Edgar Allan Poe, famous for such novels as The Raven and The Tell-Tale Heart, among many others, was truly a master of mystery and horror, and inspired generations of writers thereafter.
Poe’s life was full of strange events, like the books he wrote… Not only did his family disown him, but he married his 13-year-old cousin when he was 27.
Poe is credited with creating the modern detective genre, and in parallel, his own life seems to have been lifted from a novel.
For more than 160 years, countless fans of both literature and unsolved crime have wondered how Poe actually died.
Edgar Allan Poe died on October 7, 1849, and the details surrounding his death remain shrouded in mystery even today. He was found to be delirious, and what’s more interesting is that his doctor testified that there was no evidence that he had consumed alcohol.
The writer spoke of a mysterious man named Reynolds before his death, but no one could identify him. In addition, Poe was dressed in someone else’s clothes that night.
It has been suspected that he may have been poisoned with mercury, or even had rabies. However, neither theory could be proven.
He was found in agony, wearing clothes that didn’t belong to him…
On October 3, 1849, Poe’s doctor, Joseph Snodgrass, received a mysterious letter stating that “a gentleman in a serious condition” had been found in Baltimore. The man, “who appears to be in great distress,” was said to be named Edgar A. Poe.
The doctor couldn’t believe it, as Poe was supposed to be in Philadelphia editing a volume of poetry, not in Baltimore.
Snodgrass immediately went to Poe and found his friend in a poor state and dressed in someone else’s clothes. Four days later, Edgar Allan Poe died.
No autopsy was performed
On October 7, 1849, Poe regained consciousness briefly and said: “Lord, take care of my soul!”. A few moments later, he closed his eyes and died. On the last night, Poe had repeatedly called out the name “Reynolds,” according to the attending physician, but the mysterious Reynolds was never identified.
The Baltimore Clipper reported that Poe died of “congestion of the brain,” a 19th-century euphemism for alcohol excess. No autopsy was performed.
The writer was buried the next day in the presence of only seven people. One of the seven described the ceremony as “nonconformist” and “unchristian”.
Poe’s uncle, Henry Herring, in turn said: “I had nothing to do with him when he was alive and I want nothing to do with him now.”
It has been suspected that he died of alcohol poisoning
Poe was renowned for being somewhat fond of drink, and the fact that he was found in a tavern led to substantial speculation as to the true cause of his delirium.
A few days after his death, his friend J.P. Kennedy wrote that Poe “fell fallen sick with vice.”
Alcohol could explain Poe’s delirium and the fact that he woke up in Baltimore instead of Philadelphia, where he should have been.
His relatives claimed that Poe had boarded the wrong train after drinking at the station. However convenient this theory may seem, it cannot explain the mysterious clothes Poe wore.
Modern science has found another problem with this theory. Subsequent tests would show low levels of lead in a sample of the writer’s hair, proving that he had given up alcohol in his last months of life.
Rabies, another hypothesis
In hospital, Poe is said to have suffered from “lethargy and confusion”. He was delirious, hallucinating and breathing heavily, all symptoms of rabies.
He may have been bitten by an infected animal and not even been aware of it.
In a study of rabies cases in humans conducted between 1977 and 1994, only 27% of people remembered being bitten.
This would be even more likely if, for example, one of Poe’s pets had bitten him. Shortly after the author’s death, his mother-in-law found his deceased cat.
In 1847, two years before Poe’s delirium episode, Dr. Valentine Mott wrote that Poe had brain damage and was suffering from brain fever.
In the 20th century, another scholar named Thomas Mabbott showed a doctor a photograph of the writer, who claimed that the way he held his head would indicate a brain lesion.
Alternatively, Poe may have suffered the effects of a brain tumor. At the time his body was moved in 1875, a worker heard something rolling around in Poe’s skull. In 2007, a modern forensic pathologist said the mass could have been a calcified brain tumor.
He may have been robbed
One of Poe’s earliest biographers, Elizabeth Oakes Smith, stated that Poe may have been robbed before he headed for the tavern. “At the order of a woman, he was cruelly beaten,”. Smith concluded, “It is known that he suffered from brain fever.”
The beating may have involved alcohol consumption, according to an 1872 article by Eugene Didier. In Didier’s account, Poe is said to have wandered chaotically in the street in an inebriated state after drinking champagne. He was then “robbed and beaten by bandits”.
Some say he was the victim of electoral fraud
Cooping was a scheme used at election time that involved voters being kidnapped, beaten and forced to vote multiple times for a particular candidate.
In 1842, the Weekly Globe reported that the presidential election included “bribing, harassing and kidnapping voters, especially those found drunk.”
One cooping victim, Peter Fitzpatrick, reported that the bandits “gave me two blows on the head and two on the knees to make me drink alcohol.”
Coincidentally, Poe was found near a polling station on election day.
Poe’s legacy, a world full of mysteries
To prevent their victims from being recognized, the bandits I told you about earlier used to disguise themselves, often changing their clothes.
The combination of beating, alcohol, and kidnapping could easily have caused Poe’s demise, and explains even the clothes he was wearing, the ones that didn’t belong to him.
Even so, even the cooping theory can’t explain everything, since Poe was a well-known figure in Baltimore, so he would most likely have been recognized if he had voted more than once.