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Who Was The Poe Toaster?

by Shelly Barclay

Edgar Allan Poe was a 19th century short story writer and poet. It has been more than 150 years since his death. It is safe to say that there is no one left on this planet that knew him personally and have been none for sometime. However, he became an international celebrity after his death. It is no wonder, given that his body of work is both thrilling and fascinating and his life was both tragic and brief. He is one of the most posthumously loved authors in American history. There is no doubt that fans flock to locations associated with Poe. However, there is an odd person whose mystery lends even more intrigue to the legacy of this literary figure and that person is known only as the “Poe Toaster.”

poe toaster

This arrangement was left on Poe’s more recent grave with the wrong cognac, but the concept is similar.

Edgar Allan Poe died on October 7, 1849, at the age of 40, and was buried the following day at the Westminster Hall and Burying Ground in Baltimore, the city in which he was found dead. His remains have not been there since 1875, but this is the location where the mysterious Poe Toaster makes his or her (likely his, given clothing) annual appearance. He (for the sake of brevity) began his ritual on January 19, 1930 or on some year thereabouts, but certainly on that day and month. The first appearance may have been as many as 20 years later, but the earliest guesses are in the 30s.

The ritual of the Poe Toaster is simple. He approaches the monument left in the grave’s stead, puts three red roses in a specific arrangement on the stone with an open bottle of cognac. The toaster gets his name from the fact that he first toasts Poe with the cognac before leaving the rest of the expensive bottle for the long-dead writer. The toaster would make his entrance largely avoiding the crowds that began to watch many years ago and would leave in much the same way. A scarf or hood would cover his face and a silver-tipped cane would assist his ritualistic stroll.

The tradition of the Poe Toaster continued until 2009, which is also the bicentennial of Edgar Allan Poe’s death. What is also interesting about this date is that it seems unlikely that one person could be responsible for toasting all of these years, particularly if it started in 1930. A pair of notes left by the Poe Toaster bear up this theory. The first mentions a torch being past and the second reveals that a new Poe Toaster has taken over. The new Poe Toaster was the adult child of the first.

For the most part, people respected the Poe Toaster’s obvious wish for anonymity. They would watch as he came and went, waiting for him to leave to see the little notes he would write to Poe. In one instance, a group of people tried to stop him to ascertain his identity, but this was not successful or repeated. The notes left by the toaster did not hint at his identity. However, there was clearly a stark change in notes after the “torch” was passed. The second Poe Toaster left two woefully petty and oppositional notes regarding sports and politics, which was not the earlier style of the Poe Toaster. These notes still pulled phrases and words from the Poe lexicon, but left much to be desired in poetic sentiment.

For such a long running and observed appearance, people know next to nothing about the Poe Toaster. A historian once claimed that he made up the whole thing, but that was proven false by his own inaccurate statements and the many documented appearances of the toaster. Some say a man who works at the burying ground is the Poe Toaster, but that very man observed the ritual every year he worked there until 2009 when it stopped. There have also been imitators by the dozens, both at the monument and Poe’s current grave. Amid all of this, no one who has stepped forward has been able to prove anything and the toaster himself never gave himself away in the act.

Of course, people speculate about the general nature of the Poe Toaster. Is this person somehow connected to Poe? A son of a publisher, a relative or a crazy person who imagines such a connection? Is the Poe Toaster just one of the myriad fans who adore the works of this talented author? Is the Poe Toaster someone who wants publicity for the monument? Is the Poe Toaster a massive troll? Does the date of the visits give us any clues? All of these questions and more go unanswered with very little hope for any answers in the future. Therefore, for now, the Poe Toaster will remain a delightful mystery.

Poe Toaster Remains a Mystery, retrieved 8/7/13
Baltimore Lore: Edgar Allan Poe, retrieved 8/7/13

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