Research paper Assignment
The Mystery Surrounding the Death of Edgar Allan Poe
The death of Edgar Allan Poe remains shrouded in mystery. Poe was a well-known writer, particularly remembered for his thrilling poems and short stories until he met his death in 1849. He had aspired to come up with a magazine of his own and publish it, a dream that never came to pass. Poe had spent his final days on a fundraising trip to support his projected magazine. On September 27, 1849, Poe left Richmond, Virginia for Philadelphia. For some reason, he did not make it board a train in Baltimore to travel to Philadelphia the next day. Days later, Joseph Walker found him unconscious in a gutter and helped him to access medical care. Up to date, people continue to speculate on the cause of Edgar’s demise. There are many theories that explain the event.
One of the main theories that most people believe in is that Poe died of alcohol abuse. There is much evidence supporting the claim, citing that he had engaged in bouts of drinking for years. However, it does not explain exactly how alcohol led to his death. In his article Bazil argues that alcoholism began at an early age for Edgar and his siblings. Their Irish house help would give them bread after soaking it in gin and occasionally, she could quiet them with Laudanum (LClark). Much as there is no dispute that Poe loved drinking, this evidence is weak as ingesting little amounts of alcohol as a kid alone is not likely to cause alcoholism later in life.
More reliable evidence on the alcoholism theory has come out. A certain man, Kennedy drafted on his diary on October 10, 1849, that Poe had succumbed to the effects of debauch. A friend had enticed him to take alcohol, which he had previously quit. He experienced fever, delirium and a moment of insanity and later died in the hospital (Bonner 194). This information could give some leads as it is in agreement with Stoddard’s thoughts that Poe had drank with a friend and consequently taken a wrong train. However, a conductor in Philadelphia helped him travel back to Baltimore.
Epilepsy is also another theory explaining the mystery. Bazil of the Comprehensive
Epilepsy Centre in New York provides supportive information that affirms the possibility of this theory (LClark). Bazil thinks that some tendencies and symptoms of alcoholics are similar to those related to some forms of epilepsy. Poe had experienced several of the symptoms, including amnesia, changes in personality and speech (Bazil 60). Such characteristics occur in epilepsy cases, whereby people experience a lack of self-control.
Poe may have been continuously misdiagnosed. He had not shown the two distinctive characteristics of epilepsy, complete loss of consciousness and grand mall seizures
(LClark) . However, it has since been clear that many epilepsy patients have experienced partial seizures and twilight states (Bazil 60). Poe had experienced these two, as confirmed by close friends and family. They also reported his frequent states of confusion and mood swings. Clearly, there is enough information to ascertain that untreated epilepsy led to his sudden death.
However, the absence of actual hospital records still leaves questions on the death of Poe.
Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is yet another theory that explains the death of Poe (LClark). The theory first came up in 1999, when Albert Donnay, Director of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Referral and Resources argued that Poe had died from chronic low-level CO (LClark). He claimed that Poe had suffered about thirty symptoms of the same during his lifetime. Donnay writes that cases of chronic poisoning are almost like those of acute poisoning (Donnay 3). Therefore, this could explain some symptoms that Poe experienced.
Common symptoms of CO poisoning include fatigue, dizziness, confusion, nausea and headache. However, they could also be because of alcohol or epilepsy, which weakens Donnay’s case. Donnay further explains that Poe probably suffered CO poisoning due to continued exposure to coal gas, which was a commonly used source of fuel for lighting and heating homes in the 1800s. However, if that were the case, doctors could have been aware of the symptoms and therefore diagnosed Poe for the same. No hospital records exist to support this theory. Donnay also took a specimen of Poe’s hair, which he tested for the presence of heavy metals. A positive result could have revealed the presence of coal gas. Inconclusive results of the tests greatly discredited Donnay’s claims.
Cooping is also another popular theory that seeks to explain the mystery of Poe’s demise. The elections day coincided with the day Joseph Walker found him unconscious at Ryan Fourth Wards Polls, which hosted a bar and a voting station. During that time, corruption was rampant within the voting system in Baltimore. Political gangs could do anything to push for the success of their candidate. Cooping was an illegal practice whereby they kidnapped innocent bystanders, held them in a room known as the “coop” and forced them to advocate repeatedly for a certain candidate (Savoye 8).
The gangs often enticed the victims through drugs. They could also beat them up and force them to submit to the deed. They also had the cooped individuals change their clothes to prevent suspicion from the voting officials. That could explain the confused state of Poe when Walker found him outside the voting place. Although there were no obvious injuries on Poe’s body, there have been reports that Poe was not in his clothes at the time Walker came across him. The ‘cooping’ theory could be true as it explains Poe’s state of unconsciousness and his dirty appearance. Those who saw Poe thought he might have been intoxicated (Pearl 5). However, some aspects of the theory do not add up. For instance, Poe was quite famous in Baltimore such that a change of clothes could not have deterred anyone from identifying him as he voted severally. Also, the alleged intoxication lacks adequate proof. The medical records also do not cite intoxication as one of the reasons leading to Poe’s death.
Some people think that Poe succumbed to a brain tumor. Mathew
Pearl came up with this explanation while he was writing a book. Poe’s burial was rather not so ceremonial, in a Baltimore graveyard. Twenty-six years following Poe’s death, people erected a statue in his honor near the entrance to the graveyard (Geiling). They exhumed his remains to relocate them to a new, honorable grave. They found little of Poe’s body, given it had been more than two decades. However, there was a strange mass in Poe’s skull. One medical practitioner discovered that his brain was in good condition. The cerebral mass did not indicate any signs of disintegration. However, it looked a bit smaller than normal (Neyfakh 3). Typically, the brain is one of the first body parts that begin to rot after death.
Mathew Pearl developed an interest in the clump. Following consultation with his forensic pathologist, he concluded that the clump was a tumor. He said that a brain tumor can calcify after death to form a hard mass (Geiling). The tumor could also explain other characteristics that Poe exhibited just before he died. Amnesia, confusion, altered speech and mood swings all point to the possibility of having had a brain tumor. For most of his life, Poe had shown abnormal behavior. This was probably because of his tumor condition.
Further information is consistent with Pearl’s discovery. A New York physician has previously told Poe that there was a lesion in his brain, a reason he developed adverse reactions to alcohol (Geiling).
In conclusion, people have come up with many theories and speculations about what caused Edgar Allan Poe’s demise. Abuse of alcohol, epilepsy, carbon monoxide poisoning, cooping and the brain tumor all appear as the possible reasons that could have claimed the life of the legendary writer (LClark). All the suggestions point to a serious health condition, maybe a brain tumor. Therefore, the brain tumor case seems like the most plausible theory. Despite the various mysteries surrounding his death, Poe remains a highly ranked and respected literary icon. However, the significant details of Poe’s state just before his demise still leave behind a puzzle that no one is yet to unravel.
Bazil, Carl W. “Edgar Allan Poe: Substance Abuse versus Epilepsy.” Frontiers of Neurosurgery and Neuroscience (2005): 57-64. Print.
Bonner, Charles, H. John Pendleton Kennedy; Gentleman from Baltimore. Baltimore: The John Hopkins Press, 1961. Print.
Donnay, Albert. Background on Sources, Symptoms, Biomarkers and Treatment of Chronic Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. 10th ed. MCS Referral and Resources.
Geiling, Natasha. The (Still) Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe.
LClark. An Inquiry into the Death of Edgar Allan Poe. 17 Oct. 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2015
Neyfakh, Leon. “Poe’s Mysterious Death: The Plot Thickens!” The New York Observer 16 October. 2007: 3. Print.
Pearl, Matthew. A Poe Death Dossier: Discoveries and Queries in the Death of Edgar Allan Poe. E. A Review 7. 2 (2006): 2-29. Print.
Savoye, Jeffrey. The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe. Web. 1 May 1997
Stoddard. Life of Poe. The Work of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: A. C Armstrong & Sons, 1884. Print
“The Mysterious Death of Allan Edgar Poe”. Poe’s Topics. Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, 19 Jan, 2014. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.