"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Edgar Allan Poe

 This Bas-relief of Edgar Allan Poe by J. Genson, 1973, illuminates the front of the poet's tomb in Westminster Burying Ground, Baltimore, Maryland. 

J. Genson, 1973

It is a modern replacement for the 1875 medallion by Frederick Volck. The Edgar Allan Poe Society explains what happened.

The front of the monument features a bas-relief bust of Poe, with the dates 1809 and 1849. (The original portrait of Poe was carved in statuary marble by Frederick Volck. Over the years, the soft marble became terribly weathered and worn. It was replaced in 1938 with a newer copy, cast in bronze. This copy was stolen in the late 1970s and again replaced. The original medalion is now on display in the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore, MD.)

 The Volck Medallion wound up in the Edgar Allen Poe House and Museum on Amity Street.

The Edgar Allen Poe Society's signage  in the Museum says this about the marble medallion.

The Poe Monument was erected in 1875. The remains of Poe and Maria Clemm were removed from the original Poe family plot in the rear of the Old Western Burial Grounds. Virginia’s were moved form  New York in 1895 and buried on the left side of the monument.  Baltimore school teachers raised funds from Baltimore school children through a “Pennies for Poe” collection to help pay for the monument. 

The original base relief was stolen in 1968 and replaced with a bronze medallion which was also stolen shortly after it was mounted on the monument. That was replaced by the current recessed bronze medallion.

The original marble base relief was accidentally found in a Leesburg Virginia antique shop where it was being sold as a Confederate Civil War tablet. In 1978 it was donated to the Poe House and Museum. The condition of the stone is the result of acid rain, pollution and rough handling.

The University of Maryland Baltimore County has this undated photo of Volck's marble medallion.

  This detail from the cover image of Leslie's Illustrated Weekly Newspaper,   December 12, 1875 shows Volck's marble relief of Poe.

The full cover image shows Schoolteacher Sarah Sigourney Rice crowning the monument with “a chaplet of evergreens” and a raven, as it is unveiled.

Baltimore, MD. -- Unvailing and Dedication of the Monument to Edgar Allen Poe, Wednesday, November 17th, in Westminster Churchyard, under the auspices of the Baltimore Teachers' Association.
From Sketches by Harry Owen and Photographs by J. J. Edmonson.

Harper's Weekly, on December 11, 1875,  says that “A place has been left for an epitaph, which it is expected will be written by Alfred Tennyson.” Tennyson is said to have replied to the request for an epitaph: “How can so strange and so fine a genius, and so sad a life, be exprest and comprest in one line?”

The tradition of “Pennies for Poe” continues as people leave coins on Poe's monument.

Edgar Allan Poe
January 20, 1809
October 7,  1849

It should be noted that the monument gets Poe's date of birth wrong, it was January 19, 1809.

On one side of the Monument we find Virginia Clemm Poe, the poet's cousin and wife. Her remains were moved here from Fordham in New York, ten years after the monument was placed here. They had been rescued from Forham as the cemetery was being razed in 1883. She was placed here on  January 19, 1885. That would have been Edgar Poe's 76th birthday.

And on another side of the monument, Maria Poe Clemm the aunt of the poet and Virginia's mother. She was known as “Muddy“ in the Amity Street household, and like the poet had been buried in Poe family plot in this cemetery.

The location of the unmarked grave where  Poe had been  interred in 1849 is now marked with this stone, placed by Orrin C. Painter in 1913.  

“Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore’”
Original Burial Place of
Edgar Allan Poe
October 9, 1849
November 17, 1875.
Mrs. Maria Clemm, his mother-in-law,
lies upon his right and Virginia Poe
his wife upon his left under the
monument erected to him in this

“Quoth the Raven, ‘Nevermore’”

This dry point etching of Edgar Allan Poe by Oscar Cesare was auctioned in 2020.
Edgar Allan Poe
by Oscar Cesare
Final Proof

It appeared in The Washington Evening Star on January 18, 1931 along with a verse of  poetry. While the article identifies it as “a very morbid poem of Poe's,” it's really The Forsaken by Estella Anna Lewis which Poe described as “the most beautiful ballad of the kind ever written.”

“A few lines of a very morbid poem of Poe's reproduced from the actual manuscript, which is in Richard Gimbel's collection.” 
Could I but know when I am sleeping
Low in the ground
One faithful heart would there be keeping
Watch all night round,
As if some gem lay shrined beneath
That sod's cold gloom,
’T would mitigate the pangs of death
And light the tomb.


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