Text: W. W. H, “The Grave of Poe,” Missouri Daily Republican (St. Louis, MO), vol. XXXII, no. 196, August 15, 1854, p. 2, col. 4


[page 155:]

For the Republican.



It was a well known doctrine of the Magian sages, that there were two hostile powers contending and alternately gaining victory in the soul of man — the genius of good and the genius of evil — the one high, and pure, and holy, the other earthly, sensual, and devilish. A strange but true mystery this of our dual nature, and faithfully set forth in the lives of many men of power. Take Sterne for example. What ethereal delicacy of beauty exhaled from his pen, what balmy humor dropped frankincense-like, gratefully gushing therefrom; yet his most excellent fancy was but a beam of light, illuminating for our inspection, a character blighted by the grossest sensuality and selfishness. His whole life was a proof that this strange soul of man may one day soar in the loftiest and serenest ether, and the next, grovel even like the beasts that perish.

My dear Editor, I fell into the above melancholy train of thought, in this wise: I sauntered into a smoking car of the Illinois Central on my last trip over that road, when who should I find there, enjoying an elephantine Regalia, but my old schoolmate (a Mexican by birth), Senor Don Key. In accordance with the Spanish formula, “all that I have is yours,” he opened his cigar case, and we smoked together. I asked him where he had been during the past year, and he replied that he had been making a sentimental journey. (I noticed that his collar was rolled down, and his eyes rolled up). He remarked that he was a sworn foe to all professional or systematic sight-seeing, that he eschewed all exhibitions of fat women or canvas cataracts; that he wished that the Crystal Palace was natural, and Niagara in the woods. For his own part he traveled in the byways, and not in the highways; his object was not to stare, but to scrutinize; not to see wonders and famous shows, but to peer into half-forgotten but very curious things, especially those that have to do with human nature, and the life battle, ending in victory or defeat, which all are waging. He said that he would tell me a little story of his adventures in Baltimore. He was a great admirer of EDGAR ALLEN [[ALLAN]] POES poems, and when he was in the Monumental City, he went out to see what sort of a tomb was erected to POES memory. I will tell the story in his own words.

“I had read and heard,” said the Don, heaving a long sigh, and an equally extended column of smoke, “that POE had many times been in the Hospital, on account of illness brought on by dissipation, and I resolved to go there first, and learn exactly were his grave was. I found the superintending physician a most cordial and pleasant man, and I immediately asked him if he remembered EDGAR A. POE. ‘O, yes,’ said he, and his eye brightened, though his face grew sad; and then he told me the sad story. After the death of POES lovely wife, the ‘Lost Lenore,’ his character was changed for the worse. He became melancholy, almost moon-struck, and then, goaded on by poverty and sensitiveness, and false pride, he had recourse to stimulants for relief. He became a drunkard. ‘Often,’ said the doctor, ‘have I followed him late at night, when the streets were desolate, and heard him talking to the moon and the stars, and the ‘Lost Lenore,’ in such a strain of high pathos as made me weep.” At other times, when the demon of evil had entrapped him, the good Doctor would pick him all ragged, from the gutter, and carry him to the Hospital to be cured. There I saw the very bed where POE lay, his great eyes sunken and lack-lustre, his noble brow pale with woe and pain, his raven hair all matted. There he would toss about for long days, till Nature again triumphed, and he could rise up, and, being clothed and in his right mind, could take his pen in hand to write for bread. The Doctor showed me some of his writing, as neat and smooth as the prettiest Italian hand, each letter formed exactly, each i dotted and t crossed. POE wrote rapidly, coolly, and with little apparent labor, and would sit down and tell you how he did it, as exactly as he could describe the mechanism of a watch; he could state with the accuracy of a surgeon how such life-drops of passion as the ‘Raven’ were wrung from his heart. He seemed to compose with the deliberation of despair — nay, he did not compose at all when writing. The composition had been done before — in long nights of frenzy, in long days of pain, his thoughts passionate, molten, and hissing hot, tossed about in his brain; not till they were cool and complete did he record them. Be it known that he was not one of the snobs of gentlemen who write with ease; he had not the mechanical drudgery of the literary hack, but his soul groaned in the very birth-pangs of thought and passion.

After I had seen all the relics of the poet, I asked where he was buried, and I was told his grave was in the Cemetery. So I went there and asked the keeper where I could find the grave of EDGAR A. POE. He said he did not recollect the name (such is fame) but he would examine the books. I was sure that he died in December 1849, but to make sure we looked over the lists of interments of 1848, 1849, and 1850, but Poe’s name was not among them. He was not buried there. I then recollected that Poe had once been insane, and confined for a time in the Asylum: so the next step of my sad pilgrimage was to that establishment. The Superintendent received me most politely and showed me through the great building. There were many curious specimens of mental alienation there. There was a maniac who gnashed upon his chains like a wild beast, and in sad contrast with him the very polite ‘cracked gentleman’ who was assiduous in his attention and sage in his conversation, until you spoke of Paris, when in a great rage he exclaimed — “Napoleon had usurped the throne which I once adorned!” There were fine ladies who imagined themselves queens, and hypochondriacs who thought themselves dead, and idiots who did not think at all; and among these the poet in real phrensy had once been imprisoned, his mind drifting rudderless in a storm of woe and passion. I was told that Poe was one of the most terribly uncontrollable patients they had ever had in the Insane Asylum, and well he might have been. When a mind like his fell, it was like the fall of a Lucifer.

I told the Superintendent that I was searching for the grave of POE, but could not find it. He said that I had been misinformed. “Come here,” said he leading me to the window, “POE was buried in the corner of that Potter’s Field!” I could not believe it, and hurried away in painful doubt. But in the afternoon, I met an old resident of Baltimore, who assured me that my informant was correct. “It is sad to think of it,” said he, “and a reproach to my native city, but it is nevertheless true that our poet is buried in an obscure part of the Potter’s Field. I well recollect his funeral

‘Ah, distinctly I remember

’Twas on a cold December,’

if I may quote his own words. The coffin containing his remains was brought out of the Alms House, and placed in the public hearse, and a solitary carriage completed the funeral array. In silence and sadness the little party performed the sad office, and then the tenement of clay which once enshrined a noble soul was left to moulder without a mark to point out its resting place.”

“Such,” said the Don, “was the result of my literary pilgrimage.”

I must own that I was shocked with my old schoolmate’s story. I have read POES life; I knew he was unfortunate and dissipated, but I little thought that his being buried in the city of Baltimore, meant — that he was thrust under the earth in a Potter’s Field. It seems as if, in the “Monumental City,” a little slab, at least, might be raised, inscribed with the poet’s name. It would speak to many hearts. Poe, the noble, though shattered column in our Muses’ temple; whose poems, like some of Coleridge and Shelley tremble with that strange melody which is often vouchsafed to be breathed by human tongues.

His tomb would be pleasurable and useful to many who love to pay pious pilgrimages to the grave of genius. It is indeed of no consequence to him, the enfranchised, whether his body be reverenced or dishonored, but to the living, who feel that our mortal frames, made in the image of our Maker, created as fit temples for the indwelling of immortal souls, and reserved for a glorious resurrection, it seems very sad that his remains should be suffered to decay in obscurity. Edgar A. Poe had his faults and his virtues. Let the former be forgotten and the latter be commemorated. Let no human being venture to pass judgment upon his deeds done in the body, for that office belongs to a higher power, but let us rather consider his temptations, greater as his powers were greater, and so draw a gentle veil over his frailties, and reverence him for the noble thoughts which he recorded.

W. W. H.




This rather silly article is hardly useful as reliable historical information, even if one were to accept as a source the ludicrously named Senor Don Key (Donkey). Poe was never in an Insane Asylum (he died in a hospital), and his body was taken for burial from the home of his uncle, Henry Herring. Poe died on October 7, 1849, not December, and was buried on October 8, 1849. What doctor might have been spoken to is difficult to say. Dr. Moran, who was the chief administrator of the hospital in 1849, had left Baltimore in 1850, after the hospital closed. Based on a letter from Henry Cook, sent to the Waverley Magazine before June 30, 1855, it was well known even by local residents that Poe was buried in the cemetery. George Spence, the church sexton, stated that he had to put a small sandstone marker on the grave because so many people wanted to visit the spot and he grew tired of escorting them. The chief interest in this article is the fact that an excerpted form was widely reprinted in newspapers, and inspired a host of impassioned responses and calls for a movement to erect a monument over Poe’s grave. The effort stalled in the escalating tensions over slavery, and was delayed by the Civil War. The movement began again, in greater earnest in the Fall of 1865, and, ten years later, finally resulted in the fine marble monument seen today.



[S:0 - MDR, 1854] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - The Grave of Poe (W. W. H., 1854)