Friday, August 8, 2014

Poe's Grave

So, last weekend we got together with some friends in Bethesda. It was a v. pleasant gathering, and the day after (Monday) Janice and I went up to Baltimore to visit the gravesites (both of them) of one of my favorite authors, Edgar Poe.

Being so close to Baltimore, one of the cities with strong Poe associations (the others being Boston, where he was born, and Richmond, where he grew up). I knew from checking online that the Poe House, where he lived for a time with his aunt and cousin (later his mother-in-law and wife, respectively), is only open on weekends. Still, we went by and looked it over from outside. Both Janice and I had some warnings before we went that it was in a dangerous neighborhood and that walking around there might not be safe. We didn't find it so, and have to conclude that 'dangerous' is code for 'you may see black people'. In fact, the area reminded me of parts of Milwaukee, around the warehouses and old breweries, I used to walk through without thinking twice.

Despite not being able to go inside, we had a good look around outside and in back, and Janice took several pictures for me, including one of me knocking at the door (you never know; a staff member might have been inside who'd at least answer some questions). A friendly French couple on bikes arrived just about the same time as we did, which is not surprising; Poe has always been highly rated in France, where the word-music of his poetry inspired a generation of followers, whereas in America he remained an anomaly.

Before we'd walked to the Poe House we'd stopped by the graveyard where Poe is buried. First, just inside the gate, we saw his current gravesite (shared with his wife and mother-in-law). Then we walked around thought the graveyard -- and an interesting graveyard it is at that -- until we found the original gravesite, next to his grandfather General Poe (also known as Quartermaster Poe, a prominent Revolutionary War era figure). The first of the following pictures shows Poe's grave; the next, the site of his original (unmarked) grave; the third a strange little house-like mausoleum in the cemetery.

I'm really glad we got to go by so I could pay my respects.   I've been an admirer of Poe for decades -- the tea cup I've used almost daily for so long that I can't remember exactly when I got it (it was before May 1989, since I was already using it before my time as a T.A. at Marquette ended) is the QPBC POE mug, and I have the two-volume Mabbott set of Poe's short stories, as well as the wonderful little book by Michael Deas that reproduces every known photo and contemporary portrait of Poe.  He's one of those few authors whose complete works I've read,* including all the surviving correspondence and his book about the Big Bang theory, EUREKA.

When I first came to Marquette and had to pick three 'fields' of English &/or American literature to specialize in, I wanted Twentieth Century British (Tolkien's contemporaries), Medieval (Tolkien's own speciality), and Nineteenth Century American (Twain & Poe). Being told at least two of the fields had to be contiguous, I reluctantly switched Nineteenth Century American to Nineteenth Century British (contemporaries of Morris and Tolkien's other precursors). But it was w. regret that I let go of the chance of working on Twain and Poe.

Poe is just about the only 19th century American author people read without being made to (i.e., for pleasure, as opposed to being assigned it for class) -- the only others I can think of are Twain and perhaps Thoreau.** He's the only major literary figure of the 19th century to be a major figure in both prose and poetry***, a founding father of the detective story, the genre of science fiction, and of course the supreme figure in horror fiction. A serious claim can be made for him as the author of the first fantasy story in the modern sense: "Silence" -- if Tolkien is the father of modern fantasy and Dunsany and Morris its grandfathers, Poe is definitely somewhere back in the family tree as a great-uncle or something of the sort (he was, incidently, one of Dunsany's favorite authors).

Afterwards we headed down and strolled about Baltimore's Inner Harbor, which has disappointedly been converted to a mall with chain stores (Hooters, Barnes & Noble, Hard Rock Cafe) rather than local businesses. We went to the National Aquarium (v. expensive at about $35 per ticket; I had a hard time convincing the teller we're not entitled to the post-65 discount), which bizarrely had an aviary as one level; best thing about their displays were the rays, which I think are becoming my favorite fish.  We also did a self-guided tour of the U.S.S. Constellation, a three-masted sailing ship from the 1850s, which was much bigger than we expected, with much larger captain's and officers' quarters than I'd have guessed.

So, a red-letter day -- a short visit but a good one. Glad we got to make the side-trip.

--John R.

*aside from his book reviews, which I'm planning to tackle soon.

**I wd include Washington Irving, but while everyone knows two (and only two) of his stories -- The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the story of Rip Van Winkle -- they generally do so in modernized retellings, not Irving's original tales.

***his only rival here is Hardy, who abandoned novels in 1895 and reinvented himself as a serious poet early in the new century.

No comments: