Poe's appeal grows with the season Cemetery: Another Halloween and the birth of the football Ravens are luring more visitors to the author's cemetery, which is undergoing a $35,000 renovation.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Edgar Allan Poe never wrote specifically about Halloween.

He died long before most of today's trick-or-treat traditions were established.

Yet, the 19th-century master of macabre has come to be closely associated with Allhallows Eve -- especially in Baltimore, where he died in 1849.

This is the first Halloween since Baltimore's new football team called attention to Poe by naming itself the Ravens, after his most famous poem.

Which is why the folks who keep watch over the downtown cemetery where Poe is buried, Westminster Burying Ground, are bracing for an onslaught of visitors at their annual Halloween open house this week.

As part of their preparations, they've launched a $35,000 restoration of the cemetery aimed at arresting the deterioration of crypts, tombstones and other markers.

Halloween is "our biggest night," said Lu Ann Marshall, tour director for the cemetery at West Fayette and Greene streets.

Poe was known for horror stories and spooky detective tales, she said. "That's the sort of thing people look for around Halloween."

More than 1,000 revelers typically come to the cemetery's Halloween open house from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The recent focus on Poe -- including a television commercial for Ravens tickets that was filmed partly at the cemetery -- could mean a record turnout this year, Marshall said.

"With the Ravens, everyone's Poe-happy now," she said. "He's our big draw."

The cemetery has seen a dramatic increase in the number of visitors since the football team selected its name, according to -- Mary Jo Rodney, director of Westminster Preservation Trust, the nonprofit group that owns the cemetery and former church, now known as Westminster Hall.

During the 12 months that end Thursday, Rodney said, the property will have drawn about 15,000 visitors.

That's a record -- up from 10,000 during the previous 12 months and "several thousand" a year in the 1980s. Rodney said that when she asks visitors at random why they came to the cemetery, many recently have said Poe and the Ravens connection.

"I definitely think attendance has increased as a result of the Ravens" name, she said.

But it's not just football fans.

During the past baseball season, she said, she talked to more than a few baseball fans who stopped to see the cemetery on their way to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The land for the cemetery, originally called the Western Burying Ground, was deeded to the Presbyterian church by John Eager Howard in 1786.

Besides the Poe monument, which stands just inside the front gates and was built in part with pennies collected from Baltimore schoolchildren, it contains the graves of Revolutionary War patriots; veterans of the War of 1812; and politicians such as James Calhoun, Baltimore's first mayor. Others buried there include James McHenry, for whom Fort McHenry was named; and Gen. Sam Smith, a Revolutionary War hero.

As the city pushed west during the 1840s and 1850s, Presbyterians feared that the historic graves would be neglected or vandalized, so they built a church above them. It opened in 1852 and closed in 1977. The church and the burying grounds were sold in the late 1970s to the preservation trust, which is affiliated with the University of Maryland School of Law.

The restoration was launched this year in recognition of the growing importance of the cemetery as a regional attraction as well as a piece of history.

The trust commissioned a local architect, James Arnold of Point Three Inc., to survey the condition of the cemetery and recommend what areas need repair. Then, it hired a local stonemason, Aldo Construction Co., to begin restoring nearly 50 tombstones and ledgers that are in poor or fragile condition. The work began this month and will take five weeks.

"Age has just basically taken its toll," Rodney said. "The cemetery was established in 1786. The main concern here is to preserve what we have and enhance the look for visitors. Preservation is the most important goal."

Arnold said some crypts were damaged as the ground beneath them shifted, and recent cold winters caused more than a few tombstones to crack or chip. A granite wall on Smith's crypt is collapsing. Even the Poe marker needs repointing.

"What we want to do is stop or slow the deterioration" and "keep things from being lost or stolen," he said. "But we're not trying to make it sparkle and look like a new cemetery. That's not appropriate. Plus, you'd lose all your tours because it wouldn't be scary enough."

Aldo Lagomarsino, an Italian stonemason who heads the company hired to complete repairs, said he considers it an honor to work at the cemetery.

Poe actually has two monuments in the cemetery -- the large one in the front, where he's buried with his wife and mother-in-law, and a smaller one toward the back that marks where he was buried before he was moved to the front. It has a raven carved in stone.

In recent weeks, Poe's monument has been surrounded by flowers and notes left by visitors marking the day he died, Oct. 7. Others bring early Halloween greetings.

"Dear Edgar, Happy Halloween and may you rest in peace," wrote "Simon from Australia."

Sometimes, school groups on field trips leave pennies lined up on a ledge on Poe's monument, to recall the pennies donated by schoolchildren when it was constructed.

The repair work is being funded by revenues raised through admission fees to the cemetery, tours and rental income from the restored church, Westminster Hall.

"Part of our goal and our mission is to preserve the graveyard," Marshall said. "We have a great deal of respect for the people who were buried here. We think of them as family. That's why we want to make sure it's done right."

A Poe Halloween

The open house at Westminster Burying Ground, 519 W. Fayette St., runs from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m Thursday. Admission is $4 for adults, and $2 for children under age 12 and senior citizens.

At this year's event, actor David Keltz, dressed as Edgar Allan Poe, will perform two of the author's works: "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Raven." Other actors will portray "Frank the Body Snatcher," a grave robber who dug up bodies for use by medical students at nearby University of Maryland; and Gen. John Stricker, hero of the Battle of North Point.

Also featured will be tours of Westminster Hall, with seasonal music performed on its restored 1882 Johnson pipe organ and classical guitar performances of "Usher Waltz."

Refreshments and continuous tours of the catacombs beneath Westminster Hall will be offered.

Costumed patrons are welcome.

The cemetery is open daily until dusk, free of charge. Tours of Westminster Hall and Catacombs are the first and third weekend of every month, April through November, at 6: 30 p.m. Fridays and 10 a.m. Saturdays. The cost is $4 for adults and $2 for children under age 12 and seniors. Reservations are required.

Tours are available for groups of 15 or more and may be arranged by calling Westminster Preservation Trust at 706-7228

or 706-2070.

Pub Date: 10/28/96

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