What is the Poe Toaster?
In 1949, 100 years after the death of Edgar Allan Poe, a figure clad in black appeared at his grave in Baltimore on the date of the writer's birthday. The figure, dubbed later as the "Poe Toaster," raised a glass of cognac in tribute to the dead poet, and proceeded to leave three red roses and a half bottle of cognac on Edgar Allan Poe's grave. This was the beginning of an annual tribute to Edgar Allan Poe, which continued for many years after. The last time the Poe Toaster appeared was in 2009 on the 200th anniversary of the writer's birth.
The life of Poe was as strange and dark as the tales he penned, so it would seem only appropriate that his afterlife holds mysteries as well. Poe, a renowned poet and writer in the American Romantic and Gothic styles, was born on 19 January 1809. A tragic life followed, concluding with his untimely death at the age of 40 on 7 October 1849. Not only were the cause and circumstances of his death mysterious and cryptic, but the events that followed are as well.
Little is known about the identity of the Poe Toaster. The figure is male, clad in black and carries a silver-tipped cane. He always shows up in the early morning hours of the Edgar Allan Poe anniversary, and always performs the same ritual. While this has been observed on numerous occasions, the Poe Toaster is rarely photographed, and often is allowed to perform his tribute undisturbed.
In addition to leaving the three roses and liquor, on occasion the Poe Toaster has left notes expressing various sentiments. Some have been simple tributes to Edgar Allan Poe, but in 1999 a note was left stating that the original Toaster had passed away the previous year and that the tradition would continue by way of "a son." The new Poe Toaster has caused contention among followers of the event, due in part because the notes he left in subsequent years stated controversial opinions. In 2006, because of these statements, a group of angry fans tried unsuccessfully to accost him as he made his annual tribute.
The controversy continued over the identity of the Poe Toaster in August 2007, when Sam Porpora, historian for the Westminster Church and burial grounds where Edgar Allan Poe is interred, claimed that he had started the tradition in 1967. Despite Sam Porpora's claim, the earliest newspaper mention of the Poe Toaster dates to 1950. The Edgar Allan Poe Society renounced the historian's claim, and little else was said of his story.
For the next two years, attendance at the event surged, according to the Edgar Allan Poe Society. The society not only preserves the memory of Edgar Allan Poe, but has in its possession several of the gifts left behind. The last known appearance of the mysterious Poe Toaster, whose identity remains a mystery, was in 2009; after not appearing in the following two years, the curator of the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum declared that the tradition had ended. Although other people have tried to take up the post, none have been given the same recognition as the "official" Toaster.
Poe was known to be a heavy drinker, and likely had tried cognac, but it is unclear if he enjoyed it. It was never mentioned in his literature, as other drinks were. It is an interesting question, because one of the controversial notes by the Poe toaster was in regards to the French cognac being unworthy of Poe's gravesite, and this was taken to be a jab at the French in opposition to their unwillingness to support the war in Iraq.
Did he even like cognac?
Poe did not receive the recognition he deserved in his life, so it is appropriate that he should receive such recognition post-mortem. His is a sad but beautiful tale which many people find mirrored in the general plight of humanity. His short stories are haunting and beautifully crafted and his poems are contagious.
The interest in the Poe toaster is just an echo of how much people have been interested in the man ever since his death. Poe was an extraordinarily interesting person, with a very interesting but sad life of deep struggle and pain. His works convey an ingenious knowledge of various esoteric works of literature and an immense vocabulary and skill in using it. Poe was a cryptologist who penned his words in code form and unique meter.
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