For over seventy years in the early morning hours of January 19th a mysterious figure would make a yearly visit to the original grave site of American author Edgar Allan Poe.
The figure would silently walk onto the grounds of Westminster Hall and Burying Ground in Baltimore, Maryland to Poe’s original resting place. Cloaked in black wearing a wide-brimmed hat and concealing his face with a white scarf the individual would pour himself a glass of cognac, offer a toast to Poe, leave the unfinished bottle and three roses on the headstone and disappear back into the night.
No one knows who this mysterious ‘Poe Toaster’ was. What was the meaning behind the glass of cognac or what exactly the three roses represented.
This strange tribute was said to have begun sometime in the 1940s. From there it continued annually. In 1999 a note left by the Toaster revealed the original Toaster had died, but had passed the tradition to ‘a son’. The last appearance of the Toaster was in 2009, the bicentennial of Poe’s birth. Since then the Poe Toaster has not shown. It is now believed the tradition has ended.
I always found this story a fascinating one. It’s one of those mysterious legends that sound like it’s from a book. A tale that welcomes theories and curiosity. It makes you wonder what it all means, who this person was, the meaning behind it all, what generated in the person the enthusiasm and passion about Poe to continue this tribute for so long and how it all started.
In 1990 Life magazine published a black and white photo that captured the Toaster. That helped make this small, simple annual visit get worldwide attention. From there crowds and spectators would gather around the cemetery each year to try to catch a glimpse of the Toaster.
Fortunately, the caretakers of the grounds would try to accommodate the Toasters annual visit by making his access to the grounds easy and keeping the gawkers at a comfortable distance.
This January 19th we’re going to arrive at Poe’s 206th year since his birth. One hundred sixty-six years since his death. I would love to hear that the Toaster returned and his yearly nod to this great author is continuing through his ‘son’ or whoever picked up the torch. It’s believed the individual who became the ‘new Toaster’ doesn’t take this yearly tribute as seriously as the originator. So I kind of doubt he will return and sadly accept this is over, although I’d love to be surprised.
I love the mystery of it and really don’t want to know the answers. I don’t like the idea of fans hassling him or ‘Faux Toasters’ trying to get in on this tradition to keep it going. Why don’t they come up with their own individual tributes to Poe, rather than to just imitate someone else’s?
It’s apparent the original Toaster was never looking for any kind of attention and it’s a shame the mystery surrounding him and his tribute has now eclipsed the true meaning of such a long personal tradition that must have had more meaning to the original Toaster than to anyone else.