A Brief History
On January 19, 2017, there will undoubtedly be fans of American novelist and short story writer Edgar Allan Poe carefully watching his original grave (the cenotaph marking the site) to catch a glimpse of the person that has come to be known as “The Poe Toaster.” Every year since some time in the 1930’s, an unknown shadowy person dressed all in black save for a white scarf and wearing a large brimmed black hat visits the grave of Poe on Poe’s birthdate (January 19), performing the same ritual each year. In 2010, for the first time in over 7 decades, the mysterious toaster did not appear, and has not appeared since. No one knows why, or at least no one is telling the public.
The man (person?) in black pours himself a glass of cognac and toasts Poe’s memory in the predawn darkness, leaving 3 roses and the bottle of cognac at the site. At times the toaster has also left a brief note. (The 2004 note left a snide remark about France’s unwillingness to support the US invasion of Iraq.) The person honoring Poe has never been identified, and since the practice has gone on for perhaps over 75 years it is speculated that the tradition had been passed from father to son, and perhaps even to grandson. Perhaps the line of Poe toasters has died out, or perhaps an heir to the tradition has lost interest, we just do not know.
Poe, writer of the macabre and mysterious, died himself at the age of 40 in 1849, of mysterious circumstances, given as “congestion of the brain,” a non-sensical diagnosis meaning the medical examiner did not know the actual cause of death. Originally buried at the Westminster Hall and Burying Ground in a shabby area with a small sandstone marker, Poe’s remains were moved in 1875 and marked with a more substantial monument, situated for better viewing by the public. The original site is marked by a cenotaph (an empty tomb or monument marking an unoccupied or moved tomb).
As a favorite son of Baltimore and the state of Maryland, Poe lends the name of the NFL football franchise, The Ravens, from his famous poem. The Edgar Allan Poe Awards annually honor the writers of mystery fiction and non-fiction, both written and prepared for screen and stage. The Maryland Historical Society decided to continue the tradition of toasting Poe’s birth at the gravesite by appointing an anonymous person to perform the ritual each year, starting in 2016. People being what they are (jerks?), there have been some imposters over the years, known to Poe fans as “faux toasters.”
The Poe Toaster phenomenon has appeared in popular culture, both fiction and in books dealing with the occult. We at History and Headlines think it is a shame this wonderful author was not as appreciated during his short life as he has been in the years since his death. What is your favorite Edgar Allan Poe story? Please share your thoughts about his work.
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For more information, please see an article in the Baltimore Sun.