I arrived at Westminster Hall's cemetery around 10:30 or so. The gate to Poe's monument was locked, but I had visited earlier in the day to view both gravesites. Poe's original grave is in the back of the cemetery, but years later he was moved to the front at the corner of Fayette and Green Sts and a large monument marks the current spot. Poe's wife, Virginia, and her mother Maria Clemm are buried alongside Edgar. The original gravesite still has a marker. I had been informed that the Poe Toaster used to visit the monument at the second site in the front of the cemetery, but changed to the original site in the back when public scrutiny made it more difficult for him to leave his memorial without notice.
The cemetery is appropriately gothic, with aged, thin tombstones, most of the lettering eroded by the centuries, some mere nubs poking through the hard winter ground. Very little grass grows in the dirt. The grounds were muddy from a recently thawed snowfall. Vast tombs with vaulted roofs dominate the cemetery with brick walkways between them. The church was built after the cemetery had already been established, so it rests, slightly elevated on arches, directly on top of many graves, creating a catacomb beneath. This underground cemetery is
much like the one surrounding the church, but creepier for being enclosed with a low roof (so low I had to duck in places) and even includes an open pit-like tomb with an empty coffin, perhaps the vestige of a grave-robbing in the 19th century.
When I arrived at night there was already a small group of six revelers awaiting. Three had come from down south and three had come from California to meet their friends and make the pilgrimage on Edgar's birthday. The crowd soon began to grow and over the course of the evening, I counted more visitors from out of state, from Virginia, California, Pennsylvania, the Carolinas than there were natives of Baltimore.
After talking to a few of the fans, I made my way to the side gate of the cemetery and noticed it was unlocked. Unlocked to me means, "Come on in!" So I figured I would take another peak around the back of the church and at the original gravesite. I slowly opened the gate and took a step or two, when suddenly, a man jumped from behind the wall and shouted at me to get out. Scared the living hell out of me. If you think about it, probably the easiest place to scare someone is in a cemetery. At night. Near the grave of the America's greatest horror writer. After recovering my senses, I turned and recognized the frightener as none other than my nemesis, Jeff Jerome. I hustled back out to the sidewalk and through the bars of the iron gate thrust my hand.
"Jeff Jerome? Ed Pettit. We finally meet."
Would Jerome's last nerve finally snap? Would he attempt to split my skull with a graveyard mattock? Or just throttle me through the bars? Would he hurl defiance in my face, slap me with a glove and call for his second? No. We just shook hands and chatted for a few minutes. He was sorry he couldn't invite me inside to wait with the "chosen" aficionados. But we would talk tomorrow at the birthday celebration.
All the while he spoke with me, he fiddled with a chain around the gate, as if he were locking it up. As if. This was the only gate into the cemetery. If he locked it the Toaster would have to scale the wall (a not unlikely scenario, as it is believed he used a ladder to climb the wall a couple years ago). But if he was going to slip in through a gate, this would be the one. I knew where to wait.