Happy Death Day, Mr. Poe

October 7, 2013  Today is the 164th anniversary of the death of Edgar Allan Poe. If you forgot, no worries, I’m sure Hallmark has you covered. When we remember Poe’s death day, we’re doing a few different things. We’re mourning the loss of one of our great writers. We’re mourning the sad life of a tragic soul. We’re doing what we can as a culture to make amends for not recognizing his genius during his lifetime. But, mostly, I think, we’re commemorating something else…the mystery of his death.

Future site in Boston, MA, of a Poe statue, near the site of his birth.

For the past seven months or so, I’ve been living Poe, traveling up and down the East Coast to sites, artifacts, and memorials related to him, both as part of my next book and to exorcise some of Poe from my own poor soul. My trek is only half done, but so many of my questions are much less than half answered, including my biggest…how has Poe found such a strange, unique, transcendent niche in world culture?

The answer, of course, is probably an interconnected web of complicated factors and reasons that can never be cleanly parsed. But you can see some of the general reasons. A gigantic one, I believe anyway, is the mystery of his death.

The inventor of the mystery tale left us with one final, unsolvable mystery. The legitimizer of the horror story left us with one final, unknowable horror. Nobody knows what happened in the days leading up to Poe’s death. All we know is that the death itself was characterized by raving, begging for someone to “blow his brains out with a pistol,” and finally commending his “poor soul” to whatever gave him life and then gave him that life.

It’s a terrible way to go. But a fascinating story to hear.

And if that’s a weird reaction, well, Poe was a weird poet.


To commemorate his death day, I’ve chosen a series of pictures from my sojourn so far visiting the hallowed haunts of Poe. These images represent just a fraction of what I’ve seen, and each has a story that I can’t wait to tell you. Two stories actually, Poe’s own story and mine in visiting the sites.

This past week, Roger Corman posted on his Twitter account that there can never be too much Poe. I am actively testing that theory. So far, he’s dead on.

Poe's honeymoon suite in Petersburg, VA.
Poe's dorm room at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
Poe's cane, accidentally left behind in Richmond, VA, right before his final, fateful trip.
On display at the Poe Museum in Richmond.
A pallid dude beneath a pallid bust of Pallas in the Rare Books Department
at the Free Library in Philadelphia, PA.
The only known copy of Poe's The Raven in his own handwriting...in my own hands.
Also at the Free Library in Philadelphia.
Grip, the stuffed pet raven of Charles Dickens that inspired
Poe in writing The Raven. Also at the Free Library.
Obviously go to this place.
The Poe Room, set up by the New York University near the site of his Greenwich house...
after demolishing said house, unfortunately.
Me reading The Raven by the very mantel in front of which Poe wrote the poem
and where "each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor."
At Columbia University in Manhattan.
Someone put a stone eagle in front of this plaque dedicated to The Raven in Manhattan.
The room and bed where his wife Virginia died. At the Poe Cottage in the Bronx.
Also at the Poe Cottage, a mirror that might have belonged to Poe.
If you look closely you can see him in it.
Finally, on his death day, Poe's grave.
Wait a minute. This is his grave.






1 comment:

  1. Whoa. I can actually see someone's silhouette in that mirror... Creepy.

    ReplyDelete