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  • Karen Lee Street

A Mysterious, Untimely End

Edgar Allan Poe died 168 years ago today on 7 October 1849 in Washington University Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland.

Litho­graph of the Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity Hos­pital in the year 1859.

Poe was found delirious in the street outside Gunner's Hall, an Irish tavern, on 3 October. His friend Joseph Snodgrass was summoned at Poe's request; Snodgrass had Poe taken directly to the hospital.

Poe normally took great care of his appearance and was meticulous in his dress even when in dire financial straits. He was found wearing clothes that clearly were not his own, but still clutching his malacca cane.

Snodgrass stated that: "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, without a band, and soiled; his coat, of commonest alpaca, and evidently "secondhand"; his pants of fray-mixed cassimere, dingy and badly fitting. He wore neither vest nor neckcloth, if I remember aright, while his shirt was sadly crumpled and soiled." (1)

Poe was also unwashed, ill-kempt, incoherent, and "stupified with liquor".

Dr. John Moran tended Poe in the hospital and stated that he was unconscious for the first ten hours, then upon regaining consciousness had hallucinations and suffered from tremors. He thought his wife Virginia was still alive. On Saturday 6 October he began to call out for "Reynolds" up until two hours before his death. It's not clear who it was he was calling for.

He died at at 5 A.M.

There are numerous theories about what caused his death, ranging from rabies to hypoglycemia and alcohol poisoning, or a brain tumour. No theory has been proven. It is also not clear whether he had fallen hard off the wagon as Snodgrass believed or was a victim of the not uncommon practice of 'cooping' when a victim is plied with drink and drugs, then forced to vote (often numerous times) in an election, such as the one that was taking place in Baltimore when Poe was there.

A sad and mysterious end to a great talent.

(Gustave Doré)

(1) Thomas, Dwight & Jackson, David K. The Poe Log.

Quote from: Snodgrass, Joseph. "The Facts of Poe's Death and Burial," Beadle's, 3 (March 1867)

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