His voice varied rapidly from a tremulous indecision (when the animal spirits seemed utterly in abeyance) to that species of energetic concision—that abrupt, weighty, unhurried, and hollow-sounding enunciation—that leaden, self-balanced and perfectly modulated guttural utterance, which may be observed in the lost drunkard, or the irreclaimable eater of opium, during the periods of his most intense excitement.
So the narrator in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” describes his cohort Usher; his stumbling insanity, indicative of preeminent death, is inherently Poe, tinged with the moribund aesthetic the author used to create the modern horror story. But the halting speech of Usher, a prelude to his forthcoming passing, is eerily similar to the final expressions of Poe himself.
Given the macabre tone of nearly all of Poe’s work, it would have been disappointing—fatefully impossible—for the infamous writer to pass without note. The mysterious events surrounding his death are so dramatic and fantastical in their storyline that they challenge the creative works of the author’s imagination.
On September 27, 1849, Poe departed from his hotel in Richmond, Virginia, and set out toward his home and mother-in-law cum aunt in New York. Poe’s visit to Richmond had been with the intention of drumming up subscriptions for his new publication, The Stylus, but while in his hometown he had also rekindled a love interest with his former fiancée, Sarah Elmira Royster. Shortly before his departure, Poe wrote to his aunt of his plans to relocate their family to Richmond so that he could carry out his engagement to Royster; with the exception of a possible stop in Philadelphia, Poe indicated no plans of layovers or visits along the route to his home.
It remains a mystery, then, as to how Poe appeared nearly a week later, deliriously wandering the streets of Baltimore, Maryland.
On October 3, clientele of Ryan’s Tavern in Baltimore—also a polling place—noted a man, seemingly a drunkard, wandering the street haphazardly outside the drinking hole. Upon closer inspection, many of them realized the man looked familiar, eventually coming to recognize him as the popular author and former resident of the area, Edgar Allan Poe. Poe was not in his usual attire or state: his well-tailored, black wool suit was replaced with a cheap, gabardine imitation; his normally slicked hair a disheveled mop topped by a fanciful straw hat; his cool demeanor gone, and in its place the roving, deviled eyes of a madman, his speech lilting and nonsensical. This was Poe’s body, passersby noted, but this was not Poe.
A kind stranger wrote immediately for Poe’s friend Dr. Joseph E. Snodgrass. Upon arrival, the passionate teetotaler Snodgrass disgustedly assisted his friend, assuming Poe to be under the influence of the wicked spirit of alcohol. He later described Poe’s state as “repulsive,” his hair and body filthy and his clothes worn, noting specifically his “lusterless and vacant eyes.” Although Snodgrass’s assumption of Poe’s intoxication proved useful for the temperance movement (teetotalers would willingly grasp onto any indication of the faults of alcohol), his assumption was the first of many surrounding Poe’s death that simply didn’t, and still don’t, make sense. Poe was an active member of the Sons of Temperance and was known to have given up drinking years before his death. Though some of his symptoms seemed to point toward alcohol, it is extremely unlikely that this “son of temperance” would have slid so quickly into alcoholism as to warrant a death certificate. Poe’s rambling speech seemed indicative of inebriation, or even drug use, but his well-known sobriety contests it indefinitely.
And so Snodgrass delivered Poe to Washington College Hospital and into the hands of Dr. John Joseph Moran, the resident physician. For the next several days, Poe’s state and health are shrouded in even more mystery than his ill-fated discovery. Moran refused Poe’s visitors, locking him away in a prison-like room without access to the outside world. What little the world knows of Poe’s last days was gleaned from the articles and lectures of Dr. Moran—a source of questionable reliability. Although Moran was always willing to discuss Poe’s dying conditions with anyone who was willing to listen, his story changed frequently, the blundering doctor often switching days and times, conditions and words.
In most of Moran’s accounts, Poe arrived at the hospital in an admittedly maniacal state, but a state he steadfastly refuted as “inebriated.” Despite the claims of Snodgrass and Poe’s retractors, Moran always substantiated Poe’s sobriety. The physician claimed Poe lay abed for several days, his condition worsening but with no notable occurrences except for his proclamation of the name “Reynolds!” hours before his death. Then, on October 7, 1849, at 5:00 AM (or later in the day, according to which account of Moran’s you’re perusing), the celebrated author died, leaving few clues as to the cause of his death.
For over a century and a half, Poe’s fans have revisited the circumstances surrounding his passing, searching fruitlessly for another piece to his incomplete puzzle. Countless theories have been proposed, including suicide, murder, cholera, rabies, syphilis, influenza, heart disease, brain lesions and, most popularly, “cooping.”
According to letters to his aunt, Poe seems to have been ill in the months leading up to his death. He had even traveled through areas of cholera outbreak, meaning there is a possibility of his transmuting the illness, but he also indicated that he had been feeling improved. It is also often noted that the author nearly overdosed on laudanum, a popular tranquilizer and pain killer, the year before, and perhaps he finally succumbed to the negative effects of the drug in 1849. Others note Poe’s morose depression and point toward suicide. But with the absence of medical records and without certified death records or certificates (their use was not yet regularized), modern-day sleuths and detectives have little medical evidence to fall back on.
Circumstances do, however, point toward the most thoroughly-accepted theory of cooping. At the time, “cooping” was a popular technique for garnering votes for politicians. An innocent man would be kidnapped, drugged, and dragged to various polling places throughout a town to serve as a pawn for a specific candidate. The fact that Poe reappeared on voting day, at a polling place, without his senses and without his own clothes, all seem to point toward the possibility of cooping. It is also of note that Poe was discovered without his belongings and, notably, without the subscription money he had garnered while in Richmond. Could it be possible that the recognizable author was seized upon, mugged, drugged, and sent to support an election? Naysayers claim Poe was too famous to be used as such a pawn, but, for now, cooping is generally accepted as the author’s fate.
Poe is the original architect of the modern-day horror story. He expertly crafted intricate webs of mystery and riddles, playing the role of fattened spider who could whip his prey into a buzzing frenzy before willingly releasing them. No matter how complex the plot, Poe never failed to liberate the reader and reveal to them the truth. Except in his final story, the story of his own death. In this story, Poe clouded his subject in mystery and has left his readers and the world waiting for the climax, the reveal, to this day.
See More Images Here for “Buried in Mystery: The Fall of Poe”