A man wander about the streets of an unknown city, wearing ripped clothes that do not belong to him and is unable to fathom how he ended up there. After a few days he dies caught by delirium and hallucination, begging a man that no one knows. It may all sound like the plot of an Edgar Allan Poe’s story, father of the detective story genre and master of tales of terrors. What makes this curious is the fact that, instead, this is the report of his own death, happened eerily too soon.
Below: Edgar Allan Poe
Six days before his death, Edgar Allan Poe disappeared from circulation
On the 27th September 1849 he decided to leave Richmond and head to Philadelphia to run a few errands, but he never got to his destination. He was found in Baltimore instead, which in those days was going through some hectic days due to an election campaign. It was the 3rd of October when Joseph Walker, a typographer of a local newspaper, the Baltimore Sun, saw Mr Poe laying on the pavement next to that which was the Republican party headquarters (back then called Whig).
Poe was almost unrecognisable: his face was shaken, he would wear dirty ripped clothes, he was in an obvious confusional state as well as his body would demonstrate an advanced physical prostration. He managed to articulate a name, the one of Joseph E. Snodgrass, an publisher friend of him. Walker got in touch with Mr Snodgrass and tried to describe the dramatic situation:
“..a gentleman, badly dressed whom calls himself Edgar Allan Poe that seems in great trouble. He states to know you and I assure you he needs medical helps immediately. ”
Below: Edgar Allan Poe “coming back” to his Boston thanks to Stefanie Rocknak. Pic by Ted McGrath. Shared via Flickr – licence CC BY-SA 2.0
In a few hours time, Mr Snodgrass as well as Poe’s uncle arrived there and took him straight to the Washington College Hospital, the more innovative hospital in the city. None of Poe’s relatives could justify Poe’s presence in Baltimore, let alone why he had been discovered in those conditions. during his stay at the hospital Poe never came out from his confusional state, followed by delirium and hallucinations.
He was used invoking the name of a certain Reynold but no one amongst his friends and family knew who that might be and the mystery never got to be solved. In the morning of the 7th October 1849, Poe finished to battle his demons and gave up to the death.
He was just 40 years old
Initially doctors suggested as causes either a cerebral congestion or a delirium tremens, both polite ways of meaning abuse from alcohol.
Below: the first grave of Poe
All the medical reports about the hospitalisation as well as the death certificate are lost. This can’t help but thicken the mystery of Mr Poe’s death. It is still unclear what the causes of his death were as well as why the writer was in Baltimore. No one has ever been able to fill up the time gap of six days between his departure from Richmond to his finding or why he was wearing someone else’s clothes.
Was that due to a mysterious condition or did someone murder him?
The hypothesis are suggestive and do fit Mr Poe’s personality, the man who was able to turn his fears and obsessions into a source of continue inspiration for his horror output yet written with the lightness of a poet.
1st grave of Mr Edgar Allan Poe on the left. Current Poe’s grave on the right
Public domain pictures shared via Wikipedia
The theories on the cause of his death are several: one of the most popular ones talks about a serious form of alcoholism or alcohol that had been given to him against his will. According to others, the writer had been a victim of cooping, type of organized fraud thought to be common back in those days: some gangsters, hired by a political candidate would “abduct” walkers, possibly not from the area, and after having drugged them with narcotics and alcohol they would take them to different polling stations and made the vote multiple times. Once they had overcome the hungover, they would be left on the street, similarly to how they had collected them in the first place.
Maybe the infallible detective Dupin, character from Poe’s pen, could have solved the case. Sadly though no one has ever found an answer to this, despite the fact his body has been exhumed more times.
The cottage where Poe passed the last years of his life
Public Domain picture shared via Wikipedia
Throughout the years many theories have been ruled out such as the alcoholism (due to a test on his hair), a pernicious fever, rabies or some sort of poisoning. A more recent theory hypothesises a brain tumor, but this one has to be demonstrated as well.
Finally, one of the many biographers of Poe, John Evangelist Walsh, advanced the idea that someone from his alleged girlfriend’s family, Sarah Elmira Royster, had murdered him. The forthcoming wedding with this rather unstable individual, always in financial straits, wasn’t an ideal scenario for the rich widow’s family, who once had a short flirt with the writer when adolescent. However there is no evidence of both the relationship and the wedding plan. 169 years have gone by, but the mystery floating over Mr Poe’s grave is still present.
Some may wonder whether Mr Poe himself would turn this events into a detective story or a eerie gothic tale