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The Poe Toaster: A Delicious Mystery

Each year on January 19th a shadowy figure approaches a tombstone in a Baltimore graveyard. Hooded, the figure places a half-empty bottle of cognac and three roses upon the grave before disappearing back into the darkness.

The mystery of the Poe Toaster has endured for over a half century, in spite of the fact that this annual event has begun to attract crowds of people wishing to relish a mystery Poe would have been proud to have penned.

The hooded visitor has not remained the same, however. As you can hear in this NPR report (requires Real Player), a note found among the roses in 1999 stated that the original visitor had passed away in December, 1998. The continued visits, thought to be carried out by family members of the original Poe Toaster, are evidence of a legacy hinted at in a 1993 note which read only that "The torch will be passed."

While some mysteries beg to be solved, this is not one. I don't care to know who this person or these persons are, or their connection to the author. We discover new things about Poe's writing all the time, and just as his writing is often about mystery and death, so went his own life and death. That such a delicious mystery lingers around his grave is only fitting.

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An illustration by Harry Clarke. Clarke's illustrations for Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination are among some of the best examples of illustration as an art. What seems hard to reconcile with the decadence of these pictures is Clarke's primary occupation - a designer of stained glass windows for churches.