Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Edgar Allan Poe died on this day in 1849

The Master of the Macabre died in Baltimore on October 7, 1849. But the cities of Philadelphia and Baltimore are locked in a dispute as to which city has the larger claim on him. He is buried in Baltimore, where he died, but some Poe scholars say he was living in Philadelphia when he produced much of his best work (including some of the best detective mysteries ever written).

There has been much disagreement as to the cause of death. It has been postulated that he died of rabies. The author of that hypothesis says Poe entered Washington College Hospital comatose, but by the next day was perspiring heavily, hallucinating and shouting at imaginary companions. The following day, he seemed better but could not remember falling ill. On his fourth day at the hospital, Poe again grew confused and belligerent, then quieted down and died.

That is a classic case of rabies, the author said. In the brief period when he was calm and awake, Poe refused alcohol and could drink water only with great difficulty. Rabies victims frequently exhibit hydrophobia, or fear of water, because it is painful to swallow. This study is in the September 1996 issue of The Maryland Medical Journal.

Although it has been well established that Poe died in the hospital, legend has it that he succumbed in the gutter, a victim of his debauched ways. The legend may have been fostered by his doctor, who in later years became a temperance advocate and changed the details to make an object lesson of Poe's death.

Some say Poe almost surely did not die of alcohol poisoning or withdrawal. The writer was so sensitive to alcohol that a glass of wine would make him violently ill for days. Poe may have had problems with alcohol as a younger man, but by the time he died at 40 he almost always avoided it.

An unknown visitor has paid homage to Poe's grave every year since 1949. Due to the length of this tribute it is likely that several individuals are involved. But every January 19th in the wee hours of the morning they make a toast of cognac to Poe's original grave marker and leave 3 roses. They have been affectionately referred to as the "Poe Toaster".

Poe contributed to the genre of science fiction, as well as being a poet and critic. Here's a wonderful link to a searchable collection of his works.

Edgar Allan Poe

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