It was July 1848 and famed poet Edgar Allan Poe was staying in Westford at the home of wealthy paper mill owner Charles Richmond and his wife Nancy. The couple, former Lowellians and big fans of Poe’s work, invited him to stay at their home rather than a hotel when they heard he would be lecturing in Lowell.
In the time before Facebook, the Kardashians and the 3D IMAX version of The Fast and the Furious 6 lectures by writers, intellectuals and political figures were the main source of entertainment and night-on-the-town socialization.
The eccentric writer was a night owl, sitting up all night long in front of the fireplace. Nancy joined him. Friendship blossomed into romance.
Poe wrote a series of passionate love letters; she visited him, unaccompanied by her husband.
The following April, Poe’s poem “For Annie” was published in Flag of Our Union, a weekly Boston-based publication. Nancy Richmond bragged to her friends she was in fact Poe’s “Annie.”
The final stanza of the poem reads:
But my heart it is brighter
Than all of the many
Stars in the sky,
For it sparkles with Annie—
It glows with the light
Of the love of my Annie—
With the thought of the light
Of the eyes of my Annie.
When Charles Richmond died in 1873, Nancy went to the probate court and had her name legally changed to Annie.
“It’s not a stretch to say Edgar Allan Poe’s girlfriend is buried at Lowell Cemetery,” local historian Richard Howe Jr. told a crowd of more than 50 who gathered at the sprawling 173-year-old garden-style cemetery off of Lawrence Street Friday afternoon for the first guided tour of the spring.
The 90-minute tour was packed with fascinating stories of the souls who rest there. I will not give them all away, since you should take the tour yourself, but I will tease you with a few crumbs . .
Swett lived at the corner of Liberty and Pine Streets in the Highlands and ran a livery stable on Green Street near the train depot where he provided horse-drawn carriages for visitors who arrived by train.
Rebecca died at the age of 26, six years after they wed. The next Mrs. Swett was Rebecca’s sister Mary, who died seven years later. At the age of 45, he married 22-year-old Fanny, who died a couple of years later. Elizabeth, wife number four, was older than John . . . and outlived him.
At the cemetery the four women’s graves are marked by tall headstones. John’s sits flat on the ground.
“I think there is some symbolism that his stone is prostrate . . . with four wives . . . “ Howe said.
In addition to being a cemetery, the beautifully handcrafted monuments also make it a public art museum. One of the most striking pieces is at the grave of Louisa Maria Wells.
When she died in 1886 at the age of 69, her will stated all of her money should be put toward a suitable monument in honor of herself and her mother.
Louisa’s cousins, who wanted the money for themselves, contested the will.
“In a court case right out of a Charles Dickens novel,” Howe said, the case dragged on for 20 years, during which time the funds earned a considerably amount of interest.
The judge upheld the will and Louisa’s wishes. Famed sculptor Daniel Chester French, who had carved the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial, was asked to create the piece.
He suggested his associate, Evelyn Longman, who had trouble getting work that was not awarded through blind design contests due to her gender.
“No one wanted to hire a woman for something as important as carving a statue,” quipped Howe.
The imposing piece depicts a comforting Angel of Death leaning over a kneeling mill worker, clad in a smock and holding a bobbin with the yarn cut, symbolizing the end of life’s yarn.
Howe has been conducting tours of the Lowell Cemetery for four years. The spring tours cover the Lawrence Street half of the burial ground, while in the fall the tour starts from the Knapp Avenue entrance.
For more information, including upcoming tour dates visit http://www.lowellcemetery.com.