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The Strange Tale of the Poe Toaster

January 19, 2015

For over six decades, a mysterious figure visited the grave of Edgar Allen Poe every year on his birthday. Why? We wish we knew.

Edgar Allan PoeEdgar Allen Poe remains one of history’s most influential writers. He’s the mind behind The Raven and The Tell-Tale Heart, and is widely credited for helping create science fiction and the detective novel. He packed a lot in before he died at just 40 in 1849.

Over a century later, the legendary Poe still has lots of fans, one of who is a legend himself. Beginning sometime in the 1930s, a mysterious individual, presumably male, began visiting Poe’s original gravesite in Baltimore’s Westminster Hall and Burying Ground every year on January 19th (the author’s birthday). Later dubbed “The Poe Toaster,” the man began a tradition that involved sneaking into the cemetery in the dead of night while dressed in black clothes, a wide-brimmed black hat, and a white scarf. Upon arriving at Poe’s grave, the toaster would always place three roses beside it in a particular order before opening a bottle of cognac. After toasting Poe with a glass, the man would then place the bottle next to the grave before disappearing back into the night. In the years that followed, the toaster kept his tradition alive. Some years he covered his face with a scarf or hood. Other times he brought a silver-tipped cane with him. He also left behind the occasional note, many of which contained riddles or cryptic messages.

Why was he doing this? What did it all mean? Some theorized that the roses had a hidden message and might have been intended to honor the author’s wife and mother-in-law. Countless others even made the trek to Baltimore to see if they could catch a glimpse of the toaster in action.

On January 19th, 1990, a reporter from Life managed to capture a photo of the toaster. Three years later, the toaster left a note behind stating that he was retiring but that “the torch will be passed.” His replacement was a bit strange and his stint as the Poe Toaster was marked by peculiar notes about the Iraq War and the 2001 Super Bowl (which featured, appropriately enough, the Baltimore Ravens).

In 2006, a group of fans attempted to intercept the toaster but failed. Four years later, he didn’t show up. Four “faux toasters” attempted to keep the tradition going in 2011 but were determined to be fakes by Jeff Jerome, the former curator of a local museum devoted to Poe. Sadly, the real toaster hasn’t put in an appearance since 2009. Jerome declared the tradition “dead” (or nevermore) in 2012.

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