Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Roses at Westminister Hall and Other Mysteries

Warmest birthday wishes to one of my favorite writers, Edgar Allan Poe.  As a literature major, I often felt that he and I shared a little wink and an eye roll whenever he was referred to as "a writer of the macabre." 

Though most people refer to Edgar Allan Poe as a writer of macabre, I never agree.  My interpretation of Poe's work often separated me from my contemporaries and professors, but I insist to this day that I am not wrong.  When you read Poe's work, do not take the graphic horror literally.  Do not believe for a moment that each character actually exists in the flesh.  Almost every Poe story and poem is actually about profound loneliness.  Loneliness is most often a character in Poe's work; it lives and breathes and taunts and creates and destroys.  Read that way, there is so much more to Poe's work.  A "writer of the macabre" is an insulting over-simplification of a brilliant body of work, an ode to loneliness.

Poe was born January 19, 1809; died October 7, 1849.  He was only 40 years old.

What many people may not know is that Mr. Poe has been as fascinating in death as he was in life.  Quite predictably, there are many rumors and suspicions surrounding his precise burial plot and headstone.  Most intriguing, however, may be an individual affectionately referred to as "The Poe Toaster."  Beginning in 1949, a mysterious man dressed all in black, save for a white scarf, approached Poe's grave at the stroke of midnight each January 19th.  He would say a few words and drink a toast of cognac.  Thereafter, he would leave behind the partially empty bottle and three red roses.

This ritual continued, each January 19th, for sixty years.  The man seems to have paid his last visit on January 19, 2009.

He did not return in 2010.

The keeper of the cemetery and those who make the pilgrimage each year to witness the tribute hoped that it was an aberration and waited all night this past night, January 19, 2011.

The man, again, was absent.

It is sad and disappointing to see this very soulful tribute come to an end, and now begins the speculation about what, perhaps, has happened to the toasting man. 

Personally, this tribute has intrigued and comforted me ever since I learned of it years ago.  To think that Poe has had visitors to his grave site, celebrating his date of birth, more than 150 years after his death is so ironic and so tragic that it is beautiful. 

 AP/Steve Ruark


The Quintessential Magpie said...

I always enjoyed Poe, and I agree with your assessment. There's so much more to him than for which people give him credit. That's intriging about the toasting man!


Sheila :-)

Jim said...

Thanks for these insights into a man that I always thought was a writer of the macabre. Now, thanks to you, I feel a little different about him and will look at his work with a more 'open' mind.
Good post.

Undine said...

Thank you for making the point about Poe being far more than a "horror" writer. I find him to be quite a profound mystic.

I wish more people saw him the way you do.

Auntie Bliss said...

I heard about that visitor on the news this a.m. Maybe the two of them are dancing in heaven today!

Kelly A. Harmon said...

I love Poe! Wonderful tribute here. I've visited Poe's grave several times.

It's much more melancholy this time of year than the spring.

Always a place of great inspiration for writing, however.

Roseanna said...

I agree with you, Renee...he was so much more.

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