Westminster Hall and Burial Grounds

University of Maryland
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There aren't many places in the city as beautiful or as haunting as Westminster Hall. Located on the corner of Fayette and Greene Streets the gothic stone building looks like it was planted in the middle of the city by the likes of David Copperfield. But the only magic here resides in the history of the building and land itself. The Hall is probably most famous as the burial site for Edgar Allan Poe. But that isn't the only thing that makes Westminster unique. Where most churches come before the graveyard the graves at Westminster were planted long before the brick foundations of the huge hall. In 1786 the Presbyterian community's graves located north of the city were literally falling into Jones Falls because excessive rain allowed the coffins and bodies to rise up out of the ground. In desperate need to save their dead the Presbyterians moved the graves to the current property at Fayette and Greene streets. For years the new graveyard called the Western Burying Ground was the in place to be buried in Baltimore. Many of Baltimore's founding fathers four mayors generals from the American Revolution and the rich made the Burying Ground their final resting place at least until the more hip Greenmount Cemetery was built in 1839. The only problem with the new graveyard went undetected for a while that is until the bodies started rising again. As it turns out a stream runs under the graveyard and when the water table rises so do the bodies. This helps to explain the purpose of the heavy ornate stone tablets that cover many of the graves here. Also used for decoration and protection from grave robbers the tablets keep the dead where they belong. The graveyard remained the lonely proprietor of the property until the demand for upkeep and protection from vandals along with a growing neighborhood prompted the building of the church hall. In order to leave the existing graves undisturbed the new church was built on a series of brick piers above the tombs. This architectural feat created the catacombs everyone loves to explore today and distinguished the Hall as a unique architectural landmark. Finished in 1852 the new building was named Westminster Presbyterian Church and it remained an active congregation until 1977. Since then the University of Maryland School of Law has cared for the church and graveyard through a private non-profit organization called the Westminster Preservation Trust Inc.