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Thursday, January 24, 2013

WITHIN A DREAM.” (Edgar Allan Poe)

Edgar Allan Poe is the iconic American author and poet best known for his stories of mystery and macabre. He is credited with creating the written form we know as the short story and in inventing the genre of detective fiction. He had just turned forty years old at the time of his death in 1849. Poe died under mysterious circumstances.

His life had been traumatized by the death of almost every person he cared for including his mother and wife. This may have accounted for the dark nature of his writings. Poe is buried in Baltimore. While he was originally interred toward the rear of a cemetery at a local churchyard, because of the demands of his devotees, Poe was reburied in 1875 closer to the front of the church.

Many people living around the country have never heard the story of the peculiar tradition surrounding Poe’s grave. This strange tradition, which has existed for over 70 years, takes place every year on Poe’s birthday, January 19th, when a mysterious stranger visits Poe’s grave.

In the early hours of the morning, a shadowy man dressed all in black except for a white scarf and a broad-billed hat, enters the cemetery and approaches the grave. He carries a silver-tipped cane. He stops to pour a glass of Martell Cognac with which he toasts the iconic author. He leaves three fresh red roses in a specific arrangement on the headstone; along with the unfinished cognac bottle. He then turns and leaves. The visitor has become known as the “Poe Toaster.”

No one, and we mean no one, has ever seen his face. His identity has been hidden since the tradition began in the 1930’s. Sometimes a note is left behind, such as, “Edgar, I haven’t forgotten you.” In 1993, a message was left announcing that “the torch will be passed” indicating that a second person might be taking over, possibly a son. Six years later a note said that the original Toaster had died the previous year.

The Poe Toaster does not attempt to hide from onlookers. Every year, reporters and groups of Poe lovers (as many as 150) observe the tradition. Out of respect the watchers do not interfere with the ritual. There has been no serious effort to identify the Poe Toaster.

In 2009, the last visit of the Poe Toaster was witnessed. It was the bicentennial of Poe’s birth and some thought that it might be the logical point at which the ceremony ended. The next year people were gathered around the cemetery to see if the visitor would make another appearance, but he never came. Jeff Jerome, the curator of the Poe Museum in Baltimore, said, “We had several suspects (in mind) but they had all passed away. The mystery will never be solved unless someone confesses on their deathbed.”

On January 19, 2012, one final vigil was held for the Poe Toaster. Again he didn’t arrive. Jerome declared the tradition now dead. “It’s sad, he said, “But we will continue to celebrate. Life goes on.”

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