By Katelyn Snyder
Center Spread Editor
A 60-year tradition of honoring Edgar Allan Poe on his birthday seems to be nevermore, after the “Poe Toaster” failed to visit Poe’s grave on April 19, 2011. Since 1949, a dark figure has adorned the grave of the much-celebrated author with three roses and a half full bottle of cognac in the early hours of Poe’s birthday.
Though the Poe Toaster inexplicably did not visit in 2010, Poe fans gathered at his grave hoping for the Toaster’s return.
“Maybe he didn’t show up because his car broke down, or maybe he was ill,” said Jeff Jerome, curator of the Edgar Allan Poe House in Baltimore, weeks before the event. Jerome has been letting Poe fans into the Westminster Hall and Burial grounds for over 30 years, catching several glimpses of the Toaster.
Several Toaster imposters paraded to the gravesite throughout the night, though Jerome didn’t recognize any as the official toaster, which he knows by a specific pattern of roses on the grave and a secret signal.
Despite the lack of a Toaster, Poe fans still celebrated Poe’s birthday by putting their own roses on his grave and drinking their own cognac toast.
“It was a lovely, albeit wet, cold and weird evening,” said self-proclaimed Poe Toaster vigilante and survivor Jessica Vera on the Poe House Facebook page. “I think that it (being in the graveyard for Poe’s birthday) was a wonderful moment for all of us,” she continued.
“We will wait one more year, 2012, and if it still is a no show then I’ll officially declare the tribute ended,” said Jerome. “Keep in mind that if it is ended, what better time to end but on his bicentennial?”
2009, the last year the genuine Toaster visited Poe’s gravesite, was Poe’s 200th birthday, so some suspect that the Toaster meant to end the tradition with the big event.
The Poe Toaster tradition has raised intrigue in Baltimore since the beginning. In 2007, Sam Porpora shocked Poe fans by claiming that he created the “Toaster” as a publicity scheme for the Westminster Presbyterian Church.
“I wish I had a dollar for every person that has claimed to be the Poe Toaster! I would be a rich man,” said Jerome who never gave the rumor much credence especially since the first mention of the Poe Toaster can be found in an article from 1950.
The Toaster was never identified; however notes left at the gravesite hint that it was a custom passed from father to son. After two years without a Toaster, suspicions arose that the current Toaster had diedBaltimore has a long history of celebrating Poe and his writings. Since 1983 celebrations of Poe’s life and birthday have been held. Poe lived in Baltimore for four years and met his wife Virginia there. After he left Baltimore, he visited frequently, eventually dying there in 1949. Richmond may have been Poe’s home for most of his life, but Baltimore has his grave. Poe’s home in Baltimore has been preserved and transformed into a museum open to the public. “ We are very aggressive in promoting the Poe House and his grave,” Jerome said.
No matter what becomes of the Poe Toaster tradition, the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore will continue to avidly remind Poe fans of his history in Baltimore. Aside from the graveside celebration of Poe’s birth, the society hosts a two day long official celebration of Poe including music, entertainment and a toast hosted by Jerome. This celebration occurred on January 22 and 23.