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This episode features descriptions of substance abuse that some might find disturbing caution is advised for listeners under 13.
On a rainy October evening in 1849, a young newspaperman discovered Edgar Allan Poe, the celebrated poet and fiction writer, lay semi-conscious outside a tavern in Baltimore. He was delirious and incomprehensible.
Poe had been missing for days and he wore someone else's shabby clothes. A nearby hospital admitted him for a, quote, lethargy and confusion.
But the 40 year old writer never regained his senses enough to account for his whereabouts or the strange circumstances in which he'd been found.
Four days later, he died. Poe had authored some of the 19th centuries most acclaimed works of American literature like The Raven and The Tell-Tale Heart, many of his fantastical stories involve supernatural presences and grisly murders.
The author blurred the lines between fact and fiction in his stories and even in his own life.
Poe's mysterious demise seemed like something out of his wretched tales.
170 some years later, the exact cause remains a mystery.
Welcome to Conspiracy Theories, a PA cast original every Monday and Wednesday, we dig into the complicated stories behind the world's most controversial events and search for the truth. I'm Carter Roy and I'm only Brandenberg. And neither of us are conspiracy theorists, but we are open minded, skeptical and curious. Don't get us wrong.
Sometimes the official version is the truth, but sometimes it's not.
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This is our first episode on the mysterious death of Edgar Allan Poe. Many historians believe he died due to complications from alcohol abuse, but his last days on Earth are shrouded in mystery, which leaves plenty of room for conspiracies. This episode will focus on the official story of Poe's delirious final days will point out where eyewitnesses disagree about facts, will expose personal bias masquerading as truth, and will reveal the lies of people who attempted to profit from Poe's personal tragedy.
Next time, we'll explore three conspiracy theories that try to make sense of Poe's whereabouts and addled state. First, that Poe was the victim of a beating in Baltimore. Second, that he was murdered by people in his innermost circle. And third, he fell prey to a bygone form of electoral fraud known as a cooping scheme. We have all that and more coming up. Stay with us. You have to have a taste for the dramatic to appreciate Edgar Allan Poe as haunted fiction and poetry in his writings, orangutans commit murder, romances continue beyond the grave, and houses are so full of ghosts that they're practically alive.
The author came by his flair for the theatrical honestly, his parents, Eliza and David Poe, were stage actors, but they struggled to earn a living and the family moved often to follow their work.
Eliza gave birth to her two sons in Boston, first in 1857, King Henry. Then on January 19th, 1889, Edgar Poe entered the world. But by the time Edgar's sister Rosalie was born at the end of 1810, their parents had separated. Edgar's mother, Eliza, became ill that December, she died, presumably from tuberculosis. Days later, his father, David, passed away from an unrelated illness.
The three post siblings went to live with separate families. Edgar was taken in by a wealthy, childless couple, John and Frances Allen of Richmond, Virginia, who baptized him as Edgar Allan Poe.
In January 1812, Poe called the Allens MA and PA, though they never formally adopted him. His bond with Frances was a mutually loving one, but his relationship with his godfather, John, was tumultuous.
This may be because even as a child, Poes, emotions were turbulent, his passionate nature could either send people running or draw them close.
It certainly attracted the attention of his neighbor, Sarah Elmira Royster, who went mainly by Elmira. The two became childhood sweethearts as young adults.
They got engaged before Poe left for the University of Virginia in college, Poe distinguished himself as a spellbinding orator, a clever student and an innovative writer.
His dark, wide set eyes flashed when he spoke, but he only lasted one term. By some accounts, Poe was expelled for unbecoming behavior, namely excessive drinking and gambling.
In reality, how did gamble? But not because he was especially debauches or delinquent. Rather, his wealthy godfather had sent him to school without adequate financial support.
Gambling was a desperate, if ill conceived, attempt to pay his bills.
In any case, Poe went back to Richmond, where he discovered that in his absence, Elmira had accepted a marriage proposal from another man. Her family had persuaded her to partner with a rich businessman. They didn't consider Poe a suitable match due to his low birth and uncertain financial future. Posed access to his godfather's wealth was extremely tentative.
Poe was despondent and ultimately his godfather refused to pay off his gambling debts, outraged the 18 year old, moved in with some relatives in Baltimore. There, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in May of 1827 using the name Edgar Perry.
That same year, Poe's first book of verse, Tamerlane and other poems debuted in Boston without attribution. It sold fewer than 50 copies.
Meanwhile, Poe marched along with his army regiment, but tragedy soon caught up with him. His beloved godmother, Frances, died suddenly in February of 1829. The Army granted him leave to attend the funeral. But by the time Poe arrived in Richmond, his dear mom was already buried.
A few months later, John Allen remarried.
His 30 year old wife, Luisa was just nine years older than her new godson, Poe. From the get go, they competed for John's attention and fortune.
John sided with his new wife and eventually the pair had children, now that John had his so-called legitimate heir, he wrote Poe out of his will for the next few years.
Poe eked out a meager living in Baltimore, writing for magazines and newspapers. Then at age 23, he entered a short story contest sponsored by a local paper. His distinctive handwriting and immaculate cursive caught the attention of a judge, who then marveled at the writer's prose.
Who won the prize of fifty dollars, about 1500 dollars in today's money? The judge, intrigued by the young unknown talent, went to visit DPO at his home. He found him living in squalor. As a skeleton and wearing tattered clothes, but carried himself with the manners of a gentleman.
The judge bought Poe a new suit and introduced him to members of literary society. This was the big break Poe needed.
Things started to look up for the struggling writer, his new found connections landed him a job as the editor of literary magazine in Richmond. With this relative financial security, Poe felt it was time to settle down. And on May 16th, 1836, he married Virginia Klemm, his first cousin.
At the time, marriage between first cousins was legal, so their bloodline didn't raise eyebrows. What did? Russell's petticoats was their age difference. Edgar was 27 on the marriage certificate, Virginia listed her age as 21. In reality, she was only 13 years old. To make this more weird, Poe referred to Virginia as CIS. Some biographers believe this is because they had more of a sibling relationship. It's even suggested that Virginia died a virgin. But others point out that Poe wrote passionate letters to his wife.
In any case, the newly married Post Courier picked up steam in the early 1940s, in this decade, he published some of his most critically acclaimed compositions.
Poe's short story Murders in the Room Morgue is widely considered to be the first modern detective story. He developed a fan base and prestige and universities invited him to give lectures. Even Charles Dickens made a point to meet Poe when he was in Philadelphia on an American tour.
But Poe's fame didn't come with fortune.
The New York Evening Mirror only paid him nine dollars for the first printing of his smash hit poem, The Raven, in 1845. That would be about 250 dollars today. So he continued to work day jobs.
In publishing, Poe held a series of respectable but low paying positions in quick succession, chasing work from city to city, from Richmond to Philadelphia to New York.
According to many sources, he drank heavily during those years and throughout his life, he cycled through periods of strict abstinence, followed by episodes of abuse and out of control behavior.
A friend once wrote that one single glass of champagne would leave Poe neither sane nor responsible. On rare occasions, people drink alcohol mixed with laudanum, a bitter opium tincture, opium made appearances and many of his works of fiction, and Poe often wrote in first person, causing many readers to assume he was describing himself. But despite widespread rumors, Poe was not a known opium addict.
In any case, suppose drinking followed him to New York in the spring of 1846, he brought with him his wife, Virginia, and her mother, his aunt Maria Klemm, they settled in a cottage in what is now the Bronx.
That was the final chapter for Virginia, who had been battling tuberculosis for a few years.
She died in January 1847 at the age of 24, leaving her 38 year old husband, widowed and childless, posed grief over her death, only exacerbated his already mercurial emotions for the next few years.
His writing received mixed reviews. One of his contemporaries remarked that he'd grown too impulsive and erratic.
With his riding at a Crossroads poll looked for other ways to earn a living, he'd long dreamed of establishing a literary magazine of his own and decided to embark on a speaking tour to raise startup capital.
So in the summer of 1849, TPO bid a tearful farewell to his mother in law and set off across the southern states.
But he couldn't outrun his demons. Coming up, we'll follow DPO on an adventure that almost cost him his freedom and his life. Listeners, I have a surprising treat for you.
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Every Wednesday, you can find and follow blind dating free on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Now back to the story. In the summer of 1849, 40 year old Edgar Allan Poe embarked on a speaking tour through the southern United States. He hoped to raise funds for his own literary magazine.
On leaving New York, Poe boarded a southbound steamship, but he didn't go straight to Richmond as planned. Instead, when the steamer made a stop in Philadelphia, Poe walked off the boat and into a tavern.
He drank so heavily that he lost track of his belongings, specifically his traveling trunk, which contained the speech he'd written for his first speaking engagement, his financial lifeline. Later, he was arrested for disorderly behavior and thrown into Philadelphia's Moyar Mensing prison there. His body went into alcohol withdrawal. He experienced horrific visions and physical pain.
Historians can't make a definitive diagnosis, but post symptoms were consistent with delirium tremens. That's a particularly severe condition that can occur when a chronic drinker suddenly goes cold turkey.
Co took his hallucinations to be punishment for his alcoholic tendencies. In a letter to a friend, he described one vision where he was plunged up to his lips into a vat of boiling booze. After a few days, his delusions subsided and the pain abated, a jailer trotted Poe out in front of the mayor for punishment, along with others who'd been arrested for drunken behavior. Someone in the group recognized him as a poet and a respectable gentleman, and the mayor released him with no fines.
Shaken Poe headed straight back to New York, but his hallucination induced paranoia quickly got the better of him. He became convinced that his fellow train passengers were plotting to kill him and return to Philadelphia. He showed up unannounced at a friend's house, pleading for help with shaving off his signature mustache. He thought it would help disguise him from his imaginary death squad.
The friend fed and soothed PO for several days, his nerves calmed down and he located his lost suitcase in storage at the railway station, minus the lecture which had gone missing.
Oh decided to press on to Richmond two weeks behind schedule. By then, his clothes were tattered. He'd lost a shoe and he had to beg acquaintance's for passenger fare.
Now there is an alternative theory for a delayed arrival in Richmond. In several letters proclaim to have come down with cholera to his aunt and mother in law, Maria Klam.
He wrote, I have been so ill, have had the cholera or spasms quite as bad and can now barely hold the pen.
And shortly after arriving in Richmond potholders his business partner, I left New York on my way to this place, but was arrested in Philadelphia by the cholera from which I barely escaped with life.
A cholera epidemic did tear through Philadelphia that summer, but it's highly unlikely that pome ever had it. Instead, he was probably using the disease outbreak to cover up the more embarrassing truth. He was arrested not by cholera, but by the police. Whatever the cause, Paul finally arrived in Richmond. There he had to recreate the lost speech from memory, but he pulled it off and the tour was a resounding success.
Paul was a spellbinding public speaker and he had a way of charming audiences, especially the ladies he had his eye on.
One lady in particular, Elmira Royster Shelton, his childhood sweetheart.
By the time of Poe's visit, she was a widow with two children who was keen to rekindle a romance with the muse of his youth, whose beauty and heartbreak had inspired many of his early poems.
At first, Elmira wasn't interested, but Poe won her over. By late August, they were engaged.
Poe bought a wedding ring for Elmira and shopped for a dress code for himself.
He was a bit of a dandy when it came to his appearance.
Around that time, Poe also joined a temperance league and pledged to abstain completely from alcohol.
By most accounts, the fall of 1849 marked an exceptionally happy period in his life. Things were finally coming together for him after decades of hardship and heartbreak. He'd cemented his status as an internationally celebrated author and his southern lecture circuit had been an unqualified success. He'd marry his childhood sweetheart at last, and he surrounded himself with friends who enjoyed being in the orbit of such a renowned celebrity power wrapped up his tour and planned a quick trip to New York in September.
There, he would pack up his belongings and move them down to Richmond, and he hoped to persuade his mother in law, Maria Klemm, to come with him on the way to New York.
Poe planned to make a brief stop in Philadelphia. He'd been offered the hefty sum of 100 dollars to edit a short poetry collection. Then he'd continue to New York, return to Richmond and start a new life with Elmira.
Sadly, that wasn't in the cards. By some accounts, in the weeks leading up to his trip, Paul was unable to keep his vow of temperance, especially during social visits with Would-Be patrons and subscribers to his literary magazine.
We don't know how extensive these lapses were, whether it was just a glass of sherry here and there or full on drinking sprees. But given what we know about Poe's extremely low tolerance, the difference was razor thin. Poe paid one of his last social calls in Richmond to the Talley family. Susan Archer Talley and 18 year old aspiring poet was a friend of Poe. Sister Rosalie shared somewhat, giddily taken on the role of Poe's protege. Talley described Poe as being full of optimism, she wrote in a letter that on no occasion had I seen him so cheerful and hopeful as that evening.
But Poe could have been putting on a show for the young writer who clearly idolized him. It's possible that his outlook on life wasn't as carefree as he let on.
It's also possible that he was ailing physically but didn't want to trouble his hosts with any private medical concerns, medical concerns like the ones he mentioned to Elmira the next evening.
On the eve of his departure, Poe visited his fiancee to bid her farewell. He complained of feeling feverish and quite sick, and by admire his account, he was very sad that night. She hoped he would delay his journey until he regained health.
But Poe pressed on the two would meet again, never more.
At about half past nine in the Evening Post stopped by the office of his friend, Dr. John Carter, they conversed and perused the newspaper and upon leaving absent mindedly took Dr. Carter's Malacca. Would Cain, instead of his own silver handled walking stick?
Some conspiracy theorists point to the switching of the canes as a crucial clue for their pet theories.
And we'll get to that next time in part two.
In any case, Poe went down the street to have dinner at a popular neighborhood restaurant saddlers. He arrived around 10:00. The owner was pleased to have such a famous patron and sat at post table.
Other friends and acquaintances came by to pay respects. Then around midnight, several patrons left with Poe to see him off on his journey. He boarded his northbound steamship in time for an early morning departure.
Members of the farewell party later described the scene to biographer Susan Archer.
Vice, the very same young poet now married, whom Poe had befriended in Richmond. They said that Poe was, quote, quite sober and cheerful to the last. However, in Dr. Carter's 1932 account of the evening, he said the poem must have left his office and gotten drunk at the restaurant, a sober man would surely have noticed his mistake about the canes. And Poe had plenty of time to correct his error before heading to the docks.
Whatever his state poll left Richmond in the morning hours of September 27th, 1849. He changed boats in Norfolk at 3:00 in the afternoon and arrived in Baltimore, Maryland, on the morning of September 28.
Baltimore was a scheduled stop on the steamships route, perhaps DPO had a good reason to disembark before continuing to Philadelphia for his editing job, but he left no record of what it might have been.
Hundreds of historians and biographers have pored over the next few days of Poe's life, but to little avail. The vast majority of Poe's whereabouts are still unaccounted for.
We know he didn't stay with family, his Baltimore based cousin, Nielsen Poe, wrote in a letter to Maria Klemm that where he spent the time he was here or under what circumstances? I have been unable to ascertain.
And we think that Poe probably tried to call on writer Nathan Covington Brooks. But Brooks was out of town at the time.
It has been widely speculated that Poe was on a drinking spree, meaning his trip north was similar to his departure, this episode on his trip south. But we'll never know for sure. And you'd think that eyewitnesses in Baltimore would have stepped forward one way or another to account for Poe's whereabouts. But no drinking buddies or bartenders materialized.
Somehow, Poe, a fairly public figure with many friends and acquaintances in town, managed to hide in plain sight. Coming up, Poe's final delirious days now back to the story. Edgar Allan Poe, whose life was finally coming together in the fall of 1849, the 40 year old left Richmond, Virginia, for a quick trip to New York. Upon his return, he planned to marry his childhood sweetheart and muse. But somehow his plans got derailed for several days.
His whereabouts were and still are a mystery. The official story picks up again on October 3rd, 1849, 10 days after his initial departure. That's when Joseph Walker, a Baltimore Sun employee, came across the author outside a pub in the rain.
Paul was delirious, incoherent and scarcely able to move. It's also been stated that he was lying in a gutter when Walker found him. But there's nothing to substantiate this detail.
His face was haggard and bloated. Walker asked him if there was anyone in town he could call upon for help. And Poe named Dr. Joseph Snodgrass, a local slavery abolitionist and magazine editor. The two had known one another since Poe had lived in Baltimore a decade earlier. Their association had ended when Snodgrass launched a magazine of his own, supposedly making Poe bitter and envious.
The fact that Poe was willing to bury a decade old hatchet underscores how desperately he needed help. That evening, Walker scribbled a quick letter to Snodgrass. He wrote, There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear who appears in great distress. He is in need of immediate assistance.
Snodgrass received the letter and rushed to the pub. And in his description, Poe, normally a fastidious dresser and particular about his appearance, was a wreck. He noted that Poe's unkempt hair peeked out from under a strange, tattered palm leaf hat, and his face was haggard and unwashed.
As for Poe's clothes, Snodgrass described, quote, a faded and soiled sack coat ripped at several of its seams, pants half worn and badly fitting. He wore neither vest nor neck cloth on his feet were boots, of course, material and giving no sign of having been blacked for a long time, if at all.
Snodgrass guessed that Poe had sold his good clothes and purchased a far lesser set for some reason perhaps to pay a bar tab. His other conjecture was that Poe had been robbed of his clothing altogether. He also observed that pose normally bright, soulful eyes looked vacant.
Some conspiracy theorists use this as evidence that Poe had been drugged or was the victim of a head injury.
To be fair, the part about Poe's vacant eyes was probably a bit of editorializing on Snodgrass. His part. He vocally opposed the consumption of alcohol, which may have led to a snap judgment about what was wrong with Poe.
We don't know why Snodgrass assumed Poe was drunk rather than injured or ill.
A second eyewitness account substantiated the rest of Snodgrass his testimony. This was Dr. John J. Moran. He served as the attending physician at Washington University Hospital, where Walker and Snodgrass took Poe after they discovered him outside the tavern.
To be fair, Moran's credibility would eventually come into question in retirement. He made a buck off Edgar Allan Poe, his demise, lecturing on it nationwide and publishing a book about his experience. The details and Moran's narrative grew more embellished over time, and he frequently contradicted his earlier statements, which were likely the most credible.
Unfortunately, those early statements are disappointingly vague, Moran's notes state that Poe was admitted for lethargy and confusion, which could mean practically anything. There's also no detailed medical chart with a description of Poe's symptoms, making it impossible to know what injuries Poe might have sustained in the hours or days he was missing.
It also makes it difficult to know if he received appropriate care beyond bedrest. But we do know that Washington University Hospital had a less than stellar reputation. Its success rate for operations was so low that many patients chose to die from their illness rather than risk surgery. And that's not even the worst of it. Many locals believe that the hospital removed corpses from graves for various purposes, like dissection. Regardless of the hospital's reputation, Poe had no choice in the matter.
It took him 10 hours to regain consciousness after being admitted. Meanwhile, his caretakers waffled about what diagnosis to give him.
Initially, staff placed Poe in a section of the hospital reserved for the heavily intoxicated. But upon examination, Dr. Muran concluded that Poe wasn't the slightest bit drunk. However, his descriptions of Poe's recovery sound a lot like the alcohol withdrawal Poe went through in Philadelphia. For two days, DPO had tremors, he hallucinated and he chattered non-stop, his pronounced forehead grew pale and sweaty during one period of relative lucidity. The doctor even offered him alcohol and an opiate for his pain.
But Poe notably refused.
The author never regained his senses enough to explain his disappearance or give an accounting of the events that led to his hospitalization. Moran claims he attempted to get answers out of him, but the doctor couldn't decipher any meaning from Poe's delirious utterances.
Then on October 6th, Poes, cousin Nielsen attempted to visit him, but Dr. Morand turned him away. He said Poe was too, quote, excitable for visitors. It's unclear exactly what that would translate to in today's medical language, but mania and delirium tremens have been floated as possibilities. Later that night, Dr. Muran claims he heard DPO cry out repeatedly for someone named Rennolds, many have tried to identify Reynolds, but to this day, no solid theories have emerged.
It's a secret Poe took to his grave sometime before 5:00 a.m. on October 7th, 1849, 40 year old Edgar Allan Poe died.
In his memoir, Moran gave Poes last words as he who arched the heavens and upholds the universe has his decrees legibly written upon the Frontalot of every human being and upon demons incarnate.
Except that's probably one of Moran's many contradictory embellishments he had written in an earlier letter that posed last words were Lord Help My Poor Soul, which seems a more likely utterance from a man who'd been incomprehensible for the previous few days. Po did not receive an autopsy, and as death certificates weren't required at the time, there is no document giving an official cause of death. Moran's letter to his aunt, Maria Klam, was characteristically vague. He wrote, You are already aware of the malady of which Mr.
If the malady was chronic alcohol abuse, then Moran's delicate language might have been a Curtius attempt at discretion. But Moran always maintained that Poe had not been drinking on the night he was brought to the hospital. So if that's the case, he either changed his mind and did think alcohol abuse was to blame or he deliberately lied about it.
In any case, the only conclusive account of Poe's cause of death was in the Baltimore Kliper.
The newspaper said he lost his life to congestion of the brain.
That's an imprecise description of symptoms, not a diagnosis. Swelling of the brain can result from liver failure, which would point to death by chronic alcohol abuse. But it can also signify many other unrelated medical ailments, diseases or injuries. Plus, we don't know the paper source. It could have been an unscrupulous journalist making an assumption.
The lack of definitive documentation leaves the door open to any number of theories, though by the same token, it makes them all difficult to substantiate. One wonders what Oguz departure the detective from Poe's stories would make of the evidence or lack thereof.
The trail went cold when a crypt keeper placed Poe's body into a cheap pine coffin. He was buried in his grandfather's plot at the Westminster burying ground in Baltimore in an unmarked grave.
An obituary widely circulated in national newspapers stated that no mourners gathered to remember him. This was an exaggeration, but not by much.
Only a handful of relatives, colleagues and friends were on hand for Poe's funeral.
His bride to be Elmira Royster Shelton, was suspiciously not among them. A reverend in the Methodist Episcopal Church who happened to be the cousin of Poe's dearly departed wife, Virginia, conducted a three minute long service, and with that, the great Edgar Allen Poe was lowered into his sorry grave.
It was a wretched end, akin to the miserable death Poe had penned for the tragic figures in his Gothic tales.
And like his fictional creations, Poe's final days remain shrouded in mystery. Next time, we'll examine the unanswered questions surrounding Poe's death. We'll focus on the three leading conspiracy theories, the takeover where the official story falls short.
Conspiracy theory number one, Paul was mugged, perhaps after flashing the money he'd earned on his lecture tour in front of the wrong crowd. His confusion and tattered clothing suggest that his attackers stole his belongings and dealt a fatal blow.
Conspiracy theory no to Poe was murdered once upon a midnight dreary by his fiancee's brothers.
They opposed his upcoming marriage to Elmira and some say they were willing to do anything to prevent it.
And conspiracy theory number three, Paul may have been ensnared in an antiquated form of voter fraud known as a cooping scheme.
Political parties rounded up vagrants and forced them to vote multiple times.
Or else, of course, it's possible that Poe simply died of complications related to chronic alcohol abuse. But we owe it to the inventor of detective stories to examine every clue and try to solve the mystery. Thanks for tuning in to conspiracy theories, we'll be back Wednesday to unpack the mystery surrounding Edgar Allan Poe death. You can find all episodes of conspiracy theories and all other podcast originals for free on Spotify.
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Until then, remember, the truth isn't always the best story and the official story isn't always the truth. Conspiracy theories was created by Max Cutler and is a Park Studio's original. It is executive produced by Max Cuddler Sound Design by Trent Williamson with production assistance by Ron Shapiro, Carly Madden and Bruce Kaktovik. This episode of Conspiracy Theories was written by Emily Vaughn with writing assistants by Ali Wicker and stars Molly Brandenberg and Carter Roy. He listeners don't forget to follow blind dating for a fun twist on a classic setup, YouTube and host Tara Michelle can't wait to help hopefull singles meet their match, search blind dating and follow free on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.