Sunday, 10 May 2009

The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe

"The next certain information about Poe is October 3, 1849, when Joseph W. Walker sent the following note to Dr. J. E. Snodgrass: “Dear Sir, — There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you, he is in need of immediate assistance, Yours, in haste, Jos. W. Walker.” Ryan’s 4th Ward Polls, also known as Gunner’s Hall, was a tavern (such places were often used as election places, and voters were regularly rewarded with drinks). There appears to be no foundation for the tradition that Poe was found in a gutter, although it is at least possible that Walker came across Poe on the street outside, and helped Poe into the nearby public house to wait for the arrival of his friend. Dr. Snodgrass and Henry Herring (Poe’s uncle) came and found Poe in what they presumed was a drunken state. They agreed that he should be sent to the Washington College Hospital, and arranged for a carriage.

At the hospital, Poe was admitted and made as comfortable as the circumstances permitted. Over the next few days, Poe seems to have lapsed in and out of consciousness. Moran tried to question him as to the cause of his condition, but Poe’s “answers were incoherent and unsatisfactory”. Neilson Poe tried to visit him, but was told that Edgar was too excitable for visitors. Depending on which account one accepts, Poe died at about 3:00 a.m. or 5:00 a.m. on October 7, 1849. Moran gives his last words as “Lord help my poor soul” or, even more improbably, “He who arched the heavens and upholds the universe, has His decrees legibly written upon the frontlet of every human being and upon demaons incarnate”. Moran also claims that on the evening prior to his death, Poe repeatedly called out the name of “Reynolds.” Substantial efforts have been made to identify who Reynolds may have been, with unimpressive results. At least one scholar felt that Poe may have instead been calling the name of “Herring” (Poe’s uncle was Henry Herring).

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.” J. E. Snodgrass offers a more detailed description: “a rusty, almost brimless, tattered and ribbonless palmleaf hat. His clothing consisted of a sack-coat of thin and sleazy black alpaca, ripped more or less at several of its seams, and faded and soiled, and pants of a steel-mixed pattern of caseinate, half-worn and badly-fitting, if they could be said to fit at all. He wore neither vest nor neck-cloth, while the bosom of his shirt was both crumpled and badly soiled. On his feet were boots of coarse material, and giving no sign of having been blackened for a long time, if at all”. Moran also quotes Capt. George W. Rollins, supposedly the conductor of the train, as noting two men who appeared to be following Poe..."