Poe, Some Bones, and a Cask of Amontillado

” The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.” The Cask of Amontillado has always been one of my favorite Poe stories. How could I miss the 2013 Cask of Amontillado Wine Tasting Among the Bones? A Saturday of sampling wine and beer in Baltimore’s Westminster Hall & Burying Ground, toasting Poe, the cemetery’s most famous occupant–yes, please! Here are some glimpses.

Poe actors reciting The Raven

Listening to an excellent delivery of The Raven

Crowd at the 2013 Cask of Amontillado Wine Tasting Among the Bones

The audience

Inside the 2013 Cask of Amontillado Wine Tasting Among the Bones, Westminster Hall, Baltimore

There was beer, wines, and booths with all things Poe

The Raven beer sign and t-shirts

The Raven beer sign and t-shirts

Poe and other Paintings by Mark Redfield

E.A. Poe, Karloff as Captain Cook, and other paintings by Mark Redfield

Westminster Hall and Burying Ground, Baltimore, MD

Westminster Hall & Burying Ground, “where Baltimore’s history rests in peace”

The $25 entry fee (all to support the reopening of The Baltimore Poe House and Museum, the little house on Amity street) included the tasting of 4 local wines and 1 beer, performances, and a tour of “the catacombs.” Burials began here in 1788. The land was purchased by wealthy Scots-Irish Presbyterians and once marked the outskirts of the growing port town. Over the years, Revolutionary patriots, heroes of the War of 1812, mayors, statesmen, and merchant princes found their final refuge in this ground. In 1852, an austere Gothic church rose on brick piers over part of the graveyard. The historic tombs were left undisturbed, now part of the catacombs, not quite as grand or extensive as those housing the vaults of the Montresors in Poe’s story, but impressive and atmospheric still.

Catacombs of the Westminster Hall and Burial Ground, Baltimore, MD

The denizens of the catacombs

A child's ice coffin, Westminster Hall and Burial Ground, Baltimore

A child’s ice coffin

Grave in the catacombs of the Westminster Hall and Burial Ground, Baltimore

A farewell love letter in stone

Gifts of the Poe Toaster, Westminster Hall & Burying Ground

Offerings of the Poe Toaster, the mysterious stranger(s) who, between 1949 and 2009, marked the night of Poe’s birthday with a tribute of cognac and three roses, left on Poe’s grave

A creaky wooden door connects the catacombs to the world outside. A dense grove of ground slabs, raised tablets, and mausoleums encircle the church. All in all, over 1,000 people are buried within this narrow city block.

Grave at Westminster Hall & Burying Ground, Baltimore

Raised marble slab at Westminster Hall and Burying Ground, Baltimore

Raised marble slabs were meant to discourage grave robbers, at one time a flourishing profession in Baltimore thanks to its medical school. This particular slab was featured on Ripley’s Believe It or Not for “defying gravity”

The Brown children, Westminster Hall and Burying Ground, Baltimore, MD

In the 1700s, one in three Baltimore children died in his or her first year. The Brown family lost six out of their 10 children within 12 years

Mausoleums, Westminster Hall & Burying Ground, Baltimore, MDThe magnetic center of the grounds, of course, is the white marble tomb of Edgar Allan Poe. This is not his original burial place. When he died in Baltimore under mysterious circumstances in 1849, Poe was buried in an unmarked grave with his grandfather, a prominent Baltimorean, on the cemetery’s southern lawn. After much neglect, Poe’s remains were moved to a more prominent location, where another decade later he was reunited with his wife Virginia and his mother-in-law/aunt, both originally buried elsewhere. In 1913, a headstone was erected to mark Poe’s original burial spot (eventually, it was even placed in the correct location). With its raven, weathered stone, and bold script, I think it a more fitting memorial. Compare:

Poe's original resting place, Baltimore

The tombstone reads, “Original Burial Place of Edgar Allan Poe from October 9, 1849 until November 17, 1875. Mrs. Maria Clemm, his mother-in-law, lies upon his right and Virginia Poe, his wife, upon his left under the monument erected to him in this cemetery”

Poe's Tomb, Westminster Hall & Burying Ground, Baltimore

Poe, his wife Virginia, and his mother-in-law (and aunt) Maria Poe Clemm: The marble tomb was designed by George A. Frederick, the architect of Baltimore’s ornate City Hall. Frederick wrote in 1874, “My idea in designing this monument was to produce something simple, chaste, and dignified, to strike more by graceful outlines and proportions than by crowding with unmeaning ornament.”

Street signs near Westminster Hall, BaltimoreBoth graves attract a steady trickle of pilgrims, many bearing trinkets and pennies (a school-children’s “Pennies for Poe” campaign helped finance the grave upgrade). It took years for Poe to get his headstones. If vengeful Montresor and doomed Fortunato can patch up their differences, perhaps the little house on Amity street can be saved too.

Montresor and Fortunato, 2013 Cask of Amontillado Tasting Among the Bones, Baltimore

Montresor and Fortunato, dancing over the catacombs

8 thoughts on “Poe, Some Bones, and a Cask of Amontillado

  1. This looks like a wonderful event. I love wandering around old cemeteries. FYI, if you haven’t been, Charleston, SC has a number of interesting old churches with some very cool cemeteries attached. I lived there, and luckily, had the luxury of taking lots of time to explore. Also, Poe lived in Richmond, VA. Are there Poe sites there as well? ~James

    • I love old cemeteries too, James. To my own surprise, I STILL haven’t been to either Charleston or Richmond, but both are in the works for a weekend getaway this year. I will seek out some Poe connections in Richmond! Thank you.

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