Look What They Found In This Church
How much is an autograph worth? Twenty thousand dollars if it's Edgar Allan Poe's. And that has made an Episcopal church in Milwaukee very happy.
A letter bearing the swirling black signature of Edgar Allan Poe--emboldened by an underline with a hook at the end--was found last year in a very cluttered walk-in safe in an Episcopal church in Milwaukee. Poe, who is viewed as the godfather of horror writers, is most famous for "The Raven" and "The Telltale Heart." No one even knew the treasure was there until Paul Haubrich, a member of St. Paul's Episcopal Church for 25 years, stumbled upon it one day after he volunteered to clean out the safe. "I was absolutely stunned when I saw the letter," Haubrich told The Associated Press. "It's in great shape, done on very high-quality paper that, when folded up, creates its own envelope." It is dated Feb. 12, 1840 and is addressed to "J.C. Passmore Esqr."
J.C. Passmore once lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and while he was there submitted some articles for publication to Burton's Gentleman's Magazine in Philadelphia. The assistant editor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine was one Edgar Allan Poe. The letter bearing the famous author's signature was the bane of all writers: A rejection.
Poe tells Mr. Passmore that, alas, the magazine could not publish his articles even though they did sound interesting because there was no money. The owner of the magazine was so distraught that the publication was losing money, he told Poe to stop paying contributors.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quotes from the letter Poe wrote to Passmore: He says he has no doubt that the proposed articles "would prove of high interest...but we are forced, at present, for many reasons, to decline allowing compensation, except in very rare cases, where the name of the writer is well known. We cannot hope, of course, that you will send us your communications gratis..."
So how did a letter written in Pennsylvania end up hidden deep inside a cluttered, walk-in safe in a Wisconsin church? The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the twisted tale: J.C. Passmore must not have been content writing freelance articles for magazines that rejected his work. So he became an Episcopal priest and served as rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Racine, Wisconsin. The first Episcopal bishop of Wisconsin, the Right Rev. Jackson Kemper, wrote to the Rev. J.C. Passmore, as bishops do with priests in their dioceses who are under their pastoral care. Those letters, along with the one from Edgar Allan Poe, were placed together in an envelope by Eric Passmore, an attorney who died in 1979. Eric Passmore was not only a descendant of J.C. Passmore, but also of Bishop Kemper. Eric Passmore was a longtime member of St. Paul's. The letters came to rest in the safe of the historic church, which was founded in 1838. There they sat until early 2002.
And so we come to the end our tale, which unlike many of Edgar Allan Poe's stories isn't tragic or frightening at all. The letter was auctioned at Christie's in New York in April 2003 and fetched a handsome $20,000 for the church, which will be placed in a special music fund established some time ago by the Passmore family. The letter was purchased anonymously by someone who deals in rare books.