Poe Finally Gets A Fitting Funeral In Baltimore

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Hundreds of people gathered in Baltimore on Sunday for a funeral service for writer Edgar Allan Poe. It's one of many events marking the 200th anniversary of Poe's birth. The ceremonies were more befitting the great writer than the hastily arranged event that actually marked his passing in 1849.


Hundreds of people turned out in Baltimore yesterday to pay their respects to a famous author. The author is Edgar Allan Poe, who died in 1849. This year is the bicentennial of Poe's birth, which is being celebrated in various ways around the country. And why not give the man known for "The Raven" and "The Telltale Heart" a grand funeral? Since when Poe actually died penniless, so few people came to his funeral, the minister dispensed with the sermon.

NPR's Allison Keyes has this report.

(Soundbite of music)

ALLISON KEYES: They came in droves, lining the streets in front of Baltimore's red brick Westminster Hall. Crowds watched a group of men playing bagpipes precede a historic horse-drawn hearse that bore a reddish brown pine casket that came in an eerily realistic looking replica of Poe's body.

Mourners came from as far away as London for the service. Others, like Regan Mercer(ph) were local. She's mad for the master of the macabre.

Ms. REGAN MERCER: I sort of grew up on Poe.

KEYES: Mercer was decked out in period attire, complete with an iridescent green Victorian hat with a peacock feather, an antique black dress, ankle boots and an elaborate coat with lace up detail.

Ms. MERCER: Because if you're going to go to Poe's funeral hundreds of years later, seems like the kind of thing you want to dress up for.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: And dress up many did, including the actors who played the roles of Poe's friends. Some spoke at the ceremony, including Poe's one-time fiancee Sarah Helen Whitman.

Unidentified Woman: (as Sarah Helen Whitman): No portrait of Poe does justice to the unmatched glory of his face. Capturing his subtle moods was impossible, and his voice - he had no equal as a conversationalist.

Unidentified Man #1: (as Reverend Rufus Griswold) He was little more than carping grammarian.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: Even one of Poe's detractors, the Reverend Rufus Griswold, showed up to savage the dead, earning glares and hisses throughout the program.

Unidentified Man #2: Mr. Griswold, you are quite finished. Please return to your seat. (unintelligible)…

Unidentified Man #3: Sir, return to your seat.

(Soundbite of clapping)

Unidentified Actor #2: …touch upon his more recent life.

Unidentified Man #3: Return to your seat.

KEYES: But admirers and fellow artists from master horror writer H.P. Lovecraft to Alfred Hitchcock, available perhaps by time travel or more nefarious devices, spoke of Poe's genius and humanity.

Actor Mark Redfield - the actual person - spoke of how deeply Poe's work is embedded in our culture.

Mr. MARK REDFIELD (Actor): On stage, the operas, ballets, musicals, one-man shows, puppet shows, street performers, radio plays, records, CD's, mp3's, Poe lives, and in technologies not yet known, Poe will live on.

(Soundbite of music, "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor")

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Simpsons")

Ms. YEARDLEY SMITH (Actor): (as Lisa Simpson) Once upon a midnight dreary…

Mr. JAMES EARL JONES (Actor): While I pondered the weak and weary over many a quaint and curious…

Mr. VINCENT PRICE (Actor): …curious volume of forgotten lore, while I nodded nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping…

(Soundbite of tapping)

KEYES: From "The Simpsons," to the late Vincent Price, Poe's words thread a dark, twisted path through literature. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or his spirit, reminded the mourners that it is Poe they must thank not only for his Sherlock Holmes, but for modern day detectives like "Monk." Where else but Poe, wondered Lovecraft, would other horror scribes gain their inspiration?

Unidentified Man #4: (as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) If I had ever been able to approximate his kind of thrill, it is only because he himself paved the way by creating a whole atmosphere and method which lesser men can follow with relative ease.

(Soundbite of music, "Funeral March, Op.35, no.2")

KEYES: Poe died mysteriously after he was found delirious outside of a bar. Organizers of the event say it more than made up for the paltry farewell offered the writer in October of 1849.

Allison Keyes, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music, "Funeral March, Op.35, no.2")

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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