Monday, October 30, 2006

The cognac on Poe's grave

It’s good, on the eve of Halloween, to reflect that I now live in the state where Edgar Allan Poe is buried -- in the old Westminster Hall cemetery at Fayette and Greene streets in Baltimore.

I visited Poe’s grave once, as we all do, and took the tour, but I had forgotten about the famed annual bottle of brandy until Ed Hendricks, the Catholic chaplain at Frostburg State University, reminded us of it last week during our book-club meeting. (I don't remember how the subject came up, but it wasn't because we were being served brandy, worse luck.) According to the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore:
Since 1949, on the night of the anniversary of Poe's birth [Jan. 19], a mysterious stranger has entered this cemetery and left as tribute a partial bottle of cognac and three roses on Poe's grave. The identity of the stranger, referred to affectionately as the Poe Toaster, is unknown. The significance of cognac is uncertain as it does not feature in Poe's works as would, for example, amontillado. The presumption for the three roses is that it represents the three persons whose remains are beneath the monument: Poe, his mother-in-law (Maria Clemm) and his wife Virginia. Out of respect, no attempt is made to stop or hinder him.
Or her, or them. Surely the 57-year tradition is kept going by a number of people, for tourism purposes if nothing else. Why did it start in 1949? Presumably because that year marked the centennial of Poe’s death in 1849.

Thinking about Poe is appropriate this time of year not just because of Halloween but also because of the longstanding (if unprovable) theory that Poe died as the result of abuse by political gangs on Election Day in Baltimore. More on that here.

No comments: