Many of my recent posts have dealt with the Civil War era - in particular, spies during the War between the States. I'm fascinated with that era - that interest has led me to write two historical romances set during the Civil War, with a third on its way. However, this post has nothing to do with the Civil War or spies or daring alpha males. In honor of the 212th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe on January 19, I took another look at the life and legacy of Poe and the mysterious Poe toaster.
Three roses and a half-bottle of cognac – a fitting toast to the man who created a literary genre, contributed to the development of short stories as a literary form in American literature, and created macabre images that have spawned countless nightmares, influenced literature and served as the inspiration for . For sixty years, an unknown visitor (or perhaps, visitors), clothing positioned to obscure his identity, ventured out to Poe’s grave during the wee hours of the night to drink a toast and leave the flowers and liquor at his grave. Visitors from across the country journeyed to Baltimore to witness what had been an annual event from 1949 until January 19, 2010, when the Poe Toaster failed to show. The Poe Toaster’s absence again this year leads one to wonder if the Toaster has passed away, taking the mystery of his identity with him forever.
How fitting that the so-called Poe Toaster (and his conspicuous absence) should be shrouded in mystery. Edgar Allan Poe was known for his literary mysteries and created the detective fiction genre decades before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes. His life clouded by tragedy and cut short at the age of forty under mysterious circumstances from a cause that has never been determined, I imagine the man whose stories of horror and mystery changed American literature would have richly enjoyed the aura of mystery surrounding a simple bottle of cognac and a few cut flowers laid on his grave.
I’ve always been fascinated by Poe’s works such as The Murders in the Rue Morgue and intrigued by the concept that a modern day pro-football team is named after a poetic work by a man who died long before football became a national obsession. Certainly it’s no coincidence Baltimore’s professional football team is dubbed the Ravens. Poe’s works have inspired hundreds of movie and television works (he even has a page on the Internet Movie Database – not bad for a man who died in 1849), and I have to admit to enjoying corny Vincent Price movies loosely based on Poe’s works – in some cases, it seems only the title was used. Poe’s death was as mysterious as his works, and he’d certainly experienced tragedy and heartbreak. I won’t bombard you with details on Poe’s life. Suffice it to say his life might have provided fodder for a melodrama. Orphaned as a young boy when his actress mother died and his actor father abandoned his family, he was taken in by a family that raised him but never adopted him. Eventually disowned by his foster family, Poe foundered at college and in the Army, lost a brother to alcoholism, and buried his young wife after two years when she succumbed to tuberculosis. By the time of his death, he was believed to be drinking heavily and exhibiting erratic behavior. Despite these woes, Poe harnessed his literary genius to create an enduring legacy.
He wasn’t a conventionally handsome man, but there was definitely a dark, penetrating quality to his eyes. Poe wasn’t tall (Army records list his height as 5’8” ), and he was definitely not the man to bet on in a bar fight. But his moody genius would have made him quite intriguing. And possibly quite passionate.
So, here’s my question – would a man like Poe have made the cut as a romantic hero? While the vast majority of romance heroes are undisputed alpha males, the beta male offers an undeniably unique appeal. Edgar Allan Poe could be considered a beta male. Intelligent, prone to star-crossed romance, the type of man to use a pen rather than a sword – just the kind of man a strong woman could engage in a battle of wits and claim lasting love as his victory…intriguing possibilities, indeed. It’s fascinating to imagine what might have happened if Edgar Allan Poe had met a woman who was his intellectual equal. And equally fascinating to consider the plot possibilities of a hero with Poe’s moody romanticism. Do I feel a story forming?