A New Funeral for Poe

Not many people get a funeral do-over. Edgar Allen Poe, master of the macabre, died October 7th, 1849 under mysterious circumstances. His first funeral was so terrible that on the 200th anniversary of his birth, fans decided to give it another try.

Poe was buried the day after he died in a three-minute ceremony attended by less than ten people. The weather that day was so unusually frigid that the reverend didn’t even bother with a eulogy. A passer-by later reported that the ceremony “was so cold and unchristianlike as to provoke on my part a sense of anger difficult to suppress.” To make matters worse, Poe didn’t even have a proper tombstone until 1875. (A cousin did order one in 1860, but it was destroyed when a freight train ran off the tracks and into the sculptor’s yard.)

Poe’s fortunes have improved considerably since then, but fans continue to resent the way he was treated after death. This year, he finally got the funeral he deserves. 

Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House & Museum, hired a special effects artist to create a scary-looking Poe corpse (see below), which lay in state for 12 hours at the Poe house in west Baltimore. All photos below are by Baltimore-based photographer Eldon Baldwin.

Poe's "corpse". Photo by Eldon Baldwin, some rights reserved.

Saturday night, fans and friends held an all-night vigil at Poe’s grave in the Westminster Burying Ground. Sunday was the main event, with a horse-drawn carriage taking the faux Poe from the Poe House to the gravesite, where a splendid funeral was held.

Not that I was there — I wish. Fortunately, the Wall Street Journal has a video of the event highlights here and NPR has a rundown here. Actor John Astin (aka Gomez Addams) was the master of ceremonies, and actors playing characters from Poe’s life delivered eulogies. The ceremony was sold out in advance, with 700 people, many in historically-appropriate garb, attending.

Poe's second funeral. Photo by Eldon Baldwin, some rights reserved

It’s amazing that 200 years after a man’s birth, people still feel so attached they will create a mock corpse to give it a final farewell. I’m not sure whether this is a testament to Poe’s magnetism, the endurance of his works, or the dedication of the people at the Poe house and other fans. Many other writers deserve similar celebrations — how about a bunch of patriots getting together today for Thomas Paine, huh?

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