Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fate that once denied him

After over two decades buried in an unmarked corner of the cemetery at Baltimore's Westminster Church, Poe’s body was re-buried where people could see it from the street. A new memorial marker was dedicated on November 17, 1875.

The monument was substantial. Money for it was raised by several parties, including a Baltimore schoolteacher named Sara Sigourney Rice. Rice kicked off a "pennies for Poe" campaign and even asked her students to perform public speeches to raise funds. The final $650 came from Philadelphian George William Childs. The design came from architect George A. Frederick, built by Colonel Hugh Sisson, with a stone medallion of Poe by artist Adalbert Volck (later replaced). The total cost of the new monument was equal today to over $28,000.

Despite all the hard work on the monument, Poe's birthday was incorrectly chiseled as January 20 instead of January 19. It has never been corrected. On his birthday ten years after his reburial, Poe's long-dead wife Virginia Poe was buried with him. Maria Clemm was buried there too, bringing the family trio together for their eternal rest.

The ceremony to dedicate the new monument included speeches from Neilson Poe, Poe's oft-maligned cousin. Several famous poets were invited to attend. The only one that made it was Walt Whitman, then age 56, who was still recovering from a stroke.

Letters, poems and remembrances were contributed his one-time fiancee Sarah Helen Whitman and his occasional enemy James Russell Lowell. Other acknowledgments came from John Greenleaf Whittier ("The extraordinary genius of Edgar Poe is now acknowledged the world over"), William Cullen Bryant (Poe is "distinguished alike for originality in the conception, skill in word-painting, and power over the mind of the reader") and even Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (who noted: "The fever called Living is conquered at last"). Some of the greatest lines in honor of Poe came from fellow 2009 bicentennial poets Alfred Lord Tennyson, who later said that "neglected spot" would be the first place he would visit on a trip to the United States, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. As Dr. Holmes wrote:
His monument shall be his gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o'er read.
And tongues to be his being shall rehearse,
When all the breathers of this world are dead.
* People still leave "pennies for Poe" at this memorial today. This has become a tradition at the graves of famous figures, particularly writers. Poe did not originate the tradition, however.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a great bit of information, and it goes to show that most of Poe's recognition has come after his death.