The Westminster Church Cemetary is one of the most visited non-operational churches in the United States. Declared a national historic district in 1974, the church is the burial site of a variety of prominent Baltimore citizens including the cities first mayor, Francis Scott Key's son, and James McHenry, one of the signers of the Constitution. The church is located at 519 West Fayette Street, within walking distance of the Baltimore Convention Center and both Baltimore sports stadiums.
The site of the church was originally only a graveyard. It was established in 1786 by the First Presbyterian Church which was a parish of some of the most economically and socially elite in Baltimore. Over the course of 60 years, the cemetary became the final resting place for statesmen, merchants, politicians, and dozens of Revolutionary War and War of 1812 veterans.
In 1852, a church was built over the graveyard. The graves later became known at the catacombs. The church was built as a means of serving Baltimore's west end population. Their intention was to protect the graveyard which was at risk for being considered an uncouth manner of burying the deceased. Those supporting the cemetary and church wanted to leave the graves as they were, and decided that building a church over them would offer the protection needed to leave those buried there at peace.
It was in 1849 the graveyard received its most well-known arrival. Born in 1809, Edgar Allen Poe is the author of macrabre pieces of literature like The Fall of the House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum. Also a poet, Poe wrote The Raven and The Conqueror Worm. Nearly 30 years after Poe was buried at Westminster Church Cemetary, an area teacher began a program called Pennies for Poe. School children donated pennies that were used to fund a substantial monument for Poe's grave. Buried with him are his grandfather, brother, wife, and mother-in-law. To this day, visitors leave pennies on his monument in honor of the Pennies for Poe campaign.
The church is also the home of the Poe House and Museum. As the site of his annual birthday celebration, the church and catacombs attract a variety of Poe fans, all there to celebrate his life and work. Since 1949, a mysterious stranger creeps into the graveyard on Poe's birthday, offers a toast to the macabre author, and places a bottle of Martell cognac and three red roses on his grave. The stranger wears black, carries a cane, and covers his face with a scarf or hood. No one has ever spoken to this stranger. It is believed a new person began carrying out the tradition, based on letters that were left at the site of the grave, explaining the passing of the baton in respect to the family tradition. The stranger has even been known to creep in while the birthday celebration is in full swing.
If you are a fan of dark tales, or possess interest in the literary arts, be sure to pay a visit to the Westminster Church Cemetary while visiting Baltimore. It is a dark experience you will not soon forget.