Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Edgar Allan Poe: 5 Great Theories Behind his Death

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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.

Picture of Edgar Allen Poe on a post stamp
By spatuletail/ Shutterstock

He died on October 7, 1849. It turned out that his death was as mysterious as his stories. This mystery still needs to be solved. 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, in a frenzy, was found in Baltimore, Maryland. He was wearing clothes that did not belong to him. After being taken to the Washington College Hospital, no one could comprehend how he ended up being like this. When he was in the hospital, he never gained enough consciousness to explain how he came to be in such a condition. On Sunday, October 7, he died at about 5 p.m.

Even though his death certificate states ‘phrenitis’ or brain swelling as the cause of death, no one believes it to be true. As a result, numerous speculations and theories regarding his death were made.

The top Theories behind Edgar Allan Poe’s Death

1. Alcohol Theory

A silhouette of a man drinking behind the bottles
By Axel Bueckert/ Shutterstock

Death due to alcohol 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 that in Baltimore 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 five days before his death and how he ended up 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 

X-ray of Brain
By Dmytro Zinkevych/ Shutterstock

A theory that explains his behaviour before his death is the ‘brain tumour’ theory. They built a statue twenty-six years after his death, honouring the famous author. In addition, they also dug up his coffin to move his remains to the new place. One of the workers stated that there was a 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 be a tumour that can calcify after death into hard masses.

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4. Flu

Another theory, a less sinister one, suggests that the author might have succumbed to the flu. According to newspaper reports, the flu might have later on turned into pneumonia. It was raining in Baltimore at that time when Poe was in Baltimore.

Chris Semtner believes that this may be why the author was in someone else’s clothes when found. 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.

5. Murder

Shadow of a man holding a knife behind the glass
By Mitch Saint/ Shutterstock

This theory has come to light recently and has become popular with Poe’s fans since it involves a murder plot. This theory came 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 the brothers of his wealthy fiance, Elmira Shelton, may have murdered him. While Poe was in Philadelphia, he argues that his fiance’s three brothers ambushed him and 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 confirmed the writer’s cause of death. Various sources say that the end 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.

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