The Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe's Death

Theories abound about Poe’s death, but there has yet to be one that proves definitive—a fittingly mysterious end for the master of mystery.

No subject regarding Edgar Allan Poe ignites as much controversy as his sudden death at the age of forty, which remains shrouded in mystery. What we know is that Poe planned trip from Richmond, Virginia to New York City, during which he traveled by steamer and stopped in Baltimore on September 28, 1849. His actions and whereabouts throughout the next five days are uncertain. On October 3, 1849, printer Joseph Walker found Poe inside or near Gunner's Hall tavern, and sent a note for J.E. Snodgrass, one of Poe’s acquaintances in Baltimore. Walker described Poe as appearing in "great distress.”

Snodgrass noted that the clothes Poe wore looked disheveled and out of place: "he had evidently been robbed of his [own] clothing or cheated in an exchange." Snodgrass and his uncle, Henry Herring, both presumed that Poe was in a drunken state and agreed to send him to Washington College Hospital. Once there, Poe was taken to a room reserved for patients who were ill due to intoxication. Poe lapsed in and out of consciousness for the next few days, and according to Dr. John J. Moran, who questioned Poe about his condition, Poe's answers were incoherent and unsatisfactory. Moran also prevented visitors due to Poe’s “excitable” condition.

Moran later noted in a letter to Maria Clemm, Poe’s mother-in-law, that during a period of consciousness, Poe held "vacant converse with spectral and imaginary objects on the walls. His face was pale and his whole person drenched in perspiration." Poe died quietly before sunrise on Sunday, October 7, 1849.

It may be logical to assume that alcohol played a role in Poe's death, given that it intermittently surfaced as a negative influence during his adult life. But how does it explain why Poe was wearing somebody else's clothes? Nor does it provide any insight into the circumstances that caused him to be found in such an unfortunate state.

One of the most popular theories about Poe’s death stems from the fact that Poe was found on Election Day, and Gunner’s Hall was a polling location. It is possible that on that day, Poe fell victim to cooping, a common method of voter fraud in the 19th century. Cooping victims were kidnapped, drugged or forced to drink, and disguised several times in order to cast several votes. Others have suggested that perhaps Poe was beaten and robbed, or even that he contracted rabies.

Theories abound about Poe’s death, but there has yet to be one that proves definitive—a fittingly mysterious end for the master of mystery.

Last updated: November 2, 2017