Mystery as Edgar Allan Poe’s famously dedicated fan misses anniversary

Enigmatic ‘Poe toaster’ who has marked the author’s birth for the last 60 years failed to show up for yesterday’s celebration

Edgar Allan Poe's grave

Cynthia Pelayo, of Chicago, leaves roses and cognac at Edgar Allen Poe’s grave, after the mysterious individual who has been doing so for the last 60 years failed to appear.

Edgar Allan Poe would have turned 201 yesterday, but the mysterious stranger who has marked the birth of the author for the last 60 years failed to show up at his grave.

Every year since 1949, the stranger – known locally as the Poe Toaster – has left three roses and a half-bottle of cognac on Poe’s grave in Baltimore on his birthday. The roses are believed to represent the three bodies buried beneath the monument – Poe, his mother-in-law and his wife Virginia; the significance of the cognac is not known.

But this year, as around 30 fans – one of whom had flown in from Chicago – waited all night in the cemetery for the visitor to show, he failed to appear. He usually leaves his gifts between midnight and 5.30 am. “I was very annoyed. I’ve been doing this since 1977, and there was no indication he wasn’t going to show up,” Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House and Museum, told local paper the Baltimore Sun. “Everyone was very sad, but there was still a feeling of goodwill. We were there, and we paid our respects to Edgar.” The fans occupied themselves instead by reading aloud from Poe’s writings throughout the night.

One theory as to why he failed to show up this year is that 2009 marked the bicentennial of Poe’s birth. “If it was going to end, that would be the perfect time to end it,” said Jerome. “Everybody has their theories about what happened. Somebody said, ‘Maybe he just has the flu.'”

Baltimore Sun writer Mary McCauley was even inspired to write a poem, based on Poe’s “The Raven”, by the stranger’s absence. “Once upon a midnight dreary Long we waited, weak and weary, / To see the quaint and curious Poe toaster who has come before. / ‘Come dark visitor,’ we chattered, ‘Leave us not with hopes a-tattered. / Lay cognac on the gravesite floor.’ Though the wind took up our sighing, / No answer came back to our crying: Is a grand tradition dying? / Will you haunt us nevermore?” she wrote, calling the poem “The Raving”.

The Poe Toaster might not have paid tribute to Poe, but the author’s birth was also marked yesterday by the Mystery Writers of America’s release of the shortlists for the 2010 Edgar Allan Poe awards, honouring the best in mystery writing. Tim Gautreaux’s The Missing, set in the Southern badlands, Kathleen George’s The Odds – her fourth novel featuring Pittsburgh homicide chief Richard Christie – and Norwegian author Jo Nesbo’s Nemesis, about the latest investigation of Detective Harry Hole, are all up for the best novel award. The winner will be announced on 29 April in New York.


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