Edgar Allan Poe, the American literary master of the macabre who penned poems such as "The Raven" and grisly short stories including "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Fall of the House of Usher" and "The Pit and the Pendulum" as well as the first modern detective story, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" died in 1849 in Baltimore at age 40 after collapsing in a tavern.
Sometime in the 1940s, an anonymous man began the annual tribute at Poe's grave on the anniversary of the writer's birth. The "Poe toaster" was always seen dressed in black, wearing a white scarf with a wide-brimmed hat. He always left three roses and a half-empty bottle of cognac and later a few handwritten notes. This tradition was first referenced in print in 1949 by The Evening Sun of Baltimore.
After more than 60 years, the mysterious man and his tribute were a no show last year. Many believe he may have had car trouble or fallen ill. Today, many Poe fans gathered at Westminster Hall and Burying Ground, hoping to see the "Poe toaster" and ritual in action. Unfortunately, the real visitor didn't show and is now believed to have died. Four impostors came in his place. One emerged from a white stretch limo shortly after midnight. Two others appeared to be women. The fourth was an older man. All walked in clear sight of the Poe fans, contrary to the secretive nature of the real Poe toaster. All wore black hats and left roses and cognac, and two left notes, but none of the four arranged the roses in the unique pattern established by the Poe toaster over the decades.
The true identity of the real toaster may never be known. However, while this tradition may be a thing of the past, a new one seems to be blooming. Majority of those who attended this year are planning to return next year and the years to come. I doubt there will be a January 19th absent of roses and cognac at Edgar Allan Poe's grave.