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EDGAR ALLAN POE  -  DIED IN BALTIMORE

Edgar Allan Poe (1809 - 1849) was Boston-born. Both parents were actors. His parents both died young: mother, Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins (1787-1811  and father, David Poe (1784-1810). Edgar was raised by Frances and John Allan. They lived in Richmond, Va. Edgar attended a school in England for several years before enrolling in University of Virginia. He accrued gambling debts, a subject of a bitter quarrel with John Allen. The fledgling writer had to quit college and enter the army to earn some money to pay his debts.  He was in the army for 2 years. He enrolled in West Point but was kicked out.

Poe, who had already published some poems, moved in with an aunt at 203 Amity Street in W. Baltimore, Maria Clemm. He then married his aunt's daughter, his own l3-year-old cousin, Virginia Elvia.  Edgar and his young bride moved to New York City in 1836. Poe sustained many losses: first, his parents, later his foster parents Frances (dec. 1829) and John Allan (1834). His brother Henry died young (1807-1831).  This forum can barely touch on the many writings of Edgar Allan Poe. His favored genre was the short story. Darkness, dementia and the macabre are keynotes of his psychological thrillers and chillers.

  Most of us have heard of the Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Raven, and Lenore. With other tales the content is hinted at by the titles: Spirits of the Dead, The conqueror Worm, The Haunted Palace. One of the darkest and most mysterious tales, though, is the death of Poe himself. The writer's wife died in 1947, prompting even heavier drinking on Poe's part. A year later he became engaged to Elmira Royster, an earlier girlfriend.

  Poe set out on a lecture tour at some time during 1849, desperately trying to earn money. On October 3, 1849, a passerby discovered him ill and incoherent on a Baltimore street. He was taken to "Washington College Hospital" where he died on October 7 without gaining full consciousness.  Some have claimed that he was wearing clothes that were not his, and that he called out the name "Reynolds." ("Washington College Hospital" was purchased by Episcopalians in 1857 and became Church Home/Hospital. The hospital closed in 1999.) Much of what we know about Poe's death is through the doctor who treated him in this final illness, John J. Moran. His stories are many and inconsistent.  In the doctor's own final years he earned a living by giving lectures on Poe's final days!

More puzzling, a man named Rufus Wilmut Griswald, an enemy, became Poe's literary executor. He used this position to further blacken Edgar Allan Poe's reputation. Poe was originally buried in an unmarked grave at the "Old Westminster Burying Ground" of Baltimore. A quarter-century later the remains were removed to a family plot where his aunt, Marie Clemm, also "resided." The location is at Fayette and Greene Streets near University of Maryland Medical Center, Baltimore. His wife Virginia was moved there in 1885. Ever since the year 1949, in the early a.m. hours of  January 19, a sleuth visitor (likely more than one) leaves a bottle of cognac and 3 roses on the grave.

Poe's story plots gave a new meaning to the word "macabre." In Tell-tale Heart,  a narrator with an over-invested belief in his own sanity murders a man because the man's vulture-like blue eyes annoy him. Later, the murderer is haunted by guilt, believing that his victim, now dismembered and hidden under the floor boards, still has a beating heart. Police eventually come to the very room where these floorboards are. The murderer hears the ticking of the dead man's heart, louder and louder. What he actually hears is the ticking of his own heart. Eventually his self torture is such that he screams out his guilt.

The Cask of Amontillado- another story narrated by the murderer, told in retrospect. Montresor, an Italian nobleman, had been insulted by one of his peers, Fortunato. The narrator talks of his family motto: No one attacks me with impunity. The pair enter a wine cellar, where Fortunato's fortune take a turn for the worse. Drunk, he is chained to a niche in the wall. The wall is quickly sealed up. Montresor enjoys his victim's terrorized screams. We learn that the incident occurred 50 years ago. Montresor remarks that the body has remained it its wall-tomb all this time.

The Black Cat- A black cat, aptly named Pluto, god of the underworld, drives the narrator to madness. He murders his wife. The psychotic story teller admits to alcoholism and fits of rage. He hangs the cat, but the cat reappears. Eventually he kills his wife, walling her up. Later he realizes that the cat is entombed in the same wall. Poe's use of language and foreboding creates a haunting atmosphere, as usual.

Poe's sense of macabre pales by today's standard. We have now read of the gang operating in the Peruvian jungles who murdered their victims and extracted their body fat. Allegedly, each liter of fat was worth $15,000 on the black market, ultimately for use by European cosmetic companies.

One does not have to look to the jungles of Peru for macabre. One can look at the respectable north London neighborhood of  Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill, circa 1983, where a mild mannered former army cook, Dennis Nilsen, crowded for floorboard space, clogged the plumbing with body parts of young men.  Nilsen owned a cat and a dog. He had found it necessary to move from his flat at Melrose Avenue when those floorboards were filled up.  No one knows the exact total of Nilsen's victims. He probably lost count himself. He treated his bodies respectfully, washing, dressing and cuddling them until they began to turn.

In the year 2009, the 200th anniversary of Poe's birth,  the poet was much celebrated by the City of Baltimore. In 1849 his funeral could muster only 7 mourners.  On October 11, 2009 he was re-funeralized with 200 people following the hearse, and a total of over l,200 attending various funeral-related events (on the 7th, a "viewing" of Poe's body-- open casket(!!) and on the 8th, an all-night vigil. Films made from Poe's stories were shown. A panel discussion "Poe on film" was held. Suffice to say, the city was awash with Poe Fever.

www.aepoe.org
www.nevermore2009.com

 

From the writings:

All that we see or seem/ Is but a dream within a dream.

And the cloud that took the form/When the rest of heaven was blue/Of a demon in my view.

Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.

Deep into that darkness peering long/I stood there, wondering, fearing/Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.

And all my days are trances, /And all my nightly dreams/Are where thy gray eye glances,/And where thy footstep gleams--/In what ethereal dances,/By what eternal streams.