160 Years After Mysterious Death, Edgar Allan Poe Gets Proper Funeral

The master of the macabre gets a memorial service 160 years later.

Oct. 11, 2009— -- Just 160 years after he died, Edgar Allan Poe is finally getting a funeral befitting one of America's greatest writers. Already, a pine casket has been visited by hundreds, and visitors have peered inside to see a surprisingly dead-looking replica of Poe.

And today the master of macabre, known for his poem "The Raven," will get not one, but two funeral services.

"This is our chance to make amends for what wasn't done in 1849," says Jeff Jerome, the curator of Baltimore's Poe House and Museum.

Poe's death was as mysterious as some of his works. He was found outside a bar, delirious, unable to tell anyone what was wrong with him. He was 40 years old and was dead within a few days. A cousin didn't announce the death and had Poe buried with only about 10 people in attendance.

As many as 700 people will attend the "new" services, including actors who will be playing the roles of friends, family and admirers.

"Alfred Hitchcock is coming, H.P. Lovecraft, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. All of these people jumped at the chance, and they will be in Baltimore for the funeral giving their own eulogies," says Jerome with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

"I tell you it's easier getting dead people to appear than living people," he adds.

And the replica Poe, replete with period dress, has been a huge draw as Baltimore and other cities that claim the writer as a native son celebrated the bicentennial of his birth.

"It is not a dummy. It's a re-creation of Mr. Poe. This is not a mannequin. When people look at this, people don't say there's a dummy dressed like Poe. They think it is Poe, and that's what we want," Jerome says.

The casket will be moved by horse-drawn carriage to the Westminster Church where Poe is buried, a place that remains a big tourist draw.

Poe Gave Readers Tales of Blood, Murder

Poe led a troubled and tragic life. Known more as a critic and editor, he made very little money from his own writing during his life. But his tales of horror have lived on.

"When we say Edgar Allan Poe, 'The Tell-Tale Heart,' 'The Black Cat,' 'The Pit and the Pendulum,' oh man, that guy must have been one strange dude. When, in effect, he was writing these stories not for himself but for you and I," says Jerome, who believes Poe is misunderstood.

"He tried the science fiction. But people wanted blood, they wanted horror, they wanted premature burial. They wanted superstition," says the curator, who has run the museum for the past 30 years. "They wanted murder. And he gave it to them right between the eyes."

It is Poe's work about death and darkness that inspired other artists. The Baltimore Art Museum created an exhibit called "Edgar Allan Poe: A Baltimore Icon." Works by Edouard Manet and Henri Matisse, among others, are on display.

"People do think about those chilling moments with Poe from his stories," says Doreen Bolger, director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, who calls Poe a local hero.

But the title of the exhibit and Baltimore's claim on Poe is challenged by several other cities. He was born in Boston, raised in Richmond, Va., and lived in both New York and Philadelphia.

Bolger remains quite blunt in the ownership of the literary hero: "Everyone wants to claim a little bit of him. But, I always say, we've got the body here in Baltimore."

A buried body and a replica of the mysterious writer is accomplishing exactly what city officials had hoped for.

"I want people to come to Baltimore to celebrate Poe," Jerome says. "When they leave Baltimore, I want them to say, 'I'm glad I came here. I never knew all that stuff they were telling me about Poe.'"

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