What happened to the Baltimore “Poe Toaster”? That’s the question on many people’s minds here in Charm City.
For more than 50 years, a mysterious figure has appeared at the grave site of Edgar Allen Poe at Westminster Hall and Burying Ground here in Maryland on the poet’s birthday.
The strange visitor, usually wearing black and carrying a cane, has left flowers and raised a glass of cognac to Poe at each visit. In 1998, a new but still unknown person is believed to have taken over for the original Poe Toaster, but the tradition was carried on.
This year, he (or she) was a no-show.
This is the first time since January 19, 1949 that the person failed to make an appearance, says Jeff Jerome, curator of the Edgar Allan Poe House.
“I was very annoyed,” he said.
“I’ve been doing this since 1977, and there was no indication he wasn’t going to show up,” Jerome said.
The Poe Toaster usually shows up between midnight and 5:30 a.m. Jerome arrived at 10:30 p.m. because one time the toaster left his offerings at 11:30 p.m.
He sometimes kneels at the tombstone or puts his hands on it, Jerome said. “There’s no elaborate ceremony — it’s very short and touching,” he said.
It’s interesting to note that 2009 was was the bicentennial of Poe’s birthday. Could that have marked the end of the tradition? Perhaps. But there is another theory.
Rafael Alvarez, President of the Baltimore Poe Society told WBAL Radio that he has a theory about why the mystery guest failed to appear this year. He thinks that person died last week.
Alvarez says e-mails have been circulating for the past several hours pointing to the late David Franks of Baltimore as the Poe Toaster. Franks was found dead in his Baltimore apartment last week. He had been a writer, performer and poet in Baltimore for many years.
“It fit David’s love of the prank and the practical joke. And particularly stunts that involve sort of high literary high-wire acts,” says Alvarez.
He adds that Franks also wore the same type of clothes that the Poe Toaster wore and he also matched the physical description. “David had quite the late 19th century English dandy flair for scarves, gloves, and various caps. It would not be unusual for David to don a cape if the situation called for it,” says Alvarez.
Edgar Allen Poe was famous for his macabre poems and short stories including “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, and “The Pit and the Pendulum”.
He died Oct. 7, 1849, in Baltimore at the age of 40 after collapsing in a local tavern.
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