January 18, 2012

Tradition of drinking to celebrate the life of writer who died after collapsing in a bar comes to sad end


It’s one of the longest lasting vigils in literary history, and it’s about to end: Organizers have announced that this year’s vigil at the gravesite of Edgar Allan Poe on the occasion of his birthday—January 19th—will be the last.

As Sarah Brumfield details in an Associated Press wire story, every year dating back to perhaps the 1940s—no one’s really sure—“an anonymous man dressed in black with a white scarf and wide-brimmed hat” would arrive at Poe’s Baltimore gravesite at midnight on the 19th, raise a toast, and leave three roses and a bottle of cognac on the grave.

>But now, the man dubbed the “Poe Toaster” has failed to appear for two years in a row, and so fans who usually observed the ritual from the nearby Poe House and Museum have announced this year’s vigil will be the final observance of the tradition.

 According to the report,

Poe House and Museum curator Jeff Jerome, who has kept watch for the “Poe Toaster” since 1978, believes that it’s Poe’s suffering and his lifelong dream to be a poet that people still relate to. While the midnight tribute has a touch of the theatrical, it’s also an honest expression, Mr. Jerome said. Wherever he travels in the world, he said when people find out what he does, they want to know whether the “Poe Toaster” is real.

“It’s such an innocent, such a touching tribute,” Mr. Jerome said.


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives