The Mysterious Life Of Edgar Allan Poe

Born on January 19, 1809, Edgar Allan Poe eventually became a renowned American poet, writer, editor, and literary critic. Best known for his poetry and short stories, he is regarded as the master of the macabre and is credited with helping to establish the detective fiction genre and influencing emerging science fiction writers. He was the first well-known American writer to live strictly off of his writing, and has gone down in history as an incredibly progressive artist. Take a more in-depth look at what made Poe such a unique person.

Poe’s Reputation As A Madman Was Mostly Created By A Rival

Portrait of Poe
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ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Just two days after Edgar Allan Poe’s death, the New York Daily Tribune posted an obituary about him written by a man who called himself “Ludwig.” This wasn’t the kind of loving obituary most people might see in the newspaper. Ludwig made comments such as, “He walked the streets, in madness or melancholy, with lips moving in indistinct curses,” among other claims.

As it turns out, Ludwig was a fake name used by Poe’s rival Rufus Wilmot Griswold, an enemy Poe had made during his time as a critic. Griswold would later write a biographical article on Poe titled “Memoir of the Author” which made further false statements or spread half-truths to taint Poe’s image.

He Was Interested In More Than Just Writing

Portrait of Poe
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Universal History Archive/Getty Images

Poe also had a deep interest in physics and cosmology, which led him to write Eureka: A Prose Poem in 1848. The essay discussed the origins of the universe, and included a cosmological theory that predated the Big Bang theory by an incredible 80 years and the first plausible solution to Olbers’ Paradox.

However, he avoided the use of the scientific method, writing off pure intuition. This resulted in a number of scientific errors. Poe was aware of this and considered the essay a work of art and not science.

He Was A Skilled Cryptographer

Statue of Poe
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Robert Alexander/Getty Images

In his story The Gold-Bug, it’s evident that Poe had at least a basic understanding of cryptography, but his knowledge of the subject went far deeper. To test his own skills, in 1839, he requested the readers of a Philadelphia newspaper to send him ciphers that he could attempt to solve, and he would publish his own for other enthusiasts to try their hand at.

By doing this, Poe created a fascination with cryptography among the public and is credited with popularizing these kinds of puzzles in newspapers and magazines. In addition, William Friedman, American’s foremost cryptologist, has named Poe as one of his biggest influences.

He Wasn’t Born With “Allan” In His Name

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Marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1908, as Edgar Poe, to two professional actors. His childhood was bleak, with his father abandoning his family when he was two and his mother dying of tuberculosis shortly after. Luckily for Poe, John and Frances Allan, an affluent Richmond family, took him in and gave him an education.

Although the couple never formally adopted Poe, he added their surname to his own. Later in Poe’s life, he and Allan would become estranged, with rumors that Poe was reckless with the money Allan sent to him for his university fees.

He Was A Convincing Science Fiction Writer

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1884, Poe published a science fiction story now known as “The Balloon Hoax” in The Sun newspaper in New York. Presented as a true story, it provided a detailed account of a European balloonist Monck Mason, who traveled across the Atlantic Ocean in a balloon in just 75 hours.

At the time, such a feat was unheard of, which resulted in a dramatic increase in the sales of the newspaper. However, when it was discovered two days later that the story was fiction, The Sun retracted the story. Regardless of the popularity of the story, Poe was deeply annoyed with how much money the paper made without paying him a cent.

His Body Was Moved After His Death

Edgar Allan Poe's grave
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SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

With a funeral attendance of just a few people, Poe was buried in an unmarked grave in his grandfather’s plot in Westminster Hall and Burying Ground in Baltimore. Eleven years later, his cousin would pay for a monument that was eventually destroyed by a runaway train.

Then, 26 years after his death, Poe’s teachers and students paid for his body to be moved and another monument erected next to the cemetery gate. Poe’s wife died two years before him, and when his body was moved to its final resting place, admirers moved her bones next to his.

He Was Considered By Many To Be Attractive

Portrait of young Poe
Archive Photos/Getty Images
Archive Photos/Getty Images

While many photos of Poe depict him as looking almost decrepit, with bags under his eyes and a twisted smile, he was regarded by many who knew him as a rather attractive man. Many people commented on his striking eyes, and women described him as being a “beautiful boy” and “most attractive.”

In his youth, he was also known for his athleticism, making a local name for himself at the age of 15 by swimming six miles up Virginia’s James River. A common misconception about his appearance is his iconic mustache, something he didn’t grow out until four years before his death.

He Married His Much Younger Cousin

Picture of Virginia Clemm
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Culture Club/Getty Images

In 1836, when Poe was 26, he married his third wife and 13-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm. Although it was claimed that she was 21 on their marriage certificate, it caused a bit of a scandal for multiple reasons.

Unfortunately, Clemm would die of tuberculosis 11 years later, the same illness that killed Poe’s mother. It is believed that the death of his mother and Clemm had a profound influence on his writing, with his stories including “The Raven,” “Ligeia,” and “Annabel Lee” each involving the death of a young woman.

One Of His Grim Tales Came True

Painting of Poe
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Culture Club/Getty Images

In 1838, Poe published his only novel, titled The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. The story follows a group of shipwrecked sailors that draws straws to see which one of them will be eaten. In the tale, a young man named Richard Parker is the one to draw the fateful straw.

Then, 46 years later, a group of real seamen found themselves in a similar situation. When a 17-year-old boy among them fell ill, it was decided that he would be eaten so the others could survive. Unbelievably, the boy’s name was Richard Parker.

His Death Remains A Mystery

Sketch of Poe
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Culture Club/Getty Images

In 1849, Poe had been missing for four days when he was found delirious and “in great distress and…in need of immediate assistance” on the streets in Baltimore. He was wearing someone else’s clothing and was taken to a hospital where he died four days later at the age of 40.

The night before his death, he repeatedly called out the name “Reynolds” with his final words being “Lord help my poor soul.” With his medical records and death certificate lost, his passing remains a mystery, although speculations include murder, epilepsy, heart disease, delirium tremens, rabies, syphilis, and more.

A Possible Theory Surrounding His Death

Photo of Poe
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Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Days before he was found on the brink of death in Baltimore, Poe was seen at a municipal polling station that was notorious for a practice known as “cooping.” This process is a type of voting fraud in which individuals drug or kidnap victims, forcing them to vote as different people at several polling stations before they’re eventually left to die.

Considering that Poe was found in clothes that weren’t his, years after his death, rumors began to circulate that he was a victim of cooping. Even one of Poe’s good friends gave a lecture syaing that it was a plausible reason behind his death.

A Real-Life Mystery Inspired One Of His Stories

Engraving of Poe
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Archive Photos/Getty Images

One of Poe’s works titled “The Mystery of Marie Roget” was inspired by a real-life mystery. In 1841, Mary Cecilia Rogers’ body was found in the Hudson River two days after she had gone missing, and the police had little idea who was the culprit.

Like many people in the area, Poe followed the story in the newspapers, which inspired a story of his own. When a man named William Snowden was in search for information on the killer, Poe sent him his story as advice on how certain police methods could be used to find the assailant.

People Were Eager To Get A Lock Of His Hair

Lock of hair
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Pinterest

When Poe was on his deathbed, there was supposedly a line waiting outside to collect some kind of souvenir from the poet. At the time, the attending physician noted that Poe’s body was “visited by some of the first individuals of the city, with many of them anxious to have a lock of his hair.”

Even Poe’s friend Joseph Snodgrass took some for himself, which can now be found in the Poe Museum. However, this wasn’t the only relic that was taken from Poe. There are rumors that those who moved his body to his new grave took splinters from his casket and turned them into crucifixes.

He Helped Establish A Genre Of Writing

Drawing of Poe
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Archive Photos/Getty Images

There’s no doubt that Poe had a unique style of writing, but one particular genre that he helped to make popular was the detective genre. This is exemplified in his detective short story “The Murders in Rue Morgue,” as well as “The Mystery of Marie Roget.”

Poe was one of the first to write in such a manner and other famous fictional detectives followed such as Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, who are based on “The Murders in Rue Morgue” character, Detective Dupin.

His Funeral Was A Dreary Affair

Portait of Poe
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Bettmann/Getty Images

Although Poe may have made quite the name or himself during his lifetime, his funeral was less-than-celebratory with only seven people in attendance. His cousins made the decision to bury him as soon as they could after his death. One of the witnesses went on to describe the ceremony as being nothing short of “cold-blooded” and “unchristianlike.”

Another man who was in attendance, Henry Herring, commented, “I didn’t have anything to do with him when he was alive, and I don’t want to have anything to do with him after his death.”

People Thought Poe Was Haunting Them

Portrait of Poe -113489585
Universal History Archive/Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Getty Images

In the 1860s, medium Lizzie Doten claimed that Poe came to her in a vision, reciting poetry that he wanted her to publish from the afterlife. She did as she was told, and had poems published that she proclaimed had come from Poe herself.

Yet, that wasn’t the only person he supposedly haunted. Poe’s one-time fiancee, Sarah Helen Whitman, also claimed to have been visited by Poe. At one point, she even had a medium move in with her to help her communicate with her lost love.

He Was A Fan Of Gambling

Portrait of Poe
VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images
VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images

It’s been rumored that Poe had a vice, and that was gambling. This created a significant rift between him and his “stepfather” John Allan, as Poe was gambling away the money that given to him for tuition for the University of Virginia.

Of course, although Poe claimed that his father wasn’t sending him enough money for tuition, the more he received, the more that he gambled. After John refused to pay any more money, Poe dropped out and joined the army.

There Were Misconceptions About His Addictions

Drawing of Poe
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ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Although a lot of people had the idea of Poe as a drunkard, opium addict, and worse, that wasn’t necessarily the case. Numerous doctors that he had seen before his death denounced the claims that he was a rampant alcoholic or a frequent user of opium that many today believe.

After his death, those who despised him for whatever reason made more than enough claims to solidify him as such a person although most of these theories have been proven otherwise in recent years.

“The Raven” Was An Instant Success

Photo of Poe
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VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images

When Poe started taking writing seriously, his writing “The Raven” was published in the New York Daily Mirror in 1845 and was an overnight success.

With the goal of creating “a poem that should suit at once the popular and critical taste,” “The Raven” tells the story of a student mourning his lover who is eventually driven into madness by a raven who repeatedly uses the word “nevermore.” While this was Poe’s biggest success, his themes of grief and love would carry on throughout several of his other works.

He Is Considered America’s First Professional Writer

Drawing of Poe
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Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Although Poe’s work is known around the world, he got his start in the United States. He had made a name for himself as a critic and lived entirely off of the earnings that he made from his poetry and other writings.

Because of this, he is considered by many to be the United States’ first professional writer. As it turns out, Poe never had any intention of becoming a writer but loved practicing, which made him so skilled at the art.