Fight Over Poe’s Body…


Baltimore Has Poe; Philadelphia Wants Him




BALTIMOREEdgar Allan Poe never lived in one city for long, and ever since he died and was buried here in 1849 this city has claimed him as its own.


But last year Edward Pettit, a Poe scholar in Philadelphia, began arguing that Poe’s remains belong in Philadelphia. Poe wrote many of his most noteworthy works there and, according to Mr. Pettit, that city’s rampant crime and violence in the mid-19th century framed Poe’s sinister outlook and inspired his creation of the detective fiction genre.


“So, Philadelphians, let’s hop in our cars, drive down I-95 and appropriate a body from a certain Baltimore cemetery,” Mr. Pettit wrote in an article for the Philadelphia City Paper in October. “I’ll bring the shovel.”  (Click on “Continue Reading’ for more)


So far, no one has taken up Mr. Pettit’s call for Philadelphia’s best grave robbers to bring home the city’s prodigal son before the bicentennial of Poe’s birth in January 2009. But the ghoulish argument between the cities over the body and legacy of the master of the macabre has continued in blogs and newspapers, and on Jan. 13 Mr. Pettit is to square off with an opponent from Baltimore to settle the matter in a debate at the Philadelphia Free Library.


“Philadelphia can keep its broken bell and its cheese steak, but Poe’s body isn’t going anywhere,” said Jeff Jerome, the curator of the Poe House in Baltimore and Mr. Pettit’s opponent in the debate.


“If they want a body, they can have John Wilkes Booth,” Mr. Jerome added, referring to Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, who is also buried in Baltimore.


Mr. Jerome and Mr. Pettit both say there is little chance Poe’s body will leave Baltimore. Their argument, which even prompted the mayor of Baltimore to tell Philadelphia to back off, is good publicity for one of the country’s greatest writers, they say.



But Mr. Jerome is quick to add that he is not taking any chances.


On a minute’s notice and with one telephone call, he said as he stood in front of the surveillance cameras that guard the Poe House, he could turn out at least 50 people to defend Poe’s grave.


This is not the first time a city other than Baltimore has laid claim to Poe.


The author had his greatest success while living in New York after “The Raven” was published in 1845. And years after Poe’s death, his relatives were still considering moving his body to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.


Historians also look to Richmond, Va., as deserving of his legacy.


Kevin J. Hayes, a Poe scholar and an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma, said Poe’s body belonged in Richmond because he grew up and started his literary career there.


Poe described himself as a Virginian and wrote that he planned to return there, said Professor Hayes, adding, “That gives Richmond more of a claim than any other city.”


Even Sullivan’s Island, near Charleston, S.C., boasts of its ties to Poe.


Poe was stationed in the Army on the island in 1827 and he set “The Gold-Bug” there, said Scott Peeples, a Poe scholar and English professor at the College of Charleston. The island’s public library and its main tavern are named after Poe.


The one city that probably will never claim Poe is Boston.


Though he was born there, Poe wrote disdainfully of the city’s literary elite, and his birthplace does not appear among the 1,000-plus attractions on the city’s tourism Web site.


As The Boston Globe pointed out last year, the city has neither a Poe statue nor a Poe museum — only a small plaque commemorating his birthplace on the outside wall of a luggage store.


“Poe belongs to Baltimore because he is fully a part of that city’s lore,” said Liliane Weissberg, professor of comparative literature and a Poe scholar at the University of Pennsylvania.


Baltimore has, for example, the mysterious Poe Toaster, an anonymous fan who visits Poe’s grave on his birthday each year and leaves three red roses and a half-bottle of Cognac, Professor Weissberg said. The Baltimore phone book actually has a number listed for the Poe grave, and Baltimore’s football team is named after Poe’s most famous poem, “The Raven.”


“Philadelphia already has Ben Franklin, and that is enough,” Professor Weissberg said.


Not for Mr. Pettit.


“ ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue,’ ‘The Masque of the Red Death,’ ‘The Tell-Tale Heart,’ ‘The Black Cat,’ and ‘The Gold-Bug,’ ” Mr. Pettit said breathlessly, listing the works written by Poe while he lived in Philadelphia. “That’s why we deserve him.”


The Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia, in one of the houses where Poe lived, gets about 15,000 visitors a year, compared with about 5,000 a year that go to the Baltimore Poe House, Mr. Pettit said.


When Poe died in Baltimore, only a handful of people showed up at his funeral. He was buried in a grave that had no headstone for more than two decades.


“Is that really the mark of a city that loves Poe?” Mr. Pettit said.


Back in a rough section of West Baltimore, Mr. Jerome is red with frustration at having to defend his city’s treatment of the author he calls Eddie.


Baltimore was the first city to recognize Poe’s talents, with an award for one of his short stories, said Mr. Jerome, who has been the sole employee of the Poe House since 1979, when the city began running the museum just blocks from Poe’s grave.


Baltimore is also where Poe wrote his first horror story, “Berenice,” which is about mutilation and people being buried alive, he said.


“It was the public reaction from this city to that story which convinced Poe that horror was the way to go,” Mr. Jerome said. “Where were any of these other cities back when no one wanted Poe?”


Taking a moment to collect himself, Mr. Jerome added that everything would be settled at the debate, and in exactly the way that Poe would have wanted.


“I will argue the other guy down with grace and facts,” Mr. Jerome said. “Then I will walk over to him like a gentleman and punch him square in the nose.”




2 Responses to “Fight Over Poe’s Body…”

  1. Graceann says:

    I didn’t even know that Poe was buried in Baltimore. I visited his home in Richmond and, for some reason, assumed that that was his final resting place. What an interesting controversy!

  2. Kevin Pierce says:


    NEWSWIRE–A scholar of Edgar Allen Poe says that because the author wrote most of his works in Philadelphia, his burial place should be moved to there from Baltimore.

    As they do in Philly often, folks will dream of how the coffin
    Of the hometown author Edgar might escape the Harbor Shore:
    Pennsylvania, he should be in; they’re prepared for his debris, in
    Hopes his casket might be stolen, stolen as it holds his gore.

    ‘Til that town with love of brothers gets some shovels on the chore,
    Poe remains in Baltimore.
    Light verse, ripped from the headlines

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