The Poe Toaster was as mysterious at the poet’s death
January 19 is the 208th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s birth. The revered American suspense author, poet and cat lover is best remembered for “The Black Cat” and “The Raven.” Poe was born in 1809 and died in 1849 at the still-young age of 40. For seven decades, usually sometime between midnight and 6 a.m. on Poe’s birthday, a mysterious man known as the Poe Toaster paid tribute to the author next to Poe’s headstone at Baltimore’s Westminster Hall and Burying Ground. The black-clad gentleman, a character as mysterious as the poet himself, always wore a wide-brimmed hat and white scarf to hide his face, and carried a cane.
The Poe Toaster was first noticed in 1949 (in year of the 100th anniversary of the poet’s death). The morning of January 19 the stranger entered the cemetery and raised a toast of Martell cognac to Poe. At the grave he left the unfinished bottle along with three red roses placed in a distinctive pattern. The Poe Society of Baltimore admits that some details have been kept private so they’ll recognize the real Toaster from the copycats.
A cryptic note left behind in 1993 stated, “The torch will be passed.” That apparently happened. A message left in 1999 announced that the original Toaster had died the previous year and a son had taken over the tradition. Watchers agreed that the Toaster appeared younger. Hopefully the elder Toaster is now sharing Martell with Poe face-to-face.
Then it got weird.
A 2001 note ranted about the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl chances. A note left in 2004 included a diatribe about France’s opposition to the Iraq war. Obviously not the same dignified old Toaster. The son of the Poe Toaster last appeared in January 2009 marking the end of an era.
In 2010, he failed to show. In 2011 four impostors showed up, but unlike the real Poe Toasters, they made no effort to conceal their presence They didn’t give the secret gesture and failed to place the roses in the Toaster’s particular arrangement.
And while the Poe Toaster is to “Quoth the Raven, “’Nevermore,” the Maryland Historical Society could not let the mystery man die with dignity. Last year, they sent out a cattle call for “Baltimore’s Next Poe Toaster.” Competitors auditioned in a public America’s Got Talent–style audition performance. Even though his selection was very public, organizers are keeping his name a secret.
The NextGen Toaster, made his first debut after sunrise on January 16, 2016, three days before Poe’s actual birthday. (Sadly, like national holidays, Poe’s tribute has been moved to the weekend. The dignified expression of respect has evolved into a spectical. Worse still, a tourist trap.) While the new Toaster wore the traditional apparel, he added his own twist by playing Saint Saëns’ “Danse Macabre” on the violin. After he raised the cognac toast and laid the roses, he quoted the Roman poet Martial, “Cineri gloria sera venit”, which means “Glory paid to one’s ashes comes too late.” Then he left.
At the time of Poe’s passing, newspapers attributed his death to “congestion of the brain” or “cerebral inflammation”. Today’s doctors speculate he could have succumbed to alcohol poisoning, epilepsy, syphilis, cholera, rabies, brain tumor, carbon monoxide poisoning, mercury poisoning or even murder.
What do you think of the revival of the Poe Toaster?
About Dusty Rainbolt
Author Dusty Rainbolt is an award-winning veterinary journalist according to her answering machine. She is an associate certified cat behavior consultant and member of International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, as well as past president of the Cat Writers’ Association. Her books, columns, reviews and articles have been honored with more than 50 writing awards including three-time recipient of Friskies Writer of the Year. Her just-released cat behavior book, Cat Scene Investigator: Solve Your Cat’s Litter Box Mystery, is the consummate guide for dealing with a cat who sidesteps his/her appointed toilet. CSI, which provides science-based methods for determining the medical or behavioral causes of feline inappropriate elimination, teaches cat parents to view their cat’s litter box avoidance through the eyes of a detective to determine the cause and, ultimately, the remedy.