History, Press Releases, Religion

Press Release: Kammen, Digging Up the Dead

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When Edgar Allan Poe died in a Baltimore gutter in 1849, he was buried in an unmarked grave, his funeral attended by only a handful of friends. Within a few decades, however, his growing reputation led to his body being dug up and reburied not once, but twice, in more ostentatious quarters—the second move accompanied by a memorial service attended by such prominent figures as Tennyson and Whitman. And Poe’s bones may not yet be done with their travels: last year’s celebration of his bicentennial brought with it a public tussle between citizens of Baltimore and Philadelphia over each city’s right to call Poe’s legacy—and body—their own.
Poe, however, is far from alone: as Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Michael Kammen reveals in Digging Up the Dead, Americans have been fighting over the remains of their heroes since the early days of the Republic. Vividly recounting the restless afterlives of such figures as Sitting Bull, Jefferson Davis, Daniel Boone, Abraham Lincoln, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mark Rothko, Kammen shows how regional pride, mistaken identities, battles over reputations, and even crassly commercial tourism have all played parts in this impressively grisly obsession with exhumation. From the grotesqueries of grave robbing and skull fondling to sincere attempts to posthumously honor previously neglected figures, the stories in Digging Up the Dead offer a host of fascinating insights about this little-known—yet surprisingly enduring—strain of American history.
Read the press release.
Also, read an excerpt.