact, Moran took all the credit for arranging Poe’s funeral, saying that he paid for the coffin with money out of his own purse. This, of course, is fiction; except for asking William Clemm to perform the service, Moran had nothing to do with Poe’s funeral.(23) That responsibility fell upon two of Poe’s relatives in Baltimore. In his 11 October 1949 letter to Maria Clemm, Neilson Poe said that “Mr. Herring and myself took the necessary steps for his [Poe’s] funeral” (Quinn-Hart p. 30). Herring later elaborated, “I furnished a neat mahogany coffin, and Mr. Ne[i]lson Poe the hack and hearse.”(24) Being a lumber merchant, Herring no doubt procured the mahogany from his own lumber yard, then had it sent to Charles Suter’s cabinet-making shop just a block or two away. Since part of the Poe-Mosher legend rests on the observation that a mahogany coffin was exhumed in 1875, it’s important to establish that Poe was indeed buried in a mahogany coffin in 1849.(25)

Where exactly in the Poe family lot was this mahogany coffin interred? Strangely enough, of all the accounts of Poe’s funeral both factual and fictional, not one indicates the exact location of Poe’s grave. Several witnesses mention that he was interred near David Poe, Sr., his grandfather. But where is near? Is near next to his grandfather? Or is near several feet away? Since another part of the Poe-Mosher legend is based on the supposition that Poe’s alleged remains were exhumed from a grave outside the Poe family lot, we need to be precise.

Unfortunately, burial records at the Westminster Cemetery are incomplete, so a search of their archives reveals no specific information about the location of Poe’s grave. The best evidence we have is a small diagram Charles Scarlett, Jr. found in the William M. Marine [page 200:] Collection at the Maryland Historical Society which purports to be ahand-drawn copy or tracing from an official Westminster Cemetery plot book. It shows the layout of graves in lot 27, the Poe family lot, sometime after Poe’s interment in 1849 but before Maria Clemm’s in 1871.(26)

Five graves are shown; each is represented by a hexagonal coffin shape with the top or head of the coffin pointing west. On the left or south end of the lot is a coffin labeled “Adult Male.” Below it is a small crudely rendered three-dimensional view of a box, presumably a footstone, with the initials “W.H.P.” written on it, obviously referring to Poe’s brother William Henry, who died in 1831. Next to that is a blank coffin showing, presumably, an empty grave. This would be the location of Maria Clemm’s interment in 1871. Next are two coffins labeled “Mrs. D Poe” and “Gen David Poe,” Poe’s paternal grandparents, who died respectively in 1835 and 1816. At the head of both of their graves is a thin rectangle with the word “base” pointing to each. According to Scarlett, this term indicates that tombstones were once erected over their graves. At the far right or north end of the lot is a coffin labeled “Edgar A. Poe.” Sketched in the middle of the coffin is another three-dimensional view of a box, showing that Poe’s grave was marked by a small stone with the number “8” written or inscribed on its face. If the diagram extended a little farther to the right and revealed a portion of lot 28, it would show that Poe’s grave was flanked on the north by the grave of the Reverend Patrick Allison (1740-1807), the founder and first pastor of the Church of the Presbyterians of Baltimore. If it extended a little more to the left it would reveal lot 26, the Mosher family lot, and the alleged burial place of Philip Mosher, Jr.(27)

The provenance of this diagram is unknown. How it made its way into the William M. Marine Collection can be explained by the fact that Marine (1843-1904), a well-known Baltimore lawyer and collector of customs who dabbled in local history, was the person most responsible for engendering the Poe-Mosher legend at the turn of the century. But even without proper authentication, there’s no reason to doubt the diagram’s accuracy, especially since an additional piece of evidence exists which corroborates its placement of Poe in the family lot — a signed but undated (circa 1904) letter to Marine from a Baltimore realtor named James Tucker:

I was present in the churchyard when my grandfather James A.O. Tucker was buried in the year 1849. . . .The Militia gave the old fellow [page 201:] a grand farewell and upon leaving the yard the fresh grave of E.A. Poe was pointed out by some friends. I will never forget their remarks that it was fitting for Mr. Poe to be buried next to the pastor and perhaps the good pastor could freshen his soul after death for in life he shunned all things Holy [emphasis added].(28)

Twenty-six years later, when the gravediggers set about the task of relocating Poe’s remains, they should have found a mahogany coffin — albeit a decayed one — in a grave nestled between the graves of Patrick Allison and David Poe, Sr. In fact they did — but not according to those who subscribe to the Poe-Mosher legend.

II

Whenever the Poe-Mosher legend comes up in Baltimore conversation, or whenever a local newspaper or magazine publishes one of its obligatory “Poe and Baltimore” pieces, “A Tale of Ratiocination” is usually cited. Indeed, to the casual reader, this article seems to present compelling evidence that a bizarre series of blunders led to the exhumation of Philip Mosher. But a more critical reading leads to a different assessment. The article suffers from a lack of evidential scholarship; second- and third-hand accounts are employed, many historical gaffes and oversights occur, and adequate documentation for much of its evidence is not provided.(29) Even more significant is the evidence the article doesnt present. As the following point-by-point analysis will show, there’s a considerable amount of information about Poe’s grave that was ignored or overlooked — information which diminishes the article’s credibility, and, therefore, the entire Poe-Mosher legend itself.

“A Tale of Ratiocination” begins its section on Poe’s burial (the first section being an unreliable and highly derivative account of Poe’s death) with a 900-word statement called “Poe and the Mystery Plot” by John C. Legg, Sr., a commission merchant and one-time Commissioner of Police for Baltimore City. It is by far the most important evidence presented, but there is no documentation provided; the source and date of the statement are unknown, and how Legg became involved in the Poe-Mosher affair is never explained.(30) Still, it is obvious that Legg made a statement, and that he was speaking with some authority. Butupon close scrutiny, it’s equally obvious that Legg’s statement is riddled by error. [page 202:]

After a few paragraphs comparing the military achievements of David Poe, Sr. to the literary achievements of Edgar Allan — “It is unfair that General [sic] Poe should be overshadowed by his grandson. . .[whose] deeds in literature could never alter the veil of wild imagination which kept his very soul locked in a cask of amontillado” (Scarlett p. 370) — Legg begins relating facts concerning Poe’s grave as told to him by George W. Spence (although he never mentions Spence by name).(31) According to Spence, Legg said, Poe was buried to the right of David Poe in a lead-lined oak coffin bearing a brass name plate. At the time of the burial David Poe’s gravestone faced east, “toward the light of the resurrection.” But by the summer of 1864 all gravestones which could be moved — including David Poe’s — were turned to face west. This change meant that if someone were to stand facing David Poe’s gravestone, Edgar Allan would now be buried to the left of his grandfather instead of to the right. Legg concludes:

When the [Poe Monument] society moved the skeleton which it professed to be Edgar Allan Poe there was neither a trace of oak nor lead nor was there any brass plaque bearing an inscription. . . .To this day it is my belief that the Mystery Plot still located beside General Poe (to his left) contains, in fact, the last remains of Edgar Allan Poe which is as it should be. . . .

What a fitting monument to an unknown soul rises from the glory of the monument located in the front of the churchyard. A fitting memorial to perhaps Philip Mosher! (Scarlett pp. 370-371).

Basically, Legg thinks that the gravediggers got their right and left mixed up. When they went to exhume Poe in 1875, they remembered he was buried to the right of his grandfather, but they forgot or didn’t realize that David Poe’s gravestone had been turned around. So when they thought they were digging to the right of David Poe’s grave they were actually digging to the left. And that, according to Legg, is how they accidentally came upon the grave of Philip Mosher, Jr.(32)

It’s clear that Legg has no evidence whatsoever regarding the exhumation of Philip Mosher. He merely took information he claims to have learned from George W. Spence and used it to assemble a theory. The question then becomes, how accurate is this information? Let’s assume that Spence did in fact say everything Legg quoted.(33) Theclaim about the oak coffin with the lead lining and the brass name plate is easily the most questionable; not only does it contradict the [page 203:] truth as established by Henry Herring, but it also runs contrary to Spence’s own statement to George P. Meaney — “the casket was of the best mahogany” — and even Moran’s specious claim that the coffin was “without lining. . .or plate for his name.”

The claim about David Poe’s gravestone being turned around is also questionable. First, there’s no record of nor historical precedent for the mass rotation of gravestones Spence described.(34) Second, and more important, a stone was never erected over David Poe’s grave. In an anecdotal article about Baltimore cemeteries, William M. Marine wrote of David Poe’s grave: “There is no mark to tell his unknown resting-place. . . Never has there been a tombstone set up within its limits.”(35) Charles Scarlett, Jr., on the other hand, insists that both David and Elizabeth Poe had tombstones, and points to the thin rectangles and the word “base” on the plot book diagram as evidence. If this information is true, then what happened to the stones? Scarlett simply assumes that they “disappeared after being removed from their foundation and reversed during the Civil War.”(36) But if David Poe’s tombstone disappeared before the exhumation, why would the gravediggers have accidentally dug to the left of his grave when there was no stone to cause confusion? Scarlett responds: “The grave of David Poe could be identified in 1875 by ‘a wooden block a foot square being the only sign a grave existed there,’ according to a clipping in the file of the Baltimore News [sic] American dated October 28, 1912” (p. 373). But Scarlett does not quote the first part of the sentence, which reads, “A stone was never erected over the grave of David Poe, Sr., a wooden block a foot square. . .”(37)

It is easy to prove that Spence’s information in Legg’s statement is far from accurate. Poe, after all, was not buried in an oak coffin. Gravestones were not turned around. And even if they were, David Poe’s was not among them because there was no such gravestone. This situation does, however, leave us with a question: How can we trust Spence’s testimony in other articles when most of what he says here is not true? The answer is, we can’t. The best we can do is consider the reliability and intent of the person doing the quoting, and then attempt to reconcile the information with other known statements and facts. In this respect, Legg’s statement fails the test, and therefore fails to provide any convincing evidence that Philip Mosher, Jr. was exhumed in mistake of Poe in 1875.(38) [page 204:]

The next piece of testimony Scarlett presents is the aforementioned letter from James Tucker to William M. Marine, circa 1904. This document clearly identifies Marine as the historian who first brought the question of Poe’s grave to light, and, more important, it contains the earliest known explanation of why Poe was never reburied. Writing at least eight years prior to Legg’s theory, Tucker pointed to a cover-up involving the philanthropic committee which erected the monument, and, in particular, the committee’s chairman, Professor William J. Elliott, Jr:

I personally know that you are right in your historical findings when you state that Poe was never reburied by the committee in 1875. . .Mr. Spence the caretaker first told the committee that some Frenchmen had secretly taken Poe’s body to Paris after a midnight corpse theft in the year 1867, but you have probably heard that the good Professor William Elliott sat down on Mr. Spence after that. I personally feel that all that committee wanted was a body of a male and I believe this was your thinking when you wrote your article. I am sure you are right and I would not give a damn about what the committee thought if I could prove my point. I will always wonder just who is buried under that monument, perhaps a Raven.(39)

This explanation — that Poe was never exhumed in 1875 because he had been illegally exhumed eight years before — is, like Legg’s, based entirely on hearsay attributed to George W. Spence.(40) Once again, let’s assume that Spence did in fact say what someone claimed he had said — in this case, that he told Elliott that Poe’s grave had been robbed. As we have demonstrated, rumors about Poe’s grave have existed almost since the day he was buried. So it’s possible that Elliott “sat down” on Spence, not to cover up a shocking and horrible truth, but to prevent an unpleasant rumor from spoiling the committee’s dedication plans. That Tucker’s explanation is completely different from Legg’s merely points to the futility of giving credence to myth. Without proof — and Tucker even admitted he had no proof — there’s no compelling reason for us to suspect that Poe was not exhumed in 1875.

The final piece of testimony Scarlett cites also provides no compelling proof. It’s a transcript of an interview with William M. Marine’s daughter, Harriet “Hattie” Marine (1876-1963), conducted on29 October 1962, by a group of local history buffs and Westminster Church parishioners who called themselves the Society for the [page 205:] Preservation of Old Western Burying Ground (Westminster Cemetery’s original name).(41) Basically a series of reminiscences of what her father had told her about Poe’s grave, Hattie’s testimony comes fifty-eight years after his death; whether her memory can be trusted after so long a time is an important question to consider. Whatever the case, she said that her father and Neilson Poe informed the monument committee that Poe had not been reburied, and that they had three findings to substantiate their claim: 1) Poe was 5′ 8 1/2″ tall, but the skeleton that was exhumed was 5’ 10” and could not possibly have been Poe’s. 2) Shoe buckles from a “much earlier period” (i.e., pre-1849) and a fragment of leather collar from a “much earlier burial” (Scarlett, p. 373) were found. 3) The skeleton was exhumed twelve feet south of Poe’s grave, which would have been in the Mosher lot. In addition,

Some persons at the cemetery claimed after examining the skull that this truly was Poe;. . .father said that if you have seen one skull you have seen them all unless the person was an Indian or Nigger. Judge [Neilson] Poe said to. . .father that he had purchased the coffin and I remember him [father] saying that Poe’s coffin would withstand the ages; it was not made of mahogany. . . .Father also said they buried Mrs. David Poe out front [under the monument] thinking it was Edgar Allan Poe’s mother-in-law but I did not hear much about this at the time as Poe was the main topic of dispute.(42)

Before we enter into the specifics of Harriet’s testimony, let’s answer an immediate question her statement raises: Did Neilson Poe believe the wrong body was exhumed? If he did, then his silence on the subject would indicate that he was conscious of not letting it, for obvious reasons, become common knowledge. The answer, if we can rely on Harriet’s memory, has to be no. That Neilson and Marine both confronted the monument committee (there’s no reason to doubt Marine’s involvement) is strictly hearsay, and not even good hearsay at that. True, Neilson and Marine probably knew each other (the former was a Judge in Orphan’s Court, the latter an attorney), and Marine may have told Neilson of his findings. But that doesn’t mean Neilson believed them. We will return to this question and answer it more definitively later. For the sake of argument, let’s accept Harriet’s claimthat Neilson and Marine approached the committee with their evidence.(43) It’s possible that the committee’s response would have [page 206:] been similar to this one: When you examine their evidence closely, you see that it is evidence of nothing at all.

For example, the length of the skeleton. Poe, it is true, was approximately 5’ 8 1 / 2” tall (5’ 8”, according to most biographies).(44) But we must take into consideration that a skeleton does not remain intact after it has been in the ground for twenty-six years; the muscles and connective tissues disintegrate (and Poe died in the days before embalming). The 1 1 / 2” discrepancy, therefore, is evidence of nothing.

Equally inconclusive is Harriet’s presumption that since clothing fragments from an earlier period were found in the coffin, the body must therefore have been from an earlier burial — probably Philip Mosher’s from 1814. When Poe was taken to the hospital in his last illness he was dressed in rags, his clothing having probably been stolen. When Neilson Poe, Henry Herring, and the undertaker prepared Poe for burial, it’s likely that he was dressed in more appropriate attire, perhaps some hand-me-downs, some old clothes from an “earlier period.” We do not know that that sort of preparation occurred; I only suggest it to show that a single shoe buckle and a fragment of leather constitute no positive I.D.

Harriet’s third point is not so easily dismissed; in fact, it’s impossible to dismiss it at all. Here she states that a body was exhumed not from where Poe was buried — between his grandfather and Patrick Allison — but from the Mosher family lot twelve feet away. What she doesn’t explain is why, and why twelve feet away. Col. Legg presented the theory about the tombstones being turned around and right and left getting mixed up, but that explanation fails to account for why the gravediggers decided to dig twelve feet away, as opposed to ten feet, or five, or any other distance. Here Charles Scarlett, Jr. picks up the trail.

Following Legg’s example, Scarlett has the gravediggers, facing east, digging on what they erroneously thought was the right of David Poe’s tombstone (that which was never there). Here they found the body of a woman, Elizabeth Poe. They tried again:

. . .and presumably struck Mrs. Clemm who had been buried in 1876 [sic, 1871] only four years earlier. [William] Henry’s foot stone, if there, was respected for they obviously skipped over him and settled for the next body, which was on the Mosher lot. Because of the excellent condition of the teeth, this would certainly seem to havebeen the remains of Philip Mosher, Jr., of the Maryland Militia, age 19.(45) [page 207:]

And that, very simply, is why Scarlett believes the final resting place of Edgar Allan Poe is not the final resting place of Edgar Allan Poe.

I’ve already shown that most of the evidence leading up to this point is unreliable, circumstantial, or false. It’s not surprising, then, that Scarlett’s final analysis is based on weak supposition; he doubts the existence of the William Henry footstone (“if there”), and he concludes his argument with an awkward “would certainly seem to have been” construction.

Even more damaging to Scarlett’s argument is that both he and his predecessors overlooked a simple, important fact: The sexton who buried Poe in 1849, George W. Spence, also superintended the exhumation in 1875. Thus, it’s hard to imagine the gravediggers digging up the entire family plot in search of Poe when their boss was the very man who buried him. Nor isit easy to imagine that Spence simply forgot where he dug the grave, especially since he had marked the grave himself:

It was twenty-six years before there was any monument to mark the place except for the one I put there myself. . . .

It came about like this: Every now and then somebody would come into the yard and want to know which was the grave of Edgar Allan Poe. Well, I always pointed it out when I was here, but sometimes when I was away I would have to leave this to the man who worked with me as sort of an assistant. So, in order that there would be no mistake about it, I picked up a little piece of sandstone with the number “80” [sic?] on it that had been broken off one of the stones marking the numbers and divisions of lots. I put this at the head of Mr. Poe’s grave.

***

When the old grave was closed up the little bit of stone I had put there fell into the hands of my assistant. The last I heard of it was that he had sold it for 50 cents or $1 to some gentleman who was fond of relics (Evans, 10).

Scarlett refers to this account while describing the plot book diagram and the little number “8” stone which sat over Poe’s unmarked grave. And William M. Marine knew about this stone, too:

A slender granite stone, octagonal shaped, standing opposite Edgar Allan Poe’s supposed grave, a few feet out of the ground, apparently a lot marker, was the only memorial. It was subsequently possessed [page 209:] by a Westerner, who presented it to a museum in his section, as the sentinel stone which for twenty-six years stood at Poe’s grave.(46)

Since Poe’s grave was marked by this piece of sandstone at the time of the exhumation, the gravediggers should have exhumed the correct body. And since Scarlett doesn’t present any convincing, credible evidence to the contrary, I conclude that they did.

III

So if everything Col. Legg, Harriet Marine, and Scarlett said is wrong; if Poe’s grave was marked by a stone after all; if the man who originally buried Poe was the same man who supervised the exhumation; then how did the Poe-Mosher legend begin? How did several seemingly intelligent people come to the far-fetched and certainly morbid conclusion that the gravediggers got the wrong body? This is the real mystery of Edgar Allan Poe’s grave in Baltimore. And I believe it began with Dr. John J. Moran.

The evidence pointing a finger at Dr. Moran comes from William M. Marine:

After the supposed removal of Poe’s remains, Doctor Moran. . .told me Poe had not been removed; that he procured a poplar coffin, stained to resemble walnut, in which his remains were buried. Poe was said to have been exhumed in a mahogany coffin, pieces of which were exposed for sale by the sexton (Joyce 38-39).

The only reason I can imagine for Moran’s making such a statement is to explain why one type of coffin was found when his Defense said he supplied another. Either he wasn’t telling the truth, or a very serious error had been made. In order to protect the integrity of his book, I believe, Moran suggested the latter. Granted, this is only a theory. It’s based on the same kind of undocumented hearsay I have taken pains to discredit. What’s more, it makes the broad assumption that this conversation between Moran and Marine took place after the publication of Moran’s book. But someone started this legend, someone with authority. And with no evidence to suggest any other explanation, I put forth that this someone was Dr. John J. Moran.

My theory places the origin of the Poe-Mosher legend between 1885 and 1888, the year Moran died. Given the atmosphere of rumor [page 209:] connected with Poe’s grave, the fact that one reporter (Meaney) had already raised the possibility that Poe was not exhumed, and now Moran’s bold assertion that he wasn’t, William M. Marine and his followers certainly had enough reason to begin and maintain their earnest though misguided crusade. I say misguided because there are three pieces to this puzzle that everyone has inexplicably managed to overlook — and thus has allowed the Poe-Mosher legend to flourish.

They overlooked the fact that the Poe Monument, which now stands at the northwest corner of the cemetery in front of Westminster Church (now Westminster Hall), was originally erected in the back of the cemetery, behind the church, straddling the Poe and Mosher family lots. They overlooked the fact that Poe was exhumed from his original grave of 1849 and reburied in or very near the supposed grave of Philip Mosher. And they overlooked the fact that when the monument was moved to its present location, Poe was exhumed again, this time from what would have appeared to have been the grave of Philip Mosher.(47) Here’s what happened:

According to the Baltimore Sun, the monument committee initially wanted to erect the monument in a more visible location in the cemetery, and to move Poe’s remains accordingly:

It was suggested, before the monument was placed in position, that the northwest corner of the old cemetery would be a more suitable location, and a vacant lot, it was ascertained, in that part of the graveyard could be obtained at a reasonable price. Professor Elliott, chairman of the committee, submitted the suggestion to a relative of Mr. Poe [Neilson Poe?], while he did not positively object to the removal, expressed the wish that the remains might not be disturbed. It was then decided that the monument should be erected over the poet’s remains where they were originally buried, which was done.(48)

This decision, however, proved to be faulty. The monument was so large that it interfered with Patrick Allison’s slab tombstone to the north and an above-ground burial vault directly behind or to the east of Poe’s grave. As reported in the Sun, “It was found necessary, in order to get the space required for the foundation of the monument, to movethe remains of Poe to the grave of Mrs. Clemm, his relative, buried nearby.”(49) In this uncluttered part of the graveyard — approximately twelve feet away from Poe’s original grave — the monument could be viewed without obstruction from all four sides. [page 210:]

The first exhumation took place 30 September 1875, and it excited the interest of three Baltimore newspapers. The Baltimore Sun reported it thus:

The remains were found about five feet below the ground. The coffin at first appeared to be sound, but when raised the sides were found to be decayed and fell to pieces. Nothing remained inside the coffin but the skeleton, all the flesh and grave clothes having long since returned to dust. Some hair yet attached to the skull, and the teeth, which appeared to be white and perfect, were shaken out of the jaws and lay at the bottom of the coffin. The old coffin and its contents were placed entire, as exhumed, in a wooden case, and lowered into the new grave and closed up. The stones for the foundation of the monument were put in place, and everything is now prepared for the super-structure (p. 4).

According to George Spence, this wooden case was about two and a half feet long (Evans 10; many of the same details are found in the Baltimore American):

The laborers employed to perform the task, upon digging to a depth of about five feet, discovered the coffin in a state of good preservation. The lid was removed, and the remains curiously examined by the few present. There, before their gaze, was extended the skeleton, almost in perfect condition, and lying with the long bony hands reposing one upon the other, as they had been arranged in death. The skull bore marks of greater decay, the teeth from the upper jaw having becomed dislodged, but those from the lower were all in place, and some little hair was still clinging near the forehead. Beyond what has been described nothing was to be seen. . . The coffin was inclosed in another, and reinterred.(50)

The account in the Baltimore Evening News adds the name of W.L.Tuder, a “professional coffin lifter” who had “raised over two thousand from their resting places”:

He set about his task early in the afternoon, and the sun was just setting behind the western horizon when his spade sounded on the coffin lid of the poet. It lay about five feet from the surface, and at first sight appeared as sound as when first put into the earth. On carefully raising it to the brink of the grave Mr. Tuder discovered that it was partially broken in at the sides, and that the lid near the head [page 211:] was so much decayed that it fell to pieces on the ground. On looking through the aperture thus created Messrs. Spence, Tuder, their assistants, and the News man beheld the skeleton of Poe. The flesh and funeral robes of course had crumbled into dust, and there was nothing left but the bare bones and a few clumps of hair attached to the skull, to tell that a body had once been there. The skeleton was in perfect condition, the arms lying as they were arranged in death, and the back and leg bones were in a natural position. The ribs had fallen out, but lay in order on either side of the coffin, and the skull had not moved in the least from its proper place. The teeth of the upper jaw must have been shaken out in the lifting of the coffin, for they lay scattered about the skull, but those of the lower jaw, which had fallen from the rest of the “face,” were perfect, not one being missing from either side. The teeth looked pearly white, and were in excellent preservation. Without loss of time Mr. Spence had the coffin placed within a wooden case and lowered to the grave prepared for it, and before the darkness set in the clay was dashed for the second time on the hollow sounding casket, and the remains of the poet were covered up, never, it is to [sic] hoped, to be disturbed again.(51)

The Poe Monument was placed over this new grave the next day, 1 October 1875.(52)

As it happened, Poe’s remains would be disturbed one last time. For reasons that are not altogether clear — perhaps because people complained that the monument was hidden from view behind Westminster Church — the monument committee returned to their original plan.(53) On 5 November 1875, Poe was exhumed again, this time with Maria Clemm, and the remains of both were reburied in front of the church at the northwest corner of the cemetery. The monument was re-erected the next day.(54)

To return to an earlier question: Did Neilson Poe believe the wrong body was exhumed? The answer, once again, has to be no, for it’s hard to imagine him being completely unaware that his cousin’s remains were moved from one grave to another. The story did appear in the papers, after all. And he did serve, however begrudgingly, as Poe’s unofficial executor.(55) If we can accept this answer, then we must question whether Neilson and Marine actually discussed the matter, asHarriet claimed. If so, then Neilson would have had the perfect opportunity to set Marine straight.

The Poe-Mosher legend began to take shape after the second exhumation. If Marine and Legg are any example, then apparently [page 212:] some people did not realize that Poe’s body had already been moved, therefore creating the impression that another body — Philip Mosher’s — wound up under the monument. Between 1912 and 1921 several events took place which further cemented this belief.

In October 1912, a Baltimore philanthropist named Orrin C. Painter had Poe’s original grave and the unmarked grave of David Poe, Sr. marked with suitable cenotaphs.(56) Through some unexplained error, however, the cenotaph marking Poe’s grave — with the inscription “Original burial place of Edgar Allan Poe” — was erected 20 feet east of the Poe family lot, up against the cemetery’s east wall, over the grave of a coachmaker named Septimus Tuston.(57) Eight years passed before anyone discovered the error. That person was May Garrettson Evans, who interviewed George W. Spence in 1893 and later served as President of the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore from 1935-1937. Recalling her interview with Spence, she remembered where he said he had buried Poe in 1849. She wrote an article about her findings and secured permission to correct the error.(58) In July 1921, almost a year later, she moved the Painter Memorial (as it is now called) from the east wall of the cemetery to its present location directly over the supposed grave of Philip Mosher.(59) Why Miss Evans placed the Painter Memorial over Poe’s second grave and not over his first is not known. But we can take a pretty good guess and say that she did so for the same reasons the Poe Monument was originally erected in the same location some forty-five years earlier; space was needed for a suitable foundation, and there was a desire to showcase the cenotaph by placing it in a much more open and aesthetically pleasing part of the yard. Whatever the reason, Evans’s decision to place the Painter Memorial where she did sparked some controversy, as evidenced by a tongue-in-cheek article written by a Baltimore columnist named Raymond S. Tompkins:

[U]p to a week ago everybody thought he [Poe] had been buried against the brick wall along the back of the church. Then an express wagon backed into the wall and ripped a hole in it close to the marker on this original grave. A woman stepped forward with charts and maps to prove that [page 213:] he hadn’t been buried there at all, but nearer themiddle of the churchyard, under a milkweed. She had an old photograph of the milkweed to prove it.

She also had maps to prove that once he had been dug up and reburied with his mother-in-law. She had further data to prove that this expedient proved unsuccessful, and that he was dug up again and buried for the third time in his original grave.

And still more data proved that he had again been dug up and for the fourth time buried at the corner of Fayette and Greene streets. . .

But there are people in Westminster congregation who believe that even now the original grave isn’t marked properly. . . .[I]f they mean that even this latest original grave is not the real original grave, then we can only take off our hats to the man who is on his way to being buried more times than a cat has funerals.(60 )

Tompkins’s claim that Poe was buried four times instead of three is interesting, but entirely without substance. I suspect he merely got his facts mixed up, which, given the state of confusion he was lampooning, would have been most understandable.

In any event, the relocation of the Painter Memorial was a pivotal moment in the long and complex history of hearsay, rumor, lies, conjecture, and flat-out ignorance which created and sustained the Poe-Mosher legend. For those who did not realize that the Poe Monument was originally erected in or near the Mosher family lot, and that Poe was exhumed and reburied twice, it certainly would have seemed that Dr. Moran was right when he allegedly told Marine how the gravediggers got the wrong body. Years later when the Painter Memorial, intending to mark the location of Poe’s original grave, was placed over the site of Poe’s second burial instead, it seemed like definitive proof that an unknown soldier named Philip Mosher was yanked from his resting place, and that Edgar Allan Poe still rested in his unmarked grave of 1849. That’show the curious mystery of Poe’s grave became a mystery.

The formal dedication of the Poe Monument was scheduled for 27 October 1875, but was pushed back to 17 November when the monument was moved.(61) A large crowd filled the cemetery, blocked the streets, and crowded about the windows and rooftops of every house in the neighborhood. Lectures were given. The Baltimore Philharmonic Society played music. Letters were read from Tennyson, Longfellow and other literati. After twenty-six years, Edgar Allan Poe had finally gotten the tombstone he so richly deserved.

With its dedication, the Poe Monument marked the beginning of Poe’s reputation as a literary giant, and helped establish Baltimore as an international center of Poe study and activity. Every year thousands [page 214:] of visitors from around the world seek out Westminster Cemetery to see Poe’s grave, and to pay their respects at what I firmly believe is the true and final resting place of Edgar Allan Poe.

 


NOTES

1.  See Mary Ellen Hayward and R. Kent Lancaster, Baltimore’s Westminster Cemetery & Westminster Presbyterian Church: A Guide to the Markers and Burials, 1775-1943 (Baltimore, 1984) p 11. One such rumor is the apocryphal tale that Poe’s body was stolen by graverobbers for the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s classes in gross anatomy

I wish to express my thanks and gratitude to the following individuals who provided invaluable materials, information and advice during the preparation of this paper: Dr. Ann Dixon, Thomas Edsall, Professor Benjamin Fisher, Jeff Jerome, Cliff Krainik, Professor R. Kent Lancaster, Mary Markey, the late Professor Alexander G. Rose III, Jeffrey Alan Savoye, and Professor Stephen J Vicchio.

2.  “A Tale of Ratiocination: The Death and Burial of Edgar Allan Poe,” Maryland Historical Magazine 73 (1978) 360-374.

3.  William Hand Browne, Letter to John H. Ingram, 17 August 1875, John Carl Miller, Building Poe Biography (Baton Rouge, 1977) p. 74.

4.  A sketch of the destroyed tablets, originally owned by a St. Louis newspaperman, Thomas Dimmock, and now in the W. H. Koester Collection, University of Texas at Austin, is reproduced in G. H. Pouder, “Poe of Baltimore,” Baltimore (September 1949) p. 17. A different sketch is in “Wizard of Poetry,” Baltimore American, 9 February 1896 p. 18.

5.  Maria Clemm to Neilson Poe, 19 August 1860 (Building pp. 47-48). This rumor arose because Westminster Church was constructed over a portion of the cemetery in 1852; many graves (but not Poe’s) were thus enclosed in the basement.

6.  “The Facts of Poe’s Death and Burial,” Beadle’s Monthly , 3 (1867) 285-286.

7.  “Edgar Allan Poe’s Grave,” The Celtic Monthly 2 (1879, 139-141 — quotations from p. 140. George W. Spence, the sexton, recalled, “I laid all the pieces of the old coffin in the new grave, too. That is, I should say nearly all, for several big splinters got broken off, and were kept as mementos by a reporter and a policeman, I think. The [page 215:] pieces I got hold of I turned into a number of little crosses, but one by one they have been begged away from me” — quoted in May Garrettson Evans “Poe’s Burial and Grave: The Story of the Simple Ceremony in Baltimore,” New York Times, 26 February 1893 p. 10. Miss Evans added “One of the splinters, by the way, was converted into several penholders, and one is being used in penning these lines.” A mahogany penholder of separate provenance is now in the collection of the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore.

8.  Information on Spence compiled from Evans, “Poe’s Burial and Grave”; William Reynolds, A Brief History of the First Presbyterian Church of Baltimore (Baltimore, 1913) p. 24; and the 1860 Baltimore Directory p. 362.

9.  An entry on p. 384 of the 1849-50 Baltimore Directory reads. “Suter Charles cabinet wareroom, 6 Baltimore, dw[elling] 25 Stiles.”

10.  Reprinted in Arthur Hobson Quinn and Richard H. Hart, eds., Edgar Allan Poe: Letters and Documents in the Enoch Pratt Free Library (New York, 1941) pp. 30-31.

11.  “Edgar Allen [sic] Poe.” Letter to the Editor. Baltimore American, 11 October 1875 p. 4. Herring’s snub of Snodgrass was noted by W.A. Chandos Fulton in an 1867 letter to the New York Weekly Review. Fulton also noted that Snodgrass referred to Herring as “Mr. H——“ in his subsequent article, prompting Fulton to surmise, “Clearly one of these gentlemen is cursed with a treacherous memory. Or is there some ill-will between Messrs. Herring and Snodgrasss — that causes the former to ignore the latter, and the latter to merely indicate the former by his initials?” [Reprinted Buford Jones, Building Poe Bibliography: American Criticism 1850-1870. Compiled for the Poe Studies Association and for Presentation at the Annual Meeting of the American Literature Association (Baltimore, 28 May 1993) pp. 41-42].

12.  Quoted in Lynn Roby Meekins, “Poe’s Grave in Baltimore: The Poet’s Burial Described by One Who Attended It,” The Critic 31 (1898) 41.

13.  Information on Davis comes from Scarlett. p. 372 (see n. 40. below). Clarke probably started the story himself that he attended Poe’s funeral by telling Eugene L. Didier, who then told Mary F. Phillips; see Phillips, Edgar Allan Poe, The Man (Chicago, 1926) 2: 1511.

14.  George P. Clark. “Two Unnoticed Recollections of Poe’s Funeral.” PoeN 3 (1970) 1-2. The first account, by Charles William Hubner, described a “plain coffin” being taken from the hospital to the hearse, but not the burial per se. [page 216:]

15.  A Defense of Edgar Allan Poe (1886 [[1885]]; rpt. New York, 1976) p. 78. Compare with Moran’s 1849 description: “The remains were visited by some of the first individuals of the city, many of them anxious to have a lock of his hair.” Letter to Maria Clemm, 15 November 1849, Quinn-Hart p 33.

For a discussion of Moran’s “victimizing,” see W. T. Bandy, “Dr. Moran and the Poe-Reynolds Myth” in Myths and Reality: The Mysterious Mr. Poe, ed. Benjamin Franklin Fisher IV (Baltimore, 1987) pp. 26-36.

W. T. Bandy, “Two Notes on Poe’s Death.” PoeS 14 (1981), 32, is incorrect in reporting that Washington College Hospital changed its name to Baltimore City Marine Hospital before Poe’s death. They were separate institutions and Moran apparently worked for both (Quinn-Hart, p. 31). [[Author’s correction: Actually, I am incorrect in saying that Bandy was incorrect; as documented in the opening pages of Michael A. Powell’s Too Moran: Respecting the Death of Edgar Allan Poe (Eugene, OR: Pacific Rim University Press, 2009), Baltimore City and Marine Hospital took over Washington College Hospital just a week or so before Poe was sent there. — CS, 1/19/2014.]]

16.  Ella L. Warden, Letter to May Garrettson Evans, 11 November 1936, published in Alexander G. Rose III, A Brief History of the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, 1923-1982 (Baltimore, 1982) p. 25.

17.  Moran, p. 81. Moran’s date for the funeral, 9 October, has confounded biographers too, some of whom cited Moran, others who declared it was the day before. One biographer, Frances Winwar, even took Moran’s description of the lying in state and used it to conclude that “so many came to see the dead poet that the funeral was put off till Tuesday October 9,” The Haunted Palace: A Life of Edgar Allan Poe (New York, 1959) p. 377. See W. T. Bandy, “The Date of Poe’s Funeral.” PoeS 4 (1971) 47-48, for a concise summary of this confusion.

18.  “Poe’s Death and Burial” p. 285.

19.  Clark, “Two Unnoticed Recollections” pp. 1-2. Weston seems to forget about these gentlemen in the next paragraph: “The only relative present was a cousin. . ., the remaining witnesses being from the hospital and the press.” This last detail may seem to corroborate Moran’s description of the cortege, but it must be remembered that Weston was a curious onlooker watching from a distance, and so had no real way of knowing who the witnesses were. Furthermore, Weston penned his statement in early 1909, nearly sixty years after the funeral, by which time he may have been exposed to Moran’s well-publicized account.

20.  William T. D. Clemm, Letter to Dr. Elmer R. Reynolds, 20 February 1889, John Henry Ingram’s Poe Collection, University of Virginia, Item no. 390.

21.  Meekins “Poe’s Grave in Baltimore” p. 41. The weather is perhaps the only detail of the funeral about which there is generalagreement, although it’s not clear if there was rain or not. Spence in 1893 called it “a dark and gloomy day, not raining, but just kind of raw [page 217:] and threatening” (Evans, p. 10); five years later he said that the weather was “cold and wet. . .” (Meekins p. 40). Moran commented: “The day was most unpleasant; a cold, cheerless one, accompanied by a co!d, drizzly rain nearly all day” (p. 81). Weston described it as “a cold dismal October day, so different from the ordinary genial weather of that clime. . .” (Clark p. 2).

22.  Moran p. 76. To substantiate his claim, Moran cited the text of an affidavit, no doubt bogus, from the hospital undertaker. Why Moran would go to such lengths to prove his point is perhaps evidence of its fabrication. It’s interesting to note that Moran’s claim about the coffin does not appear in his earlier “Official Memoranda of the Death of Edgar A. Poe,” Poems and Essays of Edgar Allan Poe (New York, 1876). pp. cvxii-cxxiv, upon which much of his 1850 [[1885?]] Defense is based.

Scarlett maintains that Snodgrass borrowed a temporary poplar coffin from the hospital undertaker for the lying in state, but offers no evidence to back it up (p. 367).

23.  “Let me premise, however, that at the personal request of Dr. Moran, I buried the lamented poet.” Clemm to Reynolds; see n. 20, above.

24.  “Edgar Allen [sic] Poe” p. 4.

25.  In addition to the penholder owned by the Poe Society (see n. 7 above), another fragment from Poe’s coffin exists in the Stephan Lowentheil Collection of Edgar Allan Poe Material, The 19th Century Shop, Baltimore, Item no. 243. The wood is mahogany.

26.  Scarlett found the diagram “lodged between the leaves of a 1902 publication relating to the Whig-Republican Party campaign of 1902” (Scarlett p. 373). It’s now located in the William M. Marine Collection, Maryland Historical Society, MS 1016 Box 1, folder 1. The original plot book, Scarlett says, was lost in the early 1870s, but offers no source for this information. [[A facsimile of the diagram may be see our page on Poe’s grave. — JAS, 01/19/2014.]]

27.  In 1829 Poe wrote that a cousin, Edward Mosher, stole $46 from his pocket; see Dwight Thomas and David K. Jackson, The Poe Log (Boston, 1987) pp. 93-94. Arthur Hobson Quinn in Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (1941; rpt. New York, 1969) p. 146, incorrectly identified this cousin as James Mosher Poe. Other than a coincidence of names, there is no evidence to suggest the Poe and Mosher lots were adjoined because of common ancestry.

28.  Scarlett p 371; original typescript in the Marine Collection, MS 1016, Box 1, folder 1. [page 218:]

29.  In a telephone conversation with me on 11 July 1989, Scarlett could not provide any information regarding the source of much of his evidence.

30.  An anachronistic reference to the 1912 Painter Memorial (see n. 56, below) — “At the same time [of the exhumation] a stone had been carved bearing a raven and an inscription. . .” (Scarlett p. 370) — dates Legg’s statement after October 1912. Legg was Commissioner from 1 December 1894 to 27 March 1896; Clinton McCabe, History of the Baltimore City Police Department, 1774-1909, 2nd. ed. (Baltimore, 1909) p. 41. All police records from that period were destroyed in the Baltimore Fire of 1904. Could Legg have been the policeman George W. Spence mentioned (see n. 7, above) in 1893?

31.  “General Poe,” of course, was not a true general. He was Assistant Deputy Quartermaster General for Baltimore during the Revolution, but was known as “General” Poe among his friends.

32.  Legg also believes that the monument committee “simply seized” the lots at the corner of Fayette and Greene Streets: “It has always been my hope that a living member of the Fridge, Rich, Poor, or Wilson-Watson families would come forward and protest this illegal seizure of private hallowed ground” (Scarlett p. 370). In truth, permission was granted by the Wilson and Fridge families; see William J. Elliott, Jr., “The History of the Monument,” in Sarah [[Sara]] Sigourney Rice, ed., Edgar Allan Poe: A Memorial Volume (Baltimore, 1877) p. 47.

33.  It’s unclear from the text of Legg’s statement whether Legg talked to Spence before or after the exhumation, since Spence (interestingly enough) is not quoted on the subject, but the latter seems most probable. I think we can therefore safely narrow the date of their conversation to a twenty-four year period between 1875 and 1899, the year Spence died. Since Legg’s statement dates post-1912, we can conclude that at least twelve to thirty-seven years transpired between their conversation and Legg’s recounting of it, during which time it is highly probable that Legg’s memory changed some details and added others.

34.  This information verified by R. Kent Lancaster (see n. 1 above), in a telephone conversation, 11 March 1984.

35.  “Tombs of Great Men,” Baltimore American, 19 July 1896 p. 26.

36.  Scarlett, p 373. Scarlett says the original foundations for these stones can still be found “by probing six inches beneath the sod at the west end of their lot.” In January 1989 I removed this sod and discovered a quantity of broken bricks, evidence that something had been there, but exactly what is impossible to say. [page 219:]

37.  “Where Poe Was First Buried,” Baltimore American, 28 October 1912 p. 24.

38.  For the record, exactly who is Philip Mosher? Scarlett (p. 371) says he was a nineteen-year old private in the Maryland Militia who “had been carried bodily from the earthworks on Loudenslagers Hill while the British, in September of 1814, were landing their troops at North Point, only to die of scarlet fever during the cannonading of Fort McHenry two days later,” but gives no source for this information. In fact, I haven’t been able to find any information on Philip Mosher at all. Extant Westminster Cemetery records lists a James Mosher (1761-1845) and an infant Francis (1787-1788), son of Elizabeth and Philip (Sr.?), but no Philip, Jr. (Hayward and Lancaster, Baltimore’s Westminster Cemetery, p. 23). Louis Henry Dielman’s “Maryland Roster, War 1812,” William M. Marine, The British Invasion of Maryland, 1812-1815 (1913; rpt. Baltimore, 1977) p. 386, lists a William and a James Mosher, Jr., but no Philip. (Could Philip be the middle name of James Mosher, Jr.?) I have also checked city directories, church histories, genealogy files, the 1810 census, muster roles of the Maryland Militia from the War of 1812, and with researchers at Fort McHenry.

39.  Scarlett pp. 371-372. The Marine article that Tucker refers to is unknown. Marine’s 1896 “Tombs of Great Men” contains nothing unusual about the Poe Monument, although Marine described it as being “unworthy of the genius it commemorates” (see n. 37 above). Did Marine write another article which went unpublished? Or could his 1896 article have been cut by a nervous editor?A search of the manuscripts in the Marine Collection revealed nothing to bear out either of these possibilities. Scarlett p. 372, maintains the article “exists partially in letter form” in JohnA. Joyce’s biography of Poe. This letter is examined in the text below.

40.  It is possible that Tucker may have heard this information from Andrew Jackson Davis, one of the gravediggers Tucker said helped bury Poe. In a postscript Tucker wrote: “He [Davis] said Mr. Spence was always a little soft in the head and that the professor should have listened to him on this occasion as he did know the facts. Mr. Davis’ knowledge of Poe was vast as he was acquainted with Poe” (Scarlett p. 372). I have been unable to find any other information on this Davis. He obviously wasn’t the same Andrew Jackson Davis, the New York mesmerist, whom Poe satirized in “Mellonta Tauta.”

41.  The location of the original transcript is unknown, as are any other of the Society’s files.

42.  Scarlett p 373. The vague pronoun reference “him” needs clarification. Since Harriet was only eight years old when Neilson Poe died (1884), “him” most probably refers to her father. The “withstand [page 220:] the ages” reference follows on the fact that the exhumed coffin would buckle and decay after twenty-six years of unprotected contact under six feet of earth.

No other testimony or evidence is known to exist supporting the notion that Elizabeth Poe was exhumed in mistake of Maria Clemm — yet another Westminster Cemetery rumor, source unknown.

43.  This scenario takes on an aspect of farce when you stop and remember that both were men of law andseemingly capable of distinguishing between fact and circumstantial evidence.

44.  Poe’s Army record has him at 5’ 8”; Thomas and Jackson, Log p. 80.

45.  Scarlett, pp. 373-374. Scarlett does not seem to realize that teeth do not readily disintegrate; anyone who has saved their baby teeth can attest to that. Nor does Scarlett seem to realize that Maria Clemm was exhumed and reburied as well; maybe that’s why he ignores Harriet’s claim about Mrs. Poe being exhumed instead.

46.  Quoted in John A. Joyce, Edgar Allan Poe (New York, 1901) p. 38. A search of the entire Marine Collection, Maryland Historical Society, MS 1016, uncovered no Marine-Joyce correspondence.

An unidentified clipping reprinted from the St. Louis Republican found in John Henry Ingram’s Poe Collection, University of Virginia, Item no 749, says that the sandstone marker was purchased by a “St. Louis gentleman.” This was probably Thomas Dimmock; see n. 4, above. Incidentally, this clipping states that side boards from Poe’s coffin looked like walnut.

47.  An accurate but incomplete account of Poe’s reburials is presented by John Carl Miller in “The Exhumations and Reburials of Edgar and Virginia Poe and Mrs. Clemm,” PoeS 7 (1974) 46-47.

48.  “The Monument and Grave of Poe,” Baltimore Sun, 16 October 1875, supplement p. 1.

49.  “Exhumation of the Poet Poe’s Remains,” Baltimore Sun, 1 October 1875, p. 4.

50.  “Disinterment of the Remains of Poe,” Baltimore American, 1 October 1875, p. 4.

51.  “Raised from the Grave,” Baltimore Evening News, 1 October 1875. I have not been able to locate a file of this paper; I quote from a clipping pasted into a copy of Gill’s The Life of Edgar Allan Poe in the Stephan Lowentheil Collection of Edgar Allan Poe Material, The 19th Century Shop, Baltimore, Item no. 354. [page 221:]

Another eyewitness account of the exhumation appeared some twenty years later. A.H. Canby of Washington, D.C. says that he was invited by a Dr. Morris — who “had been a close friend of Poe, and as an editor of a Baltimore magazine had accepted many of his contributions” — to attend the disinterment. “I shall never forget the nervous tension we all endured as we lowered the lantern into the grave to catch a glimpse of that marvellous [sic] skull. Tenderly it was lifted, and we examined it in deep silence. . . .the left arm, from about two inches above the elbow up to and including a part of the shoulder blade, was petrified, and its form was nearly as perfect as it had been in life.” From “He Viewed Poe’s Remains,” New York Herald, 11 January 1895, sec. 4, p. 2.

A clipping from the Amelia F. Poe Scrapbook, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore — “Remarkable Preservation of Poe’s Brain,” letter to the editor, The Gazette, city and dateunknown — reports that a “medical gentleman” examined Poe’s brain: “The cerebral mass, as seen through the base of the skull, evidenced no signs of disintegration or decay, though, of course, it was somewhat diminished in size.”

A previously cited clipping (see n. 46, above) reports that a visitor to Poe’s grave (probably Thomas Dimmock) was told by the sexton (Spence?) that upon lifting Poe’s skull “ ‘His brain rattled around inside just like a clump of mud, sir.”’ The sexton believed that the brain had “dried and hardened in the skull.”

Dr. Ann Dixon, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner of the State of Maryland, finds both of these clippings hard to believe; the brain, like any other mass of tissue, decomposes rapidly (telephone conversation, 24 December 1986). [[Author’s note: Novelist Matthew Pearl presents the intriguing possibility that the “clump of mud” rattling inside the exhumed skull was actually that of a brain tumor; tumors, according to the forensic pathologist Pearl consulted, tend to calcify while the rest of the body decomposes. See “Poe’s Mysterious Death: The Plot Thickens!” and “Fresh clues could solve mystery of Poe’s death.” — CS, 1/19/2014]]

52.  “Poe’s Monument.” Baltimore Sun, 2 October 1875, p. 4.

53.  In his speech at the monument dedication, William J. Elliott said. “. . .the lot in which the monument is now located is not the one in which it was first placed. In deference to what was considered by the committee the popular wish, the monument was removed from its first location to its present one.” “The History of the Monument” in Rice, Poe: A Memorial Volume. p. 47.

54.  “1875 Nov. 5. To disinterring remains of Edgar Allan Poe and those of Mrs. Clemm from the old lot to the new one, also digging foundation for monument and sodding around same.” From “Records of Westminster Cemetery,” handwritten notes in May Garrettson Evans’s Poe Scrap Book, Edgar Allan Poe Collection, Milton S. Eisenhower Library, Johns Hopkins University, MS 200, 1.6.119; “The Poet Edgar Allan Poe: Dedication of a Monument in His Memory,” Baltimore Sun, 18 November 1875, pp. 1, 4.

55.  What’s more, Neilson Poe was present to hear Professor Elliott’s speech, see n. 53, above. [page 222:]

56.  The Painter Memorial and an accompanying cenotaph for David Poe, Sr. were erected the week of 20 October 1912; “Where Poe Was First Buried,” p. 24.

57.  This misplacement led some people to speculate that Septimus Tuston was buried under the Poe Monument, not Philip Mosher; see Lonnie Hudkins, “Where Did They Bury Edgar Allan Poe?” Baltimore News American, 10 April 1966, p. F1.

58.  The error was first reported in “Poe Memorial Put On Wrong Grave,” Baltimore Evening Sun, 23 July 1920. p. 26. Evans’s article, “Facts About Mistake in Marking Original Burial Place of Poe,” appeared a week later in the same paper, 1 August 1920, sec. IV, pp. 2-3.

59.  One of the persons assisting Evans with the move was none other than Harriet Marine. See Pouder, “Poe of Baltimore,” p. 18.

60.  “Facts and Fancies Found In a Reporter’s Notebook: Neighborhood Tourists Seeking Original Site of Poe’s Grave, Leave as Much In the Dark as When They Began,” Baltimore Sun, 10 July 1921, p. 14. None of the charts and maps Tompkins referred to are to be found among Miss Evans’s papers at the Edgar Allan Poe Collection, Milton S. Eisenhower Library, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.

61.  “Dedication of the Poe Monument.” Baltimore Sun, 15 October 1875, p. 4

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - MMM, 2006] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Masques, Mysteries and Mastodons: A Poe Miscellany (Where Lies the Noble Spirit?)