When I was in high school in the 1980s, I heard about the tradition of the Poe Toaster and it stuck with me. Who was the mysterious man who came in the dead of night in the early hours of January 19 to leave roses and cognac on the grave of Edgar Allan Poe?
I think what really caught my attention was that it was an unbroken tradition that dated back to the 1940s and it continued until 2009 the bicentennial of Poe’s birth. Then the Poe Toaster disappeared just as mysteriously as he had appeared. Had the man died? Was it a group of men who decided to end their tradition on a big anniversary? Had the man who been the Toaster simply lost interest?
Those questions will probably remain unanswered and, in my opinion, should stay that way. What more fitting a tribute to the master of the horror and father of the detective novel than to have such a dark, unsolved mystery associated with him.
Luckily, so many others appreciated the tradition of the Poe Toaster that the Maryland Historical Society and Poe Baltimore chose a new Poe Toaster to continue the tradition. I think that’s wonderful, but I wish the Poe Toaster was still trying to be anonymous in his visit to the grave.
I believe that for such a tradition to continue for so long, and if the Toaster was a single man, that Edgar Allan Poe’s writing meant something deeply personal to him. That was the reason he kept his visit private.
It was also the reason I decided to write my novel, The Man Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe. I wanted to hypothesize just what could have happened to make Edgar Allan Poe such an important part of a person’s life that he would visit his grave for 65 years on bitterly cold January nights.
Now, because the Poe Toaster has become a tourist attraction, the visit is done during the day. However, at least his identity remains a secret for now.
The Poe Toaster is not the only unsolved mystery associated with Edgar Allan Poe. The reasons for his death also remain clouded in mystery. He was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore and wearing clothes that were not his own. Poe was admitted to Washington Medical Center where he died without explaining what had happened to himself. Even his medical records and death certificate have been lost to history.