One of Baltimore's spookiest traditions occurs every year on January 19, Poe's birthday, at the cemetery where the famous author is buried. A mysterious man steps out of the shadows at the Westminster Church Yard, wearing a black coat and hat, with a scarf covering his face. He stops at Poe's grave, and leaves a half-full bottle of cognac and three roses. Then he steals away into the darkness. It has been like this every year since 1949.
No one knows who he the man is or why he enacts this tribute to Poe year after year. Over time, he has simply become known as "the Poe Toaster," a reference to the toast (of cognac) that he seems to be offering Poe. The roses he leaves are believed to be in memory of the three persons buried at the site of the Poe Monument: Poe, Maria Clemm, and Virginia Poe.
In order to respect Poe's memory and the privacy of the Poe Toaster, no one has tried to reveal the identity of this mysterious visitor. But that doesn't keep people from trying to guess. Some think that the original Poe Toaster died, and his sons keep up his tradition. Others think that the tribute might be part of an initiation ritual for a club or fraternity of some sort.
Jeff Jerome, curator of the Baltimore Poe House and Museum, seems to be the most closely acquainted with the Poe Toaster. For the past twenty years, Mr. Jerome and a small group of Poe aficionados have kept a vigil on January 19, watching from inside the church for the Toaster to appear. Once the mystery man arrives, he sends Mr. Jerome a secret signal to show he is the true Poe Toaster.
But even Mr. Jerome doesn't seem to know for sure who the real Poe Toaster is (although he seems to favor the father-sons theory). However, he does keep several bottles of Poe Toaster cognac on display at the Poe House.
Only once has the Poe Toaster provided a clue to his identity one that left some Baltimoreans confused at best, and hopping mad at worst. In January 2001, days before the Baltimore Ravens were to face the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, the Poe Toaster left a note, which read:
"The New York Giants. Darkness and decay and the big blue hold dominion over all. The Baltimore Ravens. A thousand injuries they will suffer. Edgar Allan Poe evermore."
How could the Poe Toaster not be a Ravens fan, given that the team is named after Poe's most famous poem? Seems it's just another Edgar Allan Poe mystery.
In July 1990, Life Magazine published a photo that they allege is the Poe Toaster. Photo courtesy of Edgar Allen Poe's House of Usher site.
For more information on Poe's gravesite and the Poe Toaster, visit the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore's web.