Edgar Allan Poe fans call an end to ‘Toaster’ tradition

Edgar Allan Poe fans waited long past a midnight dreary, but it appears the annual visits to the writer’s grave in Baltimore by a mysterious figure called the “Poe Toaster” shall occur nevermore. Poe House and Museum Curator Jeff Jerome said early Thursday that die-hard fans waited inside Westminster Hall for hours past when the tribute bearer normally arrives. But the “Poe Toaster” was a no-show for a third year in a row.

The Poe Toaster leaves cognac and roses upon the writer's grave on the anniversary of his birth

Patrick Semansky, The Associated PressA flashlight shines on items left on the gravestone of Edgar Allen Poe by people who pretended to be the mysterious “Poe Toaster” in Baltimore, early Thursday. Fans waited long past a midnight dreary to see if the true “Poe Toaster” would return after a two-year hiatus to leave cognac and roses upon the writer’s grave on the anniversary of his birth, or whether the tradition had reached an end. The “Poe Toaster” was a no-show for a third year.

After the visitor failed to appear in 2010 and last year, Poe fans said they would hold one last vigil before calling an end to the tradition.

“It’s over with,” Poe House and Museum Curator Jeff Jerome said wearily Thursday morning. He wasn’t sure how he felt about the tradition coming to an end. “It will probably hit me later, but I’m too tired now to feel anything else.”

The tributes of an anonymous man in black with a white scarf and a wide-brimmed hat, who leaves three roses and a half-empty bottle of cognac at Poe’s original grave on the writer’s birthday, are thought to date to least the 1940s. A crowd gathered outside the gates of the burial ground surrounding Westminster Hall to watch for the mysterious visitor. While three impersonators appeared, the real “Poe Toaster” did not, Jerome said.

The gothic master’s tales of the macabre still connect with readers more than 200 years after his birth, including his most famous poem, “The Raven,” and short stories such as “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is considered the first modern detective story.

Jerome, who was first exposed to Poe through Vincent Price’s movies, believes people still identify with Poe’s suffering and his lifelong dream to be a poet. He has kept a vigil for the “Poe Toaster” each year since 1978 and built up a team of other dedicated Poe fans who stay awake all night to scan the shadows of the burial ground for the visitor.

“I’ve been part of a ritual that people around the world read about,” he said. “I’ll miss it.”

Wherever Jerome travels, once people find out what he does, they want to know whether the “Poe Toaster” is real. He believes the mystery of the “Poe Toaster” tradition will remain in the public consciousness despite the end of the visits.

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