Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In Baltimore, Poe's visitor is a no-show for the second year

Poe centennial stamp, 1949

Edgar Allan Poe himself may have coined the best headline for this story: "Nevermore."

The Associated Press reports that the mysterious visitor who made annual visits to Poe's grave in Baltimore's Westminster Hall and Burying Ground every midnight on January 19th did not appear last night. This is the second consecutive year the unknown admirer called the "Poe toaster," whose visits date back to the 1940s, did not make an appearance.

Officials at Poe House and Museum are speculating the 60-year tradition has ended, although four impostors made a visit to Poe's resting place by 5 a.m. this morning. Poe was born January 19, 1809.

BALTIMORE (AP) — Telltale hearts beat with anticipation during a rainy, midnight dreary and beyond, hoping the mysterious visitor to Edgar Allan Poe's grave would return after a one-year absence.

Four impostors came and went. The real one never showed. Around 5 a.m., the dozen Poe fans who were left began to wonder if the eerie ritual is indeed nevermore, so they walked to Poe's tombstone and performed their own tribute by leaving roses and drinking a cognac toast.

A fascinating tradition that ran for some 60 years and was never fully explained appears to have ended. An unknown person who left three roses and a half-empty bottle of cognac at Poe's grave on the anniversary of the writer's birth failed to appear Wednesday, the second straight year he's disappointed those who stake out the downtown Westminster Hall and Burying Ground.

"I think we can safely say it's not car trouble, and he's not sick," said Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House and Museum. "This doesn't look good."

It would be an ending befitting of the legacy of Poe, the American literary master of the macabre who was known for haunting poems such as "The Raven" and grisly short stories including "The Tell-Tale Heart," ''The Fall of the House of Usher" and "The Pit and the Pendulum." He is also credited with writing the first modern detective story, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." He died in 1849 in Baltimore at age 40 after collapsing in a tavern.

Sometime in the 1940s, it seems, an anonymous man began the annual tribute at Poe's grave. It was first referenced in print in 1949 by The Evening Sun of Baltimore.

Those who have glimpsed the "Poe toaster" always saw him dressed in black, wearing a white scarf with a wide-brimmed hat. Jerome has kept watch over the vigil since 1978, watching from inside the Presbyterian church while Poe fans peered through the locked gates of the cemetery.

After last year's no-show, Jerome this year was expecting Poe toaster wannabes imitating the real thing, and they showed up in brazen style. One emerged from a white stretch limo shortly after midnight. Two others appeared to be women. The fourth was an older man. All walked in clear sight of the Poe fans, contrary to the secretive nature of the real Poe toaster. All wore black hats and left roses and cognac, and two left notes, but none of the four gave the secret signal that only Jerome knows, and none of the four arranged the roses in the unique pattern established by the Poe toaster over the decades. ...

"There's so many conspiracy theories," See said. "Like it ended in '98 and now the church does it. Or maybe in '09 they wanted to end it because it was the bicentennial. It just adds to the mystery. The best part of it is meeting people."

In 1993, the visitor began leaving notes, starting with one that read: "The torch will be passed." A note in 1998 indicated the originator of the tradition had died and passed it on to his two sons. ...

Jerome says he'll return one more year. If the visitor fails to show in 2012, he'll consider the tradition over and done.


Anonymous said...

OMG. No visitor? I wondered when this day would come. I like the line about ruling out "car trouble."

The above fore-mentioned. said...

The tradition becomes waiting for the expected tradition - still wonderful.