Mysterious “Poe Toaster” Fails to Appear!

Poe's Gave

[This article first appeared in the Bump in the Night Ghost Report edited by Troy Taylor of American Hauntings and is republished here with permission.]

By Troy Taylor

On January 19, a date that marked the 201st birthday of legendary mystery and horror author Edgar Allan Poe, a tradition was broken that began more than sixty years ago. For the first time since 1949, the mysterious “Poe Toaster” failed to appear to leave roses and cognac on Poe’s grave in the old Western Burial Grounds in Baltimore. The event has become a pilgrimage for Poe fans, many of whom travel for hundreds of miles to be there between midnight and 5:00 a.m., when the Toaster traditionally appears. So, what happened in 2010?

“I’m confused, befuddled,” said Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House and Museum, and the man most linked to the tradition over the past couple of decades. “I don’t know what’s going on.”

At 5:30 a.m., Jerome had emerged from inside the church, where he and a select group of Poe enthusiasts keep watch over the graveyard, and announced to the crowd that the visitor never arrived. Jerome said the Poe toaster has always arrived before 5:30 a.m. There was still a chance the visit could occur later in the day, but Jerome said he doubted the person would risk a public unveiling by performing the task in daylight, when other visitors could be there. January 19 came and went and the Poe Toaster never arrived.

The tradition of the Poe Toaster began in 1949, honoring the legacy of Edgar Allan Poe, who died under mysterious (and still unsolved) circumstances in Baltimore in 1849. The tradition became one of the most enduring mysteries of the graveyard where Poe was laid to rest.

Edgar Allan Poe

The man began to appear under the cover of darkness one hundred years after Poe’s death. Whoever this strange figure may be, he is always described in the same way. Dressed completely in black, including a black fedora and a black scarf to hide his face, he carries a walking stick and strolls into the cemetery every year on January 19, the birth date of Edgar Allan Poe. On every occasion, he has left behind a bottle of cognac and three red roses on the gravesite of the late author. After placing these items with care, he then stands, tips his hat and walks away. The offerings always remain on the grave, although one year, they were accompanied by a note, bearing no signature, which read: “Edgar, I haven’t forgotten you.”

Not only as the Toaster’s identity a riddle, but scholars and curiosity-seekers remain puzzled by the odd ritual he carries out and the significance of the items he leaves behind, too. The roses and cognac have been brought to the cemetery every January since 1949 and yet no clue has been offered as to the origin or true meaning of the offerings.

The identity of the man has been an intriguing mystery for years. Many people, including Jeff Jerome, the curator of the nearby Edgar Allan Poe house, believe that there may be more than one person leaving the tributes. Jerome himself has seen a white-haired man while other observers have reported a man with black hair. Possibly, the second person may be the son of the man who originated the ritual. In 1993, the original visitor left a cryptic note saying, “The torch will be passed.” A later note said the man, who apparently died in 1998, had handed the tradition on to his sons.

Regardless, Jerome has been quoted as saying that if he has his way, the man’s identity will never be known. This is something that most Baltimore residents agree with. Jerome has received numerous telephone calls from people requesting that no attempt ever be made to approach the man.

For some time, rumors persisted that Jerome was the mysterious man in black, so in 1983, he invited seventy people to gather at the graveyard at midnight on January 19. They had a celebration in honor of the author’s birthday with a glass of amontillado, a Spanish sherry featured in one of Poe’s horror tales, and readings from the author’s works. At about an hour past midnight, the celebrants were startled to see a man run through the cemetery in a black frock coat. He was fair-haired and carrying a walking stick and quickly disappeared around the cemetery’s east wall. The roses and cognac were found on Poe’s grave as usual.

Not in an effort to solve the mystery, but merely to enhance it, Jerome allowed a photographer to try and capture the elusive man on film. The photographer was backed by LIFE Magazine and was equipped with rented infrared night-vision photo equipment. A radio signal triggered the camera so that the photographer could remain out of sight. The picture appeared in the July 1990 issue of LIFE and showed the back of a heavyset man kneeling at Poe’s grave. His face cannot really be seen and as it was shadowed by his black hat. No one else has ever been able to photograph the mysterious man again.


The Mysterious Toaster?

With each year that passes, the mystery remains and as January 19 comes around, Poe devotees gather at the old burial ground to see the man in black as he leaves his annual gift at the original grave of one of America’s greatest writers.

In 2010, they gathered again, only to be disappointed. “People will be asking me, ‘Why do you think he stopped?'” Jerome said. “Or did he stop? We don’t know if he stopped. He just didn’t come this year.”

Perhaps the most logical answer to this new baffling question is that the Bicentennial of Poe’s birth, an event widely celebrated last year, marked a good stopping point for the mysterious ritual. Since the first roses and cognac bottle were laid on Poe’s resting place one hundred years after his death, then perhaps the final tribute was paid two hundred years after his birth. No one can say… It remains as puzzling as what started the ritual in the first place and who the men are behind the events.

And perhaps this is for the best. Poe lived and died with a great many mysteries himself. Maybe it’s fitting that the “Poe Toaster” is just one more enigmatic chapter to the mystery of Edgar Allan Poe.

© Copyright 2010 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.

2010 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

One Response to “Mysterious “Poe Toaster” Fails to Appear!”

  1. This is a wonderful piece on Poe, I love it. I will have to come back often to read all of your work. Light & Great Writing.

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