October always brings Edgar Allan Poe to mind, not only because of the Halloween associations of his spooky stories and poems, but also because of his own October passage across the threshold of death. On October 3, 1849, Poe was found nearly lifeless in a public house in Baltimore and several days later succumbed to “congestion of the brain.” There is no definitive record of his movements in the several days before he died, and there are many theories as to the cause of his death. Some say it was alcohol poisoning, some say it was some other illness or heart disease that killed him. Because it was election day in Baltimore and he was not wearing his own clothes when he died, others suspect that he was a victim of “cooping,” having been taken prisoner by a political gang, beaten and forced to vote repeatedly. He was attended by Dr. John Joseph Moran at Washington College Hospital, where he was kept a virtual prisoner and allowed no visitors, for several days slipping between consciousness and delirium. Moran reported that his final words were “Lord, help my poor soul!,” just before he expired on October 7.
Poe’s funeral was the next day, a hasty 3-minute ceremony in the damp chill, so sparsely attended that the minister declined to give a sermon. He was buried without a headstone, because the monument his cousin had ordered was accidentally destroyed by a derailed train. He was exhumed and reburied, with a new tomb monument, in 1875, at a ceremony to which several leading poets were invited, but only Walt Whitman attended.
In 2009, 160 years after his death, Edgar Allan Poe was finally given a proper send-off in Baltimore—a “viewing” of his recreated dead body in the casket, a funeral procession accompanied by bagpipes, and a memorial service with eulogies delivered by actors in the roles of his contemporaries and colleagues, attended by more than 700 admirers and mourners. The “master of the macabre” was at last laid properly to rest.
from The Baltimore Sun:
“A Proper Reburial,” by Robert Little (with video of the viewing and funeral)
“Edgar A. Poe, local author and poet of much renown, was laid to rest at Westminster Hall yesterday inside a simple redwood coffin, after a grand theatrical and oratorical send-off to usher him, as he once wrote, ‘into the region of shadows.’ Of course the true Poe remained buried beneath the monument on the northwest corner of the church grounds in Southwest Baltimore, near where his body was placed hastily in a family plot soon after his death on October 7, 1849. But yesterday the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe’s death was revived, so that the great poet could receive the eulogy that eluded him in the days following his demise.”
More on Edgar Allan Poe:
Our biographical profile of E.A. Poe, American Romantic
Library: Poems by E.A. Poe
Celebrating Edgar Allan Poe’s 200th Birthday (2008)
A new wrinkle in the mystery of Edgar Allan Poe’s Death (2007)
The Mysterious Poe Toaster Revealed? (2007)
Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe! The Empty House Tour, by Tom Devaney
A new Poe(try) film: The Death of Poe (2006)