Edgar Allan Poe was one of the most recognized poets of the 19th century. He was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. An American poet, critic, and writer, his horror and mystery tales initiated the modern detective story. His most celebrated work includes his poem ‘The Raven,’ which both critics and the general public admired.
He died on October 7, 1849. It turned out that his death was as mysterious as his stories. This mystery has not been solved until now. No aspect of his life was so fascinating as that of his death.
“Maybe it’s fitting that since he invented the detective story, he left us with a real life mystery.”
-Chris Semtner, curator of Poe museum
On October 3, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe was found in a state of frenzy on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland. He was wearing clothes that did not belong to him. After being taken to the Washington College Hospital, no one could comprehend as to how he ended up being like this. On Sunday, October 7, he died at about 5 p.m. When he was in the hospital, he never gained enough consciousness to explain how he came to be in such a condition.
Even though his death certificate states ‘phrenitis’ or swelling of the brain as the cause of death, no one believes it to be true. As a result, a lot of speculations have been made and numerous theories have been given in this regard.
The top Theories behind Edgar Allan Poe’s Death
1. Alcohol Theory
This is one of the most popular theories about the death of Edgar Allan Poe. Those around the writer during his final days are sure that he drank himself to death. It is no mystery that the author did drink a lot.
R.H.Stoddard states in his memoir, “It was believed at the time by his relatives in Baltimore that he drank with a friend while waiting between trains, in consequence of which he took a wrong train and proceeded as far as Havre de Grace, whence he was brought back to Baltimore by the conductor of Philadelphia train in a state bordering on delirium.”
This theory was criticized because it fails to explain why Poe had disappeared for 5 days before his death and how he ended up being found in clothes that were not his.
2.Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Albert Donnay, a public health researcher, in 1999 took clippings of Poe’s hair(shown in the image below) and tested them for certain heavy metals. He believed that the author’s death resulted from carbon monoxide poisoning from coal gas used for indoor lighting in those times. The tests conducted by him were indecisive and as a result, were refuted by historians.
3. Brain Tumour
A theory that explains his behavior before his death is the ‘brain tumor’ theory. Twenty-six years after his death, a statue was built honoring the famous author. His coffin was dug up and his remains were brought out of the ground in order to be moved to the new place. One of the workers stated that there was a kind of mass rolling around inside Poe’s skull.
Matthew Pearl was quite intrigued by this mass. He had written a novel about Edgar Alla Poe’s death(in the image above). After contacting a forensic pathologist, he found out that the clump couldn’t be his brain but could possibly be a tumor that can calcify after death into hard masses.
Another theory, a less sinister one, suggests that the author might have succumbed to the flu. It is believed that the flu might have later on turned into pneumonia, according to newspaper reports. It was raining in Baltimore at that time when Poe was in Baltimore.
Chris Semtner believes that it may be the reason why the author was found in someone else’s clothes. According to him, the cold and the rain infuriated the flu, which eventually led to pneumonia. His delusions and hallucinations before death may result from the high fever that he was suffering from.
This theory has come to light recently and has become popular with Poe’s fans since it involves a murder plot. This theory was put forward by author John Evangelist who wrote the book ‘Midnight Dreary- The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe (in the image below) in 2000.
The theories about Edgar Allan Poe’s death suggest that he was murdered by the brothers of his wealthy fiance, Elmira Shelton. He argues that while Poe was in Philadelphia, he was ambushed by his fiance’s three brothers, who had earlier warned Poe against marrying their sister.
Edgar Allan Poe was frightened by this and so disguised himself in someone else’s clothes and hid in Philadelphia for about a week before going back to Richmond to marry Shelton. Her brothers caught him in Baltimore, beat him, and forced him to drink whiskey which they knew would ultimately lead to his death.
None of the theories about Edgar Allan Poe’s death has been able to confirm the writer’s cause of death. It may be said that the death of Edgar Allan Poe was almost as grim as one of his own gruesome stories.
About The Author
Nuvita Kalra. 19. Law Student. Bookworm. She believes in simple living and high thinking.