It’s the stuff of literary legend. Ever since the 1940s, an anonymous man, decked out in black and a wide-brimmed hat would leave three roses and a half-empty bottle of cognac at Edgar Allen Poe’s original grave on his birthday. The tradition of waiting on the mysterious stranger would be handed down through families of curious, intrigued watchers, waiting for his appearance, perhaps to ask who he was or why he was honoring the writer in the manner. But on Wednesday, the crowd gathered outside the gates of the burial ground surrounding Westminster Hall in Baltimore, would be disappointed for the third year in a row. The man, dubbed the Poe Toaster, was a no show and only three impersonators appeared.
According to Poe House and Museum Curator Jeff Jerome, Poe fans will likely hold one last vigil this year before calling an end to the tradition.
The tradition goes: that the shadowy figure, dressed in black with a wide-brimmed hat and white scarf, would pour himself a glass of cognac and raise a toast to Poe’s memory, then vanish into the night, leaving three roses in a distinctive arrangement and the unfinished bottle of cognac. Onlookers gathered annually in hopes of glimpsing the elusive Toaster, who did not seek publicity, and was rarely seen or photographed.
According to eyewitness reports and notes accompanying offerings in later years, the original Toaster visited the tomb from sometime in the 1930s (though no report appeared in print until 1950) until his death in 1998, after which the tradition was passed to “a son.”Controversial statements were made in some notes left by the post-1998 Toaster, and in 2006 an unsuccessful attempt was made by several onlookers to detain and identify him. In 2010, there was no visit by the Toaster,nor did he appear in 2011, triggering speculation that the 75-year tradition had ended.
“One Poe tradition may have ended, but Jerome said a reading of tributes by Poe fans at the grave-site planned for last night may develop into a new ritual to mark the writer’s birthday.”