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On This Day: Edgar Allan Poe Found Delirious Outside Baltimore Tavern

October 03, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Oct. 3, 1849, famed American poet Edgar Allan Poe was discovered barely concious on a street in Baltimore; he would die four days later.

Poe’s Mysterious Death

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Poe had left Richmond, Va., on Sept. 27, for Philadelphia. Six days later, he was found at a Baltimore tavern, Ryan’s 4th Ward Polls, by Joseph. W. Walker, who wrote to Dr. Joseph E. Snodgrass, an acquaintance of Poe, describing Poe as “rather the worse for wear.”

Poe was in a semi-conscious state and acting deliriously. Though typically well-dressed, he wore cheap, tattered clothing. Dr. Snodgrass and Henry Herring, Poe’s uncle, believed that he was drunk, according to the Poe Society, and decided to take him to Washington College Hospital.

Poe, drifting in and out of consciousness over the next several days, was unable to explain what had happened to him. On the night of Oct. 6, he began calling out the name “Reynolds,” but those present in the hospital were unsure of whom he was calling.

In the early morning hours of Oct. 7, Poe said “Lord help my poor soul” and died soon after. No autopsy was performed and his cause of death was determined to be “congestion of the brain” by Baltimore Commissioner of Health, Dr. J.F.C. Handel.

How Did Poe Die?

There are many theories on the events of Poe’s mysterious and bizarre death. The Poe Museum lists 15 different theories proposed between 1857 and 1999 that suggest Poe was attacked in some way, that he was drunk or that he suffered from a disease or medical condition.

According to the Poe Society, the most widely held theory in Poe biographies is the cooping theory, first asserted by publisher John R. Thompson in the 1870s. It supposes that Poe, who was found in a tavern where balloting was taking place, was kidnapped by a political gang, held in a room called the “coop” and forced to vote repeatedly while being “plied with liquor and beaten.”

Historians are split on whether Poe was drunk when he was found on Oct. 3. Dr. Snodgrass believed that Poe was drunk, writing in 1867 that Poe was “in a state of beastly intoxication.” Dr. John J. Moran, who treated Poe at Washington College Hospital, found no alcohol in his body. Both men gave inconsistent accounts during their life; “Whichever account you accept depends more on bias and whim than reason,” says the Poe Society.

Matthew Pearl, author of “The Poe Shadow,” suggests that Poe had a brain tumor. Pearl based his conclusion on accounts of the exhumation of Poe’s body in 1875, which stated that Poe’s brain was completely intact and visible. Pearl brought these findings to a coroner, who immediately disputed them. “[T]he brain is the first thing to liquefy,” she said, unless it was a brain tumor, which could calcify.

In 1996, doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center offered yet one more theory on Poe’s death: rabies. Cardiologist Dr. R. Michael Benitez found several of Poe’s reported symptoms to be consistent with rabies: he was delirious, had tremors, slipped into a coma, emerged calm, then became delirious and combative.

Biography: Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Poe was born in Boston in 1809. After leaving the United States Army and being expelled from West Point, he worked on his stories and poems. In New York he wrote “The Fall of the House of Usher” in 1839, and published “The Raven” in 1845.

According to the Poe Museum, 1846 was a hard year for Poe. The journal Poe was working on, The Broadway Journal, failed, and his wife, Virginia Clemm, became sick and died a year later. It is believed that Poe indulged his weakness for alcohol around this time, a problem he had battled with throughout his adult life.

Reference: Poe Library

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