The Death of Edgar Allen Poe

Image via Harry Ransom Center

Image via Harry Ransom Center

Cadynce Harmon, Writer

The death of Edgar Allan Poe has been a puzzle to the minds of many for over a century. Poe was famous for his enigmatic works that are still well known to this day. His demise is said to be like one of his stories: mysterious and quite perplexing. There are quite a few theories as to what really happened when he died, some of them more plausible than others. 

Poe was found at Gunners Hall, a public house in Baltimore, by Joseph W. Walker, who described him as “delirious and dressed in shabby second-hand clothes.” Almost a week prior, Poe had left Richmond to travel to Philadelphia to edit a collection of poems for a minor poet, Mrs. St. Leon Loud. His reappearance in Baltimore was the first anyone had seen or heard from him since his departure, and he never made it to Philadelphia. He never regained enough consciousness to tell of what really happened, but on the night of his death, he cried out numerous times for a figure called “Reynolds,” whose identity remains a mystery to this day. 

The first theory is that he stumbled upon a cooping gang. Cooping gangs would kidnap unsuspecting victims, disguise them and force them to vote multiple times for a certain political figure. This theory would explain why Poe was found outside of a polling site, and this particular polling site commonly attracted this type of action. It would also explain why he was found delirious on election day. A letter sent to Poe’s Biographer J.H Ingram explaining why it is believed that Poe was ‘cooped’ stated that he was “stupefied with liquor, dragged out and voted, and then turned adrift to die.” 

The second theory is that he reverted back to his old ways of alcoholism. Poe had become a member of the temperance movement, a movement made to limit the use of alcohol, months before his death. He couldn’t handle alcohol very well, so it is also believed that he drank himself to death. An article entitled Edgar Allen Poe, Drugs, and Alcohol makes strong points that stress separating Poe from his characters. He illustrates his characters to use opium, and they are often written in first person, which results in readers failing to distinguish between Poe and his characters, leaving them to believe that alcoholism was the cause of his death. However, he was avidly against alcohol because he had struggled with it his whole life. There are many other theories, so whether this particular one is true or not, we may never know. 

The death of Edgar Allen Poe is a wild case in itself, let alone the theories surrounding it. It almost seems as if it was a story he wrote about himself, for it’s puzzling and difficult to wrap your head around. The other theories of his death are very interesting, ranging from rabies to poisoning to murder. Edgar Allen Poe just might have become a character out of his own book.