Manhattan: Old St. John's burying ground - Between Hudson - Leroy - Clarkson Streets. New York Public Library. Digital ID 720542F.A cemetery used to take up residence in the block bordered by Leroy, Clarkson, and Hudson streets. Jam-packed with stones, approximately 10,000 people took up their final resting place on this block. James J Walker Park now fills this space, and a single stone honoring firefighters who died in the line of duty over 150 years ago is all that remains of St. John's Burying Ground. Edgar Allan Poe used to wander this space — he found it inspiring, I suppose. His birthday is January 19.
Of course, many of Poe's creations weren't lucky enough to rest in the comfortable ground. They ended up behind walls ("The Cask of Amontillado", "The Black Cat"), or under floorboards ("The Tell-Tale Heart"). In "The Masque of the Red Death," no one gets buried. Death in that story is so pervasive, there's no one left alive to do the burying. Sometimes his characters are buried too early ("The Fall of the House of Usher"), and sometimes too late ("The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar").
Poe spent much of his time thinking of death and was especially fascinated by the line between life and death — fascinated and horrified (see "The Pit and the Pendulum," although that story has a happy ending, by Poe's standards, at least).
I admit a certain fascination with Poe myself. I read his stories when I was young. He seemed to come from another world. His characters were so awful and strange. His narrators were murderers and they were mad. They came from a place where the sun doesn't shine. I couldn't imagine Poe, himself, existing anywhere normal. Yet 170 years ago, he was walking the New York City streets. At times, the sun must have shined.
Poe lived at many addresses in the Village, including near Sixth Avenue and Waverly Place: 18 Amity and 85 Amity Street (now West Third Street) and on Carmine Street, although at what exact address is unclear.
Here, the brilliant first paragraph of "The Tell-Tale Heart:"
TRUE! — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses — not destroyed — not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Harken! and observe how healthily — how calmly I can tell you the whole story.
Reading Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe in the Bronx