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Dead Poets Society founder dies after ordering tombstone

ELKINS PARK, Pa. >> The founder of the Dead Poets Society of America suffered a fatal heart attack little more than a month after commissioning his own tombstone.

Walter Skold enlisted the son of novelist John Updike to carve a unique tombstone that will be topped with a dancing skeleton and a quill. Michael Updike, who received the poet’s deposit last month, said he never expected to be carving the monument so soon.

There was no indication of any premonition of an untimely death before Skold’s passing at age 57 on Jan. 20, in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, Updike said today.

“He was a sweet soul,” said Updike, of Newbury, Massachusetts. “He was a kind person with this quirky predilection to poets’ graves and death and the macabre.”

Known as the “Dead Poets Guy,” Skold visited the final resting places of more than 600 poets after launching the Dead Poets Society in 2008 in Maine, drawing inspiration for the name from the 1989 Robin Williams movie.

Along the way, Skold drew attention to bards and poetry while producing a massive repository of information on poets’ final resting places.

He also had a sense of humor.

He traveled in a cargo van he dubbed the “Dedgar the Poemobile,” sometimes embellishing the dashboard with an Edgar Allan Poe bobblehead.

But he was serious about honoring poets, and he launched a movement to create Dead Poets Remembrance Day on the Sunday closest to Oct. 7, the date Poe died.

“It takes a little chutzpah to say we’re starting a holiday,” he said in 2010. “But we believe it’s a really good idea, and we hope it catches on.”

Skold was living in Freeport, Maine, when left his job as a public school technology teacher to pursue his passions of poetry and photography and to launch the society.

A celebration of Skold’s life is being held Saturday on Elkins Park, and he’ll be buried at a family plot in York, Pennsylvania. There also will be a remembrance in Maine.

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