Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Burials of Poe



Mystery Veiling the Death of the Poet. The Latest Account Given by a Man Who Claims the Closest Personal Knowledge. Killed by a Drug.

In striking contrast were the first and last burials of Edgar A. Poe. On that dreary autumn afternoon in 1849, when the most original of American poets was laid to rest among his ancestors in Westminster churchyard, in Baltimore, only one carriage followed the body of the poet from the hospital where he died. The ceremony was scant, and the attendants scanter, for eight persons only were present. Poe had died under a cloud. His last hours were passed in the charity ward of a public hospital. He was buried in a poplar coffin, stained in imitation of walnut. It was a funeral such as a poor man, with few friends and relatives, might have had.

The mystery surrounding Poe's death has never been satisfactorily explained. The account given by Dr. John J. Moran, in his "Defense of Edgar A. Poe," is known to be incorrect and misleading. For instance, he gives the names of eight persons as present at the funeral, only two of whom were there. They were the Rev. W. T. D. Clemm and Henry Herring, both of whom were relatives of Poe. The other persons who attended the first burial were Z. Collins Lee, afterward judge of the superior court of Baltimore, who had been a classmate of Poe at the University of Virginia; Neilson Poe, afterward chief judge of the orphans' court of Baltimore; Edmund Smith, a well known schoolteacher in Baltimore 50 years ago, and his wife, who was a first cousin of the poet; Dr. J. E. Snodgrass, the last editor of the Baltimore Saturday Visitor, the paper from which Poe received the $100 prize offered for the best story.

Another of Dr. Moran's misstatements is that the body of the poet was laid in state in the large room in the rotunda of the college building adjoining the hospital; that hundreds of his friends and acquaintances came to see him; that at least 50 ladies received locks of his hair. Poe had few friends in Baltimore — not a dozen — and if "50 ladies received locks of his hair" they existed only in Dr. Moran's vivid imagination.

Poe was a mystery to the world during life, his death was mysterious, and, although he has been dead 45 years, he remains a mystery still. Nine lives of the poet have been written, but the time and place of his birth have been differently mentioned by different biographers. The place of his burial was long a disputed point; the cause of his death and the circumstances attending it have not yet been definitely settled.

An old resident of San Francisco, formerly of Baltimore, gives what he says is a true account of Poe's last days and death. His story is:

"I was an intimate associate of Edgar Allan Poe for years. Much that has been said and written about his death is false. His habitual resort in Baltimore was the Widow Meagher's, an oyster stand and liquor bar down on the wharf much frequented by journalists. It was a respectable place, where parties could enjoy a game of cards or engage in social conversation.

"Poe was a sort of pet of the old woman, and he had a favorite seat just behind the stand. He went by the name of 'The Bard,' and when parties came into the place it was 'Bard, come up and take a nip!' or 'Bard, come and take a hand in this game.'

"It was in the Widow Meagher's little shop that Poe's attention was called to an advertisement in a Philadelphia newspaper of a prize for the best original story, and it was there that he wrote his famous story, 'The Gold Bug,' which carried off the $100 prize. 'The Bard' had been shifting for several years between Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. He had not been in Baltimore for several months when he turned up one evening at the Widow Meagher's. I was there when he came in.

"He privately told me that he had been to Richmond and was on his way north to get ready for his wedding. It was the night before an election, and about 10 o'clock four of us, including Poe, started up town. We had not gone half a dozen squares when we were nabbed by a gang of men who were on the lookout for voters to 'coop.' It was the practice in those days to seize men, whether drunk or sober, lock them up until the polls were open, then march them around to every precinct, where they were made to vote the ticket of the party that controlled the 'coop.' Our 'coop' was in the rear of an engine house, either on North or Calvert street.

"It was part of the game to stupefy the prisoners with drugged liquor. Well, the next day we were voted at 31 different places and over and over again, it being as much as a man's life was worth to refuse. Poe was so badly drugged that after he was carried on two or three different rounds the leader of the gang said that it was no use to vote a dead man any longer, so they shoved him into a cab and sent him to a hospital to get him out of the way.

"The commonly accepted story that Poe died from the effects of dissipation is all bosh. It was nothing of the kind. He died from laudanum or something of the kind that was forced upon him in the coupe. He was in a dying condition when he was being taken around the city. The story by Griswold of Poe having been on a week's spree and being picked up on the street is false. I saw him shoved into the cab myself, and he told me that he had just arrived in the city."

The above account of Poe's last hours agrees in several respects with the account which the late Chief Justice Neilson Poe gave to the present writer.

The second burial of Edgar A. Poe took place on Nov. 17, 1875. The occasion was interesting and remarkable. An immense assembly, representing the education and culture of Baltimore, was drawn together to do honor to an American poet whose fame had gone abroad and whose genius was a subject of native pride. The ceremonies took place in the large hall of the Western Female high school, in West Fayette street, adjoining Westminster church, in the graveyard of which the body of the poet had rested for 26 years without a stone to show that it was the grave of the most unique genius that America had given to the world. — New York Herald.

A Trait In Common

"My dear," said the man who had been waiting for his wife to get ready for the theater, "I'm inclined to believe that if you had been born a man you would have been a professional pugilist."
"Because it takes you so long to put on a pair of gloves." — Washington Star.

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