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Founder of Dead Poets Society visits grave of 300th dead poet

PORTLAND, Maine--A man who's devoted himself to honoring the memory of poets from the past has now visited 300 grave sites of poets ahead of this weekend's fourth annual Dead Poets Remembrance Day.

Walter Skold reached the milestone Monday when he visited the burial sites of Anne Whitney, William Reed Huntington and Mary Baker Eddy in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Eddy is best known as the founder of Christian Science, but she was also an accomplished poet.

Skold said he was half-joking when he first said he wanted to visit the graves of 500 dead poets who had at least one book of poetry published, in their lifetime or posthumously. But now he's serious and has identified the gravesites of 201 more bards in the U.S. and Europe, including those of T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden and Sylvia Plath.

“I never really expected that this would go on this long and become such a focus,” Skold said. “But I'm happy it has.”

Skold founded the Dead Poets Society of America and began visiting and documenting the graves of dead poets in 2009 in an effort to draw attention to dead and largely forgotten writers. Traveling in a van nicknamed the Poemobile, he visited 150 graves in 23 states during his 90-day trek that year.

Since then, he's been calling on more graves to bring more attention to the art of poetry. He, with the help of 13 current and past state poets laureate, also founded Dead Poets Remembrance Day, to be held each Oct. 7, the day that Edgar Allan Poe died and James Whitcomb Riley was born. Riley has among the largest poet's graves in the U.S., in Indianapolis.

Now in its fourth year, this year's event kicked off Friday at the gravesite of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Cora Millay at the Millay home in Austerlitz, New York. Through the weekend, additional poetry readings are scheduled at burial grounds in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Illinois and California.

Meg L. Winslow, the curator of historical collections at Mount Auburn Cemetery, was among those who accompanied Skold when he visited the three graves Monday.

In researching the cemetery, Winslow has identified 37 poets who are buried there. Skold is bringing those poets and their works to life, she said.

“Mount Auburn is a place of memories and stories,” she said, “and what he's doing is rediscovering a lot of the stories and celebrating the art that they wrote.”

Skold is hopeful he can visit 63 more burial sites he's identified in the Northeast this fall. But to get to 500 will require some additional funding, he said.

He's hoping to find a patron of poetry to fund his travels. In exchange, Skold will donate his videotapes, photographs and items he's collected from the gravesites to a museum or other institution in the name of the patron.

“What I have is becoming a cultural archaeological resource of the poets' graves,” he said.

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