If Edgar Allan Poe were still alive, he would have celebrated his 208th birthday on January 19th of 2017. Sadly, Poe died under mysterious circumstances on October 7th of 1849, aged only 40.
Poe was a very prolific author; he left behind a remarkable legacy of exceptional stories and poems that established him as the master of mystery and the macabre.
Some people chose to honor Poe’s legacy in unique ways. One of them was the anonymous figure who visited Poe’s grave on his birthday for more than 70 years. The anonymous earned the nickname the “Poe Toaster” because of the special celebration of Poe’s birthday he practiced each year.
The Poe Toaster would visit Poe’s original grave in Baltimore, Maryland, before dawn every January 19th. He was dressed in a black coat and wore a white scarf and wide-brimmed black hat. He would bring a bottle of cognac, pour himself a glass, and recite a brief toast to honor Poe’s legacy. He would then leave the rest of the cognac by the gravestone and decorate the gravesite with three red roses.
Many people tried to identify the Poe Toaster, but he (or she) always managed to cleverly escape before being photographed. There are several theories about the identity of Poe’s mysterious admirer, but the facts remain unknown. Almost like a character in some unwritten story, the visitor acquired his own following.
In January of 2009, on the day when Poe would have celebrated his 200th birthday, the original Toaster was seen raising his glass for the last time. Fans of both Poe and the Toaster from all over the world were baffled when he didn’t appear in January of 2010.
Jeff Jerome, the former curator of the Poe House and Museum, suggested that the Poe Toaster specifically chose Poe’s bicentennial birthday to bring the tradition to an end and leave the final three roses.
Since then, imitators have tried to continue the tradition, but nobody has managed to recreate the small celebration with the diligence of the original Toaster.
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In 2015, the Maryland Historical Society decided to carry on the tradition and chose a new person to perform the ritual every year. In order to preserve the tradition properly, the new Toaster will also remain anonymous.