A Happy Birthday Toast to Mr. Edgar Allan Poe
The day-job requires I go to the city of Baltimore a fair amount. In spite of what many folks say about Baltimore, I find it fascinating. Charming even.
It is, after all, the “Charm City,” right?
Interesting architecture is one of the most notable features of the Charm City. One of the lessor notable features is the city’s rich legacy of folklore, legend and myth. There are lots of stories, purported hauntings and other-worldly materializations in Baltimore’s history. This includes the 19th floor of the Lord Baltimore Hotel, a place I frequently stay during my visits. Of course, the closest I’ve been to the haunted floor was when I stayed in room 1801. It was a quiet and restful night.
Edgar Allan Poe is Buried Here
Perhaps the central character of Baltimore myth and legend is the city’s most famous writer, and one of America’s original authors, Edgar Allan Poe.
I’ve visited his final resting place several times, and did so on my latest excursion to Baltimore a few weeks ago. He’s been laid to rest in a lovely gothic cemetery, just off the beaten path in Downtown Baltimore, along with many other historic figures from Revolutionary War era America. It’s a quiet place in the middle of a busy city.
The Gate was Opened by a Large, Vaping Man …
I most recently arrived at the burial grounds surrounding Westminster Hall with a cup of coffee a bit before 8:00 AM. Apparently that’s too early, as the gates were locked. I almost went away disappointed. A large, rather unkempt looking man came out of a side door of the church with a vape pipe and a large set of keys.
The gate is unlocked at 8:00 AM.
Old Fake News
Many people assume Edgar Allan Poe must have been this strange, other-worldly, oddity to have written his death-obsessed work. It’s and unfortunate fact some of Poe’s legacy was indeed shaped by a rival named Rufus Wilmot Griswold. He does have a Wikipedia page, but he’s mostly unknown today. When Poe died Griswold published an obituary (under a fictitious name) which began:
“Edgar Allan Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it.”
He went on to paint Poe as a tortured soul, addicted to alcohol, drugs and women.
Little of it was true. Most was embellishment. Much was believed by the general public.
“Fake news” is not a new phenomenon.
A Professional Writer
What I find interesting is the fact that Edgar Allan Poe was a hard working writer who had no more quirks than most of us. He gambled and drank more than he should have at times. He did marry his 13 year old cousin. Not that this should ever have been an historic or culturally acceptable thing, but in his day, this was not nearly as scandalous as it would be today. The point is, he had a fairly ordinary existence for the mid–1800s. He lived his life in relative poverty. Much due to the fact he made some poor financial choices — as well as his career choice of “Author and Poet,” something more or less unheard of at that time. It didn’t pay much.
He never made a lot of money as a writer. The bread and butter of his career was his work as an editor and publisher — and even then, there wasn’t a lot of bread or butter on Poe’s table. However, Poe did achieve notoriety when his poem “The Raven” was published in 1845. He was an overnight success.
People knew him as a poet. And he was paid as a poet — a grand total of $9 bucks for the poem.
Granted, that was a decent bit of cash for a piece of writing in 1845. But rights and usage laws were very different in those days. It never brought him the passive income a work with similar popularity would bring a writer today. If someone were to write a poem, and a team in the National Football League used the main character of said poem as a mascot, the poet would be doing quite well for herself.
Maybe the Baltimore Ravens should consider a generous contribution to the Edgar Allan Poe Foundation, at the very least?
Affluence vs. Influence: The Author’s Conundrum
Poe didn’t achieve the sort of success one would have expected in his lifetime. In fact, he died a couple of days after he was found wandering the streets of Baltimore in a stupor, wearing someone else’s clothes. There is an element of mystery surrounding his death. Speculation ranges from rabies to cholera to alcohol poisoning. No one knows for sure.
Poe remains a stalwart and a pioneer in American and other English language literature today. From Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle to Jules Verne to Stephen King, Poe has influenced both writer and genre: detective stories, science fiction and gothic horror.
It’s why Poe is required reading in every high school and university level American Lit class today.
I’m pretty sure there are not too many folks in the world today who have ever read anything by Rufus Griswold.
A Toast to Poe
As I wandered the Westminster burial grounds in downtown Baltimore, I did wonder about all of the other folks buried there: a lot of history under my feet. Poe is buried with Revolutionary War heroes, along founding mothers and fathers of the USA.
Like I said, there’s a lot of history in Baltimore.
Poe died and was buried at the back of Baltimore’s Westminster burial grounds in an unmarked grave in 1849, at the age of 40.
His body was later moved to a marked grave in the front of the cemetery.
Starting sometime in the 1930s a mysterious person began to secretively appear every year on Poe’s Birthday (January 19th) and leave a half bottle of cognac and three roses at the grave. This continued every year until the “Poe Toaster” mysteriously stopped appearing in 2010, the year after the 200th anniversary of Poe’s birth.
While the Maryland Historical Society is bringing the tradition back in an official capacity, the identity of the original “Poe Toaster” is still a mystery today.
I feel Mr. Poe himself would have approved.
If you’re ever in Baltimore, be sure to check out all of the Poe History. It’s quite fascinating.
Westminster Hall Burial Grounds
The Edgar Allan Poe House (Baltimore)
The Hospital where Poe Died
The Annabel Lee Tavern (purportedly frequented by Poe. Now a very Edgar Allan themed place for pub food and drink)
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