The mysterious figure that left offerings of Cognac and flowers on the grave of Edgar Allen Poe has finally, so it seems, given up his over 30 year tradition of celebrating the birthday of the legendary poet and short story writer. This year marked 200 years since Poe had been born, leading some to speculate that if it was going to end, it was going to end now.
No explanation was ever given to the original “Poe Toaster” who visited the grave every year since from 1949 until he died in 1998. After his death, a successor came and began leaving the roses and cognac. The original was always spotted wearing black from head to toe and carrying a silver tipped cane. After walking to the grave, the figure toasts at Poe’s grave and leaves half a bottle of Martell Cognac and three red roses on his grave.
Those who have watched the ritual for years say the number three is significant as they symbolize the three who are buried there: Edgar Allen Poe, his mother in law Maria, and his beloved wife Virginia. Notes commonly were left at the grave site, usually of a simple nature. In 1993, a note was left saying “The Torch Will Be Passed.” One year later, the figure reappeared, this time apparently much younger. As the figure left that night, he left a note indicating that the original toaster had died. Subsequent toasts were left with notes that were no longer left to Poe himself, but likely to the onlookers and public who watched the toaster from outside the cemetery.
After a time the notes took on political and sports related themes, which detracted from the romantic notion according to some. Still others said it was merely a family tradition to ensure the notes would be placed the full 200 years. Those who scrutinized the letters would say this new note leaver would revel in the controversy and mystery rather than merely generate it. Still, the phenomenon was internationally recognized and on the 19th over 60 people organized outside the graveyard to watch and see if the toaster would make another appearance.
They waited, and no one appeared. By 5:30 in the morning, people were beginning to realize that it wasn’t going to happen. Some say he was sick, or had car trouble, but others say it is the end to the current tradition. Perhaps a new toaster will come to replace the old, or perhaps the tradition will happen nevermore. If there’s one thing we can be certain of, it’s that with or without the toaster Edgar Allen Poe will not be forgotten as one of the most iconic writers of the past 500 years, and some would say longer. With a cult following that thrives even today, Poe is a symbol of tragedy and romance whose verses will ring like a bell’s tintinnabulation, and whose visage will endure no doubt for centuries after his gravestone has been weathered and ground to dust.