January 18, 2008

The Poe Toaster

Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 199 years ago. He died in Baltimore under mysterious circumstances, which is only fitting for this poet and father of the modern mystery story. He is buried at the Westminster Burying Ground in downtown Baltimore, in the same graveyard as one of my ancestors. When I stopped by there in early November, there were flowers on Poe's grave, and for some reason, lots of pennies.
Once upon a midnight dreary, in 1949, a cloaked figure began slipping into the graveyard in the dead of night on Poe's birthday and leaving three roses and an open bottle of cognac. The roses are thought to signify Poe, his wife and his mother, all of whom are buried in this grave. The significance of the cognac is unknown, as it does not figure into any of his stories, although he was a drunk.
Over the years, the cloaked figure has changed... as the original Toaster got too old, he was replaced with another, in 1993 leaving a note stating that "the torch will be passed". No one knows who the Toaster is, and no one is allowed to interfere with him as he comes to pay his respects to Poe.

This touching tradition will continue this weekend for the 59th consecutive year. The Edgar Allan Poe House will be having celebrations this weekend at the Westminster Hall.

UPDATE: Here's a link to this year's Poe Toaster from the Associated Press.

13 comments:

  1. I love Alan Poe, among other victorian authors! :-) Thanks for the informative post!

    By the way, I read your comment on the elegantologist's blog regarding you wanting to move back to England. I can so relate to that! I lived in London for 5 years and miss it every day. My husband (American) and I have made the decision that overall there are more opportunities for us in the USA but our dream is to buy a flat in London and make it our second home. I am an anglophile to the core, so that would allow me to die happy, as you can imagine! :-)

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  2. I love the romance of this tradition, and the fact that the identity of the Toaster remains a mystery.

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  3. So full of Southern charm, what a lovely tradition.
    If I ever move back, I'm living in the South.

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  4. He was born this weekend, not died. And in Boston. He died in October in Baltimore.

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  5. Cube... thanks. I got things twisted around.

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  6. Very interesting piece. It's brought back memories of eighth grade english and reading The Cask of Amontillado for the first time -scary.

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  7. Great story. You have ancestors' buried there? That would made for an interesting story too!!!

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  8. My grandmother, who lives on the Eastern Shore of MD, told me about the mysterious visitor when I was a little kid. I have a vague recollection that she thought it was a woman... how interesting to learn that she's a he. Great tale of real life intrigue! Thanks for the reminder.

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  9. A wonderful tradition - and uniquely Baltimore. It's a wonder that he has never been unmasked.

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  10. I wondered about the pennies too when I visited, so I did a little research. In 1875, a local school teacher was shocked by the state of Poe's grave (which was located in the back of the graveyard). So a campaigne was started, "Pennies for Poe," to raise money for a more fitting grave marker (the large marble monument located at the front of the cemetery). And so, it is traditional for people to leave a penny on the monument. Anyway, for me the most intriguing question is...why cognac?

    Also, the day I was there someone had left a dead dragonfly on the monument. Haven't been able to figure out that reference either!!!

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  11. I have never heard this story of the Toaster. As a Poe fan, I am intrigued.

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  12. How dare you call him a drunk, would it not be more respectful if he was called an alcoholic or if that was not mentioned at all even if it is the truth. We need not remember him for his problems but what he left us in writing.

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  13. Hey, hey, hey! Hasn't anyone bothered to think that the Poe Toaster could be a woman?! It is in the dark that he/she comes, so noone can be sure. If you are positive that it is a man, then you haven't given this much thought, and you are sexist!!!!

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