Text: Joseph E. Snodgrass, “Edgar A. Poe’s Death and Burial,” New York Reformer (Watertown, NY), July 26, 1855, p. 2, col. 1


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Edgar A. Poe’s Death and Burial.


If any one has hitherto remained insensible to the immense and cruel damage which alcohol has done to literature, we think the perusal of Dr. Snodgrass’s letter on the death and burial of the gifted author of “The Raven,” inserted below, ought to be sufficient to cure him of this indifference. We commend this letter to general attention. It originally appeared in that useful and well conducted journal, the Women’s Temperance Paper, of New York, to whose intelligent editress, Mrs. Vaughan, it is addressed, as the reader will observe.

DEAR MADAM: In the last number of your “Women’s Temperance Paper,” I find the following statement:

“The remains of Edgar Allan Poe, the author of “The Raven,” lie mouldering in a corner of the Potter’s Field, at Baltimore. Alas, poor Poe! A prohibitory liquor law might have saved thee.”

The truth of the matter is bad enough, and I think it due to the reputation of Baltimore, that it should be stated. The facts of poor Poe’s last hours, death and burial, are briefly these:

On a chilly and wet November afternoon, I received a note, stating that a man, answering to the name of Edgar Allan Poe, who claimed to know me, was at a drinking saloon in Lombard street, (Baltimore,) in a state of deep intoxication and great destitution. I repaired immediately to the spot. It was an election day. When I entered the bar-room of the house, I instantly recognized the face of one that I had often seen, and knew well, although it wore an aspect of vacant stupidity that made me shudder. The intellectual flash of his eye had vanished, or rather had been quenched in the bowl; but the broad, capacious forehead of the author of “The Raven,” as you have appropriately designated him, was still there, with a width, in the region of ideality, such as few men have ever possessed. But perhaps I would not so readily have recognized him, had I not been notified of his apparel. His hat, or rather the hat of somebody else, for he had evidently been robbed of his clothing, or cheated in an exchange, was a cheap palm-leaf one, without a band, and soiled; his coat, of commonest alpacca, and evidently second-hand; and his pants of grey mixed cassimere, dingy, and badly fitting. He wore neither vest nor neck-cloth, if I remember aright, while his shirt was sadly crumpled and soiled. He was so utterly stupified with liquor, that I thought it best not to seek recognition or conversation, especially as he was surrounded by a crowd of drinking men, actuated by idle curiosity rather than sympathy. Immediately I ordered a room for him, where he could be comfortable until I got word to his relatives — for there were several in Baltimore. Just at that moment, one or two of the persons referred to, getting information of the case, arrived at the spot. They declined to take private care of him, assigning, as a reason, that he had been very abusive and ungrateful on former occasions, when drunk, and advised that he be sent to a hospital. He was accordingly placed in a coach, and conveyed to the Washington College Hospital, and placed under the care of the competent and attentive physicians of that institution. So insensible was he, that we had to carry him to the carriage, as if a corpse. The muscles of articulation seemed paralyzed to speechlessness, and mere incoherent mutterings were all that could be heard.

He died in the hospital, after some three of four days, during which time he enjoyed only occasional and fitful seasons of consciousness. His disease, as will have been anticipated, was mania a potu — a disease whose finale is always fearful in its maniacal manifestations. In one of his more lucid moments, when asked by the physician whether he would like to see his friends, he exclaimed: “Friend! My best friend would be he who would take a pistol and blow out my brains, and thus relieve me of my agony!” These were among his last words.

So much for the manner of the death of Mr. Poe. It has not been called forth by any thing in your “Women’s Temperance Paper,” but in other papers that have published a statement hinging that he had died “by his own hand.”

Now for the manner of his burial, which does relate to the statement quoted above:

The remains of the author of “The Raven” do not “lie moldering in a corner of the Potter’s Field, at Baltimore.” The truth, as I remarked, is bad enough, and discreditable enough to his relatives, not to say the city where he died. He was interred in an old Presbyterian burying-ground on Green [[Greene]] street, which has not been much used for many years. On a portion of it a church has since been erected, but not over his grave. In the removal of the dead, which will sooner or later take place, it is quite probable the bones of “Poor Poe” will be collected among the remains of the friendless and the unknown, and removed beyond recognition, for nothing but a couple of pine boards were placed at his grave, in lieu of grave-stones. But worse than this, and far more discreditable to relate, there were no planks placed over the coffin, as is usual in all decent burials, and the earth was thrown directly upon it!

This was a most harrowing circumstance to my feelings. The impressions of it have never been erased from my memory. Even now, as I write this hurried letter, I seem to hear the clods rattle on that unprotected coffin, in contemptuous derision of the transcendent genius of its occupant! It must have been equally so to the two relatives, the single other attendant, besides the officiating clergyman, who was himself a relative of the deceased, and who, with the undertaker, the two coachmen, and myself, made up the entire funeral cortége.

The reader may ask why so singularly gifted a prose writer and poet was suffered to remain in such an unworthy resting place. I answer that the Directors of the Baltimore Cemetery, a beautiful “City of the Dead,” proposed to donate a lot for his sepulture, on condition that a befitting monument was erected to his memory. But sufficient encouragement to commence a subscription was not offered in Baltimore. Could those be found elsewhere, disposed to join in such a movement, it would give me great satisfaction to co-operate. Who will make a beginning?

In deepest feeling, I close with an exclamation in the paragraph which has called forth this correction, “Alas! poor Poe!”

Very respectfully, yours,  

  Editor of the Women’s Temperance Paper



Mary C. Vaughan was a worker for the Daughters of Temperance.

The Poe Society is indebted to Ton Fafianie for identifying the issue, and to the Watertown Daily Times of Watertown, NY (the current incarnation of the New York Reformer, for graciously providing a copy of the original article.


[S:0 - NYR, 1855] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Edgar A. Poe's Death and Burial (J. E. Snodgrass, 1855)