A mysterious black-clad stranger makes a yearly pilgrimage to the grave of Edgar Allan Poe.
The Poe Toaster leaves behind three red roses and a bottle of cognac.
For over half a century, a man wearing a black hat, black overcoat and white scarf has appeared before dawn on Jan. 19 in the gothic graveyard to toast the author on his birthday.
Nobody knows why the Poe Toaster toasted the writer with cognac, writes the Edgar Allan Poe Society: the drink doesn’t appear in any of his works.
(Amontillado would perhaps be more appropriate.)
As for the roses, Poe enthusiasts think the gesture
“represents the three persons whose remains are beneath the monument: Poe, his wife (Virginia Clemm Poe) and his mother-in-law (Maria Clemm.)”
On several occasions, the Toaster left a note along with the roses and cognac.
Some notes were simple expressions of fandom, such as “Edgar, I haven’t forgotten you.”
In 1993, a cryptic message stated, “The torch will be passed.”
In 1999, a note announced that the original Toaster had died the previous year and had passed the tradition to “a son.”
This mysterious tradition certainly goes back to well before the 1960s.
A 1950 article in The (Baltimore) Evening Sun mentions “an anonymous citizen who creeps in annually to place an empty bottle (of excellent label) against the gravestone.”
In 2010, the Poe Toaster failed to appear.
Jeff Jerome, the former curator of the Poe House and Museum, suggested that the Poe Toaster chose Poe’s bicentennial birthday to bring the tradition to an end.
In 2015, the Maryland Historical Society organized a competition to select a new individual to resurrect the annual tribute.
The new Toaster—who will also remain anonymous—made his first appearance during the daylight hours of January 16, 2016 (a Saturday, three days before Poe’s birthday).
To keep with tradition, he remains anonymous.
After raising the traditional cognac toast and placing the roses, he intoned, “Cineri gloria sera venit” (“Glory paid to one’s ashes comes too late”, from an epigram by the Roman poet Martial), and departed.
Who was the Poe Toaster? We still have no idea.
The new toaster will walk again today.
Siobhan O’Shea is a freelance writer. She writes about pretty much everything but especially likes to bring readers’ attention to new tech, marketing, human behavior, and other oddities.