Wednesday, October 29, 2014


((I first posted this on October 31, 2007.))

One of the many islands of Boston Harbor is Castle Island, though
for many years it’s been “attached” to the South Boston mainland
and is reachable by foot. In fact it was a favorite meeting place
used by the reputed mob boss Whitey Bulger.

The first fortifications on the island were begun in 1634 and
eventually they became Fort Independence, which has a long and
fascinating history.

But for this Halloween I’m writing about a certain young soldier
who, according to Edward Rowe Snow in his book “The Islands of
Boston Harbor”
, enlisted in the First Artillery on 26th May,
1827 and was sent to Fort Independence where he served for five
months under the name Edgar A. Perry.

His real name was Edgar Allan Poe.

While there, Snow speculates, Poe would have heard about a fatal
duel that took place on Christmas Eve seven years before in 1817
between two officers which resulted in the death of a Lt. Robert
Massie. Snow doesn’t give the name of the other officer involved
but he tells about the burial of the dead man on the island and
quotes the inscriptions on it. Lt. Massie’s remains and the
headstone, by the way, were moved three times and as of the
time that Mr.Snow was writing had ended up at the cemetery at
Ft. Devens in 1939. ((pp.68-69))

Snow and others over the years have pointed to the story of Lt.
Massie’s death as the inspiration for “A Cask of Amontillado” but
there are few facts available. For one thing the identity of the
second man varies from story to story. The basic story goes that
Massie’s opponent was a bully and that the dead lieutenant’s
friends took revenge by walling his killer up alive in one of the
casement walls. But again, there is no record showing an officer
mysteriously disappeared without a trace in the time after
Massie’s death.

Snow later in the chapter later says that an elderly man told him
that in 1905 a skeleton dressed in an old military uniform was
found when a sealed casement was opened during repairs to the
fort. They weren’t able to find out who it was and so it was
eventually buried. (p 76)

So far I haven’t found anything online about the discovery and
most critics dismiss the story about the skeleton as folklore. But
whether or not there was someone actually buried alive, it’s quite
possible Poe used some for the elements of the event in his story.

And even the dispute over the folktale is very Poe-like.

There may be another Boston area story that inspired Poe. I
recall reading once about somebody, the wife of the Governor of
the Colony, I think, hosting a party or ball during an epidemic and
that Poe might have been inspired to write “The Masque of The
Red Death” after hearing about it.

The information for this post came from:

Snow, Edward Rowe, “The Islands of Boston Harbor”
Commonwealth Editions, Beverly, Ma.

copyright© 1935,1971 by Edward Rowe Snow
copyright© 2002 by Dorothy Snow Bicknell

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