The Poe Toaster
The famous American author and poet, Edgar Allan Poe, has been forever associated with darkness and haunted mystery. Most of his poems and stories were well-known for their dark sinister themes and heavy macabre. According to many, the general details of Edgar Allan Poe's short life are as mysterious as his stories. One of the biggest Poe mysteries is the cause of his death in 1849. Some accounts say he was found severely intoxicated 3 days prior to his death, and wearing clothing that were "not of his own." The various causes or contributions to his death reported over the years have ranged from intoxication, and heart disease, up to syphilis, cholera, and rabies.
While none of the above have been definitively confirmed, these confusing assumptions and the many other stories about Poe's life have further served to deepen his mysterious legacy.
One of the greatest mysteries surrounding Edgar Allan Poe is someone who became to be known as "The Poe Toaster."
Historians say that starting approximately in 1949, a person would secretly enter the Westminster Hall and Burial Grounds in Baltimore, Maryland in the early hours of January 19th - Poe's birthday, and pay a visit to the plot where Poe was originally buried. There he would lay 3 roses in a particular formation at the base of the grave marker, toast the poet with a fine bottle of Martell cognac, and leave the partial bottle of cognac at the base of the grave marker as well. He would then disappear into the night just as he had arrived, anonymous and unknown to anyone.
Witnesses to the event over the years say the man was often dressed in a black cloak or cape, a dark hat, and white scarf around his neck and face. He also carried with him a silver-tipped cane, that he would lean against the grave marker while he toasted Edgar Allan Poe. The last sighting of the "Poe Toaster" occurred in 2009, which would have been Poe's 200th birthday. Those familiar with the mystery and suspense of Poe and his work feel that if the "tradition" were ever to end, that the bicentennial of Poe's birth would be a logical ending point.
The clues as to who may be the Poe Toaster have been minimal. People who have studied the legend believe the three roses are to honor the three people buried underneath the current Poe burial site - Poe, his wife, and his mother-in-law. The significance of cognac serves as a mystery to many, as there are no Poe writings that reference cognac. It is believed that the cognac may serve as a custom to the Toaster's family.
Over the years, the Toaster on occasion would leave little notes next to his graveside offering. Some were as simple as a sentence stating the Toaster's affection for Poe, while other notes were mysterious and cryptic. In 1993, the message said "The torch will be passed." In 1999, the note stated that the original toaster had died the previous year, and the tradition would be carried on by a son. One particular note in 2001 created a stir in Baltimore, as the Toaster referenced the upcoming Super Bowl game between the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants. The note read:
"The New York Giants. Darkness and decay and the big blue hold dominion over all. The Baltimore Ravens. A thousand injuries they will suffer. Edgar Allan Poe evermore."
This baffled many as the Toaster had never made comments about current events in previous notes. Additionally, the Ravens football team was named in part due to Poe's poem "The Raven." Obviously the Toaster was a Giants fan, regardless of the Baltimore team's nickname. He was probably disappointed as his forecast was incorrect. The Ravens won 34-7.
While many people have been curious as to the Toaster's real identity, no real efforts have been made to identify him. For some it is out of respect for the Toaster. For others it is to keep the mystery surrounding the event alive. It was reported that onlookers once tried to stop the Toaster in 2006 to identify him, but he successfully escaped into the night with his secret intact.
In 1992, a man named Sam Porpora came forward and stated he was the Poe Toaster. He said he started the tradition in the 1960s to raise awareness at the church. However the details of his story changed over the years, and many details have been proven incorrect. Jeff Jerome, the Curator of the Edgar Allan Poe Society appears to be the most knowledgeable about the mystery of the Poe Toaster. Jerome reportedly has witnessed every Toaster visit since 1976 from a window in the Westminster Church. The Toaster is apparently wise to his audience, as he makes a "secret signal" that only Jerome knows. Thus proving the toaster is the "real" Toaster, and not an imitator.
Jerome and a few faithful have awaited the Toaster's appearance over the last few years, but he has been a "no-show" since 2009.
In 2011, there were 4 people who arrived to pay tribute to Poe, but all of them appeared in front of all on-lookers and made no attempt to hide their identity. More importantly, none of them made the "secret gesture" known to Jerome. These people were dubbed "faux-toasters" due to their copy-cat presentation.
Even though he said after the 2012 anniversary that the tradition was probably "over," Jerome and hopeful few stayed up late in 2013 to see if the Toaster might make a surprise reappearance. They however, were left disappointed as the Toaster did not make a surprise return.
Will the Poe Toaster return in future years? No one knows for sure, but it looks as though the tradition ended in a logical place in 2009 - Poe's 200th birthday.
Even though the tradition may have ended, no one knows (or isn't telling) who the real Toaster was. While there are many curious people who would like to know the Toaster's identity and why they held their yearly vigil for so long, there are many that feel that the Toaster's identity should remain like much of Edgar Allan Poe's legacy - a mystery.
I for one hope the mystery continues.