York native finishes six-year grave-visit tour


On Friday afternoon, 54-year old Walter Skold poured the last few drops of a 750-ml bottle of cognac onto his father's tombstone in Prospect Hill Cemetery, culminating a unique six-year journey.

With that visit, Skold, who was raised in York, completed his fourth and final leg of a trek in which he's visited 530 poets' graves across 46 states.

Skold, a poet himself, began his first trip during the spring of 2009 in his Dodge Sprinter van — nicknamed Dedgar the Poemobile — driving to the grave sites of 150 of his favorite poets during a 90-day journey throughout the East, South and Midwest regions.

He never planned on continuing, but 140,000 miles later, he's finally willing to call the trip a "pilgrimage."

This final journey, which began at the burial site of Edgar Allen Poe in Baltimore, has taken him to 97 poets' graves in 70 days, and he's poured cognac onto the tombstone of each.

The liquor ritual was inspired by a former unidentified secret admirer or admirers — known in the poetry community as the Poe Toaster — who was famous for visiting Poe's grave each year on the deceased writer's birthday and drinking a glass of cognac toasting the poet's accomplishments.

Coming home: Skold decided to finish his journey at the grave of his father, Robert Skold, because he helped inspire the journey.

"My father was a banker, so he probably wanted me to go into a more (economically inclined) profession," Walter Skold said. "But right before he died, he gave me his blessing for this project."

After his father's death, Skold and his mother even found a folder with six or seven poems written by the father. They'd had no idea the writings existed.

Skold also is ending his journey at Prospect Hill Cemetery because it is the future burial site of a poet: himself.

He plans to be buried next to his father.

Writer John Updike's son, Michael, who Skold met through an association of gravestone studiers, has agreed to carve his tombstone, Skold said.

John Updike's tombstone, designed by his son, was one of Skold's favorites from his journey.

"The last poet's grave I find will be my own," Skold reads from an unfinished poem he's written while on his trip.

Larger plan: Skold, who now resides in Maine, said he's written countless first drafts of poems but plans on creating a documentary film.

He's shot hundreds of hours of footage during the six-year trek, he said, and is now looking to hire a professional video editor to help turn it into a film.

He guessed he'll need to raise about $30,000 to hire an editor and acquire music rights for the film's creation.

The ride: Skold drives a white van, but the color is hardly discernible through all the lines of poetry he's decorated it with.

Skold said his love of poetry was rekindled working as an English teacher in China, but it started in York, when his third-grade haiku was published in a local newspaper.

He said his decision to travel could be attributed to his high school days as a "Dead Head" — following the Grateful Dead — or John Steinbeck's book chronicling his own travels, "Travels with Charley."

Charley was Steinbeck's pet poodle, and, in the absence of a pet or a female companion, Skold said he's brought along a life-sized stuffed black panther named Raven that a friend gifted to him.

Raven has scared a few onlookers, though, and Skold has been forced to move him into the back seat, he said. More information on Skold's trip can be found at dedgar.org.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com.