Written By: Angela DiLella
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Edgar Allan Poe is an author that hardly needs introduction. He lived from 1809 to 1849 and remains one of America’s best-known horror authors. His most notable works include the poem The Raven, and short stories like The Cask of Amontillado, The Black Cat, and many more.
But less people know of the mysterious circumstances surrounding his Poe’s death and afterlife, which played out like one of Poe’s own stories.
Conflicting Accounts of Poe’s last days
On September 27, 1849, Poe left Richmond, Virginia, intending to head north to New York. However, he never made it. For a whole week he was missing, until October 3rd, when he was found in a tavern in Baltimore, Maryland, intoxicated or just generally delirious and out-of-sorts.
Joseph Snodgrass, a local friend, was summoned to care for Poe, but Poe merely writhed in agony until October 7th until he died. He never regained his senses, though Snodgrass thought he called out the names of his deceased wife, an editor, or an “uncle-in-law.” In one of Poe’s more coherent moments, his doctor, a man named John Joseph Moran, claimed that Poe asked him to “blow out his brains with a pistol.” However, Moran’s credibility was and remains suspect. He told different stories about Poe’s final days to different companies, and often gave wildly different times and dates for when Poe was brought in, how long he suffered, and when he died. Moran also almost certainly fabricated Poe’s dying words, relating a flowery speech that Poe simply wouldn’t have been able to manage in his poor state. Many of Moran’s contemporaries were skeptical of the things he described.
The hospital records regarding Poe have disappeared over time, though if one considers Victorian medical science, that may not matter very much. It was known that Poe had an intolerance for alcohol and drugs. Based on this fact, there were suggestions that Poe either had gotten out of control and overindulged or had purposely tried to overdose in a suicide attempt. Because Poe was found in ill-fitting and shabby clothes that were not his, one theory suggested that someone else had drugged him and changed his clothes. Why? It was the election season, and it wasn’t a terribly uncommon practice to drug victims and drag them from polling place to polling place (pausing to change clothes) to vote and vote again.
There is, of course, also the possibility of an illness that affected Poe’s mind that Victorians would have no way of properly understanding, much less diagnosing. Brain tumors, meningitis, cholera, diabetic shock, and even rabies are just some of the possibilities suggested.
It seems unlikely that we will ever have a definitive answer regarding the question of what killed Poe, or what happened to him during his last week. Even stranger still, though, is what happened after his death: for starters, his cat supposedly died at the same time Poe did. Some also claim that the Poe House gained a ghost soon afterwards, though the ghost is usually identified as an elderly woman and only rarely as Poe himself.
Perhaps the most mysterious event is a yearly one. Every year on January 19th, Poe’s birthday, a mysterious, cloaked figure is said to leave three roses and a bottle of brandy on the author’s grave. Though some swear it is Poe’s spirit, others suggest an equally mysterious, unidentified living duo which began the tradition sometime in the 1930s. Regardless, Poe’s Death and afterlife remain a mystery to this day.
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