“Words have no power to impress the mind
without the exquisite horror of their reality.”
— Edgar Allan Poe
Mention his name and goth girls swoon, black cats hiss, and the timid turn away. Edgar Allan Poe was born January 19, 1809. More than 200 years after his birth, cities still fight for ownership of the dead writer’s corpse, whose tortured life and mysterious death were as strange as the tales he told. Tales like “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Masque of the Red Death” still have the power to shock and enthrall readers all these years later.
In pop culture, Mr. Poe is most often revered as the master of the macabre, but his pen and his influence reach far beyond that. He and Nathaniel Hawthorne are credited as the fathers of the American short story. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was the first detective story and created the genre. “The Balloon Hoax” was an early form of science fiction and was an inspiration for Jules Verne’s “Around the World in Eighty Days.” His poem, “The Raven” is still one of the most famous poems ever written.
He was born in Boston, was orphaned at age three, and taken in by the Allen family of Richmond, Virginia. His older brother Henry died young and his sister Rosalie went insane. He lived in Philadelphia with his wife and mother-in-law, before moving with them to the Bronx, New York. He was married only once, to his 13-year old cousin Virginia Clemm, who died at age 24 of tuberculosis. He was an alcoholic and a drug addict and was labeled paranoid and perverse. The day before he died, he was found on a Baltimore street, delirious, incoherent and wearing clothes that weren’t his.
All five cities have landmarks or museums dedicated to him and the Poe Wars over who gets his corpse (Baltimore has it now) aren’t cold yet.
In honor of his birthday, I’m happy to share this fantastic party favor, a make-your-own Edgar Allan Poe doll, courtesy of the Toy-A-Day blog. (Caveat: Lots of pop-ups, but definitely worth it.) Mr. Poe might roll his eyes at the frivolity of the gesture, but I like to think it would make him crack a smile.