The Last Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe

portrait by Samuel Stillman Osgood, 1845.

by K.B. Owen

This week marks the anniversary of the death of famous American poet/author/critic Edgar Allan Poe on Oct 7, 1849. Although the cause of his death was vaguely listed as “congestion of the brain,” the root cause is still a mystery. No autopsy was done or death certificate issued.

The circumstances of Poe’s death:

photo by KRichter (CC)

Poe was found in Baltimore near Gunner’s Hall (a tavern being used as a polling place that day) “rather the worse for wear,” according to Joseph W. Walker, the man who discovered him. Poe was able to give him the names of two acquaintances who lived in the area. Walker sent them urgent notes to come and help decide what to do with him. When they came to assess the situation, the general consensus was that Poe was the worse for drink, and they took him to Baltimore’s Washington College Hospital.

Strangely, he was wearing clothing not his own. According to the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore:

Poe’s clothing had been changed. In place of his own suit of black wool was one of cheap gabardine, with a palm leaf hat. Moran describes his clothing as “a stained, faded, old bombazine coat, pantaloons of a similar character, a pair of worn-out shoes run down at the heels, and an old straw hat” (Moran, Defense of Poe, p. 59.)

There wasn’t much that the doctors could do for him other than make him comfortable. Although he briefly regained consciousness at intervals (though never for long enough to explain what happened), he died four days later.

Which leaves us with all kinds of questions: how did he come to be where he was found, and in someone else’s clothes? What happened to him? What killed him?

We know that Poe left Richmond for Philadelphia (some say New York) via boat (one source says the train…arghh, research is a minefield) and arrived in Baltimore on September 28th. However, there is no reliable account of what happened to him between then and when he was found on October 3rd.

Poe’s bitter rival, and 150 years of slander:

Griswold, 1855.

I didn’t realize until my adult years that what I thought I knew about Poe and his death as a high schooler (decades ago, never mind how many, LOL), was shaped by the accounts of Poe at the hands of his most bitter rival, Rufus Wilmot Griswold. Griswold was extremely adept at character assassination, which he had already directed at Poe during his lifetime. But now the floodgates were about to be opened wide….

Read the rest at K.B. Owen Mysteries



K.B. Owen signing books at Prospero’s Books (Manassas, VA)

K.B. Owen taught college English for nearly two decades at universities in Connecticut and Washington, DC, and holds a doctorate in 19th century British literature.

A mystery lover ever since she can remember, she drew upon her teaching experiences in creating her amateur sleuth, Professor Concordia Wells.

Unlike the fictional Miss Wells, K.B. did not have to conduct lectures in a bustle and full skirts. Thankfully. No doubt, many folks are grateful for that little fact. ?

There are five books in the Concordia Wells mystery series thus far, with book 6 due out in December.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    October 3, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    Fascinating, Kathy! I never realized that Poe had actually been maligned by someone in the reports of how he died. Trolls were alive and well even back then, apparently.

    • Reply
      K.B. Owen
      October 3, 2017 at 4:00 pm

      Thanks, Kass! And to think that this man then had custody of Poe’s published works…. *shudder*

  • Reply
    Shannon Esposito
    October 4, 2017 at 7:59 am

    Whoa.. wearing someone else’s clothes? Weird! What does congestion of the brain mean? And how would they know that without an autopsy. Lots of questions!

    • Reply
      K.B. Owen
      October 4, 2017 at 3:44 pm

      There are lots of weird medical terms we don’t use anymore, LOL. No death certificate was required back then, either.

  • Reply
    Vinnie Hansen
    October 4, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    Lots of questions, indeed! In freshmen English, I used to have my students read various articles about Poe’s death, along with rebuttals to the arguments, and then to form and support their conclusions in an essay. The mystery of Poe’s death even prompted me to write a short story titled “Killing Poe.” It has not found a home yet, although it’s currently under consideration for Killer Nashville’s anthology. We’ll see.

    There’s even more mystery–the Poe Toaster who visited Poe’s grave on Poe’s birthday every year for 60 years to leave a rose and cognac.

    • Reply
      K.B. Owen
      October 4, 2017 at 3:42 pm

      I remember that, although I thought I heard nothing was left last year…another mystery….

      Hope your story finds a home, Vinnie!

  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    October 4, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    Wow, what a great assignment for your students, Vinnie!

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