Monday, August 12, 2013

Monday Morning Stories With Mookie - Episode 81

The Time Mookie Visited Edgar Allan Poe

A few years ago, the company I work for needed me to travel to Baltimore.  Prior to this, I had never been to Baltimore - so I have to admit that I was kind of excited by the prospect.  Since I knew nothing about Baltimore - other than the Orioles and Ravens played there - I looked on the Internet to see if there was anything "fun" to do when I wasn't busy working.  As it turned out, there was a fair amount to see and do - but it was "encouraged" to only do these things during the daytime hours.  The reason for this is that the city of Baltimore makes the top-ten list for almost every violent crime statistic in the United States.

In looking at the statistics, I thought it was funny that they mentioned that Baltimore's "forcible rape" statistics were one of the lowest of the top ten most violent cities.  In fact, the average ratio in most of the so-called violent cities was five rapes for every murder.  HOWEVER!  Baltimore's ratio was FIVE MURDERS FOR EVERY RAPE reported. So apparently -  while my odds of taking a knife in the back were somewhat high, I should have been relieved by the fact that I probably wouldn't be forcibly bent over a garbage can and raped in a vacant alley against my will.  I was not reassured or relieved by this.

One definite point of interest that jumped up at me during my "things to do" research was that Edgar Allan Poe was buried in Baltimore. I decided that this was definitely something to check out, so I looked up where it was in proximity to my hotel and Googled directions on how to get there.

My first evening in town, I set out for Mr. Poe's gravesite just after dinner. The grave is located at a place called Westminster Hall and Burying Ground, and Google told me it was less than a mile from my hotel. However, once I got about three blocks from my hotel I quickly found myself on full-alert about anyone and everyone I encountered.  The neighborhood I was walking through and the people I was walking past were definitely scary.  Even though there was still plenty of daylight left, I quickly wished I had set out earlier in the daytime as I did not want to be a statistic under one of the city's top ten violent crimes.  I do have to say though that for the record: At no time did I feel like I could be a victim of forcible rape. So there you go.

Fun fact:  Poe's information on the monument is
incorrect.  His date of birth is actually January 19th.
The stone shows January 20th.
After a brisk 10-minute walk, I arrived at Westminster Hall and Burying Ground.  The entire place is surrounded by six-foot wrought-iron fencing and brick walls, and I found that the main gate is actually right next to Poe's grave site.  Luckily the gate was open.  I mention this because I tried to visit the site during a trip a year later and found the gate locked.

As I said, the first grave right inside the gate is Edgar Allan Poe's.  Poe is buried in this spot along with his wife and his mother-in-law.  WHO would want to be buried for all of eternity with their mother-in-law???

Each person's life data (date of birth / date of death) was on a side of the four-sided monument, with the front having a bronze portrait of Poe and his name.

After admiring and reading the information around the Poe grave, I ventured further into the cemetery to see what other interesting things lay within the brick-walled confines of Westminster Burying Grounds.  Some of the more interesting types of graves I found were ones that were above ground.  They were side-by-side crypts that had metal doors on the front.  It looked as though you could open the doors and say "Hey what's up dead guy?"

Another interesting batch of graves were marked by stones that were probably the approximate size of the deceased's casket.  The text on some of them was still legible, but many of the markers were hard to read due to their age.  In reading about the cemetery prior to going - and looking at some of the helpful signage next to some graves, the cemetery holds some of Baltimore's earliest leaders, a few notable United States politicians, and a few leaders from the War of 1812.

The original burial site of Edgar Allan Poe, and the site of
the "Poe Toaster." Note the roses and cognac left by imitators.
As you wander towards the back of the cemetery, you come to what some consider to be the cemetery's "main attraction:" Edgar Allan Poe's original burial site. When Poe died, he was originally buried at this spot near a few of his other family members.  However years later, he was moved and interred at the more prominent site where he rests today with his wife and mother-in-law.  This spot is marked with a stone indicating that it is Poe's "original" burial place, and notes the dates he was buried there.  One reason it is significant to many Poe fans is because this is the spot where the infamous "Poe Toaster" used to make his annual visit on Poe's birthday.

I wanted to visit this site because I enjoyed reading the stories every year about how the "Toaster" would sneak into the cemetery very early in the morning on January 19th, leave roses at the burial marker, toast the author with cognac, and then discreetly leave without anyone ever knowing who they were.  I found the whole "mystery" of it all quite entertaining.  Sadly this tradition appears to have ended in 2009, and the mystery of who the "Poe Toaster" is/was still remains a mystery.

After this I ventured further into the cemetery and saw a few "regular" - but quite old graves.  As you can see from the pictures, the grounds are kept very well and even have lighting (presumably for security and special events as I believe the gates are closed after dark).

I kept waiting for a hand to
come up out of the ground.
One particular grave gave me the creeps as it had the appearance like the granite slab marker had been "moved" by someone....or some thing. After walking past this grave and continuing on, I had the distinct feeling I was being watched.  That was when I came to what looked like two large above-ground crypts.  They were separated by a narrow walkway that went into a small area behind the church that had a few more graves.

At the "entrance" to the walkway on side of the crypt was a carving of what looked to be a human.  As you can see, time has eroded the carving - thus making it look like something scary you'd see in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It definitely creeped me out.  I have to add that it didn't help matters that the sun was going down and it was starting to get dark.

I'm pretty sure something was watching me.
I decided to walk down the path between the two crypts, and check out what was on the other side.  When I got to the end of the path, I quickly realized that this part of the cemetery was not terribly interesting, but was also a dead end (ha ha) and I would have to go back up the path.  When I looked back up the path into the regular cemetery, I didn't see anyone...but I had the CERTAIN feeling that I was definitely being watched by something. Not only that, I felt like I was being followed as well.  I don't know by what, but I do know for a fact that I was the only living person in that cemetery at that time.

Doorway to graves
After exiting the "crypt corridor," I wandered through the rest of the grounds and made my way back around the church and towards the exit.  As I walked past more above-ground crypts that I didn't see on my way in, I noticed the door pictured here. I thought it looked odd as it was "below" the church, but yet part of the foundation.  In my research after visiting the site, I found that the cemetery existed before the church, and that the church was built OVER part of the cemetery. Therefore there are "catacombs" under the church (i.e: graves in the basement).  According to what I read - they give guided tours of the catacombs (and the entire site) at designated times if you so desire.
I'd suggest that you check out http://www.westminsterhall.org if you are in Baltimore and are interested in seeing all of that.

As I made my way out of the Burying Grounds, I visited Mr. Poe's grave one more time and headed out into the street. Once I got up the street a little ways, I turned and snapped a pic of Westminster Hall's steeple in the evening twilight. I think the looming spooky and gothic nature of the picture was a nice book-end of my visit to Edgar Allan Poe's grave.

After I left the cemetery, I have to say that as I continued walking on around the Inner Harbor area of Baltimore - it was quite awhile before I no longer felt like something was watching/following me.

Those spirits must have needed some exercise.


Credit: Mookie
Nothing to see here.  Just the 911 crew picking up a dead
guy lying on the sidewalk in Baltimore as I walked by.

One final note about my trip -

As I was walking back to the hotel later that night, I crossed in front of a group of EMT responders that were picking up a dead guy off the sidewalk up the block from my hotel. Not kidding.

SO!  When you are planning your next vacation to Baltimore, remember that you statistically have a 1 in 69 chance of being a victim of a violent crime.

How do you like them odds??


Sources:
Neighborhoodscout.com
Marketwatch.com

Miss a previous episode of Monday Morning Stories With Mookie?  Click HERE to catch up!

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