Today in history, in 1849, Edgar Allan Poe is discovered in a gutter in Baltimore, Maryland. Under very mysterious circumstances, he was found delirious. It would be the last time he would be seen in public. Poe is considered a part of the American Romantic and Gothic Movements and nicknamed the Father of the Detective Story. Though he was never a financial success in his life, Poe has become of one America’s most enduring writers whose poems and stories have captured by the imagination and interest of generations of readers from around the world. His life and death would be clouded with mystery seemingly mirroring his stories.
Poe’s most famous poem is, of course, The Raven. Published in 1845, it portrays a supernatural atmosphere in which a talking raven mysteriously visits a distraught man, lamenting about the loss of his love, Lenore. The poem traces the man’s descent into madness. Sitting on a bust of Pallas (also known as Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom), the raven further the man’s distress with the constant repeating of “Nevermore.” My favorite rendition of The Raven was portrayed by The Simpson’s Halloween special The Treehouse of Horror (October 25, 1990). Another of Poe’s poem would be his last, Annabel Lee (1849), tells of one man’s love for the beautiful Annabel Lee even after her death. The story of the two fell in love in a kingdom by the sea with a love so strong that it made the angels envious. A love so strong that it extends beyond the grace with their souls forever entwined. He dreams of her every night as he lies by her side, at her tomb by the sea. These two poems are my favorite of Poe’s poems. Imagines of what overwhelming grief can do to someone’s mental health.
While many people are more familiar with The Raven, Poe was wrote many detective stories featuring C. Auguste Dupin. Dupin is considered the first fictional detective who displays many traits as other famous fictional detectives as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (first appearance in 1887) and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot (first appearance in 1920). The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) is recognized as the first modern detective story which Poe referred to as one of his “tales of ratiocination” (French for reasoning). In this story, Dupin must solve the murders of two women which witnesses heard but didn’t recognize the language and a hair which doesn’t appear to be human. The Mystery of Marie Roget (1842) is the first story to be based on the details of a real crime. The murder of Mary Cecilia Rogers was the inspiration, who was found in the Hudson River in July 1841 after a mysterious disappearance. A third story, The Purloined Letter (1844), was the last to feature Dupin and a case about a stolen letter from inside a locked office.
Everyone is familiar with Poe’s horror stories. One of the most famous, The Tell Tale Heart (1843) tells the story of a man who commits a premeditated murder, dismembers the body and hides it under the floorboards. His guilt is manifested by the auditory hallucinations of the dead man’s beating heart. The Cask of Amontillado (1846) is a story that I read in middle school about a man who seeks revenge on a friend, who he believes has insulted him. He seals his friend inside a catacomb underneath an Italian city. The Masque of the Red Death (1842) is a story of a prince’s desperate attempts to avoid a dangerous plague that he and other nobles hide in his abbey. The story takes place during a masquerade ball in which a mysterious figure dressed as a Red Death victim enter and makes his way among them.
After the death of his wife, Virginia in 1847, Poe began to suffer poor health and struggled financially. His final days are a mystery. He left Richmond, Virginia on September 27, 1849, supposedly on his way to Philadelphia. He would turn up in Baltimore on October 3rd. He was taken to Washington College Hospital where he would die on October 7th with his last words, “Lord, help my poor soul.” There are many theories about the cause of death: “congestion of the brain,” alcoholism, rabies, epilepsy, and carbon monoxide poisoning. The mystery of his death only adds to the mystery and haunting themes of his poems and stories. If you are not familiar with Edgar Allan Poe’s poems and short stories, I highly recommend reading them, especially during the spookiness of Halloween.