Edgar Allan Poe is known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, and his death was itself mysterious. He was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland (by some accounts, in a poegutter), wearing somebody else’s clothes, and was taken to the Washington College Hospital, where he died at 5 a.m. on October 7, 1849. The cause of death, depending on which story you accept, was suicide, murder, cholera, rabies, syphilis, influenza, or pecked to death by a raven.

Because Poe was found on the day of an election, it was suggested that he might be a victim of cooping, a method of ballot-box-stuffing scam that entails shanghaiing and drugging some poor sucker and having him vote at multiple locations. It was also rumored that Poe was just good and drunk with liquor administered by his own hand, but this appears to be another of the many falsehoods swirling about his death. Much of the information about the end of Poe’s life comes from his attending physician a man whose credibility is less than impeccable.

After Poe’s death, Rufus Wilmot Griswold wrote his obituary under the pseudonym “Ludwig”. Griswold, was actually a fierce rival of Poe’s who somehow became his literary executor (with an executor like him, who needs enemies?). Griswold also published Poe’s first complete biography, depicting him as a depraved, drunken, drug-addled madman, using such literary techniques as forged evidence to produce a portrait of Poe that would have lasting effect.

Poe was buried after a small funeral at the back of Westminster Hall and Burying Ground, but his remains were moved to a new grave with a larger monument in 1875. And there the mystery of Edgar Allen Poe would continue with 60 years of visits to his grave by a cloak-and-dagger individual known as the “Poe Toaster” – as in “to your health” not a device to brown bread.

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3 thoughts on “October 7, 1849: Once Upon a Midnight Dreary

  1. Thanks for this. I’ve heard that Griswold was a frequent visitor to Vermont and once encountered Poe at the Painter’s Tavern, which I believe was in Vergennes. Poe was visiting “a mysterious Quaker lady,” so the story goes, and he found Griswold with one of Poe’s manuscripts, rather greasy with G’s lunch, pinned to the table with one of Griswold’s elbows. You’re correct that they didn’t like each other very much. Such fun to read your journals.

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