Text: Clifford Krainik, “The Sir Moses Ezekiel Statue of Edgar Allan Poe in Baltimore,” ­Myths and Reality­, Baltimore: The Edgar Allan Poe Society, 1987, pp. 48-57


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­ [page 48:]

THE SIR MOSES EZEKIEL STATUE OF
EDGAR ALLAN POE IN BALTIMORE

Clifford Krainik

On 7 October 1983 the magnificent bronze statue of Edgar Allan Poe was moved from an obscure corner in Baltimore’s Wyman Park to the then unfinished Law Center Plaza on the campus of the University of Baltimore. A Baltimore landmark for more than sixty years, the statue of Poe by Sir Moses Ezekiel was commissioned in 1911 by the Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Association and installed at 29th Street near Howard Street in 1921. In recent years the Poe Society of Baltimore had expressed grave concern for the safety of the statue, its deteriorating condition, and its lack of visibility. Often the statue had suffered from vandals, and the base of the statue showed considerable decay. Relocation to the University of Baltimore site was initiated in 1981 by James Foster, President, and Alexander G. Rose III, Past President, of the Poe Society. They reasoned that moving the statue would not only enhance the beauty of the Law Plaza, but also help to ensure safety for the statue itself and greatly improve its visibility.(1)

Arriving at its new home, the Poe statue was greeted by The University of Baltimore President, H. Mebane Turner, members of the faculty, representatives of the Poe Society, and a small but enthusiastic group of Poe’s admirers. Relocation of the statue is but the latest chapter in the saga of Baltimore’s tribute to the poetic genius whose life is so closely bound to the Monument City.

Although he was born in Boston and raised in Richmond, Poe’s ancestry is deeply rooted in Baltimore. His grandfather, David Poe, served as Assistant Deputy-Quartermaster General for Baltimore during the Revolutionary War. He was a patriot who purchased supplies for Maryland with his own resources and without recompense. Poe’s father was born in Baltimore and studied law there before pursuing a theatrical career, and the affections of Elizabeth Arnold. In March 1831 Edgar Allan Poe came to live in Mechanics Row on Wilkes Street in the Fells Point district. From 1832 until 1835 he lived at 203 North Amity Street. Baltimore first recognized Poe’s literary genius, for his story “MS. Found in a Bottle.” Poe died in Baltimore and was laid to rest in the Westminster Burying Ground. So it is not altogether ­[page 49:] surprising that in 1907 the Women’s Literary Club of Baltimore, under the direction of Mrs. John Wrenshall, proposed to erect a suitable monument to the memory of Edgar Allan Poe.

The saga of the Sir Moses Ezekiel statue was pieced together from newspaper accounts, minutes of the Poe Memorial Association meetings, and the autobiography of the sculptor. The story spans decades and continents, but it begins with the experiences, training and the unique attitudes of the sculptor. For this reason, in order fully to appreciate the Poe statue, we must become acquainted with the artist.

Moses Jacob Ezekiel was born into a respected middle class Jewish family in Richmond, Virginia 28 October 1844, one of fourteen children born to Catherine and Jacob Ezekiel. In early childhood Moses displayed extraordinary artistic talent by creating painted panoramas and scenic dioramas with moving figures. Like many other merchant’s sons he received a common school education. Just before his eighteenth birthday, Moses entered the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington in the scenic Shenandoah Valley. When the Civil War came to the valley, Moses and his fellow cadets rallied to the Southern cause. On 15 May 1864 Moses fought in the heroic Battle of Newmarket, Virginia and left behind a vivid account of his experiences. The Battle of Newmarket and the return of the earthly remains of General “Stonewall” Jackson to the Virginia Military Institute in 1863 were two events which formed lasting impressions on the future artist. These events would forever bind his devotion to the South and his beloved Virginia.

Ezekiel graduated from V.M.I., 4 July 1866, returned to Richmond, and worked in his father’s dry goods store while attending evening classes in Anatomy at the Medical College of Virginia. Following the collapse of his father’s business in the war-shattered South, the family moved to Cincinnati in 1867. Moses followed shortly thereafter, but on 18 May 1869 he sailed for Europe to study at the Royal Academy of Art in Berlin. He graduated in July 1871 and remained in Berlin to continue his artistic training, first with Rudolf Siemering and later with Albert Wolff. Moses was greatly influenced by the work of Christine Rauch, the best known of the nineteenth-century German sculptors.

In Summer 1873, at age twenty-nine, Moses gained the prestigious Michael-Beer Prix de Rome for his work, “Israel.” This award had never before been given to a foreigner. The prize enabled Ezekiel to study in Rome for two years. Excepting a few short visits to the United States and Germany, he was to spend the rest of his life in the “Eternal city.”

The Rome in which this artist established his studio was, according to one writer, “a stupendous spectacle, strewn with the mighty monuments of the past, a wilderness from which nothing now springs but grass, fever germs ­[page 50:] and noble thoughts.”(2) Ezekiel made every effort not to become a part of the American colony in Rome. Instead, he sought out associations totally different from his fellow Americans. Moses wrote to a friend: “I have not been thrown in the way of American sculptors here, and have not sought any; the fact is, they enjoy a rather unpleasant reputation here among foreign artist” (Ezekiel 19).

The body of Sir Moses Ezekiel’s work can be considered according to three major categories: religious subject matter, works devoted to the Confederate cause, and heroic portraits. “Religious Liberty,” his first major commission, was obtained in 1874. The Independent Order of B’nai B’rith commissioned him to create a monument honoring religious liberty in the United States, for unveiling in Philadelphia at the Centennial Exposition of 1876. The monument features a colossal nine-foot marble figure of a woman, reminiscent of Thomas Crawford’s “Armed Freedom” on the United States Capitol dome. Religious subject matter had interested Ezekiel from his youth. Some of his early work in this vein includes, “Cain Receiving the Curse of the Almighty” and “Moses on Mount Sinai.” Other works by Sir Moses in this genre include “Christ in Tomb,” “David Singing,” “Israel,” and “Faith.”

Ezekiel’s feelings for his native state of Virginia and the Confederacy approached a religious devotion. Throughout his artistic career, the inspiration of the South was a dominant theme. One of his earliest Southern monuments, “Virginia Mourning Her Dead,” stands today in front of Nichols Hall at V. M. I. The United Daughters of the Confederacy commissioned him in 1909 to create a heroic monument to honor General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The original statue was placed in front of the state capitol at Charleston, West Virginia. Ezekiel presented a full-size replica of the Jackson statue to his alma mater, V. M. I., in 1913.

Sir Moses’s enduring fame as a sculptor was secured by his heroic life-like portraits. He created many fine works both in bronze and in marble. The bust of Franz Listz gained for Ezekiel the knighthood for Science and Art, and he was awarded the rank of “Chevalier” by King Victor Emmanuel. Noted among his works are portraits of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon, and — his last commission — Edgar Allan Poe.

Sir Moses Ezekiel built an elaborate studio in the Roman ruins of the Bath of Diocletian. It was for more than thirty years a place to see as well as to be seen. And so it was that Mrs. John C. Wrenshall of Baltimore became aware of the artistry of the expatriot Confederate cadet. Mrs. Wrenshall in April 1907 helped to establish the Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Association and became its first president. The purpose of the Association was to erect a suitable monument in Baltimore to memorialize the great poet. Furthermore, ­[page 51:] the Association intended to purchase the monument entirely by public contribution. Unfortunately, response was disappointing. Despite the approaching centenary of Poe’s birth in 1909, little progress was made to collect sufficient funds. In a newspaper interview in 1908, Mrs. Wrenshall commented:

We know that the plans for the memorial were launched at an inopportune time, for shortly afterward business troubles occurred and our friends were not financially able to act as their sympathies would have prompted. Still I feel that here where the genius of Poe should be keenly appreciated, we should have accomplished more. I have received letters from almost every state in the Union expressing sympathy with our efforts and offering aid. People of whom I have never heard of have sent me word of their interest in the memorial. Considering all this it seems strange that Baltimoreans should have less regard for the poet than practical strangers — for we in Baltimore feel that he belongs to us.

As to the matter of what type of monument the Association was intending to erect Mrs. Wrenshall replied:

of course that must be determined entirely by the money we receive. The location of the monument will, of course, depend upon the form. While my daughter, Mrs. Markland, and myself were abroad recently we made an exhaustive study of statuary in France and Italy in order to be thoroughly informed of the subject when the time comes to put the information to practical use.(3)

In 1909 the Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Association joined with Johns Hopkins University to observe the one hundredth anniversary of Poe’s birth. Several speakers presented papers on his career and writings. In addition, a few of his poems were set to music and sung by students of Johns Hopkins. The main address came from Dr. William P. Trent, Professor of English Literature at Columbia University. It was hoped that the occasion would stimulate enthusiasm for the Poe Memorial. Following the centenary year, the Poe Memorial Association continued, under the direction of President Wrenshall, to collect funds. The project required unflagging persistence, which Mrs. Wrenshall and the members of the Board aptly provided.

The origin of the Sir Moses Ezekiel statue of Edgar Allan Poe is revealed in letters written between Mrs. John C. Wrenshall and the sculptor: ­[page 52:]

April 7th, 1911

Dear Mr. Ezekiel:

I write in reference to a subject upon which I have long wished to address you, but scarcely dared to hope I should for a long time to come. Perhaps you will recall my speaking to you of my organizing the Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Association in Baltimore, with the purpose of raising a monument in honor of the Poet.

. . . The Fund has accumulated slowly, until now the realization of our hope appears to suddenly draw near, a gentleman of this City, my friend and neighbor, Mr. Orrin C. Painter coming forward and announcing his intention of materially advancing the cause.

Mr. Painter asked my views and wishes in regard to the erection of the memorial statue, and telling him of my long cherished wish that from your hands alone should come this work, the examination of the photographs of your wondrous sculptures followed. Mr. Painter was greatly impressed with their power and beauty, and urgently requested Mrs. Markland and myself to write immediately to you upon this subject, making the following enquiries.

Primarily, will you undertake the work, and if so how soon could the memorial be finished and placed?

What would be the approximate cost of a handsome memorial with a probably seated statue of the Poet? What medium would you advise used, bronze or stone?

We would very gladly furnish pictures, photographs, literature relating to Edgar Allan Poe, or any other possible facility that you might wish to secure for the desired likeness. Mr. Painter has a daguerreotype of the Poet, a rare and precious possession, and I have no doubt would have this copied for you. For the present the fact of this letter or that these enquiries are made will remain a profound secret, as of course very intense local excitement, the Press, etc. would arise to annoyance on the slightest intimation being given that matters have progressed so far.

From my first visit to your studio I have felt there is no one, who could comprehend the genius of Poe, as you can, nor give expression to its portrayal. I trust you will be inspired to feel as I most certainly do, that in your presentation of America’s greatest Poet, Art will find her own perfect expression, as in her golden days of youth.

With regard and all good wishes  
Mrs. John C. Wrenshall(4)

Sir Moses replied, 20 April 1911: ­[page 53:]

My Dear Mrs. Wrenshall:

Your very kind and most welcomed letter has given me very great and unexpected pleasure. Of course it would be a great satisfaction to me to devote my best energy and power towards making an artistic and worthy monument to the great poet Edgar Allan Poe, whom I have loved from my earliest infancy and have always had his work with me. . . . It would take me to do the work two years. All that I need is to have the best material possible and a photo of Mr. Painter’s daguerreotype.(5)

In subsequent letters, Sir Moses explained that the cost of producing the bronze seated statue of Poe would be $20,000, but since the subject was Poe — a Virginian — he would reduce the cost by half as his contribution to the memorial. A contract and a deposit were forwarded to the artist and work began on the statue. Sir Moses wrote in his autobiography: “As Edgar Poe was the one poet we have whose poetry does not seem to be based on anything that existed before his own, I conceived the idea of representing him as seated listening in rapt attention to a divine melody and a new rhythm in his art” (Ezekiel 442). By 1913 a plaster model for the monument was completed and shipped from Rome to Friedrichshagen near Berlin, where it was to be cast in bronze. At a Custom’s warehouse on the border between Austria and Germany disaster struck: fire completely destroyed the model for the Poe statue; the work was uninsured. Undaunted, Sir Moses began again to model the likeness of Poe. Incredibly, this second model was broken into fragments when an earthquake shook Rome in April 1915. Again his loss was uninsured, but once more Sir Moses resumed work on the monument.

In an appeal for financial support for the monument, the Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Association circulated a letter which read in part:

Those Baltimoreans who love Art and Literature and Civic Beauty will learn with interest that a fine memorial statue to Edgar Allan Poe has been undertaken, is now nearly completed, and that it will, when finished, be presented by the Poe Memorial Association to this City, to be placed on a beautiful site promised by the City for this purpose.

Unexpected and unavoidable delays having occurred have brought us to a time when our generous-hearted Baltimore public are overwhelmed by the large calls upon them for the vast throngs who are suffering from the terrible effects of the Great War, and there are consequently but few who may feel able to respond to our appeal.

Thus we are asking only A VERY FEW, those whom we may think most appreciative of fine artistic work, who may be able to welcome this opportunity of helping to beautify our city while joining in this ­[page 54:] tribute to an artist and a poet, each of distinction. BUT, BECAUSE they are few, the more earnestly do we ask their generous aid for our project, for which we shall, indeed, be deeply grateful.(6)

In January 1916, Sir Moses informed the Association that

. . . My monument to our greatest poet, Edgar Allan Poe, is now quite completed in every detail, excepting the inscription to be carved in the pedestal. The latter I shall make in the grey volcanic stone called Pepernio, which I am quarrying in the Alban Hills, near Merino, and the statue in bronze of the very best quality, is now about to be cast in bronze here in Rome.

The statue is entirely different from the first one I made. When I get the inscription from the committee, I will introduce them in lapidary style on the pedestal, and then my work will be virtually finished, excepting the careful supervision of the entire work in bronze and stone until it can be boxed and sent home.(7)

The inscription for the monument, more than any other issue, brought members of the Association to disagree. Several quotations were suggested, but finally the committee accepted the sculptor’s suggestion. The inscription was to read:

Front -

Edgar Allan Poe
19 January 1809
7 October 1849
Dreaming Dreams
No Mortal
Ever Dared
To Dream Before

Right Side -

To Thee
The Laurels Belong
Best Bard

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Left Side -

Whose Sweet Duty Was
But to Sing  

Back -

Erected By
The Poe Memorial
Association
Of Baltimore
And the Generosity
Of Mr. Orrin C. Painter

In addition to fire, earthquake and financial woes, the Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Association experienced a tinge of paranoia when another plan for a Poe Memorial was announced in 1916. Local newspapers began circulating a story that a Miss Pearson — a moving picture actress — had announced that she meant to raise a twenty-thousand-dollar monument in Baltimore over the grave of Edgar Allan Poe. In a direct manner the Poe Society sent a letter to the mayor of Baltimore, reminding him that there was already a duly incorporated Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Association in Baltimore. As far as the minutes of the Association record, the mayor did not respond.

On 12 January 1917 the completion of the Poe statue was announced in a Baltimore newspaper article entitled, “War Delays Poe Statue”:

The heroic monument to Edgar Allan Poe, recently completed by Sir Moses Ezekiel in Rome, Italy, and one day to be erected in Baltimore, will not be shipped to this country until conditions due to the war shall have so altered as to make its shipment perfectly safe. This statement was made today by Mrs. Lawrence Turnbull, one of the group of Baltimore women which contributed largely to the success of the movement for the erection of the monument began early in 1907 by Mrs. John C. Wrenshall.

More than ordinary precautions will be taken to insure the safe passage of the monument to this country because of the fact that it is the second completed by Sir Moses Ezekiel, the first statue having been destroyed by fire.(8)

Within months after the news of completion of the Poe monument, a dispatch from Italy announced the death of Sir Moses. He had succumbed to pneumonia at age seventy-three. In his will he asked to be buried among his ­[page 56:] old Confederate comrades in the National Cemetery at Arlington, Virginia. His wishes were fulfilled on 30 March 1921. Members of the Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Association passed a resolution expressing their deep sense of loss caused by the death of Sir Moses.

Because of the World War and financial entanglement, the Poe Memorial was not sent to America until April 1921. The statue was shipped to New York and brought by rail to Baltimore. On 26 May 1921 the former Attorney General for the State of Maryland, Edgar Allan Poe, advised the board of Estimates of the arrival of the Poe Monument. He asked that the Municipal Art Commission inspect the statue which was temporarily stored at the Camden Yards of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Baltimore’s Mayor Broening replied that he would at once request the commission to meet for that purpose.

The safe arrival of the monument from Europe, however, did not end the odyssey of the statue. The Poe Memorial Association wanted the monument to be placed at the foot of Pleasant street near the edge of the sunken gardens. This corresponds to the present site of Pleasant Street and St. Paul, near Mercy Hospital. The site, however, was disapproved by the Municipal Art Commission. An alternate site was then proposed by the Poe Association, located on the west side of Charles Street, opposite the center line of 13th Street (this is seven blocks south of North Street). The Municipal Art Commission again rejected the proposed location, stating that the ground was too low for the monument. For lack of a resting place, the monument was shuffled off to Druid Hill for temporary storage. Finally, on 11 September 1921, a site for the statue of Edgar Allan Poe was approved at a meeting of the Municipal Art Commission. The location selected for the Poe Monument was on the north side of 29th Street between Maryland Avenue and Oak (Howard) Street.

Approximately five hundred persons endured a chilling wind on the afternoon of 20 October 1921 to witness the unveling of the Sir Moses Ezekiel statue of Edgar Allan Poe in Wyman Park. The ceremonies called for the President of the Poe Association, then Mrs. Lawrence Turnbull, to present the monument to the City of Baltimore. In her presentation speech, she praised the genius and passion of the sculptor, Sir Moses Ezekiel. She also recognized the efforts of Mrs. John C. Wrenshall, the organizer and first President of the Poe Association. Finally, Mrs. Turnbull expressed the Association’s appreciation to Mr. Orrin C. Painter, whose generous gift permitted the undertaking of the project without delay. Mayor Broening gratefully accepted the monument on behalf of the citizens of Baltimore. After the acceptance Dr. C. Alphonso Smith, a former Edgar Allan Poe Professor of English at the University of Virginia, delivered a tribute to the memory of Poe. Miss Eleanor Livingston Poe and Miss Frances Turnbull each unveiled a part of the statue while Howard Kohlenstein, a baritone, sang a part of Poe’s, “Israfel” accompanied by a string quartet from the Peabody Conservatory of Music. ­[page 57:]

The statue shows Poe seated on a classic chair whose outer sides have relief panels. On one side, a winged muse hangs a laurel festoon. The other side depicts a winged muse of music with thistles. Sir Moses attempted to make us observe that Poe is listening. Poe is apparently listening to something far beyond this world. The base upon which the statue was placed is made of concrete, although it was repeatedly referred to as marble. Evidently the concrete was covered with some substance which wore away under the stress of the cements. This same type of base material was used by Sir Moses for his statue of Stonewall Jackson at the Virginia Military Institute. The inscription was moulded and then pressed into the concrete — not chiseled.

Shortly after the dedication of the monument, Mr. G. H. Pouder, former executive vice president of the Association of Commerce of Baltimroe [[Baltimore]], discovered two mistakes on the pedestal. In the quotation from “The Raven” the word “dreaming” was short-changed the letter “i” so that it read, “d-r-e-a-m-n-g.” More offensive to Poe scholars was the pluralization of “mortal.” The foul-sounding letter in the passage, “Dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before” riled them. Many voices cried out for removal of the offensive “s,” but not until 1930 was the situation remedied.

In a letter to “The Evening Sun Forum” Mr. Edmond Fontaine stated “I hereby serve notice on the powers that I will go and chisel out the offending letter ‘s’ and clean off the black paint from the pedestal at 10 o’clock June 1st, for the good of my soul.”(9) Mr. Fontaine, a Poe enthusiast and tree surgeon, decided to start his work earlier than he stated in the “Forum.” On the evening of 29 May he went to work on the inscription with hammer and chisel. In less than two minutes the “s” was gone. A witness called a policeman. Mr Fontaine said later that it took him about an hour to remove the black paint which vandals had splashed on the monument. He also related that the police officer stood by, smiling, until he had finished his clean-up job. Then he was arrested on a charge of defacing public property.

Because Mr. Fontaine could not furnish collateral of $100 he spent the night in a cell. At his arraignment the next day, the Park Board asked time to consider its course, and Fontaine was released in custody of a relative. Poe admirers, including former Attorney General Edgar Allan Poe, petitioned the Park Board to show leniency. The Board decided not to prosecute, and on 6 June the chiseler was freed with merely a warning

Early in 1985 a bronze tablet correctly repeating the passage from “The Raven” was installed in front of the Sir Moses statue of Poe at the Law Center Plaza. The statue itself has now been carefully restored. Sixty years of grimy deposits were dissolved to reveal a wondrous jade patina. Specially designed light sources were installed to provide dramatic nighttime viewing. Before long the Sir Moses Ezekiel statue of Poe will become a familiar sight to thousands of students and visitors to the University of Baltimore. But the ­[page 58:] statue of Poe is not only a creation of beauty and inspiration; for those who know its story, it forms a tangible link between the dream of Mrs. Wrenshall and the Bath of Diocletian.  


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 48:]

1  This essay was first presented as a slide lecture at The University of Baltimore, 22 October 1983 as part of a three day symposium entitled, “Myths and Reality: The Mysterious Mr. Poe.” This lecture was also presented at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, Richmond, 28 April 1984 and published in a modified and edited version, The Poe Messenger, 14 (Summer 1984).

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 50:]

2  Moses Jacob Ezekiel. Moses Jacob Ezekiel. Memoirs froth the Baths of Diocletian. eds. Joseph Gutmann, Wayne State University and Stanley F. Chyet, Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1975. p. 19.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 51:]

3  “Slow Response for Memorial,” Baltimore Sun, December 1908.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 52:]

4  Wrenshall to Ezekiel, 7 April 1911, Archives, Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Association, Baltimore.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 53:]

5  Ezekiel to Wrenshall, 20 April 1911, Archives, Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Association, Baltimore.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 54:]

6  “Those Baltimoreans Who Love Art and Literature and Civic Beauty,” Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Association, February 1916, Archives, Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Association, Baltimore.

7  Ezekiel to Wrenshall, 1 January 1916, Archives, Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Association, Baltimore.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 55:]

8  “War Delays Poe Statue. Sir Ezekiel Moses [sic] Work to Be Held in Rome,’’ Evening Sun [Baltimore], 12 January 1917.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 57:]

9  Evening Sun Forum, 27 May 1930.


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Notes:

This publication is based on lectures delivered at the rededication of the Sir Moses Ezekiel statue of Poe at the Univeristy of Baltimore in 1983.

Some minor typographical errors in the original printing of this lecture have here been silently corrected.

© 1987 and 1998, by the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, Inc.

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[S:1 - MAR, 1987] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Lectures - Myths and Reality - The Sir Moses Ezekiel Statue of Edgar Allan Poe in Baltimore (C. Krainik, 1987)