Hey, Have You Seen Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Dead Parents?

You wouldn’t happen to know the whereabouts of the bodies of Stephen and Zilpha Longfellow, parents of the famous poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, would you? Because they aren’t where they’re supposed to be.


This comes to our attention via Maine’s Bangor Daily News (by way of Fark). In keeping with the month of October, Troy R. Bennett is doing a video series on the denizens of Portland’s cemeteries. However, the first installment highlighted some residents who are in fact AWOL. The story goes all the way back to 1986, when cemetery workers went to replace an iron gate at the Longfellows’ tomb with a brick wall. UPI reported:

An historian studying the family of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said Thursday that he could not find the bodies of the poet’s parents, thought for years to be in a tomb at a local cemetery.

The historian, William B. Jordan Jr., a professor of history at Westbrook College who is also a director of the Society for the Preservation of Portland Cemeteries, said Longfellow’s parents, two brothers, an aunt and an infant grandniece were believed to be in an old tomb at Western Cemetery, an old burial ground that was closed before the turn of the century.

When officials entered the tomb earlier this summer, Mr. Jordan said, it was empty.

The spooky part: The gate’s padlock was intact, and descendants didn’t have a key. (Well, spooky if you deliberately ignore the possibility the bodies were relocated sometime in the preceding hundred and thirty years and somebody botched the paperwork.)

Perhaps Longfellow’s parents have resurfaced sometime in the last thirty years and it’s just not popping up in my quick scan of newspaper archives. If you have any information as to their current whereabouts, please do share. In the meantime, enjoy Bennett’s video.

Senior Editor at Jezebel, specializing in books, royals, romance novels, houses, history, and the stories we tell about domesticity and femininity. Resident Windsor expert.



Can we bring back the name Zilpha?