Edgar Allan Poe - A Mystery In Life, More Mysterious In Death
Last Photo Made Of Edgar Allan Poe
October 3, 1849 - The Day Edgar Allan Poe Was Found On The Streets In Baltimore
It was late afternoon, the balmy, dog days of summer had given way to colder weather with the beginning of October, and Baltimore was in the throes of a major election. Cooping was rampant, as usual, and it was thus that many a “voter” had done his civic duty more than once... and against his own volition, since it was common practice to kidnap men, drug them, and drag them to polling stations to “stuff” the ballot boxes. People were scurrying to finish the frenzied pace of finding bodies to coop for the candidates who had paid well, and the sun would soon set and bring it all to an end. Much carousing and drinking would be had in some of the districts, as the races were followed as much as if they were horses. Thus, it would have been an active day to be in the streets of Baltimore on that Wednesday, October 3, 1849, and to see men in various stages of sobriety, or passed out, would not be unusual. However, one particular person seemed to stand out as definitely in need of help. There, on the sidewalk at 44 East Lombard Street, lay a semi-conscious man who appeared, at first, to be ill-dressed, dirty and unkempt, yet the fact that he was also clutching an elegant cane suggested that this man might have been someone of means who had been a victim of cooping. Joseph W. Walker, a compositor for the Baltimore Sun, felt instantly that this poor individual lying before him may be worthy of more attention, and the dazed actions of the man distressed Mr. Walker much. Alarmed, he knelt and attempted to rouse the stranger to see what help he might give him. As Joseph Walker tried comforting this helpless soul who was drifting in and out of a seeming delirium, the stranger managed to give his name... Edgar Allan Poe!
Taken To The Hospital
Joseph Walker took Edgar Allan Poe inside of Cornelius Ryan's "Fourth Ward Polls," a tavern at Gunner's Hall. With some coaxing and help, the famous author managed to mumble the name of an acquaintance, Dr. J.E. Snodgrass, who lived just a few blocks away on High Street. With that little bit of information, Mr. Walker hastily penned a short note and had it delivered to Dr. Snodgrass while he, himself, waited there with Edgar. The note said:
Baltimore City, October 3, 1849
Dear Sir, -
There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you, he is in need of immediate assistance.
Yours, in haste,
Jos. W. Walker
Shortly thereafter, Dr. Snodgrass arrived with Edgar Allan Poe’s uncle, Henry Herring, and the two men, assuming that he was drunk, sent him by carriage to the Washington College Hospital on Broadway and Fayette. It was now about five o’clock. Edgar was placed in the second floor room in the tower facing the court. Who could have foreseen that these were to be the final days of this great writer, and that his ensuing death would raise more questions, create more mystery, and unleash his worst enemies on a quest to capitalize on playing fraudulently with his reputation? It was to be the last chapter of a uniquely imaginative and creative life, one filled tragically with so many loves lost, yet it was also the beginning of immortality for one of the most masterful writers of spell-binding intrigue and dark mystery. Poe remained unconscious until three o’clock the next morning. Although he regained partial consciousness, he was never able to tell his attending physician, Dr. John Joseph Moran, anything that would dispel the later myths that began to circulate immediately after his passing. He then passed into a stage of violent delirium, which lasted until Saturday evening. His cousin, Neilson Poe, came to the hospital with changes of linen, but was prevented from seeing Edgar by the nursing staff who claimed that Edgar needed complete rest.
By Saturday night, Edgar Allan Poe began another mystery which would never be completed. He began to call loudly, some say screamed, the name “Reynolds!” “Reynolds!” “Reynolds!” Was this Jeremiah N. Reynolds (1799-1858), the American newspaper editor, lecturer, explorer and author who influenced Poe to write, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket? This mystery would ever remain unanswered, the riddle never solved. Around three o’clock in the morning of Sunday, October 7th, Poe grew noticeably weaker and quiet, and about five o’clock, he breathed his last breath and was gone, perhaps into the waiting, restful and loving arms of his beautiful Virginia.
Washington College Hospital
Questions Begin To Swirl
“The Raven,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” monuments of dark fantasy fabulously told...this list of books immediately conjures images of memorable dark mystery and shocking intrigue to anyone familiar with the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Deeply fascinating and uniquely penned, each of these masterful stories artfully and deliberately holds the reader in rapt attention, daring them to read each story while alone in a dark house at night. Just reading “The Cask of Amontillado” will have the reader practically gasping for air at the end, wide-eyed and wondering how one did not see it coming. Edgar Allan Poe was gifted, and for a famous author so literarily special, one would imagine that his life was filled with riches, fame, and contentment. One might even think that he died a wealthy old man, satisfied with himself and his accomplishments, with maids and butlers attending his every need while ensconced at his country estate. But, such wealth and comfort was denied Poe, even though he most likely would have achieved these things had he lived longer. However, just as mysterious as his stories, the life of Poe went from mystery in life, to even more intriguing in death. Now that he had died, the long list of people, who would come forward to make money off of their claims of having known Edgar Allan Poe, grew with the passing years, and each of their tales, lectures and books, though filled with so much error and misinformation, only served to create another Edgar Allan Poe that he, himself, would not have recognized.
The rumors appeared immediately. Was it true that Edgar Allan Poe was found wandering the streets of Baltimore in a drug-induced state of delirium? Was he found passed out drunk in a tavern in Baltimore the day he died? Was he buried “like a dog” in an unmarked grave? Or did his body lie in state with an ornate funeral attended by countless admirers? What of the rumor that the monument memorializing him does not contain his body, but that of a Revolutionary War soldier? Of what significance is the mysterious wrong date for his birth on the tomb? Was he murdered? Did he name his murderer? On his deathbed, did he utter a mysterious and nearly Shakespearean prayer? Is his body lying in another location at the very cemetery where he is memorialized? Was he a drug addict? Was he a drunkard? I think we can answer most, if not all, of these questions.
The Funeral of Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe died that Sunday morning with no great pomp or circumstance. The rumor that he had uttered some incredibly profound and nearly prophetic line just before succumbing to death was actually started by his attending physician, Dr. Moran, who found it profitable after Poe’s death to do the lecture circuit, and embellished his tales with such false inventions. Poe undoubtedly simply breathed his last breath after hours of a near comatose and deeply quiet stage prior to expiring. There was no moment where he suddenly came to, eyes opened, seeing the heavens and pronouncing Shakespearean lines. The great writer, who said and wrote so much, would leave us in a moment of complete silence. His body was taken to a family home for arrangements. Cold weather set in, and on Monday, when it came time to bury Edgar, it was cold, raw and wet. Rain had been intermittent, which added to the difficulties of trying to provide at least some semblance of a respectable funeral for this humble and gifted writer. He had struggled so much with finances his last years. One would think that God in His infinite mercy would have given this poor man a break and let him have at least one year of bliss before departing, but such was not the case. Struggling with financial losses, he had lost his lovely wife only two years before...now, the end rites, and this closing chapter would be written with the kind generosity of loved ones and friends. In a letter dated October 11, 1849 and written to Maria Clemm, Edgar’s aunt, but whom he called his mother, Neilson Poe wrote: “Mr. Herring & myself immediately took the necessary steps for his funeral…” which meant that Neilson leased a horse-drawn hearse, and Henry Herring had a mahogany coffin produced for Edgar’s burial. Dr. Moran’s wife made his funeral shroud. Of all the people who would lay claim to the fame of knowing Edgar Allan Poe in life, at his funeral, there were only five people in attendance. At four o’clock, Monday afternoon, October 8, 1849, the hearse bearing his body arrived at the Presbyterian Cemetery at Fayette and Green Streets, and Henry Herring, Neilson Poe, Dr. Snodgrass, a friend by the name of Zaccheus Collins Lee from Edgar’s days at the University of Virginia, and Reverend W.T.D. Clemm, Edgar’s cousin, followed the coffin to the grave site. A hole had been dug next to Edgar’s grandfather, David Poe, Sr., and he was laid to rest as the wet, cold wind began to cut into the faces of those present. Because of this harsh weather, and in consideration of those present, Reverend Clemm decided to forgo the eulogy and graveside sermon that he had prepared. He uttered the blessings for the departed soul of Edgar Allan Poe, and nearly as quickly as it had begun, the service was over. It was shockingly short to the thoughts of Dr. Snodgrass, who later complained that it was undignified. The hole was filled in, the friends and relatives drew their cloaks tighter about themselves, then sorrowfully and gratefully left the cemetery to get out of the bad weather. Save for the fresh soil upon the grave, there was nothing to note that Edgar Allan Poe, author of so many great writings, was here interred. A dark, somber and unsettling day, it was an ending that Poe might have written for one of his characters, yet this particular Monday seemed so nearly a testimony to the writer, himself. The soil lay cold and damp, the sun refused to shine, the darkness came early, and from this intriguing metaphysical moment, the mysteries surrounding Edgar Allan Poe began.
Some Important Poe Family History
One cannot make sense of the end without knowledge of the beginning, and it is from thence that we must trace a line that runs true to the moment in time just described. Knowing Edgar Allan Poe’s beginnings helps us understand, to some degree, his intriguing endings, but one will also find that even knowing these things, there will still be sufficient mystery left that readers would do well to research this extraordinary story teller.
The molecules that stirred within the soul of Edgar were mixed in Ireland where his great-great-grandfather, David Poe, died in 1742. Maybe it was that death of David Poe that set the soul of his son, John, free to leave Ireland, for that is what he did, settling in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1749. Later on, John would move his family to Baltimore, and those Irish molecules began to mingle with karmic elements of the town of Baltimore. John’s son, David Poe, named after John’s father, was born in Ireland virtually at the time the elder David Poe died, strangely enough. Years later, when David Poe married and had children, he named one of his sons after himself and his grandfather, so now there were David Poe, Sr., and David Poe, Jr., and it was David Poe, Jr., who would name his second son—Edgar Poe.
David Poe, Sr., was a member of Captain John McClellan’s Company of Baltimore troops in 1778, and was commissioned Deputy-Quartermaster General for the City of Baltimore with the rank of Major on September 17, 1779. During the years that followed, David Poe became entrusted with transporting a large number of the French allies across the Susquehanna River from Baltimore, and he was so respected, that the public began to call him “General” Poe. His wife, Elizabeth Cairnes, who was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in 1756, personally sewed pantaloons for the Marquis de LaFayette’s soldiers when they passed through Baltimore in 1781, and David Poe, Sr., gave a large sum of money to the very same cause. LaFayette never forgot this great act of kindness and sacrifice on the part of David and Elizabeth Poe. Years later, in 1824, Lafayette was visiting Baltimore, and a celebratory ball was held in his honor. It is recorded that LaFayette asked one of the committee members of the whereabouts of David Poe. He is quoted as having said, “I have not seen among these [the surviving officers of the Revolution who were present] my friendly and patriotic commissary, Mr. David Poe, who resided in Baltimore when I was here, and out of his own very limited means supplied me with five hundred dollars to aid in clothing my troops, and whose wife, with her own hands, cut five hundred pairs of pantaloons, and superintended the making of them for the use of my men.” LaFayette was informed that David Poe, who had participated in the defense of Baltimore against the British in 1814, had died on October 17, 1816, but that Elizabeth Poe was still alive. LaFayette insisted on having a meeting organized with Elizabeth, and an eloquent tribute, including a visit to the grave of David Poe, Sr., followed. Elizabeth would pass away in 1835. Grandfather and grandmother of Edgar Allan Poe, the relationship presented Edgar with the honor of meeting LaFayette. An illustrious patriot, David Poe, Sr., it goes without saying that one would expect more of his son, David Poe, Jr., but such was not to be the case. Instead, the first of many heartaches to poor Edgar would be authored by David Poe, Jr.
Edgar Allan Poe's Mother and Father
David Poe, Jr., was born in Baltimore on July 18, 1784. He eventually became a student of law, but for reasons unknown, fell in love with the theater, and left his studies to join the stage, debuting on the stage of the Charleston Theater on December 1, 1803. This was America of another era, when theater in some parts of this country was considered the “highway to hell.” The General Court of Massachusetts had passed an act in 1750 outlawing stage plays and theatrical entertainment. The puritanical elements of New England and most northern states felt that a person’s morals would be endangered by “giving them a taste for intriguing amusement and pleasure.” Thus, theaters in the North could only survive if they were in the greater cosmopolitan areas, such as New York and Boston, whereas, theaters in the South fared better, since they were treated with exactly the opposite attitude from the population. Though David Poe, Jr., began pursuing the stage in Charleston, he eventually found his way to the old Boston Theater. This is where karma and the lines of fate intersected once again.
A few years earlier, January of 1796 to be exact, little nine-year-old Elizabeth Arnold had just arrived in America, brought from England by her mother, also an actress, so that she could perform at the old Boston Theater. Elizabeth would become the darling of the theater world, and in the years to come, would be well-received for her singing. In the summer of 1802, she married Charles Hopkins, but only three years later, on October 26, 1805, Charles would die suddenly. Interestingly enough, before Charles Hopkins died, David Poe, Jr., was given a theatrical role next to Elizabeth (Arnold) Hopkins. A few months after the death of Charles Hopkins, David and Elizabeth became husband and wife. The date was March 14, 1806. While David and Elizabeth toured and worked in various theaters in the South, they eventually found their way back to Boston and joined an established theater company. The future parents of Edgar Allan Poe had come together.
The Boston Beginning
Having turned away from a promising career in the legal profession to make a life in the highly disdained world of theater actors, David Poe, Jr., virtually guaranteed estrangement from his family. The further into the puritanical North one went, the worse the opinion of theater was. Thus, life was hard on David and Elizabeth Poe. Just before Edgar was born, David wrote a letter to one of his relatives begging for money to help in the coming delivery of their child. The letter fell on unsympathetic ears. David and Elizabeth may as well have been street prostitutes as far as the rest of the Poe family was concerned. On January 19, 1809, Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the second of three children to be born to the Poes - William Henry (January 30, 1807), and Rosalie (December 20, 1810). Despite the hardships of theater life, there were apparently some mental rewards for staying true to what they so passionately loved. Elizabeth Poe had made a sketch of Boston Harbor, titling it “Morning 1808,” and when she died, she left this to Edgar, writing on the back of it, “For my little son Edgar, who should ever love Boston, the place of his birth, and where his mother found her best and most sympathetic friends.” His mother, however, would not die in Boston... nor would Edgar.
The Richmond Connection
By 1810, Elizabeth Poe and her two sons, Henry and Edgar, were in Richmond, Virginia, and Elizabeth Poe opened at the Richmond Theater on August 18, 1810. Twenty-three-year-old Elizabeth Poe was now pregnant and expecting her third child. Adding unbearable sorrow, her husband, David Poe, Jr., had walked out on her and the children, and shortly after, David died in Norfolk, Virginia, on October 19, 1810. Just weeks after her father died, Rosalie, the third and last child of David and Elizabeth, would be born on December 20. The life of strain for Elizabeth Poe began to take her life. In December, 1811, the Enquirer published this piece:
“To the Humane Heart
“On this night, Mrs. Poe, lingering on the bed of disease and surrounded by her children, asks your assistance and asks it perhaps for the last time. The Generosity of a Richmond Audience can need no other appeal. For particulars, see the Bills of the day.”
Elizabeth and her children were most likely living at the Washington Tavern, which was located on the northwest corner of Ninth and Grace Streets, thus making it less difficult for her to walk to the theater, about three blocks away. This tavern would have been where her “audience” would have paid their last respects. Sunday morning, December 8, 1811, little Edgar, his brother and sister, became orphans, this loss adding another dimension to events that shaped his life and colored his world for life.
Destined To Write
As if to bring the curtain down on one chapter, on December 26, 1811, a horrific fire destroyed the Richmond Theater, and seventy-two people lost their lives. The eerie tragedy came too late to claim the life of Elizabeth Poe, and her children had already been taken away from this “stage.” Rosalie was taken by Mrs. William MacKenzie, and Edgar was taken by John and Frances Allan, themselves childless. Henry went to live with his grandfather, David Poe, Sr., in Baltimore. Edgar would now be exposed to a better life, because the Allans were financially well off. In 1815, the Allans sailed to Britain and enrolled Edgar in the grammar school at Irvine, Scotland, where John Allan had been born. Shortly thereafter, Edgar was to rejoin them in London in 1816. Edgar studied at a boarding school in Chelsea until the summer of 1817. From Chelsea, Edgar was then enrolled at the Reverend John Bransby's Manor House School at Stoke Newington, about four miles north of London. In 1820, Poe moved back to Virginia with the Allans. However, Edgar did not get along well with John Allan. Edgar claimed that John Allan had not given him enough money to finance his education at the University of Virginia, and this was due most likely to the fact that John Allan did not approve of the university and really did not want Edgar there. Therefore, with insufficient funds to continue, Edgar left after just one semester. Since no money was going to be coming from John Allan, Edgar enlisted in the Army in 1827 under an assumed name, Edgar Perry, even lying about his age. This was when Edgar began his publishing career with his collection, “Tamerlane and Other Poems.” Edgar may have had his differences with John Allan, but he always loved Frances Allan. Unfortunately, another player on his stage was to leave prematurely, and she died in 1829 at the age of 45. Another woman whom Edgar loved was gone. Later, when Edgar failed in his attempts to become an officer’s cadet at West Point, he eventually broke off all connections with John Allan and decided he wanted to spend the rest of his life as a writer. The chapter as author had begun.
Home of Benjamin Henry Latrobe
The Baltimore Connection
Edgar returned to Baltimore in March of 1831 to live with his aunt, Maria Clemm, and her daughter, Virginia. His older brother, Henry, had been suffering ill health, in part due to alcoholism. So it was that, on August 1, 1831, only two years after losing his beloved stepmother, Frances Allan, Edgar now lost his only brother, Henry. Strangely, Henry was the same age when he died as his mother— 24. Did these sorrows affect Edgar? Did he, upon losing so many loves, become inclined to need reassuring and constant love all the more? Judging from letters he wrote during the years that followed, the answer is most likely, yes.
Edgar had decided to make his living as a writer, but his timing was poor, since this was a time in American history when publishers usually plagiarized British works, or paid little to nothing to American writers. However, his persistence paid off. The Baltimore Saturday Visitor awarded Poe a prize in October 1833 for his short story “MS. Found in a Bottle.” This caught the attention of John P. Kennedy, a very wealthy Baltimorean, and it was with the patronage of Kennedy that Poe began to become established, especially when Kennedy introduced Poe to Thomas W. White, editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. In August of 1835, Poe was made assistant editor of the periodical. Sadly, within a few weeks, he was fired when his boss found him drunk. Poe went back to Baltimore and secretly married his cousin, Virginia Clemm, on September 22, 1835. He was 26; she was 13. He had her age listed on the certificate as 21. Poe went back and spoke with Mr. White, and after promising to straighten up, got his job back. Edgar took Virginia, and her mother, Maria Clemm, with him to Richmond. Poe stayed at the Messenger until January of 1837, and during his stay there, increased the circulation. On May 16, 1836, he had a second wedding ceremony in Richmond with Virginia Clemm, and this time, the ceremony was public.
In 1838, Edgar published “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket,” and this brought him a measure of notice. This was followed with his becoming assistant editor of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine during the summer of 1839. The reputation of Edgar Allan Poe was now growing. The same year, he published “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque,” and after about a year, he left Burton’s and became an assistant at Graham’s Magazine.
It was June of 1840, and Poe announced his intention to start his own journal, but that dream would not happen in his lifetime. Sometime during the month of January of 1842, his wife, Virginia, showed the first signs of what was then called “consumption,” tuberculosis. She was playing the piano and singing, when it seemed as if she had burst a blood vessel in her throat. From that point onward, Virginia’s health would decline, and Edgar began to lose himself in alcohol. Possibly the best description of Virginia comes from Captain Mayne Reid, an Irish novelist, who was a close friend of Edgar and Virginia. He wrote about spending time with the Poes, saying that the times “... were passed in the company of the poet himself and his wife — a lady angelically beautiful in person and not less beautiful in spirit. No one who remembers that dark-eyed, dark-haired daughter of Virginia — her own name, if I rightly remember — her grace, her facial beauty, her demeanour, so modest as to be remarkable — no one who has ever spent an hour in her company but will endorse what I have above said. I remember how we, the friends of the poet, used to talk of her high qualities.” Now more than ever, Edgar desperately needed financial security from a well-paying position. In 1842, he had hoped to win an appointment to the Custom House using his connections to President Tyler’s son, Robert, but alcohol had begun to destroy Edgar’s life, and he missed a key meeting for discussions of this appointment in mid-September of that year. Even though he had been promised a position, the person who had set up the meeting felt that Poe had not been sick, but had been drunk instead, and missing this key meeting due to drunkenness cost Edgar the position that would have given him a steady and lucrative income. This took a heavy toll on him.
Virginia Clemm Poe
Losing Beautiful Virginia
He left Graham’s and returned to New York, working for a short time with the Evening Mirror, then going over to the Broadway Journal where he became editor and, later, its owner. On January 29, 1845, Poe published his famous poem, “The Raven,” which appeared in the Evening Mirror and made him a household name. However, the Broadway Journal failed in 1846, and Poe moved to a cottage on the southwest corner of the Grand Concourse and Kingsbridge Road in the Fordham section of the Bronx where he became friends with the local Jesuits at nearby St. John’s College. Virginia was on her deathbed. Recounting those last moments, her aunt, Maria Clemm wrote, “Can I ever forget that dear sweet face [Virginia’s], so tranquil, so pale, and those dear eyes looking at me so sadly, while she said, ‘Darling, darling Muddy, you will console and take care of my poor Eddy — you will never, never leave him? Promise me, my dear Muddy, and then I can die in peace.’” Edgar was so in love with his wife. One of his friends wrote: “His love for his wife was a sort of rapturous worship of the spirit of beauty which he felt was fading before his eyes. I have seen him hovering around her when she was ill, with all the fond fear and tender anxiety of a mother for her first-born — her slightest cough causing in him a shudder, a heart-chill that was visible. I rode out one summer evening with them, and the remembrance of his watchful eyes eagerly bent upon the slightest change of hue in that loved face, haunts me yet as the memory of a sad strain. It was this hourly anticipation of her loss, that made him a sad and thoughtful man, and lent a mournful melody to his undying song.”
After a long and protracted time of seemingly recovering, only to relapse, the woman Edgar Allan Poe loved most, his beautiful wife, Virginia, died there on January 30, 1847…. at the same age as Poe’s mother and brother—24! No doubt, this fact also had an effect on Poe. In a letter dated January 4, 1848, he wrote these words:
“You say — ‘Can you hint to me what was the terrible evil which caused the irregularities so profoundly lamented?’ Yes; I can do more than hint. This ‘evil’ was the greatest which can befall a man. Six years ago, a wife, whom I loved as no man ever loved before, ruptured a blood-vessel in singing. Her life was despaired of. I took leave of her forever & underwent all the agonies of her death. She recovered partially and I again hoped. At the end of a year the vessel broke again — I went through precisely the same scene. Again in about a year afterward.
Then again — again — again & even once again at varying intervals. Each time I felt all the agonies of her death — and at each accession of the disorder I loved her more dearly & clung to her life with more desperate pertinacity. But I am constitutionally sensitive — nervous in a very unusual degree. I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. During these fits of absolute unconsciousness I drank, God only knows how often or how much. As a matter of course, my enemies referred the insanity to the drink rather than the drink to the insanity. I had indeed, nearly abandoned all hope of a permanent cure when I found one in the death of my wife. This I can & do endure as becomes a man — it was the horrible never-ending oscillation between hope & despair which I could not longer have endured without total loss of reason. In the death of what was my life, then, I receive a new but — oh God! how melancholy an existence.’”
Edgar struggled with mental fatigues, and in 1848, he took an overdose of laudanum, whether intentionally or accidentally, no one knows, but he nearly died. Poe began to fall more into a mentally unstable state after Virginia died. For a brief period after her death, he showed strong interest in poet Sarah Helen Whitman, who lived in Providence, Rhode Island, but most likely due to his bad drinking problems, the relationship was discouraged by her mother and went nowhere. Moving back to Richmond, Poe looked up his childhood sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster. These were Edgar Allan Poe’s last days, and no one knew the end was coming, but he was now taking the last steps in the journey to his mysterious death. In the last few weeks of Edgar’s life, there is a noticeable decline, gradual and sporadic at first, then pronounced as the final bout sets in.
Unknown to Edgar Allan Poe, he has less than three months to live, and his last actions will become the mystery novel that he unwittingly penned, one never to be published as a book. Saturday, July 7, 1849, Edgar wrote to his aunt, Maria Clemm, and accidentally heads it as written from New York, when in fact, it was written from Philadelphia:
New York, July 7. [Saturday]
My dear, dear Mother, — I have been so ill — have had the cholera, or spasms quite as bad, and can now hardly hold the pen.
The very instant you get this, come to me. The joy of seeing you will almost compensate for our sorrows. We can but die together. It is no use to reason with me now; I must die. I have no desire to live since I have done “Eureka.” I could accomplish nothing more. For your sake it would be sweet to live, but we must die together. You have been all in all to me, darling, ever beloved mother, and dearest, truest friend.
I was never really insane, except on occasions where my heart was touched.
I have been taken to prison once since I came here for getting drunk; but then I was not. It was about Virginia.
Prison? According to one of his friends, John Sartain, editor of The Union magazine, Edgar had been put in Moyamensing Prison in Philadelphia for the night due to being found drunk in public. Edgar told Sartain that two men on the train were plotting to kill him, and he therefore left the train at an earlier station, fearing for his life and headed back to Philadelphia. He told Sartain that he had had a vision while in the prison, but all of what he told Sartain, he withdrew a couple of days later when he was feeling better, blaming it all on an active imagination. John Sartain told an account years later that he noted Edgar’s shoes were extremely worn on the outsides of the heels and that Edgar complained that his feet were chafed. This is important to those who argue that Edgar Allan Poe would never have been found without being impeccably dressed. While it is true that he considered appearance extremely important, by now, Edgar was slipping into episodes of inexplicable mental aberration when he was struggling to keep his sanity. Note in his letter to Maria Clemm that he says that he was taken to prison for getting drunk, but that he was not drunk. He blames the episode on his inability to deal with the loss of Virginia. Even Edgar was having trouble understanding what was happening to himself. Nevertheless, these episodes were coming and going. There was also an epidemic of cholera that had broken out in Philadelphia, and Edgar thought that he might have had a touch of cholera, which self-diagnosis was actually incorrect.
A Letter From Aunt Maria Clemm
Maria Clemm was worried about Edgar, since she knew what he was going through, and she had always doted on her “dear Eddy.” She wrote in a letter:
July 9, 1849
Eddy has been gone ten days, and I have not heard one word from him. Do you wonder that I am distracted? I fear everything. . . . Do you wonder that he has so little confidence in any one? Have we not suffered from the blackest treachery? Eddy was obliged to go through Philadelphia, and how much I fear he has got into some trouble there; he promised me so sincerely to write thence. I ought to have heard last Monday, and now it is Monday again and not one word. . . . Oh, if any evil has befallen him what can comfort me? The day after he left New York, I left Mrs. Lewis and started for home. I called on a rich friend who had made many promises, but never knew our situation. I frankly told her. . . . She proposed to me to leave Eddy, saying he might very well do for himself. . . . Any one to propose to me to leave my Eddy — what a cruel insult! No one to console and comfort him but me; no one to nurse him and take care of him when he is sick and helpless! Can I ever forget that dear sweet face [Virginia’s], so tranquil, so pale, and those dear eyes looking at me so sadly, while she said, “Darling, darling Muddy, you will console and take care of my poor Eddy — you will never, never leave him? Promise me, my dear Muddy, and then I can die in peace.” And I did promise. And when I meet her in heaven, I can say, “I have kept my promise, my darling.”. . . If Eddy gets to Richmond safely and can succeed in what he intends doing, we will be relieved of part of our difficulties; but if he comes home in trouble and sick, I know not what is to become of us.
Maria Clemm Poe
Edgar's Deterioration Is Noticed
While in Philadelphia, Edgar’s friend, John Sartain, said that he was concerned enough about Edgar’s mental state, that on one particular evening, he had Edgar sleep on the sofa, then John put three chairs in front of Edgar and slept on them to keep Edgar from wandering off. The next morning, Edgar seemed mentally better, no doubt from having had a good meal and a full night’s rest on a comfortable sofa. Several of Edgar’s Philadelphia friends came to his aid, including the novelist George Lippard, and editor of the Nineteenth Century, Charles Chauncey Burr, who gave him money, as well, to help him get home to Richmond. Edgar wrote to Maria:
Richmond, Saturday Night. [July 14]
Oh, my darling Mother, it is now more than three weeks since I saw you, and in all that time your poor Eddy has scarcely drawn a breath except of intense agony. Perhaps you are sick or gone from Fordham in despair, or dead. If you are but alive, and if I but see you again, all the rest is nothing. I love you better than ten thousand lives — so much so that it is cruel in you to let me leave you; nothing but sorrow ever comes of it.
Oh, Mother, I am so ill while I write — but I resolved that come what would, I would not sleep again without easing your dear heart as far as I could.
My valise was lost for ten days. At last I found it at the depot in Philadelphia, but (you will scarcely credit it) they had opened it and stolen both lectures. Oh, Mother, think of the blow to me this evening, when on examining the valise, these lectures were gone. All my object here is over unless I can recover them or re-write one of them.
I am indebted for more than life itself to B[urr]. Never forget him, Mother, while you live. When all failed me, he stood my friend, got me money, and saw me off in the cars for Richmond.
I got here with two dollars over — of which I inclose you one. Oh God, my Mother, shall we ever again meet? If possible, oh COME! My clothes are so horrible, and I am so ill. Oh, if you could come to me, my mother. Write instantly — oh do not fail. God forever bless you.
Edgar’s moods were still ranging from rested to mentally unstable. However, as was required of men in that era, no amount of trial and tribulation was to be registered on the face, the emotions to be kept in check. Still, we know that he was having troubles internally, and he said as much in this letter to Maria:
The weather is awfully hot, and, besides all this, I am so homesick I don’t know what to do. I never wanted to see any one half so bad as I want to see my own darling mother. It seems to me that I would make any sacrifice to hold you by the hand once more, and get you to cheer me up, for I am terribly depressed. I do not think that any circumstances will ever tempt me to leave you again. When I am with you I can bear anything, but when I am away from you I am too miserable to live.
Friends Try To Help
Richmond, Thursday, July 19
My Own Beloved Mother —
You will see at once, by the handwriting of this letter, that I am better — much better in health and spirits. Oh, if you only knew how your dear letter comforted me! It acted like magic. Most of my suffering arose from that terrible idea which I could not get rid of — the idea that you were dead. For more than ten days I was totally deranged, although I was not drinking one drop; and during this interval I imagined the most horrible calamities.
All was hallucination, arising from an attack which I had never before experienced — an attack of mania-à-potu. May Heaven grant that it prove a warning to me for the rest of my days. If so, I shall not regret even the horrible unspeakable torments I have endured.
To L[ippard] and to C[hauncey] B[urr] (and in some measure, also, to Mr. S[artain]) I am indebted for more than life. They remained with me (L[ippard] and B[urr]) all day on Friday [July 13] last, comforted me and aided me in coming to my senses. L[ippard] saw G[odey], who said everything kind of me, and sent me five dollars; and [S. D.] P[atterson] sent another five. B[urr] procured me a ticket as far as Baltimore, and the passage from there to Richmond was seven dollars. I have not drank anything since Friday morning, and then only a little Port wine. If possible, dearest Mother, I will extricate myself from this difficulty for your dear, dear sake. So keep up heart.
All is not lost yet, and “the darkest hour is just before daylight.” Keep up heart, my own beloved mother — all may yet go well. I will put forth all my energies. When I get my mind a little more composed, I will try to write something. Oh, give my dearest, fondest love to Mrs. L. Tell her that never, while I live, will I forget her kindness to my darling mother.
Edgar wrote that “the darkest hour is just before daylight.” These words seem somewhat prophetic. In a matter of weeks, he would leave his misery and pass into eternity on Sunday morning… just before the break of daylight.
Perhaps returning to his beloved Richmond, the cooler weather, the fresh air, the financial assistance from his friends, and the invitations to lecture, all of these must have given him some hope that he was recovering from whatever strange ailment was attacking him. Edgar Allan Poe had hopes of so many wonderful things to come, most of all, financial security. He envisioned marrying his childhood sweetheart, Elmira, having his aunt, Maria, come to live with them in Richmond, and living a better life surrounded by the two women he loved most and the money from his writings to support all of them in the comforts he so dearly wanted to provide them.
Plans For A Future
Edgar laid out his intentions for the coming weeks in this letter to Maria:
Tuesday — Sep 18 — 49.
My own darling Muddy,
On arriving here last night from Norfolk I received both your letters, including Mrs. Lewis’s. I cannot tell you the joy they gave me — to learn at least that you are well & hopeful. May God forever bless you, my dear dear Muddy — Elmira has just got home from the country. I spent last evening with her. I think she loves me more devotedly than any one I ever knew & I cannot help loving her in return. Nothing is as yet definitely settled — and it will not do to hurry matters. I lectured at Norfolk on Monday & cleared enough to settle my bill here at the Madison House with $2. over. I had a highly fashionable audience, but Norfolk is a small place & there were 2 exhibitions the same night. Next Monday I lecture again here & expect to have a large audience. On Tuesday I start for Phila. to attend to Mrs. Loud’s Poems — & possibly on Thursday I may start for N. York. If I do I will go straight over to Mrs. Lewis’s & send for you. It will be better for me not to go to Fordham — don’t you think so? Write immediately in reply & direct to Phila. For fear I should not get the letter, sign no name & address it to E. S. T. Grey, Esqre. If possible I will get married before I start — but there is no telling. Give my dearest love to Mrs. L. My poor poor Muddy I am still unable to send you even one dollar — but keep up heart — I hope that our troubles are nearly over. I saw John Beatty in Norfolk.
God bless & protect you, my own darling Muddy. I showed your letter to Elmira and she says “it is such a darling precious letter that she loves you for it already.”
YOUR OWN EDDY.
Edgar Allan Poe's Last Letter
In one of the last letters Edgar Allan Poe wrote, he told Maria Clemm:
Every body says that if I lecture again & put the tickets at 50 cts, I will clear $100. I never was received with so much enthusiasm. The papers have done nothing but praise me before the lecture and since. I enclose one of the notices — the only one in which the slightest word of disparagement appears. It is written by Daniel — the man whom I challenged when I was here last year. I have been invited out a great deal — but could seldom go, on account of not having a dress coat. To-night Rose & I are to spend the evening at Elmira’s. Last night I was at Poitiaux’s — the night before at Strobia’s, where I saw my dear friend Eliza Lambert (Gen. Lambert’s sister). She was ill in her bed-room, but insisted upon our coming up, & we stayed until nearly 1 o’clock. In a word, I have received nothing but kindness since I have been here, & could have been quite happy but for my dreadful anxiety about you. Since the report of my intended marriage, the McKenzies have overwhelmed me with attentions. Their house is so crowded that they could not ask me to stay. — And now, my own precious Muddy, the very moment I get a definite answer about everything, I will write again & tell you what to do. Elmira talks about visiting Fordham — but I do not know whether that would do. I think, perhaps, it would be best for you to give up everything there & come on here in the Packet. Write immediately & give me your advice about it — for you know best. Could we be happier in Richmond or Lowell? — for I suppose we could never be happy at Fordham — and, Muddy, I must be somewhere where I can see Annie. — Did Mrs. L. get the Western Quarterly Review? Thompson is constantly urging me to write for the Messenger, but I am so anxious that I cannot. — Mr. Loud, the husband of Mrs. St Leon Loud, the poetess of Philadelphia, called on me the other day and offered me $100 to edit his wife’s poems. Of course, I accepted the offer. The whole labor will not occupy me 3 days. I am to have them ready by Christmas. — I have seen Bernard often. Eliza is expected but has not come. — When I repeat my lecture here, I will then go to Petersburg & Norfolk. — A Mr. Taverner lectured here on Shakespeare, a few nights after me, and had 8 persons, including myself & the doorkeeper. — I think, upon the whole, dear Muddy, it will be better for you to say that I am ill, or something of that kind, and break up at Fordham, so that you may come on here. Let me know immediately what you think best. You know we could easily pay off what we owe at Fordham & the place is a beautiful one — but I want to live near Annie.
Rapidly Coming To The End
Edgar gave a lecture on the “Poetic Principle” in Richmond on Monday evening, September 24th. He was paid well, and this only further encouraged him to hope that the future was going to be better than the past. But Poe was hiding his true health situation from the public. Perhaps it was because he was haunted by the untimely deaths of his mother, his father, his brother, and his beautiful wife, all of them dying so young, that he wanted to deny the fate that was hinting to him that he might be next. For Edgar, it had to be some flu that would go away if he pushed through it all. Edgar would not have wanted his inner turmoils to betray his exterior portrayal of health and strength. Even so, one academic who had attended that lecture, William Winston Valentine, noted that the pallor on Poe’s face contrasted oddly with his dark hair, that his eyes were dark and restless, that there were some discernible problems with Poe’s mouth with regard to natural expression, that he appeared nervous and was struggling for self-control, that even his voice seemed filled with some sort of sadness.
After the encouraging financial rewards of giving that lecture, Edgar would spend the night of Tuesday, September 25th, at Duncan Lodge, the home of the MacKenzies, the same who had adopted his younger sister, Rosalie. The next day, his last ever in Richmond, he spent the day visiting with the MacKenzies and his friend, Dr. Gibbon Carter. Later in the day, he paid a visit to the office of his friend, Dr. John Carter and spent some time looking at the day’s papers. Around time for supper, he decided to go across the street to Sadler’s Restaurant on Main Street, a well-to-do establishment, to eat. For whatever reason, he took Dr. Carter’s walking cane instead of his own. Perhaps he had intended to return with it shortly after supper, but friends found him at the restaurant, and he stayed there longer than anticipated. He would never return Carter’s cane, as it was the very one found with him in Baltimore on the fateful day that was swiftly approaching. Late that evening, he paid a visit to Elmira. She wrote a letter to Maria Clemm that points out some of the illness that he was hiding from others:
“He came up to my house on the evening of the 26th Sept. to take leave of me. He was very sad, and complained of being quite sick. I felt his pulse, and found he had considerable fever, and did not think it probable he would be able to start the next morning (Thursday) as he anticipated. I felt so wretched about him all that night, that I went up early the next morning to inquire after him, when, much to my regret, he had left in the boat for Baltimore.”
I marked that line in bold, because this shows that the last hours of Edgar Allan Poe’s life were now quickening their pace to his end. Though he was trying valiantly to deny the illness that was haunting him, his efforts to forge on ahead to Philadelphia to edit the poems of Mrs. Loud showed that he was intent on winning by denying it, that he would forge ahead, and whatever this illness was, it would work its way out of him. From here, he would write no more letters, give no more lectures, and within one week, he would be found on the streets of Baltimore in the last stages of dying.
The Final Resting Place Of Edgar Allan Poe
Original Resting Place of Edgar Allan Poe
Mount Clare Train Station In Baltimore
The boat from Richmond to Baltimore would have arrived on Friday, September 28th. Trains left Baltimore for Philadelphia at nine in the morning and eight in the evening. It is said that Edgar stopped to pay a visit to his friend, Dr. Nathan C. Brooks, in Baltimore. If this was so, then that would mean that he likely would not have made the morning departure of the train for Philadelphia, thus putting him in the situation of having found lodging for the night in Baltimore, or taking the later train that would have put him in Philadelphia at the ungodly hour of 2:15 in the morning. Taking the eight o’clock morning train would have put him in Philadelphia at 2:45 in the afternoon. Of the time he arrived in Philadelphia, even the exact day, no one seems sure, but we do know that he eventually arrived there, since that visit was recorded by his friend, Thomas H. Lane, who saw him there. Thomas Lane stated that Edgar looked very ill and was taken to the home of Lane’s aunt and her husband, James P. Moss, of 70 South Fourth Street. James Moss, a musician, was also a friend of Edgar’s. Edgar spent the night, but the next morning, so obviously ill that his friends tried to get him to stay in Philadelphia, Edgar told them that he wanted to go on to New York, most likely to be with Maria Clemm. By now, Edgar was not thinking clearly, and when he got to the train station, he boarded the train for Baltimore instead of the train for New York. Arriving in Baltimore, Edgar’s last bit of stamina was being used up. Perhaps he was trying to find his trunk, which he actually had not taken with him. It had been left back in Richmond. Perhaps his disorientation was taking such a hold now that he only had moments when he could figure in which direction to walk. The fact that he was found on a few blocks from the home of his friend, Dr. Snodgrass, suggests that his last moments may have been directed at trying to reach this destination. By now, however, he would have been in the last throes of the illness that was killing him. Hydrophobia setting in, he would not have had any water or liquid for so many hours, that he would have been ready for collapse at any moment. The fact that he was in Baltimore for two or three days, wandering aimlessly and out of contact with all of his friends suggests that he was delirious the entire time. Without nourishment, without water, and without rest, Edgar Allan Poe reached 44 East Lombard Street, just outside of Ryan’s, and collapsed for the last time. Rabies had taken its deadly toll!
Proofs In The Analysis
In The New York Times, September 15, 1996, a very enlightening story was carried therein quoting a Dr. R. Michael Benitez, a cardiologist from Baltimore and an assistant professor at the University of Maryland Medical Center, which, interestingly enough, is next door to the graveyard where Poe is buried. As part of a clinical pathological conference, in which doctors are given hypothetical patients and a description of their symptoms, then asked to render a diagnosis, Dr. Benitez was given the case of a patient that was only described to him as “E.P., a writer from Richmond.” The “writer” had entered Washington College Hospital comatose, but by the next day, was perspiring heavily, hallucinating and shouting at imaginary people. The next day, the patient seemed better, but could not remember falling ill. On his fourth day at the hospital, the patient grew confused and belligerent, then grew quiet and passed away. Classic rabies, said Dr. Benitez. His study was published the same year in the September issue of The Maryland Medical Journal. Dr. Benitez said that, by the end of his research, he had figured out that his mystery patient was Edgar Allan Poe. Dr. Benitez said that, in the brief period when Poe was calm and awake, he refused alcohol and could drink water only with great difficulty. Rabies victims frequently exhibit hydrophobia, or fear of water, because it is painful to swallow. Since there are no records that mention Edgar Allan Poe discussing with anyone that he had been bitten by a rabid animal, some might be skeptical about the diagnosis, despite the fact that all of the activities and symptoms leading up to his death match. However, many people who are victims of rabies cannot remember being bitten, so the fact that we do not have any medical anecdotes from Edgar Allan Poe mentioning a bite does not rule out the obvious. The symptoms of rabies can take up to one year to manifest. However, once the symptoms do appear, death is swift and brutal, killing its victims within days. The New York Times article quoted a Dr. Henry Wilde, who frequently treats rabies at the Chulalongkorn University Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, and he said that Poe “had all the features of encephalitic rabies.”
The Church Beside Edgar Allan Poe's Grave
A mysterious man, Edgar Allan Poe died a mysterious death. Nothing is taken away from his mystery simply because we can determine the cause of his death. Here are some of the mysteries to ponder.
Years after Poe’s death, a tombstone was paid for by Neilson Poe, and it was carved out of Italian marble by Hugh Sisson. There was a train wreck one night about a week before the tombstone was to be installed, and the train went through the fence and destroyed Edgar’s tombstone that had been waiting there. Poe’s tomb remained without a proper tombstone for several more years. In 1875, Hugh Sisson was once again commissioned to carve the new and much more elaborate tombstone that was to be dedicated at the reburial when Edgar Allan Poe’s remains were moved to the current location. On this beautiful marble monument, Poe’s birthdate is erroneously carved in the marble as January 20, 1809.
Edgar Allan Poe’s mother, his older brother, Henry, and his beloved wife, Virginia, all died at the exact same age - 24..
Edgar Allan Poe died in the month of October….so did his father.
Edgar Allan Poe’s Great-grandfather, John Poe, came to America in 1749, a new beginning, and exactly one hundred years later, in 1849, Edgar left America, an ending.
Edgar Allan Poe’s mother died on a Sunday morning, and so did he.
Edgar’s sister Rosalie was born in December, and his mother died in December.
Edgar’s mother died having recently lost her husband, and Edgar died having recently lost his wife.
On February 16, 1871, Edgar’s aunt and doting mother-in-law, died at the Episcopal Church Home in Baltimore. She had lived in this charitable institution since the spring of 1863. Prior to 1850, the Church Home was the Washington College Hospital. Thus, Maria Clemm died in the same building as Poe had 22 years before.
On Tuesday evening, September 25, 1849, before leaving Richmond for the last time, Edgar was visiting friends, the Talleys, at their home, Talevara. In the words of Susan Talley, “He was the last of the party to leave the house. We were standing on the portico, and after going a few steps he paused, turned, and again lifted his hat, in a last adieu. At the moment, a brilliant meteor appeared in the sky directly over his head, and vanished in the east. We commented laughingly upon the incident; but I remembered it sadly afterward.”
Edgar Allan Poe came into this world to imaginative and dramatic people, he created powerful dramatic works, and even in his death, he did not leave us without drama of his own, mysterious drama at that. He will continue to inspire and enrich those who enjoy a good tale for many years to come.
View of Edgar Allan Poe's Tomb
Front of the Church at Night
View of the Church by Day
View of Catacombs Beneath the Church
More Views of the Catacombs
Section of the Cemetery
Poem Written For Maria Clemm By Edgar Allan Poe In 1849
TO MY MOTHER
Because I feel that, in the Heavens above,
The angels, whispering to one another,
Can find, among their burning terms of love,
None so devotional as that of “Mother,”
Therefore by that dear name I long have called you —
You who are more than mother unto me,
And fill my heart of hearts, where Death installed you
In setting my Virginia’s spirit free.
My mother — my own mother, who died early,
Was but the mother of myself; but you
Are mother to the one I loved so dearly,
And thus are dearer than the mother I knew
By that infinity with which my wife
Was dearer to my soul than its soul-life
Annabel Lee - One Of Poe's Most Famous Poems
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee; —
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love —
I and my Annabel Lee —
With a love that the wingéd seraphs in Heaven
Coveted her and me.
And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her high-born kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre,
In this kingdom by the sea.
The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me
Yes! — that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we —
Of many far wiser than we —
And neither the angels in Heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee: —
For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee: —
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling — my darling — my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea —
In her tomb by the sounding sea.