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Editor’s View: Happy belated birthday, Mr. Poe

Last Friday, Jan. 19, would have been the 215th birthday of the man considered the father of the detective story, Edgar Allan Poe.

Born in 1809 in Boston, Mass., Poe led a tragic life, dying at age 40 after being found incoherent and dressed in someone else’s clothes near Gunner’s Hall Tavern in Baltimore, Md.

He was the son of actors David and Elizabeth Poe, and his father abandoned the family a year after his birth. When his mother died a year later, Poe was taken in by relatives John and Frances Allan of Richmond, Va.

Poe moved to Philadelphia in 1838 and, at one point, lived at 532 N. Seventh St., now a National Historic Landmark.

The author of “The Raven” (1845), “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839), “The Tell Tale Heart” (1843), “The Black Cat” (1843), “Annabelle Lee” (1849) and “The Cask of Amontillado” (1846), to name just a few of his literary works, Poe was also an editor and literary critic.

I am still haunted by Poe’s short story “The Cask of Amontillado,” which I had to read in high school.

The death of Fortunato, buried alive by Montresor behind a wall in his home, sends chills up my spine to this day.

Other equally well-known mystery and horror writers, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of great detective Sherlock Holmes, recognized Poe for his writing talents. He called Poe’s stories a “model for all time.”

Noted horror writer Stephen King said “Poe’s stories are wonderful, and they still stand up. They’re as readable now as they were when I first encountered them in my teens.”

Perhaps Poe’s greatest mystery, however, are the circumstances surrounding his own death.

Found semiconscious by Joseph W. Walker Oct. 3, 1849, Poe was taken to Washington Medical College, where he died four days later. Theories abound to this day as to the cause of Poe’s death.

From alcoholism to drug use, to syphilis, to carbon monoxide and rabies, this is one Poe mystery that might never be solved.

However, the one hypothesis I find most interesting, especially with various presidential primaries being held over the next few months, was put forth in 1872 by John R. Thompson.

Gunner’s Hall Tavern, where Poe was found, was also the Fourth Ward Polls. Political gangs would make voters cast their ballots for a particular candidate by beating them, keeping them in a “coop,” forcing them to drink and changing their clothes so they could vote over and over again.

This electoral fraud, known as cooping, was prone to violence and murder.

As Poe was found Oct. 3, 1849, an Election Day for Maryland voters to choose their Congressional representatives, I believe cooping is a distinct possibility as the cause of his death.

Let us all hope this type of electoral fraud doesn’t make a resurgence, especially with today’s political climate.

Deb Palmieri


Parkland Press

Northwestern Press