10 Astonishing Facts about Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe, the renowned American poet and writer, has left an indelible mark on American literature. His captivating works, such as “The Raven” and “Fall of the House of Usher,” envelop readers in a dark and brooding atmosphere.

Edgar Allan Poe, the renowned American poet and writer, has left an indelible mark on American literature. His captivating works, such as “The Raven” and “Fall of the House of Usher,” envelop readers in a dark and brooding atmosphere. The chilling tales of “The Pit and the Pendulum” and the enigmatic “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” showcase Poe’s fertile imagination, which draws from a deep sense of despair and an obsession with death. Recognized as a master of Gothic horror and the pioneer of the modern detective story, Poe’s literary legacy continues to captivate and intrigue readers today.

The life of Edgar Poe, a tormented genius, began on January 19, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts. Born to parents David and Elizabeth Poe, Edgar’s journey took a tragic turn when his mother passed away in 1811. However, fate intervened when he was taken in by John Allan, a merchant from Richmond, Virginia, who bestowed upon him his middle name.

In 1827, Poe’s poetic talent shone through as he published his first poems. Although his path initially led him to West Point as a cadet, an expulsion redirected him towards a career as a writer, editor, and critical reviewer. Throughout his life, Poe’s enigmatic writings captured the imagination of readers. Unfortunately, his life came to an untimely end on October 7, 1849, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Poe’s captivating journey and literary contributions continue to intrigue and inspire generations to delve into the depths of his works.

While these facts may already be familiar to some, this list delves into ten lesser-known nuggets of information about this influential figure in American literature.

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10. Pioneer of Science Fiction

Poe’s legacy is often associated with horror and the macabre, overshadowing his notable contribution to the emerging genre of science fiction. In an era characterized by scientific and technological advancements, Poe skillfully tapped into society’s fascination with discovery and invention in his captivating tale, “The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfall.” This story follows the journey of a bellows mender who, in a bid to evade his creditors, constructs a balloon and embarks on a daring expedition to the moon. With elements of adventure, space travel, and encounters with extraterrestrial beings, it served as a remarkable source of inspiration for Jules Verne’s renowned work, “From the Earth to the Moon.”

Join Poe’s captivating journey in his only complete novel, “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.” Explore the enigmatic South Pole regions as our hero unravels the secrets of mysterious islands and encounters peculiar cultures. Delve into the then-popular Hollow Earth Theory, while Jules Verne continues the adventure with his sequel, “The Antarctic Mystery.” Embark on a thrilling literary expedition like no other!

“The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion” narrates the cataclysmic destruction of Earth caused by a comet. In “The Facts of the Case of M. Valdemar,” the power of hypnotism is explored as a means to defy death. “Mellonta Tauta” presents a captivating dystopian portrayal of the year 2848.

Around 20% of Poe’s works fall within the science fiction genre, which is why Jules Verne recognized him as the originator of the “scientific novel” and was inspired to follow his lead.[1]

9. The Cryptographer

During World War II, the Japanese had a secret plan to attack Midway. However, their plans were uncovered through codebreaking, leading to a major turning point in the war. The defeat of the Japanese fleet was made possible by the brilliant cryptographer, William Friedman, who led the team responsible for breaking the code. What inspired Friedman’s remarkable skills? It all traces back to his childhood reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s captivating short story, “The Gold Bug.” Known for its depiction of a secret message, “The Gold Bug” continues to serve as an instructive guide in modern cryptography classes at various universities.

Poe possessed the skill of a cryptographer and engaged readers by challenging them to send him ciphers for him to decode. In December 1839, he posted a challenge in a magazine and claimed to have successfully cracked nearly a hundred substitution ciphers, also known as Caesar ciphers. There was one cipher that proved to be a challenge even for Poe, and he considered it to be meaningless (though it was eventually solved in 1977). While a Caesar cipher is a straightforward code, Poe was more drawn to deciphering complex puzzles that involved substituting multiple letters for a single one or required a secret keyword to unlock their secrets.

In 1840, Edgar Allan Poe penned an article called “A Few Words on Secret Writing” and shared two puzzles in Graham’s Magazine. Surprisingly, one of these puzzles remained unsolved until 1992, while the other was cracked in 2000. Interestingly, these ciphers were said to be submitted by an individual named W.B. Tyler, leading some to speculate that Poe himself might have been the enigmatic Tyler. Furthermore, it is believed by some that Poe’s other well-known works may conceal yet-to-be-discovered secret codes. Truly fascinating![2]

8. The Little Longfellow War

The Little Longfellow War
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/Poe/Longfellow

In 1841, Edgar Allan Poe, a struggling writer and editor of Graham’s Magazine, reached out to the renowned poet and professor of modern languages, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, with a humble request for a contribution to his magazine. Despite Longfellow’s busy schedule, he graciously declined while acknowledging Poe’s talent. However, this interaction seemed to have sparked something in Poe, leading to his subsequent scathing literary attacks on Longfellow. Discover the intriguing backstory of Poe’s feud with Longfellow and its impact on their respective literary legacies.

Poe started by expressing his dissatisfaction with Longfellow’s translation of a collection of poems. He then went on to provide a critique of Longfellow’s own poems. Poe, with a touch of disdain, remarked that Longfellow’s writing “beautiful poems—by accident.” He had the audacity to accuse the professor of plagiarism, not in the sense of directly copying someone else’s words, but rather of appropriating his imagery, ideas, meters, and rhythms. Poe leveled the charge against Longfellow for “the most barbarous class of literary robbery.”

The conflict known as the Little Longfellow War, as named by Poe, continued to escalate. Although Longfellow himself did not feel the need to respond to Poe’s attacks, he had numerous supporters who passionately defended him. One of these defenders, who went by an alias, played a significant role in the unfolding events “Outis,” turned Poe’s definition of plagiarism back against him, pointing out that “The Raven” had 15 correspondences with an earlier poem, “The Bird and the Dream.” Just as anticipated, Poe initiated an extensive rebuttal, sparking a prolonged conflict that endured for a span of six weeks.

What drove Poe to passionately criticize Longfellow? Was it professional envy? Poe, coming from a humble background and striving to establish himself as a poet, might have harbored some resentment towards the moderately affluent and accomplished Longfellow. Alternatively, the entire episode could have been a cunning publicity ploy devised by Poe, who had a penchant for playing tricks on the public. Could it be that the enigmatic Outis was, in fact, Poe himself? The answer to this mystery continues to intrigue.[3]

7. The Balloon Hoax

On April 13, 1844, the New York Sun blazed with the headline:

Exciting Announcement! Incredible Speed Achievement! Atlantic Crossed in Just Three Days! Incredible Success of Mr. Monck Mason’s Revolutionary Flying Machine!

Learn about the incredible journey of Irish adventurer Monck Mason, a true aeronaut who flew a balloon from Wales to Germany in 1836. But that’s not all! He went on to conquer the Atlantic, setting a new record by sailing from England to Charleston, South Carolina, in record time. Discover the fascinating story of this technically improved balloon and its remarkable voyage across the ocean. “The air, as well as the earth and the ocean, has been subdued by science,” the Sun enthused. “God be praised! Who shall say that anything is impossible hereafter?” The Sun and the city newsboys thrived by selling the day’s editions to a public hungry for more news. In an era of extraordinary scientific advancements, every piece of information seemed plausible and captivating.

However, this particular story deviates from the norm. It was only a month later when Edgar Allan Poe himself confessed in an article that he was the mastermind behind the tale. Poe had a penchant for the reactions his hoaxes elicited. Originally meant as a trick, his narrative of Hans Pfall’s lunar voyage was abandoned when the Sun published an account in 1835 of astronomer Sir John Herschel’s alleged discovery of life on the moon, complete with bat-like creatures and unicorns. Poe accused Richard Adams Locke, the fabricator of the story, of plagiarizing Hans Pfall, and it’s possible that the balloon hoax was Poe’s way of seeking revenge.

Ultimately, Poe ended up on the losing side. His aspirations of establishing himself as a reputable journalist were shattered, and he never received a share of the Sun‘s profits. However, one undeniable truth was revealed – the immense power and appeal of fake news.[4]

6. The Prototype for Sherlock Holmes

Poe revolutionized the detective story genre by introducing the modern concept. His ingenious amateur sleuth, C. Auguste Dupin, served as an influential model for future literary detectives. In fact, it’s safe to say that without Poe’s contributions, the iconic character of Sherlock Holmes may not have existed as we know him today.

Dupin, the central character in this story, draws inspiration from Francois Eugene Vidocq, a former criminal who transformed into a policeman and established France’s Surete. Dupin is a peculiar gentleman who leads a leisurely life, yet possesses remarkable abilities of analysis and deduction that he employs to unravel mysteries. With his trusty, unnamed companion and narrator, Dupin unravels complex cases, reminiscent of the dynamic duo of Holmes and Watson.

In Poe’s first Dupin adventure, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” he introduced the key elements that would later define classic detective fiction: a brilliant amateur detective, a less competent police force, and a puzzling locked-room murder. Poe skillfully merged the 19th century’s fascination with rational scientific reasoning and the mysterious world of the occult, creating a captivating new genre of fiction that continues to enthrall readers to this day.[5]

5. The Myth of His Drug Addiction

“Respite—respite and nepenthe, from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff, this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!”

The portrayal of the protagonist in “The Raven” and other works by Poe often includes references to drug use, such as opium. This has led to the misconception that Poe himself was a drug user or addict, implying that his imaginative tales were the product of a drug-influenced mind. However, it is important to dispel this myth as there is no evidence supporting Poe’s addiction. Moreover, while he occasionally engaged in binge drinking, there is no indication that he was a chronic alcoholic. By separating fact from fiction, we can better appreciate the brilliance of Poe’s work and the complexities of his character.

There is no mention of a drug habit in any of Poe’s letters or personal documents. He claimed to have tried opium only once, as a result of a suicide attempt following rejection by a lady. However, it remains uncertain whether Poe was telling the truth or simply being overly dramatic. Dr. Thomas Dunn English, who held a dislike for Poe and had ample reason to speak ill of him, stated after Poe’s death, “If Poe had a drug habit, I, as both a physician and an observant person, would have noticed it during our frequent visits and encounters. I saw no signs of it and believe the accusation to be a groundless defamation.”

The person accountable for spreading false statements was Rufus Griswold, Poe’s literary executor and biographer. Griswold harbored a deep animosity towards Poe due to a negative review Poe gave to an anthology Griswold had written. In his biography, Griswold seized every opportunity to tarnish Poe’s reputation, shaping the way subsequent generations perceived Poe as an individual.[6]

4. Solving the Murder of Mary Rogers

Mary Rogers, a vibrant and attractive teenager, worked in a cigar shop in New York, where men couldn’t resist her charm. However, in 1838, she vanished without a trace, causing panic among her mother and the entire city. After two weeks, she returned, claiming she had visited relatives in Brooklyn, which brought a sense of relief. Yet, some skeptics dismissed her disappearance as yet another infamous hoax by the Sun.

Mary Rogers’ disappearance on July 25, 1841 initially raised little concern. However, three days later, her lifeless body was discovered in the Hudson River near Hoboken, New Jersey. Disturbingly, her body showed signs of violence, and some of her clothing was later found in the nearby woods. While suspicion initially fell on her lover, David Payne, he had a solid alibi. The list of potential suspects included numerous men who were acquainted with Mary. Alternatively, it could have been a random act of violence committed by a gang of criminals. Despite their best efforts, the police were left puzzled, encountering dead ends at every turn.

Edgar Allan Poe took a real-life case and transformed it into a captivating fictional tale set in Paris. While the names and locations were altered, all the details remained faithful to the original incident. In “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” the brilliant detective C. Auguste Dupin carefully examines the clues, employing his sharp reasoning skills to unravel the identity of the killer. However, Poe intentionally leaves the resolution hanging, adding an air of mystery and suspense. Though Dupin has his own theories, Poe allows the story to conclude inconclusively, leaving readers intrigued and longing for answers.

After reading “Marie Roget,” some people believed that Poe possessed an uncanny knowledge of the events. Did he truly know the identity of the killer, and perhaps even more than he let on? Poe had a connection with Mary and was reportedly seen with her prior to her initial disappearance. A man resembling Poe was witnessed in Mary’s company just three days before the murder. This author’s stories often revolve around the tragic demise of young and beautiful women. Could Poe have committed the unthinkable? The underwhelming conclusion of “Marie Roget” suggests that Poe was just as perplexed as the authorities. The case remains an enigma, unsolved and shrouded in mystery.[7]

3. Anticipating the Big Bang Theory

Just a year before he passed away, Poe released his captivating and visionary masterpiece, “Eureka.” This extraordinary work was so revolutionary that it faced a ban in Czarist Russia. “Eureka” is a prose poem delving into the realm of cosmology, where Poe challenges the prevailing notions of a static, deterministic, and clockwork universe. He believed that such ideas stifled human imagination, intuition, and ultimately, our ability to shape our own destiny and exercise free will.

Poe challenged the notion of fixed axioms, approaching art with intuition rather than a scientific mindset. However, his forward-thinking vision foreshadowed the scientific advancements of the 20th century that would validate his belief in a dynamic and ever-changing universe.

Russian mathematician Alexander Friedmann was among the first to find inspiration in Poe’s work. In 1922, he introduced his equations, which challenged Albert Einstein’s “cosmological constant” and described a dynamic universe. Building on Poe’s concept of a singularity, Belgian priest Georges Lemaitre formulated the Big Bang theory in 1927, envisioning the cosmos originating from a primordial particle. Interestingly, Einstein held the view that Poe had a pathological personality.

Poe’s ideas on gravitation and electromagnetism offer an elegant solution to the enigma of dark matter and dark energy. He explores the interconnectedness of space and time, the equivalence of matter and energy, the speed of light, black holes, and a universe in constant motion. Poe’s belief in the power of intuition to reveal the true nature of the cosmos is exemplified in this thought-provoking exploration.[8]

2. Death by Cooping?

On September 28, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe arrived in Baltimore during his journey from Richmond to New York. The events that unfolded in the next five days remain a mystery. However, on Election Day, October 3, Poe was discovered lying in the gutter outside Gunner’s Tavern, barely conscious and wearing clothing that did not belong to him. In his state of delirium, he repeatedly called out the name “Reynolds.” Sadly, Poe’s life came to an end on October 7th, with his final words murmured as a plea for divine intervention. The medical diagnosis attributed his passing to phrenitis, a condition characterized by brain swelling. The circumstances surrounding his death continue to captivate and intrigue to this day.

The enigmatic circumstances surrounding Poe’s demise have sparked a myriad of theories regarding its true cause. Proposed explanations range from murder, alcohol, carbon monoxide poisoning, to even rabies. However, one theory has garnered significant attention – the notion that Poe fell victim to a practice known as “cooping.” Cooping entailed the abduction, drugging, or coercion of individuals who were then compelled to vote multiple times for a single candidate, often while wearing various disguises.

The cooping theory sheds light on Poe’s bewildered condition and the puzzling presence of unfamiliar attire. The fact that he was discovered near Gunner’s Tavern, a gathering spot for cooping gangs, on Election Day seems far from coincidental. Yet, the enigmatic identity of “Reynolds” remains a mystery, with no one having been able to unravel this intriguing puzzle.

The creator of the detective story had a death that could have been part of one of his own tales. It’s an intriguing mystery for us to unravel, adding to the enigmatic legacy he left behind.[9]

1. Poe in the Afterlife

Even after his death, Poe remained an enigmatic figure, shrouded in mystery. In 1863, Elizabeth Dotten, a psychic medium, brought forth new revelations about him “Poems from the Inner Life,” which she claimed Poe’s spirit dictated to her. “The influence of Poe,” she wrote, “was neither pleasant nor easy. I can only describe it as a species of mental intoxication.”

It goes without saying that her story is often met with skepticism and dismissal from critics. “The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends and where the other begins?” Many people believe that even after his death, Poe’s spirit lingers in the very places he once called home: his residence in Baltimore and his cozy cottage in the Bronx, New York.

Beyond the fascination of Poe’s lingering spirit, the location of his physical remains has intrigued historians. Initially marked by a modest sandstone block, the citizens of Baltimore recognized Poe’s significance and rallied to fund a new memorial. They arranged for what they believed to be his remains to be reinterred beneath it, adding to the enigmatic allure of his final resting place.

During a renovation project, the plots in the area were disturbed, leading to the discovery of a reburied body that was initially believed to be Poe’s. However, it was later determined that the body and the coffin it was in did not belong to Poe. The ensuing counter-claims have added more confusion to the matter, leaving us uncertain about whether Poe received the burial he deserved.

Every year, on Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday from 1949 to 2009, a mysterious figure wearing a black mask paid a visit to his grave. Between midnight and 6 am, the enigmatic “Toaster” would leave three red roses and a bottle of cognac. Despite numerous attempts to uncover his true identity, the Toaster remained a captivating enigma. This peculiar tradition became deeply revered, prompting the Maryland Historical Society to carry it on with a new, albeit less mysterious, Toaster.[10]