Edgar Allan Poe’s Mysterious Death

Samuel Reason - December 10th, 2020

Even though he was considered a literary genius, albeit, with the macabre and dark themes, Edgar Poe’s life was largely very short and unhappy. In fact, the mystery of his death is very shrouded and still a big unknown to this day. It was after his young wife Virginia died from tuberculosis in 1842, Poe sought refuge in the love of drink. By 1842, he had proposed to an old childhood sweetheart by the name of Elmira Shelton. But this marriage never happened.

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Poe left Richmond on September 27th, 1849, and by accounts, he should have been on his way to Philadelphia. This is where he was going to marry Shelton. However, over the next few days, his whereabouts are a big question mark. A few days later, he was spotted slumped over in an Irish pub. His friend Dr. Snodgrass was called to check on him given this time his drunken state was much worse than usual. The doctor stated Poe was wearing strange cheap clothes that were not his usual attire. Furthermore, he was very weak as if he had not eaten in days. Poe was immediately sent to a hospital where he woke up a few times, but ultimately never really regained full consciousness. Famously, his last words were Lord help my poor soul.

Even a century later, no one really knows what happened. A death certificate was never filed and a local newspaper said his death was a brain aneurysm. Though historians debate at the time this was just a nicer way of saying alcohol poisoning. And shortly after his death, the main rival writer by the name of Rufus Griswold published Poe’s biography. It depicted Poe as an extremely drunk womanizer with no morals. This is the portrayal that stuck in the public’s mind, which is why Poe’s debaucheries are a thing of legend. It later came about that Griswold had highly exaggerated this part of Poe’s life.

Of course, many theories have come about such as tuberculosis or cholera, or even rabies. But the main theory that many historians believe could hold is that Poe fell afoul of a practice called cooping. This was a corrupt politician move where thugs were paid to round up the homeless. They would drug them, disguise them, and force them to vote over and over again in different towns. Once the voting was done, they would leave them for death to ensure it did not come out. Given Poe’s strange clothing and that there were citywide elections across Baltimore the day he was found – this is a common theory that could be true. Simply a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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