Reconditis Mysteriis

The mysterious death of Edgar Allen Poe


Kellan Larson, Business Manager

     Edgar Allen Poe. The father of modern horror stories and detective novels. Author of many famous poems and short stories, including The Raven and The Fall of the House of Usher.

     He died on October 7, in 1849. The curious thing, however, is the manner of his death. Most have attributed it to rabies, alcohol poisoning, etc. As you will soon discover, there is a much more likely, and sinister story behind the fall of one of this country’s greatest poets.

     The difficult thing about determining the cause of his death is that there was no autopsy and therefore no coroner’s report. He died in a hospital and was buried in an unmarked grave. He was originally found in a gutter after having been missing for two weeks, unconscious and in shabby clothes that didn’t fit him. He remained in a semiconscious and hallucinatory state for several days in the hospital before passing away. Some claim his last words were, “Lord, help my poor soul.”

     Several years after Poe’s death, people tried to honor him by giving him a new grave with a small monument to his achievements, on which they actually put the wrong birthday. It was said when they lifted his coffin, it collapsed and they had to put him in a new one. While moving the skeleton, some object could be heard rattling in his skull. At the time it was believed to be his brain, shriveled and hardened with age.

     Now that we have our facts, it is time to examine the evidence and try to determine the true cause of death. However, we must debunk some false information that could be key in solving this case. First, Poe was not one to ever dress in shabby clothes, preferring formal and well fitted suits. This makes the state in which he was found highly suspicious. Second, whatever object that was believed to be rattling in his skull could not have been his brain, as soft brain tissue is one of the first parts of the body to decompose. 

     Now that we know this, we can look for potential suspects, assuming that his death was not of natural causes. First, the area in which he was found was notorious for gangs, who could have easily robbed him and stolen his fine attire. This theory is highly possible, though it would not explain his drunken state. It is well known that Poe struggled with alcoholism. In fact, he and his sister were said to have a rare condition that caused them to be stumbling drunk after just a single glass of wine. A doctor told Poe he believed that the cause of this was a possible tumor in his brain. This also makes sense because a tumor could have calcified and hardened after Poe’s death, which would explain the unknown object rattling in Poe’s skull.

     Just before Poe had gone missing, he had been reengaged to his former fiancé and was planning on marrying her very soon. There are some historians that claim that this woman’s brothers disapproved of the match and had threatened Poe’s life, and that Poe’s disappearance was due to him trying to hide from them. The men would have known of Poe’s weakness with alcohol, and could have drugged him and beaten him. Even so, there is no real reason why they might have taken his clothes.

     The final theory, and what I believe to be the most likely, requires a bit of research and understanding of Poe’s world to grasp. At the time, there was a new presidential election happening. Votes were taken in bars, and men were given free beer after voting. The gangs of the time took to a new practice, called “cooping”, in which they would kidnap a person off the streets, beat them, and force them to vote multiple times in different disguises. 

     This theory perfectly covers everything that we know about Poe’s death. He would have been forced to vote, and with every vote he would have to drink a full glass of beer. This would intoxicate him enough to the brink or even the point of death. After he had voted enough times, they would have kept his fine clothes for themselves and thrown him in the gutter where he was found. His body, being in a sort of coma from the incredible overdose of alcohol, would be feverish and barely conscious, just as he was which, in the end, would be his demise.