208 years ago, big headed writer Edgar Allan Poe was born in Baltimore, Maryland. After a lifetime writing literature that would terrify Homer Simpson, Poe died of mysterious circumstances at age 40. Many explanations have been offered, from suicide to alcohol poisoning to voter intimidation to rabies.
For 80 years, his birthday was celebrated in a rather unique way by an anonymous character known to locals as the Poe Toaster. Who is this mysterious stranger? Is he a supernatural being? An immortal who was once Poe’s companions in life? It’s impossible to say with certainty.
The Poe Toaster is a shadowy figure dressed in black with a wide-brimmed hat and white scarf. Every January 19th since the 1930’s, he would offer a toast at the cenotaph marking the original location of Poe’s grave. He poured himself a glass of cognac in Poe’s honor, left the bottle at the grave with three roses, and then vanished into the night. Sometimes he would leave notes that often expressed beautiful mesages of devotion.
One though, controversially revealed that the Poe Toaster was a New York Giants fan rooting against the Ravens (a team named after a Poe poem) in the Super Bowl. The note was likely left by the original Poe Toaster’s successor, who took over the role in 1998. Some surmise that the new guy just wasn’t taking the tradition quite so seriously. In fact, one of his notes (his last one) was so terrible that the curator of the Poe House and Museum refused to acknowledge it.
The Poe Toaster stopped visiting after 2009 for unknown reasons. Maybe he was finally caught up by the beating of his hideous heart? Or bored? Maybe he realized he was more of a W.H. Auden fan? Or perhaps because 2009 was the 200th anniversary of Poe’s death, and at that point the Poe Toaster’s mission on this side of the earthly veil had been finished? There have been pretenders to the throne since (“faux Toasters”), but apparently there’s a secret hand signal identifiable by the museum curator that marks you as the one true Toaster.
In what can only be described as toaster appropriation, the Maryland Historical Society started sending their own Toaster starting in 2016. He commemorated the occasion by playing “Danse Macabre” on a violin. The new Toaster remains anonymous. Geeksided was not impressed: “…it just isn’t the same. The intrigue. The mystique. The solemnity. All of it embodied the essence of Poe himself, and the tradition should, as Poe would assuredly want it to, cease to continue.”
That said… I wouldn’t be surprised if the new guy isn’t really David Harbour.