a picture of Allan Poe

a picture of Allan Poe

On October 7th, 1849, in Baltimore, Maryland in the United States of America, author Edgar Allan Poe left his fiancé Elmira Shelton in Richmond, Virginia, and went to New York where he was planning to meet up with some family. He stopped in Baltimore, and ten days after that, he had died.

Edgar and His Life

Edgar met with friends on September 28th, but no one knows what happened after that. On October 3rd, it was election day. Joseph W. Walker, a compositor for the Baltimore Sun, found Edgar outside an Irish pub called Gunner’s Hall. Edgar was impossible to understand—completely incoherent, not dressed very well, and was acting drunk. Joseph knew who he was, so he asked Edgar if he had anyone in the area who could help him.

Edgar told him about a man named Joseph Snodgrass, so Joseph Walker wrote Snodgrass a note that read, “Dear Sir, There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, and he says he is acquainted with you, he is in need of immediate assistance. Yours, in haste, Joseph W. Walker.”

Snodgrass later mentioned the terrible state that Edgar was in, including his clothes, which Edgar was typically picky about. “His hat—or rather the hat of somebody else, for he had evidently been robbed of his clothing, or cheated in an exchange—was a cheap palm-leaf one…his coat…evidently ‘second-hand’; his pants…dingy and badly fitting…while his shirt was sadly crumpled and soiled.”

His Final Days

Edgar was taken to Washington Medical College Hospital. Three days later, he was even more delirious than before and he died on October 7th. At the time his death was considered to be from a “congestion of the brain.” So, no official autopsy was performed. The next day, on October 8th, his rushed burial took place. It was attended by only a few people.

The first theory believed by some was that he had been drunk. Combined with some health issues he had been dealing with, led to his death. The problem with this theory was that a few months before his death, Edgar had been attending meetings of the temperance movement and had chosen to give up alcohol. Because he had been known to struggle with it before, some people believe that drunkenness wasn’t the cause.

Dr. John Moran, who treated Edgar on October 6th and 7th, wrote in a memoir forty years after Edgar’s death and said, “Edgar Allen Poe did not die under the effect of any intoxicant, nor was the smell of liquor upon his breath or person.” He said that Rufus Griswold, a rival of Edgar’s, started the rumors that he had died from drunkenness.

Changing His Tune

But one of Edgar’s cousins said that Dr. John’s change in statement of what happened to Edgar made no sense. “It positively contradicts the statement made to me personally by the Doctor.”

Still, drunkenness doesn’t explain the odd clothing he had been wearing. Since he had been found at a polling station for an election, some people believe that he had been kidnapped by gang members, force-fed alcohol, dressed in disguises, and made to vote for a specific candidate, as had been done to many others at the time.

But no one knows for sure whether Edgar Allen Poe was murdered or just died from a tragic accident or drunkenness.