; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Edgar Allen Poe Toaster May Be 'Nevermore'

A Jan. 19, 2008 file photo shows the original grave of Edgar Allan Poe, with a bottle of cognac and roses left by a mysterious visitor in Baltimore

baltimoresun - Maybe the time for nevermore is finally here.

For the second year in a row, the mysterious Poe Toaster failed to show up at his namesake's Baltimore grave this morning. And the curator of the Poe House, who has spent years protecting the famed writer's legacy and fanning the flames of the toaster's legend, is about ready to give up on the ghost.

"I will be here in 2012, but that will be it," said a weary Jeff Jerome, who stayed by Poe's gravesite until 5:45 a.m. waiting for the toaster. "If he's a no show, I will officially pronounce the tradition dead."

Not that Poe, dead for 161 years, or the toaster, missing for two, are without fans — or potential successors. Jerome said four toaster wannabes showed up at the gravesite with the requisite cognac and red roses. But all, he insisted, were pretenders to the tradition, not the real thing. Even though the toaster's identity has remained secret — even Jerome swears he never knew a name or clearly saw a face — his general appearance remained constant. None of the four who showed up this morning matched it.

"They were not our boy," he said. "We can usually tell within a few seconds. We've been seeing this guy for a number of years, and I could tell just by looking at them that they were not the real Poe toaster."

For some 60 years, the toaster would appear every Jan. 19 to pay tribute to Poe, a Boston native who died on Oct. 7, 1849 in Baltimore under circumstances that have never been fully explained. Arriving at the gravesite without fanfare, he would leave behind three red roses and a bottle of cognac, then quietly disappear into the night.

Last year's no-show was the first since at least 1949. Speculation over the true identity of the Poe toaster has raged for years. Many names have been floated, including a Fells Point prankster who died in 2010, an ad man who said he started the tradition as a publicity stunt, a father-and-son team, even Jerome himself.

But Jerome, who has been shepherding the tradition since 1977, insists it's not him. And none of the other possibilities have conclusively panned out.

About a dozen people waited outside the gates of the Westminster Burying Grounds on Fayette Street this morning, but as dawn approached, it was clear the true toaster would not be showing up. Jerome eventually opened the gate and allowed the visitors to leave their own tributes on Poe's grave.

Interest in Poe, the writer of such mystery and horror classics as "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat," remains strong. Here in Baltimore, there's an NFL football team that invokes the name of one of Poe's most famous poems, "The Raven," every time it takes to the field. More than 100 fans gathered at Westminster Hall in November to watch an evening of Poe-related films, and a new movie based on Poe's life recently finished filming in Belgrade, with John Cusack playing the melancholy author.

Jerome said he appreciated the enthusiasm of the four would-be toasters, each of whom made far-too-grandiose an entrance to be the real thing. But if the real toaster is gone, he said, it's time to let the tradition die.

"If it is over, let it die a noble death," he pleaded.

And if someone is intent on keeping the tradition going?

"After next year, they'll have to be climbing over the fence," Jerome said. "They'll have to wait until the cemetery gates open during the day."


Edgar Allan Poe to Receive the Funeral He Should Have Had

Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House and Museum looks over a replica of the body of Edgar Allan Poe, in Baltimore, Monday, Oct. 5, 2009. The Poe House will host a viewing of a replica of the body of Poe on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009, followed by the funeral he never had on Sunday.

yahoo.com - For Edgar Allan Poe, 2009 has been a better year than 1849. After dozens of events in several cities to mark the 200th anniversary of his birth, he's about to get the grand funeral that a writer of his stature should have received when he died.

One hundred sixty years ago, the beleaguered, impoverished Poe was found, delirious and in distress outside a Baltimore tavern. He was never coherent enough to explain what had befallen him since leaving Richmond, Va., a week earlier. He spent four days in a hospital before he died at age 40.

Poe's cousin, Neilson Poe, never announced his death publicly. Fewer than 10 people attended the hasty funeral for one of the 19th century's greatest writers. And the injustices piled on. Poe's tombstone was destroyed before it could be installed, when a train derailed and crashed into a stonecutter's yard. Rufus Griswold, a Poe enemy, published a libelous obituary that damaged Poe's reputation for decades.

But on Sunday, Poe's funeral will get an elaborate do-over, with two services expected to draw about 350 people each — the most a former church next to his grave can hold. Actors portraying Poe's contemporaries and other long-dead writers and artists will pay their respects, reading eulogies adapted from their writings about Poe.

"We are following the proper etiquette for funerals. We want to make it as realistic as possible," said Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House and Museum.

Advance tickets are sold out, although Jerome will make some seats available at the door to ensure packed houses. Fans are traveling from as far away as Vietnam.

The funeral is arguably the splashiest of a year's worth of events honoring the 200th anniversary of Poe's birth. Along with Baltimore — where he spent some of his leanest years in the mid-1830s — Poe lived in or has strong connections to Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Richmond.

With the funeral angle covered, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond staged a re-enactment last weekend of his death. Those with a more academic interest in Poe can attend the Poe Studies Association's annual conference from Thursday through Sunday in Philadelphia.

Visitors in Baltimore for the funeral can enjoy a new exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art, "Edgar Allan Poe: A Baltimore Icon," which includes chilling illustrations to "The Raven" by Edouard Manet.

Baltimore has a decided advantage over the other cities that lay claim to Poe, notes BMA director Doreen Bolger. "We have the body," she said.

This week, that's true in more ways than one. Jerome said he's gotten calls from people who thought he was going to exhume Poe's remains and rebury them.

"When they dug up Poe's body in 1875 to move it, it was mostly skeletal remains," Jerome said. "I've seen remains of people who've been in the ground since that time period, and there's hardly anything left."

Instead, Jerome commissioned local special-effects artist Eric Supensky to create an eerily lifelike — or deathlike — mock-up of Poe's corpse.

"I got chills," Jerome said Monday upon seeing the body for the first time. "This is going to freak people out."

The body will lie in state for 12 hours Wednesday at the Poe House, a tiny rowhome in a gritty section of west Baltimore. Visitors are invited to pay their respects.

Following the viewing will be an all-night vigil at Poe's grave at Westminster Burying Ground. Anyone who attends will have the opportunity to deliver a tribute.

On Sunday morning, a horse-drawn carriage will transport the replica of Poe's body from his former home to the graveyard for the funeral.

Actor John Astin, best known as Gomez Addams on TV's "The Addams Family," will serve as master of ceremonies.

"It's sort of a way of saying, 'Well, Eddie, your first funeral wasn't a very good one, but we're going to try to make it up to you, because we have so much respect for you,'" said Astin, who toured as Poe for years in a one-man show.

The service won't be a total lovefest, however. The first eulogy will come from none other than Griswold.

"People are asking me, 'Jeff, why are you inviting him? He hated Poe!'" Jerome said. "The reason is, most of these people defended Poe in response to what he said about Poe's life, so we can't have this service without having old Rufus sitting in the front row, spewing forth his hatred."

Eulogies will follow from actors portraying, among others, Sarah Helen Whitman, a minor poet whom Poe courted after his wife's death, and Walt Whitman, who attended the dedication of Poe's new gravestone in 1875 but didn't feel well enough to speak. Writers and artists influenced by Poe, including Arthur Conan Doyle and Alfred Hitchcock, will also be represented.

Jerome expects to cry — one reason he won't be speaking. Even his rivals are impressed with the scale of the tribute.

"Annoyed as I am with Baltimore sometimes, I have to give them credit," said Philadelphia-based Poe scholar Edward Pettit, who argues his city was of greater importance to Poe's life and literary career. "Baltimore has done an awful lot to maintain the legacy of Poe over the last 100-some years."

NOTE: The Poe House has a variety of paranormal activity. I've been there for a seance several years ago and I have talked to several mediums who have gone through the house. Poe's spirit definitely lingers in the area and a dark cloaked apparition is seen moving along the streets at night. As far as the house, the activity seems to be that of a female spirit who is known to appear during tours on occasion.



baltimorestories.com - Every city has a great deal of history, but Baltimore in particular has a lot of haunted history, which makes it the perfect place to be on Halloween. For those looking to celebrate Halloween in a more historical way, the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum holds a special performance in honor of the fall holiday.

The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum is located in the city, not far from Poe’s actual gravesite. It is a small house that consists of five main rooms: an entranceway room, a kitchen and three bedrooms. Poe’s bedroom is located in the attic of the house, and the tiny home includes no bathrooms of any sort.

“Poe’s room, as well as the house, can be so small because people used to be a lot shorter back when he was alive,” said Jeff Jerome, the curator of the museum. “Poe was 5-foot-8-inches, which was tall back then. The average height of men was 5-foot-5-inches.”

The staircase leading up to Poe's attic can barely fit one person at a time. Everything about the house where Poe grew up reeks of a time when things were different, when Baltimore wasn't even a city.

"When Poe lived here, Baltimore was very country. When he looked out his window he saw fields," said Jerome.

That was back in the 1830s. Today, 175 years later, Baltimore is a completely different place. However, the Poe house still stands and other than a small addition to the kitchen and some missing furniture, it stands in the same condition as it did back when Poe began to write short stories.

This timeline tells more about Poe's history in Baltimore.

The tour of the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum is mostly self-guided, but Jerome, who has been curator since 1979, is more than willing to answer any questions.

“I just hate when people who have visited the house ask me if I live here. There’s just no way that I could.”

Instead, Jerome resides in Anne Arundel County.

“Many people think that I live and breathe Poe,” he said, “but really, I’m just good at what I do. I don’t think I’ll ever reach a point where I can say that I know all there is to know about Poe. It’s like any job, and I like that I’m always learning new things.”

Jerome was surprised to find out that Poe enjoyed the story of “Frankenstein,” and that he was allergic to perfume.

Before becoming curator of the museum, Jerome did volunteer work for the city.

“I really like Baltimore because of the people here. Everything in this city is nearby, as opposed to a big city like New York,” he said. Jerome also said that the house is interesting for any visitor.

“I don’t suggest kids coming to the Halloween performance though.”

The play can be pretty scary. It’s held in the overcrowded bedroom of Virginia Poe, Poe’s cousin who was also his wife.

“When Poe married his cousin, she was 13 years old and he was seven,” Jerome said. “This may sound weird, but applying today’s social standards to a time when things were different is unfair. Consider that women during this time had a life expectancy of about 25 years, and in Maryland law even today it is legal for cousins to get married.”

People back then married inside of their families because of money.

“It was a way for them to keep their money,” he said. “But Poe didn’t have any money, so in his case it must have been love. Even people that hated Poe could not say anything about him and Virginia because they really were in love.”

The Halloween play does not capture this romance. It is actually an acting out of one of Poe’s poems. This year, local actor Tony Tsendeas performed “A Tell-Tale Heart.” Tsendeas has been performing for the Halloween play on and off for 20 years.

“We started the play in 1983 because people were asking for a Halloween event,” said Jerome. “Since then we have decided that A Tell-Tale Heart,' is the best poem to perform because it’s quick and easy to follow along with.”

Some years, when Tsendeas doesn’t perform, a Poe look-a-like comes in and performs monologues from Poe’s point of view.

“Either way it’s good way to get the local talent out there,” Jerome said.

Every year, the play is performed throughout the day on the Saturday and Sunday before and after Halloween.

As for whether the ghost of Poe comes out during the season, Jerome really has no comment.