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Westminster Burying Ground and Catacombs

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Westminster Burying Ground and Catacombs was established in 1786 as Westminster Presbyterian Cemetery. In the middle of the 19th Century the congregation (First Presbyterian) decided to erect a church building. They chose the cemetery for the Dixon, Dixon, Balbirnie designed structure, placing the foundation on top of the burial ground. Completed in 1852, the Gothic Revival church is raised above a portion of graves creating catacombs. It closed in 1977 and is now owned and maintained by the University of Maryland School of Law. The facilities are available for functions and the cemetery is open to the public from 8am until dusk. The catacombs can be toured by appointment.

Several American heroes are resting at Westminster. Revolutionary War physician James McHenry was buried here in 1816. A signer of the Declaration of Independence and George Washington’s aide-de-camp, McHenry eventually became the third United States Secretary of War. Fort McHenry was named in his honor.

Brigadier General John Stricker was instrumental in Baltimore’s defining moment during the War of 1812. In command of the third brigade of the Maryland Militia, Stricker was tasked with stalling the approaching British land force as they marched on Baltimore in September of 1814. His men were successful, enabling Major General Samuel Smith to carry out his fortification plans. Stricker was also a soldier during the Revolutionary War.

Next to the Stricker vault is the final resting place of Samuel Smith, merchant, statesman and war hero. Smith elevated to Lieutenant Colonel during the Revolutionary War and to Major General during the War of 1812. He commanded the city’s overall defense during the Battle of Baltimore and was a United States Senator from Maryland. He was mayor of Baltimore from 1835-1838. Smith died in 1839 at the age of 86. His politician brother Robert, Secretary of State under James Madison, is also buried at Westminster.

A number of Baltimore mayors are entombed here. James Calhoun, Edward Johnson and John Smith-Hollins join Samuel Smith in the small Victorian cemetery.

In 1849 Edgar Allan Poe was placed at Westminster next to his grandfather, David Poe Senior. A veteran of the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, David was Charm City’s assistant deputy quartermaster during the Revolution and apparently committed $40,000 of his personal fortune to the American cause. He helped defend Charm City in 1814 at the age of 71. His tombstone reads: Patriot.

In 1875 Edgar Allan was moved to the front of the cemetery and placed under an Egyptian-themed George Frederick designed monument. Several years later, in 1913, a second headstone was erected at the writer’s initial burial site.


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April 29th, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Stonecutter Hugh Sisson

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Hugh Sisson was born in Baltimore in the twentieth year of the 19th Century. He began an apprenticeship in marble cutting at the age of sixteen, and seven years later, after achieving master status in the field, started his own company. The young Baltimorean quickly rose to the top of his profession, securing government and residential contracts throughout the city. By 1881 the Sisson family business had 1017 employees working in a network of marble mills and quarries. The enterprise provided the marble work for the interiors of City Hall, the Peabody Institute and a long list of other buildings. Hugh Sisson’s greatest accomplishment may be in the District of Columbia. His steam-powered mills fabricated the columns for the U. S. Capital building.

The Edgar Allan Poe Grave Monument is also the work of the master stonecutter. Dedicated in 1875, the Egyptian style monument was designed by George A. Frederick and carved by Sisson. The memorial is situated at Westminster Burying Ground.

Green Mount Cemetery is home to many headstones etched at Sisson’s Steam Marble Works. While I was locating Olivia Cushing Whitridge (Green Mount’s first interment) I noticed H Sisson inscribed at the bottom edge of a grave in the Whitridge family plot. The otherwise unreadable marker points in the direction of its creator. Hugh Sisson is buried with his work, a towering obelisk in the eastern section of the graveyard nobly marks his grave. He died in 1893. William Henry Rinehart‘s eloquent Sleeping Children sculpture is contained within the Sisson family plot.

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January 30th, 2011 at 9:35 am

Maximilian Godefroy’s Carriage Gates

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In 1815, French-born architect Maximilian Godefroy completed the carriage gates at Westminster Hall and Burying Ground. Godefroy designed the cemetery entrance in the Egyptian Revival style with its hourglass form symbolizing “time’s swift flight.” He earned $5000 for the work. Landing in America after fighting on the losing side of the French Revolution, Godefroy spent 15 years in Baltimore working in the architectural field. He designed the Battle Monument, First Unitarian Church and Saint Mary’s Chapel, all of which are still standing. Westminster Burying Ground is the final resting place of James McHenry, Samuel Smith and Edgar Allan Poe.

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November 24th, 2010 at 10:11 am

Baltimore’s Edgar Allan Poe House

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My friend and I traveled to the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum to see a replica of the author’s body lying in state. For twelve hours on a cool Wednesday in October, ‘Poe’ was available for viewing as part of a week long celebration marking the 200th anniversary of his birth, the ceremonies culminating in a Sunday service at Westminster Burying Ground presided over by actor John Astin.

As we biked our way to the West Baltimore neighborhood the number of vacant rowhouses gradually increased as we neared the historic site. We asked a few strategically placed police officers where the house was and they responded that it was right in front of us. They even told us they’d watch our bikes while we were inside. Five dollars later we were touring the house Poe lived in during his lean years in Charm City.

The place was fairly packed and we promptly made our way to the body. Once inside the tiny room we encountered some giggling girls, took a quick look and moved on the rest of the house. It’s quite strange taking a pilgrimage to see a mannequin. The rest of the minuscule abode contains rare memorabilia and merchandise. The museum’s greatest attribute is its severity of size, providing a glimpse into Poe’s life and American culture of the 1830s.

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December 7th, 2009 at 12:08 pm

Edgar Allan Poe Grave Monument

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The Edgar Allan Poe grave monument is located at West Fayette Street & North Greene Street at Westminster Burying Ground. Designed by Baltimore architect George A. Frederick and executed by Hugh Sisson, the memorial was commissioned in 1874, 25 years after the author’s death. Poe was originally buried (with no headstone) in the back of the graveyard with his grandfather, grandmother and older brother. In 1875, after an upswell of community support for the writer, Poe’s body was moved to its current location with a monument unveiling ceremony attended by relatives, fans and the poet Walt Whitman. Eventually Virginia and Maria Clemm Poe were interred along with him. In 1913 a second headstone was placed in the Poe family lot marking the spot of Edgar Allan’s initial entombment.

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May 18th, 2009 at 4:22 pm

Baltimore’s Edgar Allan Poe Monument

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W Mount Royal Avenue & Maryland Avenue (Street View)

GPS: 39° 18′ 20.33″ N 76° 37′ 2.39″ W


The Edgar Allan Poe Monument was dedicated on October 20, 1921 and is by artist Moses J. Ezekiel. It was originally placed in Wyman Park at the corner of 29th Street. Interestingly, the first model for this monument was destroyed in a custom house fire, the second was destroyed in an earthquake and the third was delayed many years during WWI from being shipped across the Atlantic (Ezekiel, though born in the U. S., lived and worked in Rome, Italy).

The original base, now lost, also has a strange history. It contained two misspellings in its dedication quote, one of which was eventually corrected by a vigilante-fan named Edmond Fontaine. In 1930 Fontaine chiseled the unnecessary “s” from the statue’s base, was arrested, spent the night in jail and was released the next day. He was never charged for the corrective crime. Poe’s monument was moved from Wyman Park to its current location in the Law Center Plaza, outside the University of Baltimore on Mount Royal Avenue, in 1983.


Edgar Allan Poe was laid to rest at Westminster Hall and Burying Ground in Baltimore. The controversy over his demise is perhaps not surprising since much of his work dealt with the vicissitudes of death.



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April 10th, 2009 at 4:27 pm