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The Last Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

The last mystery of Edgar Allan Poe occurred when he died on October 7, 1849. Edgar Allan Poe left more questions than answers regarding the days leading up to his death.

Arguably the father of the “who done it” genre of mystery fiction, he wrote numerous tales and poems and modern scholars now regard him as one of the finest authors America has produced.

Sadly, he gained most of his fame after his death, as his life was spent in continual financial difficulties, and often what little money he had went to alcohol.

The last days of his life are as mysterious and gothic as many of his tales. He vanished for several days in the autumn of 1849 and died soon after.

His itinerary called for him to leave Richmond on September 27th and arrive in Baltimore the following day to catch a train to Philadelphia, where he had an important appointment. It is certain that he did take the boat to Baltimore and did arrive there on September 28th. From there he was to journey to Philadelphia and then on to New York City to meet Maria Clemm, his mother-in-law.

Poe never made it to Philadelphia.

September 28th to October 3rd of his life is a blank.

He was found incoherent in a tavern in Baltimore on the 3rd. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he died on October 7th.

The mystery deepens:

  • On his deathbed he called out repeatedly for “Reynolds” although nobody has ever figured out who Reynolds was.
  • The clothes he was found in were not the ones he was wearing on his trip to Philadelphia. The clothes he was wearing on October 3rd were described by a witness as “His hat…was a cheap palm-leaf one, without a band, and soiled. His coat, [was] of commonest alpaca, and evidently second-hand, and his pants of gray, mixed, cassimere [was] dingy and badly fitting. His shirt was sadly crumpled and soiled.”
  • He had checked some luggage at a hotel in Baltimore. If he was leaving on a Philadelphia train soon after he arrived in Baltimore (i.e. was not spending the night or any significant amount of time there), why did he check luggage there?

Because October 3rd was an election day, some have theorized that Poe may have been a victim of “cooping.” This practice was used to rig elections by having unwilling men go from voting place to voting place and casting their ballots for a candidate who had paid the coopers to tilt the election in their favor. Often the unwilling victims were plied with cheap alcohol until they were virtually incoherent. This may be how Poe met his end, but a Baltimore journalist wrote the following day that the elections “passed off quite harmoniously, and we heard of no disturbances at the polls or elsewhere – the police docket has indicated a dull business.”

Where was Poe for those missing five days?

The mystery lives on.

References
Walsh, John Evangelist. “Midnight Dreary – the Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe.” Rutgers University Press. 1998.
Death of Edgar Allan Poe – Wikipedia, pulled 2/5/11

About Doug MacGowan

Doug MacGowan lives on the San Francisco peninsula with his wife, a dog, and far too many cats. He has published three books on the topic of historic true crime. In his free time he enjoys reading.

2 comments

  1. Dominick Argento wrote an opera about this last week of Poe’s life, titled ‘The Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe.’ I was fortunate to see a fantastic production of this at the Chicago Lyric Opera several years ago. This remains one of the most haunting pieces of theater I have ever seen.

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