Edgar Allan Poe: An Enigma in Life and Death
Edgar Allan Poe was born Edgar Poe on January 19, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. He never got to know his birth parents, Elizabeth Arnold-Poe and David Poe Jr. He would never get to know his siblings, William or Rosalie, as they grew up either. They had been traveling actors and had given Edgar up for adoption at the age of three after the death of his mother. He was taken to the home of John Allan, a well-off tobacco merchant in Richmond, Virginia. His wife, Francis, took the boy in eagerly and showered him with love. Edgar developed a deep bond with his adoptive mother throughout his childhood. John Allan was a different story, though.
Relations between Edgar and his adoptive father would be tense for the rest of John’s life. His middle name, Allan, did come from the man that took him into his home, though. It would seem that John Allan only took the boy in at the urging of his wife. Unable to have children of her own, Edgar seemed like a perfect solution to that problem. Nonetheless, he had a stable childhood and never worried or wanted for a thing growing up with the wealthy Allans.
While little is known about his childhood today, it is known that by the age of thirteen he was already writing. This would be the age that he would start writing the first of his poetry. While Francis was ever-supportive, John didn’t care for his writing at all. John wanted to see Edgar take over his business and run it when he no longer could one day. He openly and outwardly discouraged Edgar writings. It’s reported that Edgar even wrote poetry on the back of John’s business papers on one occasion, infuriating him. Through John’s frustrations he still paid for special tutoring for Edgar that helped him gain entry into the University of Virginia on February 14, 1826.
Another well known part of Edgar’s young life was his childhood sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster. They had been neighbors as they grew up and developed a romance in their teens. Edgar was deeply in love with Elmira and wanted to marry her one day. Born sometime in 1810, she was just a year older than her young love interest. Poe went off to the university and Elmira stayed behind. She was supposed to wait for him, but that didn’t happen. When he came back home to get money from his adoptive father to pay off his debts he found out that Elmira had become engaged to another man. Edgar was devastated.
After this emotional blow he gave up on school, tried working for John and quit, and then moved to Boston, his place of birth. Before his first experience with heartbreak he excelled in his classes at the university, though. He studied ancient and mondern languages and his particular kind of genius aided him greatly. He would read ahead in class and memorize everything, then was able to recite it back word for word seemingly unprepared. Even while writing on the side he still managed to take up honors on his final exams in French and Latin. His professors for both classes cited him for excellence.
He also joined the Jefferson Literary and Debate Society June 17, 1826. Surprisingly, he didn’t present much of his original work to the literary society. He did, however, like to hold private readings of his own work in his dorm room. Apparently he wasn’t just an amazing writer, he was also almost theatrical when reading his stories to his closest friends. A surviving account from a friend in these gatherings said he would throw his soul into the tellings, raising and lowering his voice where appropriate, speeding and slowing down when needed for effect. He didn’t just give private readings, he gave his friends an experience they would remember for a lifetime.
He was liked by his peers, even if they found some of his behavior a little eccentric sometimes. He earned the nickname, Gaffy while at the University of Virginia and this name would end up following him to West Point years later. He got the nickname when he read a short story for a friend. This friend commented that the hero’s name, Gaffy was in there too many times. With that, Edgar threw his manuscript into the fire. Much to his shigrin, he was referred to as Gaffy by many of his peers after that.
As gifted of a student as Edgar was, he had to leave school on December 15, 1826. John Allan had sent Edgar money for school, but nowhere near enough. He had pleaded with his adoptive father to send more so he could continue his education, but John refused. Edgar first turned to Charlottesville merchants to borrow the money he needed, perhaps hoping John might pay them back. Next, he started gambling to cover his expenses. Before he knew it he was up to his ears in debt, running home for money to pay it all off. This would also be the time he would learn of Elmira’s engagement.
After having to leave school, his adoptive father would put him to work. Edgar was trained as a clerk and worked for John Allan in his counting house. It didn’t take long for this to go south faster than birds before the year’s first snow, though. John had always been an authoritative figuer in Edgar’s life, but working with him was even worse. John stifled him and showed constant and sarcastic contempt for his writings. If only Edgar and John both could sit side by side with a bowl of popcorn in a high school class room as the class dissects The Tell-Tale Heart.
Given his harsh work environment, he secretly looked for other jobs. Wouldn’t you? Yeah, well, when John found out he called his adoptive son an ungreatful wrech before kicking him out the family’s home and thoroughly denouncing him. It was at this point we would see Edgar move to his birthplace of Boston, Massachusetts in the year 1827.
It wasn’t long after he arrived that he enlisted in the Army. He gave his name as Edgar A. Perry and listed his age as twenty-two, though he was just eighteen. He was assigned to the First Artillery Regiment and was stationed at Fort Independance in Boston Harbor. He would remain at Fort Independance through the fall and was relocated in November to Fort Moultrie in South Carolina. He was tasked with preparing shells for artillery in South Carolina and seemed to do well there for three months before his last transfer. Edgar was sent to Fortress Monroe at the entrance to Chesapeake Bay and recieved the highest promotion avalable to him, Sergent Major for Artillery.
He severed two years of his five year term in the Army. Then he abruptly found a suitable replacement for his position as Sergent Major for Artillery and quit. As always, he had his sites set a little higher. He was looking for an appointment to the US Military Academy at West Point. Around this time Francis Allan passed away, urging John to reconcile with Edgar on her deathbed. He did so and used his pull to get Edgar into the Military Academy.
While he did well with his classwork, the physical aspects, hard discipline, and terrible food weren’t for him. Of course, he continued writing poetry, even getting his first publication with Tamerlane and Other Poems while he was still serving with the Army in 1827. Classmates remembered him passing out his poetry for other to read. It was daily reading material for other students of the academy. A surviving stanza ridiculing Joe Locke, the instructor of tactics and inspector of the barracks, reads as such,
John Locke was a very great name:
Joe Locke was a greater in short;
The former was well known to fame,
The latter well known to report.
While he was at the Military Academy he received word that John had illegitimate twins and then married a women twenty years younger than him. He was reasonably worried this meant he would be totally shut out of John’s life. As much of a tyrant as the man had been, he had been the only father figure Edgar had known. Being the royal turd that John Allan was, he wrote Edgar in later part of 1830 to tell him as much. He informed him that he no longer wished to communicate with his foster son. After this getting this shattering letter in the mail Edgar wrote one back. He let loose years of frustration, anger, and resentment that had pent up inside of him.
In this letter, he told the man that was effectively disowning him that he didn’t want to continue his education at West Point. He made it abundently clear that if John, the only person that could, didn’t sign him out of the school then he would find a way to get kicked out. When John never responded to the letter Edgar set about trying to get expelled from West Point. The first term he racked up an astounding 44 offenses and 106 demerits. The next term he managed to top the offender’s list within a month with 66 offenses.
His rumored reason for expulsion is actually quite hilarious. It’s not confirmed, as Edgar was one to embelish from time to time. Having read most of his work, I’m not surprised. It’s said that he showed up for drills wearing his belt, a big smile, and nothing more. According to this story he was promptly expelled from school. The court-martial that followed is not up for debate, we know that happened. Apparently if he did show up naked to drills, it wasn’t worth mentioning at his trial. It may have been around this time that he published his second title, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems.
On January 28, 1831 he was court-martialed at West Point Academy. He was charged with gross neglect of duty and disobedience of orders. Just six months after making it to West Point, Edgar was found guilty of his charges and dischared from US service. He did exactly what he’d told John he would. He got himself kicked out of school.
After he left the US Military Academy he traveled to Baltimore. He arrived in February 1831 and was ready to get back to writing. He got a third book published this year simply called Poems. As a show of support, his fellow cadets at West Point had chipped in 75 cents a piece to help him publish this book. The grand total raised after all of his fans from school donated was $170. For the boys that had helped him out, he included a page just for them that read, ”To The US Corps of Cadets this volume is respectfully dedicated.”
After arriving Baltimore he reconnected with his birth family. The Poes had roots set down in the city starting in 1755. Though he was born in Boston and raised in Richmond, Baltimore was where he felt most at home. When asked later in life he would tell people that he was born there rather than Boston. There’s little wonder why this was the city he would come to love the most. He reconnected with his birth family here, met his cousin, which would become his wife. Before your jaw completely drops, this practice was more common and accepted in Poe’s time. The thing that wasn’t so widely accecpted was her young age at the time of their marriage.
Baltimore would also be the city in which his litarary career would launch. Winning a short story contest in the Baltimore Sunday Visitor, he would soon after aquire his first editorial job. It was also after his move to Baltimore that he would move in with his sick brother William, or Henry as he was known, their paralyzed grandmother, Elizabeth Poe, his Aunt Maria Clemm, and his 9-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm. He would start writing the horror and suspense that we know so well today. Gothic literature was very popular at the time, but oddly his works wouldn’t receive the kind of acclaim that they do today. In his time here Edgar would write the first detective fiction ever published. He wrote The Raven here as well, hence the name of Baltimore’s NFL team, the Ravens.
Edgar’s modest home on Amity Street was only two and a half stories. The five room dwelling was hardly enough space for the five people living there, but they made do. Living right in between two economic downturns, there just wasn’t much money being spent. This made it harder for him and everyone else in the country to earn a living. Edgar was quite literally a starving artist through a lot of his life. He did manage to publish many works while living here, though.
In Edgar’s day a lot of fiction and poetry was read in papers and magazines. Most writers of poetry and short stories would publish their works with these editors. He didn’t just stop at publishing stories and poems, though. He worked for many of these Baltimore papers in editorial capacities of different kinds. He even breifly owned part of a local paper, The Broadway Journal. His first printings or reprintings appeared in The American Keepsake, The Baltimore Book, The Gift, The Irving Offering, The Mayflower, The Missionary Memorial, and The Opal. Additional first printings and authorized reprintings could also be found under titles such as The American Monthly Magazine, The American Museum, The American Review, The Baltimore Saturday Visitor, The Casket, The Columbia Spy, The Flag of Our Union, Godey’s Lady’s Book, The Home Journal, The New York Mirror, The New Mirror, The Pioneer, The Saturday Courier, and the United States Magazine and Democratic Review.
Papers that he was employed with included The Southern Literary Messenger, Burton’s Gentlemen’s Magazine, Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, Graham’s Magazine, The Saturday Museum, The Evening Mirror, and The Weekly Mirror. Yeah, when he got his foot in the door he came in strong. He proved to the literary world that he could write anything. From poetry to short, chilling stories. From reviews and essays to plate articles and editorial filler. Edgar could do it all and was a firm believer in the cause he championed, Art for Art’s Sake. In this day and age critics believed that art served a particular purpose, to edify, propagandize, or teach a moral lesson. Edgar believed that a poem should just be beautiful, even if it teaches or accomplishes nothing else.
Edgar would stay in Baltimore for about two or three years. Because all accounts of his life besides his military career are in question between Edgar’s own embelishments and his literary rivals outright lies some timelines are harder to nail down than others. Obviously, some facts are as well. It would seem his life was happy around this time, aside from one tregedy. At some point during Edgar’s stay John Allan passed away, leaving Edgar out of his will. Nevertheless, he published some of his stories and started his career as an editor.
He bonded with his aunt while living in her home. Maria Clemm would become like a mother to him during his time there. He would also finally get the chance to know his older brother and bond with his cousin, Virginia as well. Edgar’s bother, Henry was also a writer, having published many of his own short stories in papers and magazines himself. He wrote material much like his little brother’s. It unlikely that the suspence and horror genre ran in their blood since that’s the kind of stories papers were looking for at the time. He also bounced back from his loss of Elmira. It’s said that Edgar would send poetry to women he was interested in through his cousin.
He had come to love the city of Baltimore and was likely sad to leave it behind. He had an editorial job waiting for him in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, though. Edgar had thrived as a poet, an editor, and a writer so far, but his job at the Southern Literary Messenger was where he first began writing editorials, reviews, essays, and articles. He actually helped boost the sales of this paper during his time there. He was known by his readers to be a fearless critic so I’m quite sure people were dying to read his next article.
By the time he was 27-years-old he was obviously feeling quite stable. I say this because he moved his Aunt Maria and his cousin, Virginia down to Richmond to live with him. He also had another reason for moving them down there. It’s not clear when, but at some point while living in Baltimore Edgar had developed romantic feelings for his cousin, Virginia. His Aunt Maria had even encouraged the union. On May 13, 1836 Edgar married Virgina. Though they listed her age on the marriage certificate as 21, she was only 13-years-old at the time they married.
His love for Virginia was well known. He would call her ”Sissy” while she referred to him as ”Eddy.” Though they did marry when she was only 13, they didn’t share a marital bed for three years. It’s speculated that the marriage was never even consumated at all. Edgar had promised that he would take care of Maria and Virginia, but found it hard to make a living as a writer. He was really the first person to try to do so. Most people wrote things and had them published, sure, but they also worked to pay the bills. There really wasn’t much money to be made in writing in those days, no matter how good you were.
In 1838 Edgar would relocate his family to Philadelphia and enter the most blissful point of his life reportedly. He was deeply in love with Virgina and was very happy in his marriage, as was she. He also experienced a height in his creativity. He wrote many stories and poems and published them during this point. By all accounts Edgar, Maria, Virginia, and their cat, Caterina were pretty much just living their best lives.
Edgar was finally experiencing some real financial security for the first time in his life. He furnished his home in very nice furniture and a beautiful piano for Virginia to play on. It would be on January 20, 1842 that Virginia was sitting at her piano playing and singing beautifully as she often did. In the middle of her song she began to cough. She tried to continue her song, but her cough wouldn’t stop. Then, she started to cough up blood. Of course, poor Edgar couldn’t have happiness for long.
Virginia would struggle with tuberculosis for the next five years. The small family moved several times, living in five different residences in Philadelphia throughout Virginia’s illness. In their last home in Spring Garden Virginia was well enough to keep up her flower garden and play music for friends on her piano or harp from time to time. She could even sing for her guests on some of their visits with her. In 1844 they would leave Philadelphia and move to New York.
It’s said by some that Edgar started drinking heavily while struggling through Virginia’s illness with her. I’ve also heard from some accounts that Edgar was unable to consume alcohol due to an allergy of some kind, but did still occasionally inbibe. It’s really hard to know, but it’s completely understandable that a man would drink while under the stress of slowly losing his wife. He would make a name for himself in New York despite it all. He wrote his poem, The Raven, inspired by his tradgic circumstances at the time. It was orignally published on January 29, 1845 and it was instantly a success. Not hard to believe if you’ve ever read it.
Though the poem was a hit with everyone that read it, he only made $9 from it. The financial securtiy he had known in Philadelphia was not found again in New York. What he did manage to find in New York was a scandal. He had complimented a female poet, Fanny Osgood during a lecture at a literary salon about the sad state of poetry in America. He said that she was one of the few exceptions. After that, a string of sappy poems went back and forth in publication under thinly veiled pen names. The women of the literary world began to talk of an affair between Edgar and Fanny. Not only was Edgar married to his cousin, Fanny was married to painter, Samuel Osgood.
It‘s thought that Virginia, housebound at this point, may have encouraged a friendship between Edgar and Fanny. Fanny was estranged from her husband when the scandal erupted. Virginia would often invite Fanny to their house believing her a good influence on her husband. Apparently he didn’t drink around her so Virginia would call on Fanny to curb Edgar’s alcohol intake.
Apparently Edgar was just catnip at this time in his life because it’s said that another poet and writer was enamored with him. Her name was Elizabeth Ellet. Edgar kept things professional, publishing her poems to The Broadway Journal, but rejected her advances. He had absolutely no interest in this woman whatsoever. He called her love for him ”loathsome” and wrote that he “could do nothing but repel it with scorn.” It’s safe to say he just wasn’t that into her.
Elizabeth wasn’t one to be ignored, though. She began writing vindictive letters to Virginia saying that Edgar and Fanny were having an affair. These random anonymous letters upset poor, sickly Virginia, but she didn’t really believe them. Elizabeth then showed up at Virginia’s house just to read her a letter from Fanny to Edgar that she claimed had ”fearful paragraphs” in them. Yeah, this lady was a bowl full of drama. She didn’t stop there, though. She took the letter back to Fanny, too.
Seeing how Fanny was already pregnant and worried about her reputation around the city, she didn’t like this much. She sent a couple friends from within her literary circle to Edgar requesting the return of his letters. He simply told these ladies that they were ”busy bodies” and Elizabeth needed to look after her own letters. After this, he took all the letters Elizabeth had sent to him and left them on her doorstep for anyone to find. Thankfully, Fanny’s estranged husband stepped in to put a stop to all of the drama. He threatened to sue Elizabeth Ellet unless she wrote a formal apology to Fanny.
She wrote an apology, alright. Like an overly dramatic ex, she blamed the whole thing on Edgar. She claimed him to be insane and this rumor even got published in papers. His reputation was damaged from his encounter with this woman. The New York literary salons he’d become so popular in after publishing The Raven were now excluding him. After the year 1847 Edgar and Fanny would never see one another again. Elizabeth, however would continue to attack the poor writer and his reputation until he died. Could you imagine this battle today over Twitter?
In the middle of all the scandal life was still moving forward. In 1846 Edgar moved the family into the famous Poe Cottage in Fordham, The Bronx. Poe was broke while in New York. He worked constantly, but was paid little for his writing, whether it was poetry, stories, or articles. Virginia’s condition worsened and by November of that year it had become hopeless. The illness that had already taken so many of his loved ones before was most definitely going to take his wife as well. Her cheeks were flushed, her appetite irregular, and her pulse was unstable. She was suffering with a high fever, night sweats, sudden chills, shortness of breath, chest pains, coughing, and spitting up blood.
Virginia was a tough girl and a special kind of person. Through her struggles it’s said that she wanted to remain happy and she wanted to keep Edgar happy. She told a friend as much when also telling her that she knew she would die soon. Before she passed away she promised her husband that she would be his guardian angel once she was gone. On January 30, 1847 Virginia passed with Edgar at her bedside. She was only 24-years-old. It’s said that he collapsed to his knees the moment she died and became very sick with an irregular heartbeat and depression afterward. He would court other women after her death, but it was said by anyone that knew him that Virginia was his true love and losing her was a difficult blow for him.
After her death he was unable to write anything for months. It’s known that he definitely did drink heavily during this time. Could you blame the poor man? Many that knew him didn’t think he would live long after losing Virginia and the were correct to assume that. He only lived for another two years before he would die under mysterious and strange circumstances.
He wouldn’t stop writing forever, though. Dates to some of his publishings differ from one article to the next, so that along with so much of his life also seems to be obsure at best. All of this together along with his mysterious death make he and his life all the more fascinating. It can be confirmed that his first and only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym was the inspiration behind Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
Some sources say this was the only time that Poe ever lived in New York, but according to Britannica he stayed there for a short time in between his time in Richmond and Philadelphia. This was when he was said to publish such titles as The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. As I said before, this man’s life is shrouded in obscurity.
We can now track him to Rhode Island a year after his wife’s death in January of 1848. He traveled here to court poet Sarah Helen Whitman. They did become engaged briefly, but never went through with the wedding. Almost in Edgar Allan Poe fashion though, he proposed to Sarah in a cemetary. The engagment lasted up until December 23 of that year. Also, in Edgar Allan Poe fashion, he was sitting with her on their final outing and a messenger just so happened to arrive for Sarah as they sat together. She read her letter only to discover it was from Edgar confessing to drinking the night before and that morning too. Since he had promised to never drink again, this was a deal breaker.
She wasn’t bitter over the whole thing, though. Edgar would only live another year, but Sarah would live for another thirty. She would advocate for Edgar’s work throughout her life not just on the national scale, but abroad as well. Not only did she show support long after his death, she even tried contacting him beyond the grave in the later years of her life. It sounds like this engagment had quite an impact on her for the rest of her days.
Now we come to the final year of Poe’s life, which is kind of all over the place. He does a lot of traveling around this time. This is best timeline I can come up with in all of my searches of his final year. At some point in the first half of the year he wrote Hop-Frog. On June 30 he would leave from a stay in New York to visit a friend in Philadelphia. By July 13 he was in his hometown of Richmond staying at the Swan Tavern Hotel. Some time before the fall he joined The Sons of Temperance to stop drinking and gave a lecture on The Poetic Principle. He would stay in Richmond, apparently rekindling his romance with childhood sweetheart, Elmira Royster-Shelton. He didn’t stay for too long though, cause by September 27 he was on the move again back to Philadelphia.
September 30 he boarded the wrong train and ended up in Baltimore instead of back in Richmond with his fiance, Elmira. The next few days are completely unknown, like a lot of this timeline. On October 3 he would turn up in hospital calling for his doctor. He was brought in only half conscious and unable to tell anyone at the hospital anything. By October 7 he was dead and there had been no answers discovered as to his condition or the way in which he was found.
What we do know is that October 3 was a rainy, chilly Election Day. In those days polls were held in bars and taverns and alcohol was given to citizens for casting their vote. Patriotic citizens with the day off from work would cast their votes and get drunk at the polling place, or bar, of their choice. It was outside of one of these polling taverns that Edgar was found by reporter, Joseph W. Walker. He recognized the writer immidately and asked if there were any aquaintances in Baltimore that could be reached. Edgar, only half conscious uttered the name Joseph E. Snodgrass.
It would appear as though Edgar had never even made his appointment in Philadelphia. His time after leaving Richmond had been totally unaccounted for. He had apparently been expected in New York to collect his Aunt Maria to attend his wedding in Richmond. He never arrived there, either. A letter was penned to Snodgrass, a former co-worker at a Baltiomore paper with informal medical training. The next four days of Edgar’s short life was incoherent in his battle between unconsciousness, delirium, and visual hallucinations. He would repeatedly call the name Reynolds in his final days. No one would ever find out who Reynolds was, either.
His cause of death was listed as phrenitis, or swelling of the brain. Over the years many have speculated about his death. From fans to historians, everyone is curious about how a man known to be well dressed even in poverty was dressed in second-hand clothes when he was found. A man known to be neat and clean was disheveled and dirty when discovered outside of a bar. Furthermore, when he had done so well in his sobriety since getting engaged to Elmira, why was he found outside of a tavern delirious and half conscious.
There are many theories and the first of those are that he was beaten up. The first beating theory, posed in 1867, was one of the first theories outside of his listed cause of death and drinking. It was said that he was beaten by a ”ruffian” that didn’t know how else to avenge a woman that he’d hurt. The next theory states that he ran into some old friends from West Point and went out drinking on the biggest drinking day of the year, Election Day. He left the bar inebriated only to be beaten up and robbed by what another person would also call ”ruffians.”
Cooping is another popular theory and also quite plausable. In the 19th century voter fraud was a serious problem and cooping was a major tactic. Gangs, particularly in Baltimore, would abduct unsuspecting citizens, ply them with alcohol, and disguise them before taking them to different polling places to vote for who the gang wanted votes cast for. From place to place, their disguises would be changed and at each bar they were fed more booze. When they were done with their victims they would typically dump them off, drunk, disoriented, and dressed in second-hand clothes that didn’t belong to them. Sound familiar?
The tavern Edgar was found laying in a gutter outside of was a well known polling place for this to happen at. Over time this has become a widely accepted theory and I have to say I agree with it. I think there was something else that ultimately killed him, which we’ll get to. This was very likely the reason for him being found in his state, though.
Alcohol is another prominate theory as he was known to drink heavily after the loss of his wife. It is a well known fact that Edgar couldn’t hold his alcohol. That was the reason for the so-called allergy he was thought to have. It always sounded a lot more to me like a man that just couldn’t hang. While Snodgrass would continue work with the temperance movement telling people Poe died from drinking, this would be disproven later. A sample of his hair was tested and low levels of lead were found, signaling that he had actually stayed sober up until his death.
Carbon Monoxide poisoning is considered a discredited theory. The thought was that the coal gas used for indoor lighting during the 19th century did him in. Another sample of his hair was taken and tested for the heavy metals that would be present if this were the case. The tests were inconclusive and the theory pretty much thought discredited. With so many other stronger theories and no proof, this one just doesn’t hold much water.
Mercury poisening is another theory that has been disproven. Edgar had been exposed to a cholera epidemic in Philadelphia. As a remedy for the exposure his doctor prescribed calomel, or mercury chloride. It was thought that maybe Edgar had been experiencing mercury poisoning. Though his delrium and visal hallucinations fit the bill for mercury poisening, his hair didn’t reveal a high enough level of mercury for that to be a possibility.
Rabies became a theory in kind of an unlikely way. It was during a clinical pathologic conference in 1996, where doctors are given patients and lists of symptoms to figure out alongside other doctors. Dr. Benitez was given a file for anonymous patient E.P. After little debate he diagnosed this case as being rabies. He thought it was more than obvious what he was looking at. He would find out later that he had in fact diagnosed Edgar Allan Poe with something no one had ever thought of before.
The diagnosis was actually wasn’t out of left field for historians, either. There were a lot of reported cases of rabies in the 19th century. There are holes in this theory, though, causing it to hold less water. He didn’t appear to have a bite that anyone saw and he never complained of one. Though, some people don’t recall being bitten at all. He also never displayed a fear of water, a trademark sign a rabies. He was drinking water at the hospital up until his death. There’s also no way to test this theory without DNA.
The strongest theory and the second one I subscribe to is the brain tumor theory. It accounts for all of his symptoms at the hospital and one more detail. After his death the detail was noted by a man moving his body to a more proper grave befitting a literary genius of Poe’s level. Little of his body remained by this point of exhumation twenty years after his death. When his skull was picked up it was quickly noticed that something hard was rolling around inside. At the time it was thought to be his brain.
Today we know that couldn’t be true. The brain is one of the first parts of the body to decay after death. Twenty years after his death his brain was long rotted away, but a tumor would’ve calcified. Today many believe this mass rolling around Edgar’s skull to be the brain tumor that caused all of his symptoms, his disorientation during travel, and his eventual death four days after his discovery.
A terrile flu turned pnuemonia could also be the cause of his death as well. It was reported that he had seen a doctor in Richmond just before his trip. He was very sick and told not to travel in his condition. He didn’t listen and went anyway. Baltimore was very chilly and rainy when he arrived on the wrong train, which could’ve worsened his flu to the point of pnuemonia. It’s also thought this could explain his second-hand clothes as he might have tried to find something warm and dry if his clothes got too wet.
The final and most sensational theory is murder. Elmira’s brothers had never approved of Edgar. Not when they were teenagers, and not in adulthood, either. It’s thought that Edgar actually did make it Philadelphia, but was ambushed by the Royster brothers upon arrival. Scared off by his warning against marrying Elmira, he disguised himself in second-hand clothes and hid in Philadelphia before trying to return to Richmond to marry Elmira anyway. It’s speculated that the Royster brothers headed Edgar off in Baltimore, beat him up, and plied him with liquor until he became deathly ill like they knew he would. This theory has never held much water and Poe historians don’t believe it holds any merit.
So, what happened to Edgar Allan Poe? Was he murdered? Was he cooped? Did he have a brain tumor? Could it just be a two or three of these things all rolled together going against him?
You decide that for yourself based off of the facts produced. Sorry that his life is so scattered and obscure. He was well known to embelish and lie. Not only that but, after his death his literary rivals were the ones writing his biographies. They produced a lot of lies, too. So you decide upon America’s biggest engima yourself.