The Poe Toaster

The Poe Toaster. Photo by Bill Ballenberg.

Last night, I had the good fortune of giving a private reading about Edgar Allan Poe to a group of folks more or less connected to Seattle’s Awesome Foundation. Thanks to a noise-adverse neighbor, the reading ended up taking place in the bedroom of Dean of Awesome Nathaniel James. It was great—I felt like I was gathering everyone around for a bedtime story. Sam Wilder played the theremin, and Lara Davis provided a spooky soundscape that I think would have made Poe feel right at home. I chose to read about Poe because he died on October 7th, 1849—exactly 162 years ago today. (October 7th is also my birthday.)

The highlight of the night for me (besides meeting some great folks) was getting to share the amazing story of the Poe Toaster. Here’s a paragraph from what I read:

For sixty years, the “Poe Toaster” was a beloved Baltimore tradition. Every year, in the wee hours of the morning on Poe’s birthday, a cloaked figure would steal into the Westminster Church cemetery and hurry to Poe’s original grave. His face hidden by a scarf, the visitor would raise a glass of cognac, take a sip, and leave the bottle on the grave alongside three red roses. No one understands the significance of the cognac (amontillado would be more appropriate), but the roses are thought to represent Poe and the two people he is buried with: his wife Virginia and his mother-in-law Maria Clemm.

I also blogged about Poe’s death, and the second funeral fans gave him in 2009, here.

The photo above is from a Life Magazine July 1990 article called “Once Upon a Midnight Dreary,” written by Gary Smith. The photographer is Bill Ballenberg, and as far as I know, this is the only photo of the Toaster ever taken. (This is an Instagram-filtered version of the magazine image.) For those interested in the Toaster, I highly recommend trying to get your hands on a copy of the issue!

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3 thoughts on “The Poe Toaster

  1. Well I guess it’s official, The Poe House Curator has officially announced that the Poe Toaster tradition is no longer after 3 years with no Toaster showing up. Apparently there were a few copycats who tried to show up but the curator has a secret sign from the Toaster so he knows it’s the real one. Now I’m really sad I never got down to Westminster Church to see the tradition. For years I kept saying next year I’m going down to see it. But alas it seems, the Poe Toaster shall come nevermore…

    1. I’m sad I never got to see it, too! But in a way, I like that fans have started carrying on the tradition themselves. Thanks for the comment!

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