Tag Archives: Maryland cemetery

The Legend of Black Aggie

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Photo from DC Curbbed’s collection of female statuary.  http://dc.curbed.com/maps/washington-dc-public-art-female.

by E. A. Black

I have always had a soft spot for cemetery statuary. I own a replica of the Bird Girl statue seen on the cover of the book Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil. The original statue resides in a cemetery. (Editor’s note: It use to reside in Bonaventure Cemetery, but out of fear of vandalism, it was moved to the Jepson Center for the Arts in Savannah.)

When I die, I want to be interred in a huge mausoleum complete with Coptic or Masonic symbols around the door, even though I’m neither Coptic nor a Mason. If I can’t have a mausoleum, I’d love to have a beautiful statue of a shrouded woman or a classic adult female angel hovering over my grave.

I know none of this is possible (or affordable), so instead I have decided to donate my body to the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, popularly known as the Body Farm. I told my husband about it and he’s interested, too. On the other hand, I’ve always wanted to be buried beneath the floorboards of my home, with my skull sitting in a curio cabinet in the living room, so I may haunt the house, but that’s likely illegal, so the Body Farm it is.

Although I love statuary, one particular statue has frightened me since I was a child. Her name is Black Aggie. It was popular in Baltimore, Maryland in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s to scare the bejesus out of kids by telling her story. I didn’t see Black Aggie when I was a kid, although she stood in Druid Ridge Cemetery in nearby Pikesville. I begged my mother to drive me to Druid Ridge to see her, but she refused.

To me and many of my friends, Black Aggie was the stuff of legend. The life-sized statue depicted a grown woman (or man: the sex was indeterminate, but most thought of her as female) seated on a chair wearing a long, flowing shroud. The shroud covered her head, which looked down upon you from its height on a pedestal. Her expression was hard to read. She seemed pensive or sad. Considering her real name was “Grief,” such an expression seemed appropriate.

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The Adams Memorial, by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Photo by Loren Rhoads.

The original statue was designed by a premiere sculptor of the late 1800s – Augustus St. Gaudens. She was commissioned by Henry Adams (grandson of President John Quincy Adams) in honor of his late wife Marion, who had committed suicide following the death of her father. It took St. Gaudens four years to create the statue, but once finished, she was described as “one of the most powerful and expressive pieces in the history of American art, before or since.” She became known as the “Adams Memorial” and later, “Grief.” Some say Mark Twain coined the latter name, after he saw the memorial in 1906.

However, the original statue is not the statue that became known as Black Aggie. That statue is an unauthorized gray replica made in the early 1900s by Eduard L. A. Pausch. The replica sat on the grave of General Felix Agnus, a local publisher. It is this replica for which the legend of Black Aggie was born.

The replica statue was harmless in daylight, but her legend took flight at night. My friends and I had plenty of stories to tell. She moved of her own accord at night. Her eyes supposedly glowed red at the stroke of midnight. If you returned her gaze, you were struck blind. Spirits of the dead rose from their graves to gather around her. Pregnant women touched by her shadow miscarried. Grass refused to grow in front of the statue. If you stood in front of a mirror and repeated “Black Aggie,” she’d scratch your face. The only positive legend about her was that if you left coins in her palms, you’d have good luck — if you were brave enough to get that close.

Rumors abound that a college fraternity hazed initiates by requiring them to spend the night sitting in Black Aggie’s lap. One young man took the dare and was left at dusk in Druid Ridge Cemetery. When his frat buddies returned in the morning to fetch him, they found him lying in the statue’s arms, dead. The horrified expression on his face made it clear he died from fright.

Another story involved a young man who came to visit the statue at night with some of his friends. The friends wanted to leave coins for good luck, but this idiot decided it would be great fun to put his cigarette out in her palm. A decade later, his body was found in a dump in South Carolina. He had been shot in the head. The culprit remained at large, motive unknown. Us kids simply knew Black Aggie was responsible.

Sadly, the statue was vandalized. Names and messages had been scrawled on her, her granite base, and the wall behind her. Although most of the graffiti had been removed, much of it remained, defacing the statue. Despite efforts to prevent further damage, the vandalism continued into the 1960s. The Agnus family sought to donate the statue to the Maryland Institute of Art, but she ended up donated to the Smithsonian.

Her final resting place brings me to my own encounter with the statue.

In the early 1980s, I was working as a camp counselor at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland. Several new groups came in every week. One week, a high school camp came in with an architecture teacher. I sat in on his classes and we took a trip to Washington, DC, but this wasn’t your usual trip to the nation’s capitol. Instead of visiting the museums, we toured the various important forms of architecture in the area. I saw parts of DC I had never seen before.

The highlight was the Dolley Madison house. I can’t remember anything about the architecture anymore. I believe it was American Colonial. We toured the house inside and out and it was lovely. The garden was especially gorgeous. I wandered around by myself and came across a beautiful, life-sized statue of a person. In a shroud. Sitting on a chair. The teacher was standing next to me with a big shit-eating grin on his face. I stared at the statue and finally said, “Is this…?”

“Yup, it sure is.”

I stood in front of Black Aggie!

It was broad daylight. I couldn’t pull myself away. I turned to the teacher and laughed. “Her eyes aren’t glowing red.”

“Not during the day. Wait until nighttime. Bwahahaha!”

I don’t recall whether or not both of her arms were intact. There were stories that one of her arms had been severed. I also didn’t see any graffiti. Despite my childhood fears and the tall tales I had heard, I felt reverent standing in front of Black Aggie. She was an incredibly beautiful statue. Bigger than life. Kind of grayish. Her pensive expression was indeed very sad, as if she had suffered great loss. Her hands were exquisitely sculpted and quite large. I imagined that frat boy who supposedly died in her arms. Gave me the shivers.

I couldn’t resist. I touched her. The marble felt cool. Nothing happened to me. I didn’t drop dead a second later, nor was I rendered blind. I didn’t notice if any grass grew around her. She sat in the shade of some trees and seemed downright peaceful. I glanced at the ground and saw that her shadow fell across me.

“Good thing I’m not pregnant,” I said.

“Yup,” the teacher said. “You’d be a goner by now.”

Luckily, I had a camera with me and took a few pictures, but sadly I have not retained them. Still, I was delighted to have finally stood in front of the statue that scared the piss out of me when I was a kid. I was pleasantly surprised to see how beautiful she was.

I’d have been honored to have such a statue sitting on my grave. The local kids would come visit in fear of seeing her eyes glow bright red. I’d have risen from the dead just to see them running off, screaming. Black Aggie is one of the more exciting legends from my youth and I got to see her in the flesh (so to speak) when I grew up. As far as I know, she still sits in the garden courtyard of the Dolley Madison House. I should stop by for a visit the next time I’m in DC.

I’ll bring coins.

***

elizabeth_blackE. A. Black has written dark fiction and horror for numerous publications including Zippered Flesh 2: More Tales Of Body Enhancements Gone BadMirages: Tales From Authors Of The Macabre, Teeming Terrors, and Wicked Tales: The Journal Of The New England Horror Writers Vol. 3

Ms. Black’s latest release, her erotic sci fi thriller Roughing It, is available at Amazon.

She also wrote about visiting Poe’s grave for Cemetery Travel.

E. A. Black Amazon Author Page

E. A. Black blog and website

Elizabeth Black Facebook page

Elizabeth Black Twitter

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Death's Garden001About the Death’s Garden project:

For the next year, I’m planning to put a cemetery essay up every Friday. If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, I would love to hear from you, particularly if there is one you visited on vacation — or if you got married in one. The submissions guidelines are here.

 

 

 

 

Marking Fred Gwynne’s Unmarked Grave with Flowers

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All photos of Sandy Mount United Methodist Church provided by Sharon Pajka.

by Sharon Pajka

Fred Gwynne was an American actor who passed just shy of his 67th birthday in 1993. If I played a clip, I’m pretty sure that you would recognize his distinctive bass-baritone voice. Most of us know him as lovable Herman Munster or even his later role as the endearing and knowledgeable neighbor in Pet Sematary. When I announced where I was going, my brother immediately dropped lines from My Cousin Vinny.

It’s probably important to note right here that I don’t get googlie-eyed over celebrity. In fact, when I hear the term “Hollywood Actor,” I usually tune out. I’m not necessarily making it a goal to visit actors’ resting places, but there are a few actors who mean something to me. Mr. Gwynne is certainly one of them. When I learned that Gwynne was buried in an unmarked grave in Finksburg, Maryland, I figured I would take a journey to his graveside alone.

Sandy MountGwynne is buried at Sandy Mount United Methodist Church cemetery, which lies behind the church. Sandy Mount Church has a long history (historic listing). A deed from September 28, 1827 shows that the land was conveyed from Allen Baker to five trustees, under the condition that they erect a house of worship. In 1855, there was a controversy about whether to allow enslaved Africans to worship with their “masters.” The church divided and part of the congregation moved to another location and began Pleasant Grove Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1943, they were reunited.

In 1867, three stonemasons by the names of Ward, Bush, and Shipley built Sandy Grove’s stone sanctuary. A legend says that because the three men had gone out drinking, the front walls appear slightly irregular. It would be fascinating to find more information about the cemetery itself, but what I have discovered has been quite limited. While the cemetery is not very large, there are some old gravestones.

Why Gwynne’s remains rest in an unmarked grave is not clear. As far as I can tell, at the end of his life, Gwynne wanted to be Fred Gwynne the man and not Fred Gwynne the actor. In an article in Harvard’s The Crimson (2001), his daughter Madyn Gwynne said, “He was a far more complex character than the one he played on The Munsters.” Of course he was! Gwynne studied portrait-painting before enlisting in the Navy in World War II. He served as a radio operator in a submarine-chasing vessel. Afterward, he attended the New York Phoenix School of Design and Harvard University. I was excited to learn that he was also a children’s author. His books include It’s Easy to See Why, A Chocolate Moose for Dinner, The King Who Rained, Best In Show, Pondlarker, The Battle of the Frogs and Mice, and A Little Pigeon Toad.

While he may have tried to distance himself from roles that rhymed with his Herman Munster character, Gwynne noted in a 1982 interview that “I might as well tell you the truth, I love old Herman Munster. Much as I try to, I can’t stop liking that fellow.”

Soon before Gwynne passed, he and his wife bought land in Taneytown, Maryland, northeast of Baltimore. During that time, he worked as a voice-over artist in commercials. Within a year, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. When he passed away, his funeral was private.

Thanks to Findagrave.com, which pointed me in the direction of Tod Benoit’s Where Are they Buried?, I found a picture of Gwynne’s grave with the description “approximate yet accurate location of Fred Gwynne’s final resting place at Sandymount [sic] Methodist.”

“Walk into the cemetery behind the church and near the back is a distinctive Shannon stone. About twenty feet in front and to the left of the Shannon stone, Fred is buried in a grave that, but for the grass covering it, has no marking of any kind.” (Where Are they Buried? Tod Benoit, p. 179)

UnmarkedGraveWhen I researched the journey, I did not expect many people would want to visit a grave that did not even have a marker. Of course, my friends are not most people. On a somewhat chilly March afternoon, a fellow blogger and I took a road trip from Washington, D.C. to Finksburg. We’d only met in person a month prior. Although her home was more than 4,000 miles away, in Finland, my new friend just happened to be in the States for an internship. Because she had only seen a small part of the U.S., I suggested taking the journey together, so that she could also see a bit of the countryside.

We headed out on Thursday, which was a pretty beautiful day to be in a cemetery. Since we could not find a local florist, we picked up flowers at a grocery. GPS made it fairly simple to find the cemetery, which included obelisks and other traditional turn-of-the-century markers. On the side of the church stood numerous old graves that could use a bit of restoration. The Rush family gravestone stood near the parking lot. I thought it was a stunning example of craftsmanship.

Gwynne’s plot is located in the back of the cemetery, in a section that appears much more modern. Most of the cemeteries that I have visited are quite wooded. At Sandy Mount, one can stand near Gwynne’s resting place and see for what seems like miles. In the distance, there is even a windmill. Not a bad place to spend forever, if you ask me.

Of course, neither of us ever knew Fred-Gwynne-the-man, so we could only discuss the characters he played. Naturally, the character of Herman Munster stuck with us.

FredGwynneGraveI think it’s easy to start comparing The Addams Family and The Munsters. Both series aired from 1964-1966. When Jade and I were standing graveside, she stated that the family of The Munsters was a bit dysfunctional. I wasn’t quite sure why I felt the urge to defend these characters.

I’m slowly processing; trying to grasp each reflection has been like grabbing a cloud. I’ve always been much more connected to the Munsters than to the Addams Family. This could be because The Munsters aired as reruns right after school, so I grew up watching the old episodes. Also, I think what connected me to the Munster family was their working-class roots. The Addams Family appeared to be independently wealthy, while Herman Munster had to go off to work at the funeral home with his enormous lunchbox. He even started out as the “nail boy,” working his way up through the business.

In many ways, the Munster characters come across as a typical American family. Mr. Munster is (at least stereotypically) the all-American Dad, who is a bit childlike but who always means well. Viewers learn that he used to be in the army and fought in WWII.

So many of the episodes followed the formula of fitting in: immigrants coming to America to live the American dream in an old house that they thought was just right (albeit dusty and dilapidated, just like our own homes). I guess I connect because, in many ways, the Munsters’ story is my story. My family immigrated and always thought they blended in, even when their Polish roots stuck out. Just like the Munster family, they didn’t mind. They loved being themselves. They loved being here.

While I must respect Mr. Gwynne and his family’s wish to keep his resting place quiet, visiting a grave is a way to pay our respect, a way to say “Thank You!” The trip was a way to connect with someone who grew up on the other side of the world, over one actor who made a difference in both of our lives.

Mr. Gwynne, as the character of Mr. Munster, taught me that “It doesn’t matter what you look like. What matters is the size of your heart and the strength of your character.” (The Munsters, “Eddie’s Nickname,” Season 1, episode 19, aired January 28, 1965.)

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FredGwynneFlowers1Sharon Pajka is a professor of English. For fun, she studied to become a Master Tour Guide and gives tours in American Sign Language at her favorite garden cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. Her blog Goth Gardening uses gardening as a metaphor for living as she shares how some plants & flowers, creepy things, and the dead brought her back to life.

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Death's Garden001About the Death’s Garden project:

For the next year, I’m planning to put a cemetery essay up every Friday. If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, I would love to hear from you, particularly if there is one you visited on vacation — or if you got married in one. The submissions guidelines are here.

Death’s Garden: Westminster Church

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Poe’s monument, as photographed by R. Samuel Klatchko

by E. A. Black

I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, and Edgar Allan Poe has always been my favorite writer. When I was 17 and a junior in high school back in the 1970s, my social studies teacher gave my class the assignment of writing about a famous American. I didn’t want to merely crack open a book and write an essay about Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Abe Lincoln, or Ernest Hemingway. I craved adventure. Since I lived near Westminster Church in Baltimore, where Poe was buried, I figured why write a boring report when I could turn my essay into a huge research project, complete with actual visits to Poe’s grave?

My mother drove me to the Poe House on Amity Street, where we were given the grand tour. The house was tiny and crowded. I imagined Poe, his 14-year-old wife and cousin Virginia Clemm, and his aunt and mother-in-law Maria Clemm singing around the piano in the living room. He doted on Virginia and took care of her when she became sick with tuberculosis. The disease eventually killed her. Although it can’t be proven, the Poe Society alleges Poe wrote about a dozen stories and poems while he lived in the house, including MS Found In A Bottle, Berenice, and Morella.

After visiting the house, we went to Westminster Presbyterian Church and graveyard. I was blown away at how massive the site was. The church itself was built in the Gothic Revival style, full of nooks, crannies, and spooky airs. The brick building had a slanted A-frame roof that loomed over me. A tall tower with four spires sat in the center of the building in the front. Tall arched Gothic windows graced all sides of the church. It was a spectacular structure, especially to an impressionable 17-year-old like myself.

While many notable Baltimoreans were buried in Westminster Cemetery, including mayors, U. S. Representatives, military personnel from the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, and the son of Francis Scott Key (Key wrote The Star-Spangled Banner), the only people who interested me were Poe and his wife. Poe’s monument, which is visible from the street, was massive. A bronze plaque with his facial image is on one side of the monument, along with his birth and death dates. He, his wife/cousin Virginia, and his aunt/mother-in-law are buried beneath it. I huddled around the grave with other guests on a cold fall Saturday afternoon. Jeff Jerome, the Poe House curator, told Poe’s story and the history of the grave.

Poe’s wife Virginia died in New York. Years later, when the cemetery she was buried in was destroyed, her remains were transferred from her resting space. According to legend, the sexton in the New York cemetery held Virginia’s bones on his shovel and was ready to toss them when Poe biographer William Gill claimed them. The story was that there was so little left of her body that her remains were placed in a box the size of a shoebox. Gill stored the box under his bed and later arranged for it to be sent to Baltimore. Her remains were buried with her husband’s on his birthday in 1885.

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Poe’s monument, as photographed by R. Samuel Klatchko

The monument is one of two gravestones of his on the site. The original one stands towards the back of Westminster Hall, marked with an engraved raven. That’s where Poe was originally buried. It’s a family plot, where his grandfather and brother are also buried. In 1875, a local school teacher raised money for a classier monument for the writer, a “Pennies For Poe” project. The result is the massive monument I saw first – the one visible from the street. Once it was completed, Poe’s body was transferred. Because of that project, it’s customary for visitors to leave pennies on the monument. When I visited, I left a penny. Of course I did. I wanted to be a part of history.

The interior of Westminster Hall, where the catacombs were located, was dark, and creepy. It smelled of damp earth. Full of gravestones and burial vaults, it was rather smothering. I had to bend over a little when I walked. I imagined men and women buried alive in those depths, like what Poe had written in his Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Good thing I didn’t have claustrophobia. The further into the crypts I walked, the more intense was the feeling of desolation and death. If there was ever an appropriate place to bury Edgar Allan Poe, this was it.

For 75 years, a mysterious man known as the Poe Toaster would visit the large monument on Poe’s birthday (January 19) and leave roses and a half-empty bottle of cognac on the grave. Rumor stated that the tradition was handed down from the original Poe Toaster to his son. The curator of the Poe Museum allegedly knew the identity of the Poe Toaster, but never revealed who the man was. I’d heard that a small crowd would gather around Poe’s grave on his birthday, but when the Poe Toaster stopped by in the dead of night with his gifts, no one disturbed him. Sadly, I’ve never been to the cemetery on Poe’s birthday to witness this. The Poe Toaster stopped visiting in 2010. (Loren’s note:  a new Poe Toaster may have taken up the tradition.)

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Halloween was always a fun time at the Westminster Church cemetery. I went to the holiday festivities the year I wrote my social studies essay. The assistant curator of the Poe House, whose name I can’t recall, bore a rather striking resemblance to the writer. He dressed up in 19th-century garb, pretending to be Poe, and read from Poe’s classic The Black Cat. I was entranced, a teenager with a love for horror in her element.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, it’s about a man driven insane by his hatred for a black cat named Pluto. He kills the cat. One night when he was out drinking again, another black cat stumbled onto the scene. It looked remarkably like Pluto and his wife instantly took a liking to it. The man had been abusing her all along and his abuse escalated as the new cat made itself comfortable in their presence. Overcome by his loathing of the animal, he tried to kill it with an axe. When his wife tried to stop him, he buried the axe in her brain, killing her. He entombed her body in a space beneath the cellar wall. When the cops came around, he boasted about how well his house was built. He took them to the cellar and hit his cane against the wall in front of where he buried his wife. From behind the bricks came the sad and desperate sound of a cat mewling. When the police tore down the wall, they found the body of the man’s wife and the cat, disheveled but alive, on top of her head. The man had accidentally sealed the cat in the wall with his wife’s body. He was sent to jail and was hanged.

At the end of the assistant curator’s story, he pulled out a toy black cat and wrestled with it, complete with shrieking, startling everyone out of their wits. It was the best story reading I’d ever seen. It sure shook me up. I couldn’t stop laughing. I hadn’t had that much fun in years.

I’ve often driven past the church and caught glimpses of the Poe monument from the street. Although I have lived in New England for 20 years and I’ve seen many old and historic cemeteries, Westminster Church and Edgar Allan Poe’s grave remain the cemetery that made the biggest impression on me.

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elizabeth_blackE. A. Black has written dark fiction and horror for numerous publications including Zippered Flesh 2: More Tales Of Body Enhancements Gone Bad, Mirages: Tales From Authors Of The Macabre, Teeming Terrors, and Wicked Tales: The Journal Of The New England Horror Writers Vol. 3.

E. A. Black Amazon Author Page

E. A. Black blog and website

Elizabeth Black Facebook page

Elizabeth Black Twitter

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Death's Garden001About the Death’s Garden project:

For the next year, I’m planning to put a cemetery essay up every Friday. If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, I would love to hear from you, particularly if there is one you visited on vacation — or if you got married in one. The submissions guidelines are here.

Impressions of Graveyards in Maryland, Virginia, and DC

The Chesapeake Book of the Dead: Tombstones, Epitaphs, Histories, Reflections, and Oddments of the RegionThe Chesapeake Book of the Dead: Tombstones, Epitaphs, Histories, Reflections, and Oddments of the Region by Helen Chappell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a very strange book, more a collection of ghost stories than essays about cemeteries. The author was inspired by the legendary Wisconsin Death Trip, but instead of collecting news stories, historical photos, and real-world evidence of how things were, she collects urban legends and tales of hauntings, reproducing some in dialect that mimics oral accounts without actually being quoted. Woven around those stories are her memories of growing up in an abandoned graveyard near her father’s farm and her visits to graveyards as an adult. Obviously, I like those parts of the book better than the folklore.

And it’s not that I don’t like folklore. It’s just that I wish it acted more like nonfiction here, without real people telling the stories or at least the author really responding to hearing or reading them. Instead, it feels like chunks of fiction are dropped in amongst the thoughtful essays. In fact, I’m deeply interested in her justifications of visiting cemeteries as she tangentially faces the oncoming reality of death, and her delicious, good-natured morbid curiosity. I wish there was lots more of that.

The photos by Starke Jett V don’t often rise to the level of the cover photo, with its plundered grave and jauntily tilted skull. Still, they do become art from time to time: the crow captured as it alights on a weathered stone, the naked toddler on the Clover Addams monument in Rock Creek Cemetery. They don’t detract from the text but they don’t exactly illustrate it, either.

I wish there was an index, to make the book more useful as of a research text, but I realize my uses probably differ from most people’s.  We all might benefit from an explanation of what she considers the Chesapeake area, though. I had to google it.

You can get your own copy of the book for a reasonable price on Amazon.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

Cemetery of the Week #111: Westminster Hall Burying Ground

Poe's Grave as photographed by Mason Jones

Poe’s Grave as photographed by Mason Jones

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
Founded: 1786
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.

Poe's monument, as photographed by R. Samuel Klatchko

Poe’s monument, as photographed by R. Samuel Klatchko

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.

The stone marking Poe's original grave, photographed by R. Samuel Klatchko

The stone marking Poe’s original grave, photographed by R. Samuel Klatchko

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 (mrodney@law.umaryland.edu) for more details.

Useful links:

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

Famous and Curious Cemeteries

The Chesapeake Book of the Dead: Tombstones, Epitaphs, Histories, Reflections, and Oddments of the Region by Helen Chappell