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Poe's Death

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Gary | 305 comments Mod
from the expert, Matthew Pearl......

Matthew Pearl's Blog
Poe Obituary Review Part I: First Response
In honor of the bicentennial of his death on October 7, 1849, let us look at some of the key obituaries for Edgar Allan Poe. This note will be the first of several on the topic.

One of the first obituaries came a day after his death.

Baltimore Sun, Mon, Oct 8, 1849:
“Death of Edgar A. Poe. – We regret to learn that Edgar A. Poe, Esq., the distinguished American poet, scholar and critic, died in this city yesterday morning, after an illness of four or five days. This announcement, coming so sudden and unexpected, will cause poignant regret among all who admire genius, and have sympathy for the frailties too often attending it. Mr. Poe, we believe, was a native of this State, though reared by a foster-father at Richmond, Va., where he lately spent some time on a visit. He was in the 38th year of his age.”

Plenty to notice in just a few lines. Poe died in Baltimore, so whatever this Baltimore reporter or editor found has some degree of value.

There is no cause of death identified. Well, the “frailties” attending “genius” is our cause of death. With the rumors that swirled around Poe, this would have been a clear reference to drinking.

The unnamed writer of the obituary did gather information from somewhere, possibly from Poe's cousin Neilson who worked in Baltimore as an attorney and later a judge, pictured here below:
Accurate: Poe had indeed been in the city for four or five days. Poe had indeed come from Richmond. These will become important facts in the Poe death narrative as it takes its murky shape.

But Poe aficionados will notice errors. Poe was not 38 when he died, he was 40. Poe was not a native of Maryland, but rather of Massachusetts. In the obit's defense, confusion about Poe's age and birthplace was widespread and continued for decades.

There is no description here of why Poe had come to Baltimore, which was an unplanned trip, or what he was doing for the four or five days. The hint of a mystery behind the death would come in later obituaries and accounts.

To be continued...

message 2: by Gary (new)

Gary | 305 comments Mod
Do we have a cover? Pa...
Matthew Pearl's Blog

Poe Obituary review Part II: Ludwig's turn
This is the obituary that really stuck to Poe's reputation. Even the use of the full name, Edgar Allan Poe, whereas it was Edgar A. Poe in the earlier obituary we looked at, seems to herald a change in his perception, a practice that we might still wish to reverse (see

The obituary was long, this will be an excerpt.

New York Daily Tribune, Rufus Griswold (signed only “Ludwig”) Oct. 9, 1849: “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. The poet was known, personally or by reputation, in all this country; he had readers in England, and in several of the states of Continental Europe; but he had few or no friends; and the regrets for his death will be suggested principally by the consideration that in him literary art has lost one of its most brilliant but erratic stars… We have not learned the circumstances of his death. It was sudden, and from the fact that it occurred in Baltimore, it is to be presumed that he was on his return to New York.”

If we are looking for the death narrative itself to be fleshed out, not much to find here. Griswold's wording, “we have not learned the circumstances,” suggests he tried to find more details without luck so far.

Griswold presumes Poe was on his way to his home in New York, and we know from facts established later on that Griswold is right. A map of Poe's planned itinerary and actual movements in the weeks before his death begins to form for the 1849 readers and for us.

Reading Griswold's original obituary is not quite as shocking as the Poe fan might expect from Griswold's infamous reputation. Partially, that is because Griswold revised later for inclusion in a book publication and made things worse.

Griswold does begin to elevate Poe's literary reputation, using the word “brilliant,” which would also serve Griswold's own interests well since he was Poe's literary executor (another topic entirely!) and would be the editor of the posthumous volumes of Poe's writing.

Still, the indication that Poe was friendless and that his death would not be grieved is harsh even to the eye unschooled in Griswold's reputation. That Poe was friendless, or close to it, was not entirely untrue at the time, to be fair to Griswold. There were only four mourners at the funeral, several of whom were not particularly friendly toward Poe, as I expand upon in The Poe Shadow. Even friends, though, were unlikely to have known about the quietly held funeral in a place Poe was not living.

More importantly, Poe was also constantly and consistently alienating friends, particularly the male ones. He managed to remain friends with women much longer than with the men in his life. Yes, Poe was a flirt, but there was more to it. We all know people like that, who do much better in friendships with the opposite gender.

He had problems with these women, sometimes, too.

But what is it in someone's psyche that makes a man not get along with other men, or a woman not get along with women?

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Gary | 305 comments Mod

Edgar Allan Poe's 200th Birthday

The Poe House and Museum is where the writer lived for a couple years.
(Photo From Baltimore Area Convention And Visitors Association)
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Friday, September 4, 2009

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most celebrated American writers,
boasting -- among other things -- an NFL team and a beer named after
his works. Poe died at age 40, and people across the country celebrate
his birth and death annually. This year is particularly special for
Poe fanatics, because it marks the 200th anniversary of his birth.

This Story
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Baltimore's yearlong commemoration of Poe will culminate next month
with a re-creation of his funeral. Poe lived in Baltimore for several
years and died and was buried in the city.

Begin at Poe's former residence, a brick home with green shutters
where he lived for a couple of years. It was in this house that he
penned "Berenice" and "Tales of the Folio Club." It is now home to a
museum that is open Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 3:30 p.m.
On Oct. 7, the date of Poe's death in 1849, there will be a
re-creation of a wake for Poe from noon to 11 p.m.

After seeing the home, head to Annabel Lee Tavern, named after one of
Poe's last poems. It boasts a shrine to the author, his poetry covers
the walls and Raven beer is on tap. Drink a brew and fill up on sweet
potato fries before heading to Poe's last stop, the Westminster Hall
and Burying Grounds. On Oct. 10 at noon and 4:30 p.m., a re-creation
of Poe's funeral will include a horse-drawn hearse traveling from his
home to Westminster Hall, a drum-and-fife corps and actors performing

Where is it? Poe House and Museum is at 203 N. Amity St., Baltimore,
410-396-7932 or Annabel Lee Tavern is
at 601 S. Clinton St., 410-522-2929 or Westminster Hall and Burying Grounds,
519 W. Fayette St., 410-706-2072 or

What's it cost? Museum admission is $4 for adults, free for children
12 and younger. Tickets for the viewing are $5. Prices for funeral
recreation are $35 in advance; $40 at the door. Children younger than
10 are not permitted.

For more information:

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Gary | 305 comments Mod
Matthew Pearl, author: Poe Obituary review Part IV: A Period to his Existence

Matthew Pearl, author's Notes
Poe Obituary review Part IV: A Period to his Existence
Today at 9:05am
(See Part I: First Responders, Part II: Ludwig's Turn, Part III: Of Brandy and Poetry)

This is my final post on the original obituaries of Edgar Allan Poe as we lead up to the bicentennial of his birth. Below is not the most famous of the obituaries, but it is the most informative:

New York Herald, Oct 9, 1849: “Our Baltimore Correspondence. Our city was yesterday shocked with the announcement of the death of Edgar A. Poe, Esq., who arrived in this city about a week since after a successful tour through Virginia, where he delivered a series of able lectures. On last Wednesday, election day, he was found near the Fourth ward polls laboring under an attack of mania a potu, and in a most shocking condition. Being recognized by some of our citizens he was placed in a carriage and conveyed to the Washington Hospital, where every attention has been bestowed on him. He lingered, however, until yesterday morning, when death put a period to his existence. He was a most eccentric genius, with many friends and many foes, but all, I feel satisfied, will view with regret the sad fate of the poet and critic.”

How is it that the Baltimore correspondent for this New York paper knows more than the Baltimore Sun writer whose article we looked at first?

The writer of this piece correctly identifies Poe's purpose in Richmond, where he was delivering lectures. Poe was attempting to raise funds for a magazine he had always hoped to launch.

This finally gives us some details about what happened to Poe in Baltimore. The day and location where he was discovered, for one, is provided. The fourth ward polls refers to Ryan's, an inn and tavern that was being used for state election day that October 3rd.

The fact that it was election day would figure prominently approximately ten years later in the first appearances of a theory of “cooping,” or mistreatment by political thugs. While I find the appeal of the cooping theory limited, I will throw some support to the coopers with this quote from a Poe story, set in the future but reflecting the chaos and fraud of elections in his era:

“Every man ‘voted,’ as they called it – that is to say meddled with public affairs – until, at length, it was discovered that what is everybody’s business is nobody’s, and that the ‘Republic’ (so the absurd thing was called) was without a government at all… that universal suffrage gave opportunity for fraudulent schemes, by means of which any desired number of votes might at any time be polled, without the possibility of prevention or even detection, by any party which should be merely villainous enough not to be ashamed of the fraud” (from Mellonta Tauta)

Now to Poe's condition, about which the Herald correspondent at least tries to be more specific than the other obituaries. Mania a potu was an oft-diagnosed and described delirium from drinking. Since this was overused at the time, more helpful and a bit less subjective is actually “shocking condition,” which starts to put more flesh on the bare bones tale of Poe's demise. Note that the way it's phrased “in a most shocking condition” is separate and in addition to the “mania a potu.”

The obituary even slows down enough to choreograph Poe being placed in a carriage by a few individuals who recognized him. This is right on the money. The man who recognized him at Ryan's was Joseph W. Walker, who wrote this note to another Joseph, Joseph Snodgrass, a local editor and familiar figure. Later, we'd get to see the text of this note:

Baltimore City, Oct 3d 1849
Dear Sir, -
There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s 4th Ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you, he is in need of immediate assistance,
Yours, in haste,
Jos. W. Walker

Snodgrass ends up putting Poe alone in a carriage to the hospital, possibly because Poe had to be positioned lying down and nobody else could fit (the Poe death narrative is one that revolves on small, slow and strange details, which are explicated in full in The Poe Shadow and also in my two part essay “The Poe Death Dossier”, which is linked at

The obituary also identifies the hospital and emphasizes a high level of care, which by all accounts seem true (not to say he was cared for the same way he would be in a modern hospital). The hospital went by several names, and the building is now replaced by condos. I have heard differing accounts on whether there is a plaque somewhere on the spot there or not—I couldn't find one (I believe the condos were under construction when I went). This is how it looked around the time Poe would have been rushed through its doors:

As far as I know, nobody has found the name of this New York Herald correspondent in Baltimore. I'm not sure that anyone has ever really looked, although I tried a bit. The problem with certain research questions is that if there is no existing source to at least start you off, the answer to a small question might take literally years of dedicated research building up a foundation of information before that question is answerable. In this case, it would involve becoming an expert in the history of the defunct New York Herald. Finding that name could prove helpful to Poe scholarship, since one might be able to trace what else he or she knew.

Remember how Rufus Griswold in his “Ludwig” obituary assured us that few would grieve for Poe's death? This obituary, at least, counters that, commenting that all will view his death with regret.

The Poe obituaries form a first draft of his death narrative. Unfortunately, their vagueness and focus on moral judgments paved the way for more than a century and a half of confusion and misinformation.

I hope you enjoyed this series of posts on the original obituaries. Look for upcoming bicentennial-timed posts on whether Poe was an alcoholic, the myths about Poe, and some Dickens related posts timed for the US release of The Last Dickens in paperback. If you ever have ideas for a subject you'd like me to write a post about, please feel free to suggest!
Updated 8 hours ago · Comment · Like · Report Note

8 people like this.

Dana Swier Huff
I have heard the story of Poe being possibly drugged an used as a repeat voter, but I didn't realize it had a name! So the big question is what do YOU think caused his death?
3 hours ago · Report

Matthew Pearl, author
Yes, "cooping" (election related violence) is a popular theory, though I'm not a supporter. My position is there isn't one theory that makes all the facts fit, that it's more important to straighten out the facts instead. I think it was a combination of many things, including a possible brain tumor, for which I found some interesting evidence.

Rick-Founder JM CM BOOK CLUB  | 8 comments i am very happy to see Poe's name in the mainstream news again- even though it is a somewhat strange context- I am sure Poe would be delighted!

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