” 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.
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.
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.
The 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:
Both 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.