Happy Birthday

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Associated Press

Happy Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe, Poet and Master of the Gothic, Mystery and Horror Genres

January 19, 2010
by Jen O'Neill
Every year, a mysterious visitor pays homage to Edgar Allan Poe, leaving behind a half-filled bottle of cognac and three red roses at the writer’s grave. FindingDulcinea remembers the short, tragic life and many works of this doyen of the macabre.

Edgar Allen Poe's Early Days

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Edgar Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809, and led a life defined by poverty, illness and addiction. Following the death of his parents, Poe was raised as a foster child in Virginia by John Allan, a Richmond tobacco merchant, and his wife Frances. Though they never officially adopted Poe, he took their last name as his middle name. Sent to boarding school in England, he was an excellent student, and demonstrated a particular propensity for writing prose.

He attended the University of Virginia, where he joined the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society and distinguished himself in French, Latin. Unfortunately, he ran up so many gambling and drinking debts that he was forced to leave before his first year was up. Poe joined the United States Army for a two-year stint under the name of Edgar A. Perry, before moving on to West Point. After Poe was expelled for bad behavior, Allan disowned him.

In 1833, Poe moved to Baltimore to live with his father’s sister, Maria Clemm, and fell in love with her young daughter Virginia; he married her in 1836, when she was just 14. The three of them moved to Philadelphia in 1838, and Poe worked as an editor and writer for various magazines.

Notable Accomplishments

While working as an editorial assistant at Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine in 1839, he wrote and sold “The Fall of the House of Usher” to the magazine. He then published a two-volume collection of stories, “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque,” but received none of the profits.

Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine was sold and renamed Graham’s Magazine. In 1841, Poe was employed as an editor at Graham’s when the magazine published “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which is widely credited as the world’s first detective story.

The following year, his wife became seriously ill, and remained so until her death five years later. During this particularly difficult time, he wrote some of his most famous (and darkest) tales, such as “The Pit and the Pendulum” and ”The Masque of the Red Death,” and chilling but lyrical poetry, including “The Bells” and “The Raven.”

The fan site House of Usher offers an extensive library of links to Poe’s stories and poetry. The site also links to literary criticism and provides information about films, artwork, songs, comics and more that reference Poe or his works.

The Rest of the Story

Poe's personal life was a deeply troubled one. He struggled with alcoholism for much of his life; his wife's illness and death put a particular strain on him. Despite the popularity of his stories, Poe never emerged from poverty.

He traveled to Philadelphia, Richmond and Norfolk, Virginia, giving lectures and searching for backers for his magazine. During his journey, he made a stop in Baltimore, where he was found drunk and delirious. Four days later, on October 7, 1849, he died under mysterious circumstances, either in a ditch or in a Baltimore bar. No one is quite sure of the cause of death: reported as "congestion of the brain," historians have speculated that he died of causes related to alcoholism, a brain tumor or rabies. Some suggest that, as was common practice in Baltimore at the time, he was kidnapped by a gang who forced him to vote over and over again for a chosen political candidate, beating him and feeding him liquor until he complied.

In  1875, Poe’s remains were moved to the same cemetery as his aunt/mother-in-law, Maria Clemm in Baltimore’s Westminster Burying Ground. Every year on Poe’s birthday, an unidentified admirer leaves a half-filled bottle of cognac and three red roses on the writer’s grave.

The year 2009 marked the bicentennial anniversary of Poe’s birth. The New York Times Web site honored Poe with a slideshow of "images from Poe manuscripts and published works in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library."
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