Edgar Allan Poe
January 19, 2011 by Post Team
Edgar Allan Poe, (AP) – Telltale heart pounded in anticipation during a rain, midnight dreary and beyond, hoping that the mysterious visitor from the grave of Edgar Allan Poe would be back after a one-year absence.
But once again the stranger who for decades has left three roses and a half-empty bottle of cognac on Poe’s grave on the anniversary of birth of the writer did not attend Wednesday fueling speculation he may be dead.
Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Did I kill the legend of bread Poe? To answer this question requires a story that took 27 years to craft. It may be worthy of, well, Edgar Allan Poe.” Here it is. For years – perhaps as far back as 1949 or more – the early morning of January 19, someone crept into Westminster Burying Ground, near downtown Baltimore near the campus of the University of Maryland and left three roses and a half empty bottle of cognac on the grave of the famous poet and writer of Ravenand The Tell-Tale Heart, among others.
The identity of the Poe Toaster is unknown, and the ritual has attracted national attention. For the second consecutive year, the figure myserious apparently failed to materialize.
My experience with Poe bread dates to 1983. I had heard of the tradition before coming to Baltimore to attend the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
Be more than just the curious type, I contacted Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House and Museum, who invited me and three other students to spend the night in the catacombs of Westminster Church.
That year was a public celebration in the presence of dozens of people and readings by a poet and Poe impersonator Andre Codrescu. After a toast with champagne and cognac, Jerome ushered everyone out of the cemetery and the doors locked. The five of us, including Jerome, around the block to the library of the University of Maryland Law School, and thence by a pedestrian bridge adjacent to the rectory Westminster church.
Enclosed behind wrought iron bars that surround the catacombs, we huddled in the middle of the tombs and mounds of earth in the frozen darkness.
Around 1:00, we were surprised by a noise from the bars. A figure walking along the foundation the church, a flashlight through the vaults of the catacombs. We were mocked for giving chase. Unable to leave directly outside the cemetery, we ran through the church and the second floor of the rectory with views overlooking Poe’s grave.
He was a tall black man – he was certainly male – west of Poe’s grave, near the wall separating the cemetery from the yard of the school of law. He looked back toward the corner of the church where we would have appeared if we had been able to get outside.
Everyone paused for a moment, the five of us lined up at the rectory windows, the Poe Toaster waiting ahead of us at ground level.
He was thin, wearing what looked like a cape or long coat. His head was covered, but I could not style hat. In one hand he carried a walking stick.
The spell was broken by one of the other students, who struck his nail against the window.
The Poe Toaster looked up at us and raised his hand to greet or either hand on us, the tip of his cane gold gleamed in the streetlights. With a flourish of his cloak, bread Poe slipped into the darkness and disappeared.
On the tomb, we found the roses and cognac. We passed around a bottle of celebratory sips.
I had a tape recorder with me all night and did a segment on the visit to Poe’s bread for National Public Radio “All Things Considered.”
I visited the cemetery many times since. I reached the worn brick wall near the grave of Poe, taller than my six feet tall, has sought a handle or foot. I tried to climb. Not even a fight. How to get more bread Poe – or – and this wall so easily?
It is simply one of the nagging questions that keep me intrigued, year after year. As befits the greatest writer in America – the inventor of the genre of mystery fiction – the unusual honor Poe Toaster is shrouded in speculation and inaccurate, and confused by the inexplicable coincidences.
Somehow, this NPR segment added to public awareness of the Poe Toaster. The following year, the crowd around Westminster was larger. The meetings have continued to swell over the years, sometimes upward of 100 or more people, many coming to drink and read poetry with like-minded lovers of literature.
I wanted to take a picture of bread Poe – a photo showing him to the grave without revealing his identity. I made a few attempts, once considered literally sitting down in a snowdrift for most of the night.
Ultimately, a photographer left me from Life magazine that in 1990 captured the image of bread Poe in existence. The grainy image shows the single lap Toaster Poe’s grave, his walking stick resting against Poe’s tombstone. The picture was purchased with $ 80,000 and equipment, with the trees in the cemetery wired with motion sensors and infrared lights. According to Jerome, among hundreds of frames of film shot that night, Poe became the bread in a single framework.
Try as I might put bread Poe out of my mind, pieces of the mystery has continued to perform well, to haunt me. One of the biggest mysteries is how the Poe Toaster manages to get in and out of Westminster cemetery without being seen by the crowd of increasingly large and noisy that congregate outside the doors? It is an illusion worthy of David Copperfield.
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