Burning Question #18: Was It murder?

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We will agree that we all know who Edgar Allan Poe was and are familiar with some of his work. I’ll have a reading list at the end for reference.

Don’t run off before you answer the poll below. It is fast and easy and the reason we’re here today. Just scroll down (but read the amazing story too.)

Welcome to the Next Great True Crime Mystery

In October of 1849, ten years before I was born, my parents were arriving in California with a baby boy and a group of Vampires who’d come out West to start a new life.

In the meantime, across the country on October 3, 1849, Poe was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, “in great distress, and… in need of immediate assistance”, according to Joseph W. Walker who found him. Poe later died on Sunday, October 7, 1849 at 5:00 in the morning. Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in his dire condition and, oddly, was wearing clothes that were not his own. He is said to have repeatedly called out the name “Reynolds” on the night before his death, though it is unclear to whom he was referring. Some sources say that Poe’s final words were “Lord help my poor soul”.

All medical records and Poe’s death certificate were conveniently lost. 

Newspapers at the time reported Poe’s death as “congestion of the brain” or “cerebral inflammation”, To translate that means he died of the overuse of alcohol. To this day the actual cause of death remains a mystery. Speculation has included a multitude of dire conditions including delirium tremens, heart disease, epilepsy, syphilis, meningeal inflammation, cholera, and rabies. 

The day that Edgar Allan Poe was buried, a long obituary appeared in The New York Post signed “Ludwig”. It was soon published throughout the country. The piece began, “Edgar Allan Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it.”

“Ludwig” was soon identified an asshole named Rufus Wilmot Griswold an editor, critic, and anthologist who had borne a grudge against Poe since 1842. Griswold somehow became Poe’s literary executor (no doubt through lies and bribes)and attempted to destroy Poe’s reputation after his death.

The story was fabricated by Griswold, and it was denounced by those who had known Poe, including Sarah Helen Whitman, Charles Frederick Briggs, and George Rex Graham. This account became popularly accepted, in part because it was the only full biography available and was widely reprinted. It also remained popular because many readers assumed that Poe was similar to his fictional characters and were thrilled at the thought of reading the works of an “evil” man.

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Nevermore

A more accurate biography of Poe did not appear until of 1875 (Ingram). But once a lie is out it is difficult to retract it. Many writers used Poe as a cautionary tale against alcohol and drugs.  In 1941, Arthur Hobson Quinn presented evidence that Griswold had forged and re-written a number of Poe’s letters that were included in his “Memoir of the Author”. By then, Griswold’s depiction of Poe was entrenched in the mind of the public, both in America and around the world, and this distorted image of the author has become part of the Poe legend despite attempts to dispel it.

The very fact that Poe, a snappy and fashionable man was found in worn out clothing in a gutter went against the nature of the man. I believe he suffered from depression, of course, but I also believe that the notion of him drinking himself to death is wrong.

In the 19th Century, in America, people, especially man, all drank copious amounts of alcohol. The temperance movement in the United States was well founded due to the amount of alcohol most people consumed. Drink did not agree with Edgar Poe. So we he drank it went right to his head in extreme ways, but yet, if he had passed up a drink that would have gone against the social norms.

A few months before his death Edgar Allan Poe became engaged to his childhood sweetheart Sarah Elmira Royster. There were rumors that her brothers, who were against the union, had Poe murdered.

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Sarah Elmira Royster Poe’s Love Interest at the time of he is death.

Poe’s friend Sarah Helen Whitman, a poet, and woman of good standing always insisted he did not die a dishonorable man.

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Sarah Helen Whitman Poet and Friend of Poe

He did die a brilliant story teller and the father of the modern murder mystery, and modern horror.

If you get a chance look up the different stories about Poe. You’ll be amazed at what is out there.

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Or, on the other hand, Edgar Allan Poe might still be with us, having come aboard the ship to California with the rest of the Vampires.

Burning Question #18: Was Edgar Allan Poe Murdered?

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The Black Cat Illustrated by Gris Grimly

 

When I was a child my brother’s and I used to read Poe around a candle at night. Well, they’d read. As the youngest child I’d just let them scare the jeebers out of me. Later I read the stories on my own. And of course we’ve all seen (much later) the Vincent Price movies.

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Poe by Harry Clarke

Some of the Works of Poe:

Other works

Also HIGHLY RECOMMENDED:

The Poe Shadow
by Daniel Pearl
Yes it is one of my favorite books. You must read it.

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So your project for this summer is to read everything you can by Edgar Allan Poe, or about Edgar Allan Poe, and SOLVE THE MYSTERY.

Your next project is to keep checking back here on Saturday mornings for the next BURNING QUESTION.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

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Short Story Sunday: Guest Writer Edgar Allen Poe – The Tell Tale Heart

I find myself somewhat out of words… without a Sunday Short Story – so I’m honored to feature a story of terror from dear Eddie Poe. My brother used to read this to me and we would scare ourselves silly!  This story is best when read out loud! So please READ IT ALOUD to your friends and family and anyone you want to totally and completely creep out! 

For more great gothic, horror and romantic fiction with a twist stories go to the bottom of the page for links.

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The Tell-Tale Heart

by Edgar Allan Poe
(first published 1850)

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TRUE! — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses — not destroyed — not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily — how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture –a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees — very gradually –I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded –with what caution –with what foresight –with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it –oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, so that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly –very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! –would a madman have been so wise as this? And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously –oh, so cautiously –cautiously (for the hinges creaked) –I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights –every night just at midnight –but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.

Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers –of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back –but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.

I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out –“Who’s there?”

I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening; –just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.

Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief –oh, no! –it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself –“It is nothing but the wind in the chimney –it is only a mouse crossing the floor,” or “It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp.” Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel –although he neither saw nor heard –to feel the presence of my head within the room.

When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little –a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it –you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily –until, at length a single dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.

It was open –wide, wide open –and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness –all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man’s face or person: for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.

And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over acuteness of the senses? –now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eye. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment! –do you mark me well? I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me –the sound would be heard by a neighbor! The old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once –once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more.

If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.

I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye — not even his –could have detected any thing wrong. There was nothing to wash out –no stain of any kind –no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all –ha! ha!

When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o’clock –still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart, –for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbor during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.

I smiled, –for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search –search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct: –it continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness –until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.

No doubt I now grew very pale; –but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased –and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound –much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath — and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly –more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent   but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men — but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed –I raved –I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder –louder –louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! –no, no! They heard! –they suspected! –they knew! –they were making a mockery of my horror! –this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! –and now –again! –hark! louder! louder! louder! louder! —

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! –tear up the planks! –here, here! –it is the beating of his hideous heart!”

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More from Short Story Sunday

Click on the title to go to the story.

And if you get a chance read or listen to the audio version of The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl (it is one of my favorite books). A fun, romantic, smart book that will transport you back to the 19th century (but without Vampires.) It takes you back to a young man’s search for the real truth behind Poe’s death and on a journey with unique characters you won’t forget. Matthew Pearl is did his research with this one. The guy is brilliant. The guy rocks at historic fiction.

And because I couldn’t resist…

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