Poe descendants reject moving his body from Baltimore

No position taken on claim of Boston, Philadelphia to legacy of poet-author buried in Baltimore

  • Distant cousin Harry Lee Poe sits beside a bust of Edgar Allan Poe at the Poe Museum in Richmond, Va., where the writer's descendants convened and rejected the idea of moving his body from the courtyard of Westminster Hall in Baltimore, where he died in 1849.
Distant cousin Harry Lee Poe sits beside a bust of Edgar Allan… (AP photo by Steve Helber )
January 17, 2010|By Chris Kaltenbach

Edgar Allan Poe should rest in peace, and right here in Baltimore.

Saturday in Richmond, Va., a representative of the Poe family came down foursquare against the idea that their famous ancestor's body should be moved anywhere, but still didn't decide which American city can best lay a dominant claim to the author.

The announcement, made at Richmond's Poe Museum during a 24-hour commemoration of the celebrated author's 201st birthday, is the latest declaration in a years-long mostly good-natured debate over where Poe should rest and which city most deserves his legacy.

Noting that distant cousin Edgar already has been subjected to four funerals, most recently two organized by Baltimore's Poe House and Museum back in October, Harry Lee Poe said enough was enough. After all, he noted, none of the author's living descendants have been buried even once.

"In the spirit of fairness, the family simply cannot agree to move the body just yet," Harry Lee Poe, whose great-grandfather was Edgar Allan Poe's cousin, told an audience of about 80 in Richmond Saturday. "Not until the rest of us have had our turn."

Harry Lee Poe, however, took no position on which American city has the most legitimate claim to Poe's legacy - a question that was at the heart of a pair of debates last year between representatives of Boston, where Edgar Allan Poe was born; Philadelphia, where he wrote many of his most famous stories; and Baltimore, where he died and was buried. Representatives from Richmond, where he grew up, did not participate in either debate.

"They really didn't take a stand," said Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House in Baltimore. "If they want to shy away from a dialogue about this, that's certainly their prerogative." Still, Jerome added, "I'm pleased that they came to the conclusion they did about the body. Poe died in Baltimore, and he should stay here."

After his prepared remarks, Harry Lee Poe, a professor of faith and culture at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., stayed in character to defend the family's decision to let their noted ancestor remain undisturbed.

"The position of the family is that another burial would be premature," he said, intentionally invoking the title of one of Edgar Allan Poe's most famous short stories, "The Premature Burial."

"Until we've had more movement of Poe family corpses, we want to keep him right where he is, where we know where he is."

His remarks included the suggestion that the family may wish to reconsider the issue during the bicentennial year of Edgar Allan Poe's death and burial in Baltimore.

Harry Lee Poe suggested that his daughters, Rebecca Poe Hays and Mary Ellen Poe, "keep track of the family bodies so that they will be in a position to convene the family for our next scheduled reunion in 2049.

"Edgar and I shall observe with interest from our vantage point," he promised.

Harry Lee Poe acknowledged that some Poe fans in Richmond might feel disappointed that he didn't come down more strongly on the side of their city. Their expectations might have been understandable, since Harry Lee Poe is president of the Poe Foundation, which owns and operates the Richmond museum.

But Harry Lee Poe offered the museum a consolation prize, a bust of Edgar Allan Poe commissioned in 1899 by the University of Virginia, to the delight of museum curator Christ Semtner.

While one bust sits in the reading room of the university's library, this one of the poet, critic and short-story writer was also cast by the original sculptor, George Julian Zolnay, Harry Lee Poe said.

Chris Semtner, the Richmond museum's curator, sounded delighted. "There's probably more left of the bust," he said, "than there would be of Poe's corpse."

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