Saturday, January 18, 2014

Poe Toaster

And a freaky dream it is if you're a bystander near Edgar Allan Poe's grave tomorrow morning. 

For over 70 years, an unknown man dressed in black with a wide-brimmed hat and silver-tipped cane would visit the site of Poe's original resting place in Baltimore, MD to pay an annual tribute on the author's birthday. In the wee hours of the morning, the Poe Toaster would pour himself a glass of cognac and raise a toast to Poe's memory. He always left three red roses, the unfinished bottle of Martell cognac, and sometimes a note on the ink slinger's commemorative stone.

The Toaster was rarely seen and photographed only once, which was later published in a 1990 edition of Life magazine. People began to analyze the offerings left during the visits and suggested the roses represented Poe, his wife, and his mother-in-law, all of whom were originally buried at the site. The reason for the cognac is unknown as Poe never referenced the drink, which led many to believe it was strictly a Poe Toaster tradition. 

Mysterious. Respectable. A little creepy. The annual visits took a turn for the bizarre after 1998, when the original Poe Toaster died and passed his tradition on to "a son." Poe Toaster's successor carried on the custom, but started leaving "controversial" notes:

1993: "The torch will be passed." Possibly insinuating that Poe Toaster didn't have many years left and would make sure his tradition would carry on with someone else.
1999: A note announced that the original Toaster had died the previous year and had passed on the tradition to "a son."
2001: "The New York Giants. Darkness and decay and the big blue hold dominion over all. The Baltimore Ravens. A thousand injuries they will suffer. Edgar Allan Poe evermore." What. da. fuck. This 2001 toast happened only a few days before the Baltimore Ravens and the Giants were to play in the Superbowl. His prophesy(?) was false. The Ravens won the game, 34-7. The rest of the note was taken from Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death."
2004: "The sacred memory of Poe and his final resting place is no place for French cognac. With great reluctance but for respect for family tradition the cognac is placed. The memory of Poe shall live evermore!" It is expected that this note is in response to France's opposition to the war in Iraq, an issue dominating headlines at the time.

Maybe Poe Toaster Jr. was empowered with his newfound popularity enough to make sports predictions and political statements, I don't know. It was obvious that Jr. was not taking the tradition seriously.

"Jr." only left one more note. The final note was placed between 2005 and 2008 and was collected by Jeff Jerome, former curator of the Poe House and Museum. Jerome had attended all Poe Toaster appearances since 1976 and had collected many of the Toaster's offerings. Jerome refused to reveal the final contents of the note, only hinting that the tradition was ending. On the 200th anniversary of Poe's birth (1/19/09), the Poe Toaster made his last visit to the grave. 

Imposters have since tried to carry on the tradition, but Jerome can spot a "faux Toaster" right away. Jerome had previously publicly stated that it would be nice if the visitor performed a sign to distinguish himself from impersonators. The Toaster began doing these signs which were so subtle that it took Jerome years to pick up on them. He won't share them, so don't ask. 

"My personal feeling is the novelty wore off and they didn't like fighting the crowds and trying to find ways to get in here. And being afraid someone would try to tackle them with a camera right in their faces," Jerome said regarding Poe Toaster Jr.

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