Edgar Allan Poe: January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849
The death of Edgar Allan Poe on October 7, 1849, has remained mysterious: the circumstances leading up to it are uncertain and the cause of death is disputed. On October 3, Poe was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland, “in great distress, and…in need of immediate assistance,” according to the man who found him, Joseph W. Walker. He was taken to the Washington College Hospital, where he died at 5 a.m. on Sunday, October 7. Poe was never coherent enough to explain how he came to be in this condition.
When Poe was originally buried in 1849, he was placed in an unmarked grave. Reports of Poe’s anonymous and unkempt grave began to circulate, first privately then in the newspapers. In 1860 Maria Clemm wrote to Poe’s friends, “A lady called on me a short time ago from Baltimore. She said she had visited my darling Eddie’s grave. She said it was in the basement of the church, covered with rubbish and coal. Is this true? Please let me know. I am certain both he and I have still friends left to rescue his loved remains from degradation” (letter from Maria Clemm to Neilson Poe, August 1860, reprinted in J. C. Miller, Building Poe Biography, pp. 46-49).
This note of concern seems to have spurred his friends to action. They assured Mrs. Clemm that Poe was buried in the family lot and that he would take care that the grave was better maintained. Shortly after, they ordered a marble headstone, which was in the process of being carved by Hugh Sisson. Due to the weight of the stones and the difficulty of moving them, the monument yard was next to the railroad line. Before it could be installed, the recently completed stone was destroyed in an accident in which a train ran off the tracks and directly through the yard. Not of great means, his friends did not order a second stone. It survives only in a pencil sketch by Charles H. Dimmock.
By 1865 a movement had begun, under the leadership of Miss Sara Sigourney Rice, to provide for a new monument dedicated to Baltimore’s neglected poet. Through a combination of pennies accumulated by students, gifts from friends and a variety of benefits, half of the necessary amount was raised by 1871.