Edgar Allen Poe
Portrait of Edgar Allen Poe

Few American writers capture the imagination more than Edgar Allen Poe (and few are better suited for Halloween). Boston born to two traveling actors who died early in his life, Poe would lead a life of abject poverty, and what’s more bad luck seemed to follow him everywhere. But even given his material difficulties, his love of literature never wavered, and he was — after a brief stint in the military — committed to making a living off of his writing and as a magazine editor.

He possessed one of the most imaginative minds this world has ever seen. Using a variety of literary genres, Poe brought to us fantastic tales filled with characters tortured by festering neuroses and crumbling psychologies . Truly, he is a man after our own heart. Poe, though concerned as he was with supernal, platonic-like beauty, so often delved into darker themes (madness, decay, death, murder). Because of his ability to write in a plethora of styles, Poe can never be pigeonholed or pinned down to one fictional category. Furthermore, he was a fearless critic.

Shortly before his death on October 7, 1849 Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore. He was delirious and incoherent. In his final days, he would never recover sufficiently enough to explain how he had come to be in Baltimore, and what exactly had happened to him. Many of his friends and acquaintances had thought that Poe would be either in New York or Philadelphia (where he was scheduled to work on some Poems of Mrs. Leon Loud, for which he would receive $100). But he had also left Richmond some days previous with $1500 for his magazine The Stylus, a sum that Poe was unaccustomed to carrying. In any event, somehow he turned up in Baltimore and died in the hospital a few days later.

Shortly after his death the executor of his works wrote an obituary filled with fabrications about Poe’s character and life, which would end up shaping public opinion of Poe for over a century.

But in contrast to the myths portraying him as a mad loner, Poe operated and wrote in the dog-eat-dog world of journalism and literary criticism in the the mid-nineteenth century. In his critical essays he pulled few punches and made not a few enemies. Because of his fearlessness, there has been much speculation as to who exactly might have wanted the famous author dead and, more importantly, who was willing to commit murder in order to see him snuffed from existence.

All these years later, Poe’s death is still shrouded in mystery and speculation. Did he suffer from fever or a bout of meningitis (the physician’s diagnosis when Poe was found in a ditch, reeling and in a state of delirium), or was it a brain tumor (someone involved in the exhumation of his remains recalled a hardened ball rolling around in Poe’s skull)? Did he succumb to a desire for drink (Poe was not able to handle even the smallest amount of alcohol, and even after as little as one glass of champagne was known to become quite drunk), and subsequently falter after a lengthy and debilitating debauch? Or was his early demise perhaps more sinister in nature? Why after all, was he found in clothes that were not his own? Was he a victim of a practice known as cooping, in which unsuspecting victims were plied with large amounts of booze or narcotics, then made to vote repeatedly (Poe died on election day at a pub that was also a polling booth known as a place where cooping often occurred). There is so much speculation regarding the final days of Edgar Allen Poe, so many conflicting theories out there, the reality is we will probably never know for certain.

Falchion recommended read for Holloween: The Cask of Amontillado

 

poe

This short revenge tale takes place in Italy and involves a nobleman burying a man alive after having taking advantage of him during carnival. The tale eerily echoes Poe’s own death, as the man in the tale is taken advantage of while drunk and in a state of delirium, and never quite understands what is happening to him until the very end.

If you’re looking for a spooky story, we suggest this one.