Friday, August 17, 2007


Baltimore, Maryland--Does anyone really believe this man is the real "Poe toaster"? He might be, but the press is acting too credulous here. This writer grants that his age of 92 fits the timeline--the mysterious visitor to Poe's, Virginia Clemm's, and her mother's grave, reportedly began his cognac toasts to the dead on January 19th of 1949 (on the 100th anniversary of Poe's peculiar death).
This is interesting, since it signifies both Poe's birth and death. I have known of the Poe toaster since 1982, and the story has always been that an older, frail man began his vigils in 1949, but Sam Porpora--a "Poe historian"--is saying he began in 1967. Ostensibly, it was to save a nearby church by bringing in tourists, which sounds dodgy. Does this all sound familiar?
The claim is hard to verify, especially considering by most accounts the so-called “Poe Toaster” has been visiting the grave since 1949. Jeff Jerome, curator of the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore, said it started in 1949, but he started watching for the mystery man in 1977. “I drove to the cemetery that morning, and lo and behold there were roses and liquor there. I just about collapsed. I couldn’t believe it was still going on,” he said. (The Examiner, 08.15.2007)
Do you think Mr. Porpora ever enjoyed telling his grandchildren there was no Santa? To be polite, it might be added here that old men sometimes claim to be something they are not as the years go by, particularly in taverns. But it all has an air of Mark Felt's self-outing as the legendary "Deep Throat" who informed Bob Woodward on the Watergate break-in at a parking garage.

As we know, Felt was no hero, but a man who had felt spurned by the appointment of Patrick Gray as director of the FBI after the timely death of J. Edgar Hoover in 1972. Seeing the timeline better now?

At 92, you might feel that you never left your mark on the world.

Porpora's claim is very lofty and should be viewed with some suspicion, particularly the aspect where he claims to have begun the practice in 1967. This writer is unaware of any account of the Poe toaster where this year is given as the starting-date. Maybe it is true, maybe it is not, but not one article on this story appears to have any real foundation for the claim, just the man's word.

In recent years, a number of bumbling morons have tried to unmask the stranger, without any luck. Many have been chased out of
the Westminster Burying Grounds. Good show. The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore contends that the Poe toaster pre-dates 1967:
Since 1949, on the night of the anniversary of Poe's birth, a mysterious stranger has entered this cemetery and left as tribute a partial bottle of cognac and three roses on Poe's grave. The identity of the stranger, referred to affectionately as the Poe Toaster, is unknown. The significance of cognac is uncertain as it does not feature in Poe's works as would, for example, amontillado. The presumption for the three roses is that it represents the three persons whose remains are beneath the monument: Poe, his mother-in-law (Maria Clemm) and his wife Virginia. Out of respect, no attempt is made to stop or hinder him. Several of the bottles of cognac from prior years are on display in the Baltimore Poe House and Museum. (
Why 1967? Because he is mistaken in his contention? Or is it that he is just someone else who began another passing of the torch that year? There could be a half-truth here--a mystery--that appropriately extends what is hidden here. Legends die hard. It is unlikely that Mr. Porpora's "confession" will end the Occult nature of this story, nor should it. Life should have some mysteries to it, and sometimes it is a necessary food for the human soul. We do not need to understand everything. The nature of things is to hide their nature.