Edgar Allan Poe's cognac-carrying admirer fails to materialize again
January 19th, 2011
03:08 PM ET

Edgar Allan Poe's cognac-carrying admirer fails to materialize again

How appropriate for the creator of the mystery novel.

The shadowy visitor who left roses and a half-full bottle of cognac at Edgar Allan Poe's Baltimore grave on the writer's birthday, every year for 60 years, has failed to appear for the second year in a row. And no one knows why.

The tradition began on January 19, 1949, according to the Edgar Allan Poe Society. The last visitation came two years ago, on the 200th anniversary of the birth of Poe, the author of such dark classics as "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Telltale Heart," "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," and the poem "The Raven."

Jeff Jerome, curator of the Edgar Allan Poe House and unofficial head of the annual vigil, waited in the dark and cold overnight before declaring it over at 5:45 a.m. Wednesday, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Jerome took as many media calls as he could handle Wednesday morning, then went to bed.

"This is Jeff Jerome. I can't talk to you. I've been up for 25 hours straight, I'm exhausted and I need sleep," his voice mail at the Edgar Allan Poe House says.

Before he went to bed, Jerome told the Sun he's just about done with waiting for Poe's secret admirer.

"I will be here in 2012, but that will be it," he said. "If he's a no-show, I will officially pronounce the tradition dead."

The identity and motivation of the "Poe Toaster" has always been a mystery, as is the reason for the ritual's apparent end.

As crowds for the annual stakeout at Westminster Burying Ground have grown, the Toaster may be finding it harder to go in and out unnoticed. Perhaps the stealthy Poe admirer simply decided it was time to stop.

Or perhaps he died under mysterious circumstances. (Cue scary music.)

"It is a great, kind of unique Baltimore story and tradition. Baltimore is full of those quirky and unique traditions," said Sara Hisamoto, director of public relations for Visit Baltimore.

"It's always sad to see a tradition go away, but knowing Baltimore, we'll come up with some other kind of quirky celebration to take its place."

Toaster or no Toaster, the Poe society will still hold a birthday party this weekend at Westminster Hall.

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Filed under: Literature • Maryland • U.S.
soundoff (169 Responses)
  1. Nancy in WA

    I would venture to say that the person has died. Assuming they started placing things on his grave at the age of 18 (conservatively low), they would be 78. Realistically, the person was older when they started. I think they just died and the ritual died with them.

    January 19, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • BawlmerNative

      The legend includes the "passing of the torch" in the late '90's to the original toaster's son (described in a note left on the grave, the original toaster had died). So, even though it is entirely possible that the Poe Toaster is dead, it would most likely not be from old age.

      January 19, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • mark worrell

      POE FAN: great post.

      January 19, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • kmetal balmer

      has anyone wondered if the attention and a guy on 24 hour watch might be why the tradition has stopped?? the second something becomes mainstream it loses its integrity!!

      January 19, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dorkus Maximus

      I had a Poe Toaster once. The bread always got stuck inside.

      January 19, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patrick

      The article says that the Toaster's last visit was on the 200th anniversary of Poe's birth. Would that not be the type of occasion one might retire this ritual?

      January 19, 2011 at 11:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • ed

      If the the toaster doesn't show, the tradition is death, and if they discover the toaster, then the tradition is death. The only way is: STOP THE STAKEOUT

      January 20, 2011 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
    • mmi16

      Quoth the Raven – Nevermore!

      January 20, 2011 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      If an eccentric raises a toast in a graveyard for 60 years and no one is there to see it...

      January 20, 2011 at 1:39 am | Report abuse |
    • kevin conway

      I think it was writer John Updike. He would have started doing it at age 15. Did it in 2009, died a week later. Which explains the last 2 no shows.

      January 20, 2011 at 2:01 am | Report abuse |
    • star

      um let's see, the person had been doing it for 60 years in a row, he is most likely dead or no longer capable of getting out and about, doesnt really seem like much of a mystery, say he started at 20, he wouldve been 80 in 2009, i fail to see the mystery

      January 20, 2011 at 2:03 am | Report abuse |
    • VegasRage

      No mystery at all, 60 years, they are dead or to frail to go. Why did CNN put this on the front page?

      January 20, 2011 at 2:38 am | Report abuse |
    • bspurloc

      why do people feel the need to bother this person in the first place? why is the curator waiting up all night for the person?
      go find a tradition of your own leave people alone.

      January 20, 2011 at 2:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Baltimore Guy

      Look Guys...it simple. For years, the guy came and put the stuff out, and it was amazing. There is a 10 foot brick wall around the cemetary, so people have always left him alone and watched from a distance (from on the wall or through the gates). But then the original guy, passed the torch in the 90's. Then the new guy left some provoking notes in following years, and some years back, some people attacked the guy one night. It was a great tradition, the current guy isn't dead, it's just another example of us going beyond our boundries and ruining what was a pretty cool thing to see. Once attention dies down, it will start back up.

      January 20, 2011 at 8:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Arienette

      It's such a romantic tradition.
      I only wish I can inspire someone so much that they celebrate my birthday centuries after I'm gone

      January 20, 2011 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Nikki

      I agree with kmetal. I think it is most likely the fact that someone is now waiting for them to catch them. It isn't secret anymore if someone catches you. There is still the possibility that the person has passed away and had no one to pass the torch on to. It is a mystery and will probably remain that way. What a great article!

      January 20, 2011 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
    • LeftMind

      The author didn't say how long the "stakeout" has been going on. Perhaps only for 2 years? If so, that may be the reason he stopped coming.

      January 20, 2011 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
    • jonas

      yeah, either that or he was on a bender because the ravens lost and he drank the cognac.

      January 20, 2011 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Brian rhodes

      maybe they just facebooked him this year?

      January 20, 2011 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
  2. Jennifer Waite - Tucson Celebrity Headlines Examiner

    I agree with Nancy above. The person would have had to have been old enough to buy liquor starting in 1949, which would indicate someone fairly long in the tooth presntly. Such a dedicated mourner would not just stop his/her annual tribute for no reason; they are either dead, or incapacitated and unable to continue.

    January 19, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rice4you

      You wouldn't need to be 21 to buy liquorin 1949.

      January 19, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Spence

    NEVERMORE! -:(

    January 19, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Brad

    Uhm, let's see...this has been going on since 1949, right? Has anyone considered that maybe he or she has died? Mmmhello.

    January 19, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Meg

      That was my thought.

      January 19, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ignorance is Bliss

      Well there was a note left on the grave a number of years ago (forgive me I can't remember the year) which stated he HAD passed away and his SON was now doing it....so your point becomes moot. My best guess would be that at the 200 year anniversary the son figured that was a good marker for stopping. Or he is too caught up in his 21st century life to worry about it anymore. Who knows but it was interesting while it lasted, lol.

      January 20, 2011 at 3:59 am | Report abuse |
  5. tomcat

    So just buy a bottle of cognac (drink half), get some roses and put it on the grave. Would that make everyone happy? Sorry to burst your bubble CNN, but all things come to an end.

    January 19, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Would a half bottle of Jack Daniels do the trick? Cause I'd be up for that.

      January 19, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dwayne Oxen

      True "all things come to end." This includes the statement "all things come to an end." So the reality is that even all things coming to an end, will end. So everything may live/exist forever.

      January 19, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • frontgate

      oooooohhh, cnn's bubble has burst.

      January 19, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al Beritebak

      But could you drink only half a bottle of JD and then more or less give the rest if it away? I think not!

      January 19, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joey

      @ Al...
      True words my friend.

      January 19, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • bspurloc

      no they wont be happy till they interfere with this person tradition. they were doing it in private so why try to upset the person. its astounding how palin stupid people are. IF the person wanted to be known you would know them. mind your own business and go watch jay stupid leno

      January 20, 2011 at 2:52 am | Report abuse |
    • santeechief

      Was "palin stupid" a typo, or did you mean it that way?

      January 20, 2011 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |

    was the cognac half full or half empty?

    January 19, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      Neither...it was mint julip tea and I believe Delta Dawn took the flowers!

      January 19, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • DM Mom

      If the tone of his literature is any clue, the bottle was half empty.....

      January 19, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • conch

      It is the same as is the glass half-full I am a Realist. If you are filling a glass and stop half-way then the glass IS half-full.
      If you take a full glass and empty it half-way, it IS half-empty.
      This is a question of mechanics and not philosophy, optimism, or pessimism.

      January 19, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al Beritebak

      Half empty and poisoned!

      January 19, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. BawlmerNative

    The legend includes the "passing of the torch" in the late '90's to the original toaster's son (described in a note left on the grave, the original toaster had died). So, even though it is entirely possible that the Poe Toaster is dead, it would most likely not be from old age.

    January 19, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al Beritebak

      Mmmm someone with a first name of "Toni" is a master writer? You probably think Danielle Steele is pretty hot stuff.

      January 19, 2011 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |

    The tradition of reading is dead.

    January 19, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      The tradition of writing a good book is dead.

      January 19, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • mark worrell

      so is the mystery caller.


      he liked good writing and rewarded it. simple; no mystery.

      January 19, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dolores

      Mmmm, read Toni Morrison if the think we lack good compemporary authors. She is a master.

      January 19, 2011 at 9:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack D. Ripper

      ...if that really IS your name!

      January 20, 2011 at 1:34 am | Report abuse |
  9. ChelleAnne

    Anonymous. I would venture a guess that this tradition has been upheld for all of these years by one, two or more fans who now find it difficult to be anonymous... so perhaps they've just stopped.
    Our stake outs have ruined this. Way to go.

    January 19, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al Beritebak

      Sounds like they need... an AIR DROP!!

      January 19, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Poe Fan

    Did the Poe Toaster fail to materialize?

    I was at Westminster last night, waiting for the toaster. I saw two guys try to impersonate the toaster with only flowers. How can one "toast" without alcohol, you ask? To which I reply: good question. They were the faux toasters. Unbelievably, one woman showed up in a stretch Hummer limo - flowers, cognac, the whole bit, except the cognac was Hennessy (an inferior label to be generous) and she never went anywhere near the grave, leaving her two-bit tribute at the Poe monument instead. If this woman had been a real Poe fan she would have spent her money on a decent bottle instead of that hooch, and her time learning about Poe and the toasting tradition instead of worrying about her upscale limo "entrance." Maybe she could have been the new Poe Toaster. Instead, she was the Ho toaster. Only one comer among them stood out. In the wee hours, around two am, a spry young woman in a clouche hat, with roses and cognac of excellent label tucked in her coat, made her way deftly through the crowd. And, without any pretension she delivered her tribute to the grave. Then, without a word, she was gone - was whisked away in a passing car and disappeared into the night.

    The Poe Toaster is NOT a person. It is a concept. An idea. It matters nothing that this woman did not give the curator his precious "sign," or that she did not utilize his secret entrance, or "arrange the flowers" according to Hoyle. What matter is that, on that cold rainy night, she delivered the passion, the respect, and the tribute that our beloved poet richly deserves.

    The Poe Toaster failed to materialize? You weren't there. I was. And I saw her. Last night, the Poe Toaster came.

    January 19, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      poor fan...thanx!

      January 19, 2011 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Antlers

      So was she smokin hot?

      January 19, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • pam

      Thank you Poe Fan – I had never heard of this tradition and you brought it to life for me with your eloquent words.

      January 19, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ruby

      Thank you for a great post and a fine tribute to a great man!

      January 19, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al Beritebak

      And how can one toast without a toaster? Or will one just pop up out of thin air?

      January 19, 2011 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Perilous

      Beautiful. Thank you.

      January 20, 2011 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Never More

      60 years was a good run..... I salute you on your enduring enchantments

      January 20, 2011 at 2:37 am | Report abuse |
    • kadie

      Poe Fan, beautifully written. Hope the tradition stays alive, no matter who does it as long as it's with true meaning and not for show or publicity.

      January 20, 2011 at 3:26 am | Report abuse |
    • luke

      Yes Virginia, there is a Poe Toaster 🙂

      January 20, 2011 at 4:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Anon

      Your attempt to sound literary was a little off. And you staking out the place is why the tradition is ruined. Way to go.

      January 20, 2011 at 6:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Evolution

      Pass the torch. This was a wonderfully intriguing tradition for 60 straight years. Two years of no-shows by the original family (father or son) is a break in that tradition that leads me to believe that it's not happening again. People still love Poe's work and want to honor him and it's obvious that this is a story people are interested in. Perhaps it's time that all those who want to toast Poe take up the flag and carry on. The woman in the limo, the woman in the hat and any others who want to honor Poe should do so, beginning in 2012. What better way to carry on than to let all of Poe's fans participate?

      January 20, 2011 at 7:08 am | Report abuse |
    • cadaverously wan

      very nice ..

      January 20, 2011 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Lenore

      Says YOU "Poe Fan." Man . . . I wish I had a dolla' every time some haughty-sounding, wanna be Toaster critic started sounding off. The Toaster is gone. LEt the man R.I.P. will ya?

      January 24, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. elidude

    Ain't it great that Lieberman is going to retire??? Happy days are here again!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 19, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Long Way From Home

    Coming from a family whose roots in Baltimore go back many generations but now finding myself in Colorado, I just wanted to thank "Poe Fan" for his/her eloquent comments. Thanks for reminding us all how to appreciate this wonderful tradition which will likely live on in one way or another.

    January 19, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. wfjack

    Why is it necessary to know who the person is? Let the tradition go on without the medias intervention.

    January 19, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al Beritebak

      Isn't it obvious someone discovered who it was and then imprisoned him behind a brick wall near a row of casks?

      January 19, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Burbank

    I was totally in love with Poe's works when I was about 13, read them all, some of them twice. He was the father of Goth long before there was any such movement with teenagers.

    January 19, 2011 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Todd Lewis

      Horace Walpole was actually the father of the gothic, publishing the first gothic novel in 1764. Poe, however, is the absolute master of the genre.

      January 20, 2011 at 1:41 am | Report abuse |
  15. william

    I say its time to pass the tradition on to the next Poe Unknown . The man who started it must be with poe now but the tradition should live on !!!!! At all cost ! If someone will help with travel and a cheep hotel , I'll start doing it in 2012 .
    And to whomever did it before , god bless !

    January 19, 2011 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al Beritebak

      A cheep hotel? For chickens only?

      January 19, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
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