Old Westminster Burial Ground is the final resting place of author Edgar Allan Poe. The entire burial ground has been paved over and a church was built over the cemetery. There are literally gravestones underneath of the church. The building sits on legs that allow view of the memorials beneath its floor. Apparently the church was constructed in order to save the burial ground from being relocated and the space turned into yet another project housing block like the blocks surrounding it. The church is now called Westminster Hall and is used for weddings.
Pilgrimmage of the Poe Toaster
Since 1949, on the anniversary of Poe's birthday (January 19), a mysterious figure leaves three roses and a bottle cognac on his grave. The figure is said to wear a black frock with accompanying fedora and a scarf pulled around their face to conceal their identity. In 1990, an intrepid photographer from Life magazine snapped a photo of the visitor; it did little but further the mystery. Following the taking of that photo, officials have banned further attempts to capture the mysterious Toaster on film. There has been an occasional note left behind at the scene as well, including a note left in 1993 stating, "The torch will be passed." A note left in 1999 claimed that the original Poe Toaster had died. In 2006, several onlookers entered the grounds and attempted to accost the Toaster much to the disappointment of those around them, but the mysterious figure was able to escape.
Poe Toaster Revealed?
In August of 2007, former Westminster Church Historian, Sam Porpora made a statement to the Baltimore Sun that he had actually created the legend of the Poe Toaster in the 1960s as a publicity stunt. He claimed that the Toaster was originally portrayed by volunteers amongst the curator staff. Jeff Jerome, curator for the Edgar Allan Poe House (see Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum), disputes this claim, stating that there is a newspaper article from 1950 with a mention of the Poe Toaster. This would predate Porpora's time as historian and his claimed time of invention.
The Poe Toaster Fails to Show
On January 19, 2010, those who kept watch for the Poe Toaster left dissapointed when the mysterious mourner failed to arrive for his yearly tribute. It has led to further speculation about the Poe Toaster, why he didn't show and whether he'll return. The last time the Poe Toaster was seen was January 19, 2009, which marked the two-hundredth birthday of Edgar Allan Poe. On that anniversary, the Toaster failed to leave a note with his yearly tribute of Cognac and res roses. Some have speculated that the Poe Toaster planned to only continue the tradition until that significant anniversary and has now abandoned it. That date also marked 60 years since the Poe Toaster had begun the annual visit to the grave. Jeff Jerome has stated that he will continue to watch for the Poe Toaster until January 19, 2012. He plans to give up if the Poe Toaster does not appear again by then.
Haunting of the Old Westminster Burial Ground
There are a variety of claims that various spirits occupy the grounds of Westminster Burial Ground to this day. Several paranormal investigators have reportedly picked up a variety of EVP's (Electronic Voice Phenomena), while others have reported encountering cold spots and/or being touched by unseen hands. Some suggest that the spirit of Poe is but one of the presences there, while others seem convinced that the Poe Toaster is a supernatural entity, which explains their elusiveness. The ghostly reputation has even attracted such paranormal shows as Scariest Places on Earth and Creepy Canada to investigate the claims for themselves.
Hours of Operation
The burial ground is open to the public from 8 am until sunset.
Tours are available of the Old Westminster Burial Ground and Catacombs from April through July. Call (410) 706-2072 for details.