Text: George P. Clark, “Two Unnoticed Recollections of Poe’s Funeral,” from Poe Newsletter­, June 1970, vol. III, no. 1, 3:1-2


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Two Unnoticed Recollections of Poe’s Funeral

Hanover College

One of Atlanta’s most distinguished citizens for over half a century was Charles William Hubner (1835-1929). A Baltimorean by birth, Hubner settled in Atlanta after the Civil War (in the course of which he rose to the rank of Major in the Confederate Army) and in a long life enjoyed success as editor of several notable newspapers and magazines (including the Atlanta Constitution and Journal) , as city librarian, and as author of numerous books of prose and poetry. His interest to students of Edgar Allan Poe lies in the fact that as a boy of fourteen he was one of the handful of people who were present when the coffin containing the body of Poe was carried from the Washington College Hospital (now the Church Home and Infirmary) and placed in the hearse which was to convey it to the Presbyterian Cemetery for burial. In the course of his life Hubner often related the incident, and at his death the extensive obituaries in local papers alluded to his fondness for recalling it. For all his access to the press, however, he did not in his lifetime publish a full account of his experience. He did set it down, though, in a memoir, “Leaves from the Book of My Life,” which he prepared shortly before his death and which is to be found in typescript in the library of the Atlanta Historical Society (1).

Brief extracts from this memoir relating to Hubner’s part in the Battle of Atlanta have appeared in the Atlanta Historical Bulletin. His personal reminiscence of the funeral of Poe, however, has not until now been published. It is given here with silent correction of a few typographical errors but with no attempt to “improve” the author’s sentences, which he apparently dictated without revision.

While on my way to art school, when about fourteen years old, I passed a hospital, a plain coffin was being taken to a hearse standing at the curb, two gentlemen stood, with bared heads, while the attendants placed the casket into the hearse. With boyish curiosity I asked of one of the men:

“Please sir, who are they going to bury?”

He replied: “My son, that is the body of a great poet, Edgar Allan Poe, you will learn all about him some day.”

The two men entered the only carriage which followed the hearse. I watched them as long as they were in sight. The next day I passed the Westminster church cemetery, seeing the sexton near the iron gate, I asked him where the poet Poe was buried.

“Right here,” he answered, as he leveled with a spade an unmarked grave.

Little did I dream then, that sixty years later the University [column 2:] of Virginia would invite me to attend the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of the glorious Poe, and confer upon me, in company with others, a beautiful Poe medal, and write to me:

“The University of Virginia confers upon you the Poe Memorial Medal for recognition as manifested by the poem you contributed for this special occasion.”

There is, of course, nothing in Hubner’s recollection that adds anything of consequence to the account of Poe’s funeral which is given in the familiar letter of his cousin Neilson Poe to Mrs. Clemm (2). We need also recognize that we have here an old man’s recollection of a passing moment of his boyhood, a recollection which one might suppose gained rather than lost detail with the years. Yet, taken with the measured and circumstantial tone of the full memoir, it has the ring of truth. And Hubner’s enduring local reputation encourages one to have confidence in it. As the testimony of one of the few contemporaries who noted Poe’s burial, it has the value of an independent historical source.

Certain of the details that lingered in Hubner’s mind — the plainness of the coffin, the reply to his question about whose funeral it was, the lack of a grave marker — remained with striking similarity in the mind of yet another observer of the funeral, Colonel J. Alden Weston, whose reminiscences were given newspaper publication in 1909, following a dinner offered by the Authors ’ Club of London on March 1 of that year to honor the centenary of Poe’s birth. They have apparently not been reproduced elsewhere nor used by any biographers of Poe. On that occasion, Col. Weston wrote Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who presided at the celebration, as follows:

As the sole surviving witness of the burial of Edgar Allan Poe and one of the few who have seen him in life, I regret exceedingly that my advanced age and impaired health will prevent my joining in the centenary dinner at which you are to preside.

As a then resident of Baltimore (my native city), I often saw Poe, and, as a young man with some sentiment I had a great fancy for the man apart from his literary genius, for I was one of the few who thought the stories of his excesses to be greatly exaggerated.

On a cold dismal October day, so different from the ordinary genial weather of that clime, I had just left my home when my attention was attracted to an approaching hearse, followed by hackney carriages, all of the plainest type. As I passed the little cortege some inscrutable impulse induced me to ask the driver of the hearse, “Whose funeral is this?” And to my intense surprise received for answer, “Mr. Poe, the poet.” This being my first intimation of his death, which occurred at the hospital the previous day (Sunday) and was not generally known until after the funeral.

Immediately on this reply I turned about to the graveyard, a few blocks distant. On arrival there five or six gentlemen, including the officiating minister, descended from the carriages and followed the coffin to the grave, while I, as a simple onlooker, remained somewhat in the rear.

The burial ceremony, which did not occupy more than three minutes, was so cold-blooded and unchristianlike as to provoke [page 2:] on my part a sense of anger difficult to suppress. The only relative present was a cousin (a noted Baltimore lawyer), the remaining witnesses being from the hospital and press.  

After these had left I went to the grave and watched the earth being thrown upon the coffin until entirely covered and then passed on with a sad heart and the one consolation that I was the last person to see the coffin containing all that was mortal of Edgar Allan Poe.

In justice to the people of Baltimore I must say that if the funeral had been postponed for a single day, until the death was generally known, a far more imposing escort to the tomb and one more worthy of the many admirers of the poet in the city would have taken place, and doubtless attended from Virginia and elsewhere.

For many years not even a stone marked the grave, but I believe a monument has been erected since I left the city, some 50 years since. It is a source of infinite pleasure to me to have lived to see the honors now bestowed upon one whom I saw laid away under such ignominious circumstances and who has now attained a high place in the ranks of the immortals and is acclaimed as, if not the first, at least second to none among the writers born on the American continent (3).

Two details from Weston’s account are of particular interest — his characterizing the day of the funeral as “cold” and “dismal,” and his indication that it occurred on a Monday. There is general agreement that Poe died on Sunday, 7 October 1849. Arthur H. Quinn (p. 642) assigns his funeral to the “cold raw afternoon of October 9,” and Frances Winwar (offering no source) states that, “So many came to see the dead poet that the funeral was put off till Tuesday, October 9” (4). On the other hand, Quinn quotes without comment the letter of Neilson Poe to Mrs. Clemm in which he states that the funeral took place “on Monday afternoon at four o ’clock,” observing only (p. 643) that this letter “contains the best evidence concerning the funeral.” In a letter to the editor of the Baltimore Sun (3 June 1949, p. 14) John C. French commented on Quinn’s apparent inconsistency, quoted testimony of Poe’s gravedigger that the burial took place “on a gloomy day, not raining but just raw and threatening,” and cited weather reports from the National Archives that in the Baltimore area in 1849 “October 9 was clear, whereas October 8 was cloudy.” The Weston letter offers direct support to French’s view that the burial was on Monday and gives cause to doubt Quinn’s (undocumented) assertion.

Apart, however, from whatever material historical value either of these unnoticed accounts may have, it must surely be conceded that both Hubner and Weston bring poignantly to mind, as first-hand, sensitive observers, the utter absence of pomp and circumstance that attended Poe’s hasty interment in Baltimore on a “dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens.”



(1)  Publication of the passage in “Leaves from the Book of My Life” relating to Poe is by kind permission of Mr. Franklin M. Garrett, Director of the Atlanta Historical Society. The awarding of a Poe medal to Charles W. Hubner is noted in The Book of the Poe Centenary, ed. Charles W. Kent and John S. Patton (Charlottesville, Va., 1909), p. 182. The author acknowledges [column 2:] the courteous assistance of Miss Eleanora M. Lynn (Head, Maryland Department, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore) and the receipt of a grant-in-aid from the Faculty Research Committee of Hanover College.

(2)  See Arthur Hobson Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe (New York, 1941), pp. 642-643.

(3)  Col. Weston’s letter is quoted from a clipped article in a box of miscellaneous newspaper items in the Maryland Department of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. The clipping had been erroneously dated many years ago (probably before it entered the library collection) as 18 November 1875, and incorrectly ascribed to the Baltimore Advertiser. The type face of the article is apparently identical to that of the Baltimore Sun in March 1909, though, curiously, the Enoch Pratt Library’s index to the Sun does not list Weston’s letter. That it appeared shortly after the March 1909 dinner is obvious from the headline: “He saw Poe’s Burial — Colonel Weston’s Letter Read at London Authors ’ Club Dinner.” The Sun carried an article describing the dinner on 2 March 1909. Neither this account nor the much longer one in the London Times of the same date mentions the reading of Weston’s letter. Col. Weston is not listed in any of the standard biographical reference works.

(4) The Haunted Palace: A Life of Edgar Allan Poe (New York, 1959), p. 377. See also Hervey Allen, Dictionary of American Biography, VIII, 27: “Poe died Sunday, Oct.7, 1849. He was buried two days later.”


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[S:1 - PSDR, 1970]