Saturday, January 10, 2009

Poe's Mysterious Death

The death of Poe himself is as sordid and mysterious as one of his grimmer stories. After disappearing for several days, he was found delirious and wearing someone else's clothing in a Baltimore saloon, muttering the name "Reynolds," whom no one has ever identified. Brought to a hospital, he died after four days.

Trutv Crime Library has an exhaustive article on "The Murder of Edgar Allan Poe," giving several theories about how he died, including the possibility that he was the victim of an election-rigging practice known as cooping:

...[G]angs of men picked up or even carried off by force, men whom they found in the streets - and transported them to cellars in various slums of the city, where they were kept under guard, threatened, maltreated if they attempted to escape, often robbed, and always compelled to drink whiskey [sometimes mixed with other drugs] - until they were stupefied and helpless.

At the election these miserable wretches were brought up to the polls in carts or omnibuses, under guard, and made to vote the tickets in their hands [repeatedly at different voting places]. Death from the ill-treatment was not very uncommon. The general belief here is that Poe was seized by one of these gangs - "cooped," stupefied with liquor, dragged out and voted [again and again], then turned adrift to die.

Some proponents of the "cooping" theory state that the gang members may have changed Poe's clothes so that he wouldn't be recognized by those running the elections, in case he was brought to a specific voting place more than once or possibly Poe's fine clothing was taken and sold by the thugs.

While death may have been a possible side effect of "cooping," death was not the primary intent, and those involved in such practices may have been guilty of unintentional homicide.

The article points to other possible homicide theories as well. The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore has an article that includes these, as well as the possibility that Poe was suffering from some sort of disease. Tuberculosis, epilepsy, and diabetes have all been named as potential culprits. In 1996, a doctor published a paper theorizing Poe had died of rabies, based on an account of Poe's end that described how he had difficulty swallowing water. The article takes issue with the doctor's research however, and says Poe did in fact drink a substantial amount of water before the end.

Poe was a heavy drinker, and alcohol could have easily brought about his end. But at the time of his death, he seemed to have sobered up. That plus the missing time, the changed clothing, and the mysterious Reynolds cast some doubt on what really killed Edgar Allan Poe.

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