Westminster Hall Burying Ground
Also known as Westminster Presbyterian Churchyard
519 West Fayette Street at Green Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21201
Telephone: (410) 706-2072
Tours: (410) 706-4128
Last burial: 1943
Size: 180 burial plots
Open: 8 a.m. to dusk.
This land originally belonged to John Eager Howard, a three-term governor of Maryland, who deeded the plot to the First Presbyterian Church in the 1780s. A city ordinance in 1849 banished graveyards from inside the Baltimore city limits, but this burial ground squeaked by because it was attached to a church.
Which is a story in itself: most churchyards are built around an existing church. In this case, the burial ground was established first, on the edge of Baltimore. As the city grew out to surround it, the Presbyterians built a church in the 1840s. Rather than disturb the old graves below, the church was built on piers that raised it above them. Eventually the piers were enclosed, creating catacombs that can be toured by appointment.
Famous and Curious Cemeteries calls Westminster “one of the most historic and Gothic churchyards in Baltimore,” without establishing if the field of similar churchyards is crowded. Among its attractions are the Egyptian Revival tombs at the rear of the church.
Its best-loved resident lies just inside the gates. A large monument marks the grave of Edgar Allan Poe, his wife Virginia, and her mother Maria Clemm. When Famous and Curious Cemeteries was written, six small square markers, each adorned with the letter P, identified the boundaries of the Poe family plot. I don’t know if those are still in place, but the cemetery was badly vandalized before the University of Maryland stepped in and took over its upkeep.
Poe was originally buried in 1849 the plot of his grandfather David Poe, elsewhere in the churchyard. His unkempt grave went unmarked for decades, despite several attempts to provide a suitable monument. Eventually, he was moved in November 1875 to this more prominent plot when his mother-in-law died. It took 10 years before his wife was exhumed from her grave in New York and reburied in Baltimore beside him.
A small marble stone was created to mark Poe’s original grave. It was placed outside the Poe family lot, but later moved to the correct spot.
For decades on Poe’s birthday in January, a mysterious black-clad figure would toast Poe’s grave with a bottle of cognac and leave a bouquet of roses. A Grave Interest, one of my favorite blogs, has a great post about the Poe Toaster.
Also buried in the churchyard are one signer of the Constitution and 18 generals of the Revolution and War of 1812.
According to The Chesapeake Book of the Dead, the catacombs under the red-brick church are haunted by Frank, the ghost of a body snatcher, who once plundered these graves to supply Johns Hopkins University with cadavers for dissection.
The church ceased to be used as a church in the late 1970s. Now it can be rented for weddings and other occassions.
Completely by accident, this post commemorates the anniversary of Poe’s death on October 7, 1849. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come soon enough to tell you about the annual celebration of Poe’s death, which was held last Sunday, October 6, 2013. You still have time, however, for this:
Annual Halloween Tour of Westminster Hall & Burying Grounds
Thursday, October 31, 2013, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
$5 for adults, $3 for children under 12. No reservations required.
Come celebrate Halloween with Westminster Hall’s Annual Halloween Tour, a Baltimore tradition for over 30 years! Tour Westminster Hall, its catacombs, and the burying ground. Eerie music will be performed by Count Dracula on the Opus 577, the fully restored 1882 organ. Gripping readings and performances of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart” and “TheMasque of the Red Death.” Contact Mary Jo Rodney (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more details.
The Poe Society’s page on Poe’s grave
The Westminster Hall homepage
Some pictures of the churchyard and a map
The Poe Museum’s Facebook page
Ghost tours of Baltimore
GPS information from CemeteryRegistry.us
Books on Cemetery Travel that reference Westminster or Poe:
Tombstones: 75 Famous People and Their Final Resting Places by Gregg Felsen
The Chesapeake Book of the Dead: Tombstones, Epitaphs, Histories, Reflections, and Oddments of the Region by Helen Chappell