Poe Toaster

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The Poe Toaster visits the marker for Poe's original grave in Baltimore, MD every January.

The Poe Toaster is the unofficial nickname given to a mysterious figure who pays an annual tribute to American author Edgar Allan Poe by visiting the author's original grave marker on his birthday, January 19. Though many gather annually to watch for the toaster and his yearly visit is supported by the Edgar Allan Poe Society, he is rarely seen or photographed. His identity has never been revealed to the public.

The original toaster visited the tomb yearly between 1949 and his death in 1998, after which time the tradition was left to "a son". Some have been offended over controversial statements made in notes left at the tomb by the new toaster, and in 2006 several people proceeded to break into the cemetery in an unsuccessful attempt to accost and identify him.


[edit] Biography

[edit] Origins

The unexplained tradition began in 1949, a century after Poe's death, and has occurred on the author's birthday (January 19) of every year since. In the early hours of the morning on that date, a black-clad figure, presumed to be male, with a silver-tipped cane enters the Westminster Hall and Burying Ground in Baltimore, Maryland. The individual proceeds to Poe's grave, where he or she raises a cognac toast. Before departing, the Toaster leaves three red roses and a half-bottle of Martell cognac on the grave.[1] The roses are believed to represent Poe, his wife Virginia, and his mother-in-law Maria Clemm, all three of whom are interred at the site. The significance of the cognac itself is unknown. However a note left by Poe's grave, after it had become apparent that the toaster was a different person, indicated that the bottle was still being left to respect family tradition.[2] Many of the bottles left behind have been taken and stored by the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore.

The Toaster wears a black coat and hat, and obscures his or her face with a scarf or hood. A group of reporters and Poe enthusiasts are usually on hand to observe the event. Generally, none have attempted to interfere with the Toaster's entry, tribute or departure or to identify the individual out of respect for the tradition (and, perhaps, the mystery).

[edit] Death of the original toaster

Cognac found at Poe's grave on January 19, 2008, likely left by an imitator

On several occasions, the Toaster has left notes in addition to the usual tribute. Some of these are simple expressions of devotion, such as one that read "Edgar, I haven't forgotten you." In 1993, a cryptic note was left at the grave saying, "The torch will be passed."[3] This led to the theory that the original toaster was ill or dying. In 1999, a note was left stating that the original Toaster had died in 1998, conveying the tradition to "a son".[2] Subsequent witnesses to the tradition have noted the current Toaster to be an apparently younger individual.

[edit] Controversy over statements by the new toaster

In 2001, days before the Baltimore Ravens were to play against the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, a note was left saying "The New York Giants. Darkness and decay and the big blue hold dominion over all. The Baltimore Ravens. A thousand injuries they will suffer. Edgar Allan Poe evermore." The news of the note's content caused a minor furor for several reasons. Never before had the Toaster commented on current events such as sports, and no one could explain why the Toaster would not favor the Baltimore Ravens, whose team name was inspired by "The Raven," Poe's most famous poem. The prophecy (which was a play on the last line of "The Masque of the Red Death": "And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all") never was fulfilled: Baltimore won the Super Bowl, 34-7.

In 2004, the Poe Toaster appeared to take a dig at the French;[2] the note discovered among the roses stated "The sacred memory of Poe and his final resting place is no place for French cognac. With great reluctance but for respect for family tradition the cognac is placed. The memory of Poe shall live evermore!" Many interpreted this as a condemnation of France's opposition to the war in Iraq.

In 2006, several onlookers gained entry into the graveyard in an attempt to accost and identify the Poe Toaster. This is considered to be due to feelings that the tradition had been sullied by the current toaster, believed to have replaced the original Poe Toaster in 1999. Jeff Jerome, curator of the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum, was present (as he has been at every appearance of the Poe Toaster since 1976), and was quoted in press reports expressing his disappointment that the solemn occasion had thus been disrupted.

[edit] Recent events

In 2007 around 60 people showed up for the Toaster's visit, making it the largest turnout recorded up to that time. In a radio interview, Jeff Jerome of the Poe House and Museum said that he was very pleased at the turnout and how the attendees handled themselves compared to the previous year. He also stated that this is an internationally recognized tradition as people from Japan have come to observe the annual visit from the Toaster.

On August 15, 2007, the Baltimore Sun broke the story that 92-year old Sam Porpora claimed that he had started the Poe Toaster tradition.[4] Porpora, who had been given the title of historian for the Westminster Church in the late 1960s, claimed that he started the tradition to reinvigorate the church and its congregation. In 1967, Porpora says, he made up the whole story when he told a reporter that the tradition dated back to 1949, though the article to which he refers actually was printed in 1976.[5] Jeff Jerome, of the Edgar Allan Poe Society, however, says the tradition was real and that the earliest newspaper article about the Poe Toaster dates back to 1950, predating Porpora's claims that he made it up in 1967.[6] Porpora's daughter said she had never heard of her father's actions but that it fit in with his mischievous nature.[4] After further research, Jerome said that, "There are holes so big in Sam's story, you could drive a Mack truck through them."[7] Jeff Savoye, another officer in the Edgar Allan Poe Society, also questions his claims.

In 2008, according to Jerome, nearly 150 gathered to watch the Poe Toaster.[8]

2009 marked the 200th anniversary of Poe's birth; despite this milestone, the crowd was smaller than in past years, and the Toaster left no note. [9]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] Further reading

  • Rowlett, Curt (2006). Labyrinth13: True Tales of the Occult, Crime & Conspiracy, Chapter 5, The Tale of the Poe Toaster. Lulu Press. ISBN 1-4116-6083-8.

[edit] External links

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