Poe's Life

Death Thoeries

On October 3, 1849, Dr. Joseph E. Snodgrass received the following note:

Baltimore City, Oct. 3, 1849
Dear Sir,

There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan's 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, he is in need of immediate assistance.

Yours, in haste,
JOS. W. WALKER
To Dr. J.E. Snodgrass.

This is the first verifiable evidence available of Poe's whereabouts since departing Richmond in the early morning of September 27. His intended destination had been Philadelphia, where he was to edit a volume of poetry for Mrs. St. Leon Loud. Dr. Snodgrass found Poe semiconscious and dressed in cheap, ill-fitting clothes so unlike Poe's usual mode of dress that many believe that Poe's own clothing had been stolen. Poe was taken to Washington College Hospital on the afternoon of October 3 and did not regain consciousness until the next morning. For days he passed from delirium to unconsciousness, but never recovered well enough to tell how he had arrived in such a condition. For no known reason he started calling loudly for "Reynolds" on the fourth night.

In the early morning hours of October 7, Poe calmly breathed a simple prayer, "Lord, help my poor soul," and died. His cause of death was ascribed to "congestion of the brain." No autopsy was performed, and the author was buried two days later. In dying under such mysterious circumstances, the father of the detective story has left us with a real-life mystery which Poe scholars, medical professionals, and others have been trying to solve for over 150 years.

The following is a bibliography of some of the theories of Poe's cause of death that have been published over the years:

  • Beating (1857)
    The United States Magazine Vol.II (1857): 268.
  • Epilepsy (1875)
    Scribner's Monthly Vo1. 10 (1875): 691.
  • Dipsomania (1921)
    Robertson, John W. Edgar A. Poe A Study. Brough, 1921: 134, 379.
  • Heart (1926)
    Allan, Hervey. Israfel. Doubleday, 1926: Chapt. XXVII, 670.
  • Toxic Disorder (1970)
    Studia Philo1ogica Vol. 16 (1970): 41-42.
  • Hypoglycemia (1979)
    Artes Literatus (1979) Vol. 5: 7-19.
  • Diabetes (1977)
    Sinclair, David. Edgar Allan Poe. Roman & Litt1efield, 1977: 151-152.
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase (1984)
    Arno Karlen. Napo1eon's Glands. Little Brown, 1984: 92.
  • Porphryia (1989)
    JMAMA Feb. 10, 1989: 863-864.
  • Delerium Tremens (1992)
    Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar A1lan Poe. Charles Scribner, 1992: 255.
  • Rabies (1996)
    Maryland Medical Journal Sept. 1996: 765-769.
  • Heart (1997)
    Scientific Sleuthing Review Summer 1997: 1-4.
  • Murder (1998)
    Walsh, John E., Midnight Dreary. Rutgers Univ. Press, 1998: 119-120.
  • Epilepsy (1999)
    Archives of Neurology June 1999: 646, 740.
  • Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (1999)
    Albert Donnay

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