In honor of the bicentennial of his death on October 7, 1849, let us look at some of the key obituaries for Edgar Allan Poe. This note will be the first of several on the topic.
One of the first obituaries came a day after his death.
Baltimore Sun, Mon, Oct 8, 1849:
“Death of Edgar A. Poe. – We regret to learn that Edgar A. Poe, Esq., the distinguished American poet, scholar and critic, died in this city yesterday morning, after an illness of four or five days. This announcement, coming so sudden and unexpected, will cause poignant regret among all who admire genius, and have sympathy for the frailties too often attending it. Mr. Poe, we believe, was a native of this State, though reared by a foster-father at Richmond, Va., where he lately spent some time on a visit. He was in the 38th year of his age.”
Plenty to notice in just a few lines. Poe died in Baltimore, so whatever this Baltimore reporter or editor found has some degree of value.
There is no cause of death identified. Well, the “frailties” attending “genius” is our cause of death. With the rumors that swirled around Poe, this would have been a clear reference to drinking.
The unnamed writer of the obituary did gather information from somewhere, possibly from Poe's cousin Neilson who worked in Baltimore as an attorney and later a judge.
Poe's Baltimore-based Cousin Neilson Poe (apparently pronounced how we say "Nelson")
Accurate: Poe had indeed been in the city for four or five days. Poe had indeed come from Richmond. These will become important facts in the Poe death narrative as it takes its murky shape.
But Poe aficionados will notice errors. Poe was not 38 when he died, he was 40. Poe was not a native of Maryland, but rather of Massachusetts. In the obit's defense, confusion about Poe's age and birthplace was widespread and continued for decades.
There is no description here of why Poe had come to Baltimore, which was an unplanned trip, or what he was doing for the four or five days. The hint of a mystery behind the death would come in later obituaries and accounts.
Continued in Part II: Ludwig's Turn.