January 2012 | Nate Pedersen

Poe Toaster Returns Nevermore


A 60 year tradition came to an end last week when the famous Poe Toaster failed to show for the third year in a row at Edgar Allan Poe's grave in Baltimore.  Since at least the 1940s, the secretive visitor appeared annually on January 19th, Poe's birthday, to leave three roses and a half full bottle of cognac beside the tombstone of the famous author.  The tradition continued through 2009, Poe's 200th birthday, before ending as mysteriously as it began.  A vigil of faithful fans kept watch for the Poe Toaster all through the night this year but again returned home disappointed.

The tradition possibly began as early as the 1930s, according to several unverified eyewitness reports.  The Poe Toaster officially entered the historical record in 1950, when the annual visitation was documented for the first time by the Baltimore Sun.  The same pattern was followed each year: an anonymous man arrived at the grave dressed in black with a white scarf and a wide-brimmed hat.  He would pour himself a dram of the cognac, then leave the bottle and three roses on the grave before slipping back out of the cemetery.  According to a note left on the grave in 1999, the tradition passed on to someone else, "a son" of the original toaster.  The second Poe Toaster was more erratic, sometimes leaving cryptic and critical notes on the grave.  In the midst of some controversy, the new Poe Toaster kept the tradition alive for the next ten years, concluding abruptly, and without a final note, in 2009.

Several impostors have appeared each year since in an attempt to continue the tradition, however they have been largely dismissed by the faithful vigil who keep watch each year for the Poe Toaster.  They believe the tradition needs to be carried on by the original family, or should die out entirely.  Instead, a new tradition is in the works: Jeff Jerome, Curator of the Poe House in Baltimore, said fans will be reading tributes to Poe at his gravesite this coming Thursday night. 

So, if you're in the Baltimore area, swing by the burial ground near Westminster Hall on Thursday eve to join a new Poe tradition.  And thank you to the Poe Toaster for making overexposed modern life just a bit more mysterious.  I think Poe would have approved.
(Image from Wikipedia)