Volunteer Holly honors a late literary great.
The night was like a scene from Poe’s own pen: “The skies they were ashen and sober; / The leaves they were crisped and sere– / The leaves they were withering and sere; / It was night in the lonesome October / Of my most immemorial year.” (“Ulalume,” 1850)
Dark umbrellas barricaded mourners from the chilled rain as they gathered at the base of the large stone tomb. Flowers lay on the unyielding, cold marble, and a small black raven perched just beside the letters carved to form the name Edgar Allen Poe.
As many have for years, lovers of Poe’s literary work gathered at his tomb on October 7, the anniversary of his mysterious death. This year, many notable names attended the Eulogy at the Westminster Graveyard in Baltimore. Honored guests such as Edgar’s mother, Elizabeth Arnold Poe; H. P. Lovecraft; and even President Abraham Lincoln, spoke on Poe’s behalf.
Sir Alfred Hitchcock gave a memorable speech in which he admitted that his work was inspired by Poe, and Hitchcock explored why readers and audiences alike love the macabre:
Fear…it seems is a feeling that people like to feel when they are certain of being in safety. When one is rightfully seated in one’s home and is reading a gruesome story, one feels never-the-less worried; and when one realizes it is their imagination that is responsible for the fear, one is amazed by an extraordinary happiness.
Perhaps this is why Poe’s chilling words are still so effective after all of these years. We can explore “The Fall of the House of Usher” or the depths of the wine cellar in “The Cask of Amontillado;” we can even feel “The Tell-Tale Heart” beat in our own chest and yet know the safety of the familiar world around us.
But for me, on that night, I was able to step into the dark, unfamiliar world of Poe in reality. After the services were done and the modest crowd had thinned, a new friend led me on an adventure. I had never known that around the back of the church, past the famous tomb, past the dilapidated headstones, sunken and scratched, through the rain-drenched puddles on the uneven walkway that, deep in a back corner, shadowed by tall trees, was the original burial place of Poe. The humble, ancient tombstone that marked the grave where he no longer lays more befitted a horror movie than the large, pristine, prism-like structure where he’s buried now. In the dark antique, cemetery on that damp, somber evening, I didn’t feel fear, as one might expect. Instead the night felt complete.
I could almost hear Poe recite his own poem to the few of us who lingered by his grave, “I mourn not that the desolate / Are happier, sweet, than I, / But that you sorrow for my fate / Who am a passer by.”
(“To – –,” 1850)
To learn more about the fate of the Poe House in Baltimore and to read about the brand new magazine created in Poe’s honor check out the website Poeforevermore.com. For the latest events, including a Halloween night tour of Westminster’s burial grounds and catacombs, check out their facebook page.