Those of you unfamiliar with the case will find the facts of Poe’s death both fascinating and baffling. And as a bonus, I’ve enlisted the assistance of world renowned psychic detective Troy Griffin to see if he can help solve the case. As far as I know, a psychic detective has never taken on the Poe case, so this is a first.
Troy Griffin is a psychic medium who has worked as a consultant on well over one hundred missing persons and cold case files. Troy combines his psychic gifts with detective work to help uncover the truth. Troy’s personal and group readings have been praised as being amazingly accurate, and his Christian centered messages have restored hope to those in need of spiritual guidance. He has been featured on ABC News Nightline, ABC News 7 NY, ABC News Atlanta, ABC Action News 2, and Fox News 21 just to name a few. You can read more about Troy Griffin’s work by going to psychicmediumtroy.com.
In the first half of this newsletter, I’ll present the facts of the mysterious death of Edgar Allan Poe and explore just some of the many theories that have arisen over the years. In the second half, I’ll share Troy Griffin’s psychic impressions of the case and the intuitive information he was able to pick up on as it relates to Poe’s mysterious death.
On September 27, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe left Richmond, Virginia bound for Philadelphia to edit a collection of poems by Mrs. St. Leon Loud. He then intended to go to New York, where he was living at the time, to escort his aunt back to Virginia for his upcoming wedding.
Although he was undoubtedly still reeling from the death of his wife two years earlier, Poe’s engagement to his childhood sweetheart, Sarah Shelton, was an indication that he was hoping to put the past behind him and to look ahead to a brighter future. Those who met him in the days before his departure described him as cheerful and in good spirits.
The night before he left Richmond, Poe stopped by the office of his friend, Dr. John F. Carter. When he left, he mistakenly took Dr. Carter’s cane and left his own behind. Whether Poe knew it or not, Dr. Carter’s cane contained a hidden sword. Afterward, Poe had dinner at a restaurant across the street. He dined with some acquaintances who stayed with him until late in the evening, and then walked with him to the Baltimore boat which set sail at 4 AM. One witness said that Poe was “quite sober and cheerful to the last, remarking, as he took leave of them, that he would soon be in Richmond again.”
But Poe never made it to Philadelphia. He got off of the boat in Baltimore to wait for the train that would take him to Philadelphia, but once off the boat he wasn’t seen until three days later. Where did he go, and who did he meet? No one really knows. One thing is certain -- Edgar Allan Poe vanished for three days after getting off of the boat in Baltimore.
Poe was obviously carrying some money with him when he left Virginia, but how much is uncertain. The day before he left, he was paid a small sum of money for an article that he was to write. He also collected subscription money for his magazine, but it is unlikely to have amounted to much. Subscriptions were just $5 per year, and Poe hadn’t sold very many subscriptions up to that point.
On October 3, five days after he arrived in Baltimore, a newspaper printer send a message to Poe’s friend, Joseph Evans Snodgrass which read: “There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s 4th Ward Polls, who goes under the name of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears to be in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you, he is in need of immediate assistance.” Snodgrass hurried to Ryan’s 4th Ward, a tavern where voting also took place, and found Poe sitting in a confused state.
Poe’s odd clothing caught Snodgrass’s immediate attention. They had obviously been changed. In place of his own suit of black wool was one of cheap, dirty cloth; and he was wearing a strange hat. Snodgrass described the hat as as “a rusty, almost brimless, tattered and ribbonless palm leaf hat.” Snodgrass went on to say that, “His clothing consisted of a sack-coat of thin and sleazy black alpaca, ripped more or less at several of its seams, and faded and soiled, and pants of a steel-mixed pattern, half-worn and badly-fitting, if they could be said to fit at all. He wore neither vest nor neck-cloth, while the bosom of his shirt was both crumpled and badly soiled. On his feet were boots of coarse material, and giving no sign of having been blackened for a long time, if at all”.
Surprisingly, Poe still held Dr. Carter’s cane. Why all of his clothes had been changed, but he retained the cane is a mystery. Had he kept it because he knew it contained a sword, and he wanted it for protection? All of Poe’s money was missing, as was the luggage he had taken with him from Virginia. Had he been robbed? Lost the money? Gambled it away? Spent it on alcohol? No one knows.
Snodgrass was about to send word to Poe’s relatives in Baltimore when Poe’s cousin, Henry Herring, arrived at the tavern on electoral business. It seems odd that of all the people in Baltimore, Poe’s cousin should walk into the same tavern. Could Henry Herring have had something to do with Poe’s sorry state? And if so, how and why? It was assumed by Snodgrass that Poe was in a drunken state, but this has been disputed by many as you’ll read about later in this article.
Poe’s cousin refused to take care of him, so he was taken by carriage “as if a corpse” to Washington College hospital where he remained unconscious until the following morning, Thursday, October 4. When he came to, he had “tremor of the limbs” and was delirious. His delirium was described by one physician as “constant talking and vacant converse with spectral and imaginary objects on the walls.”
On Friday, October 5, Poe recovered from the manic state he was in, but he was still incoherent. He told the doctor that his wife was in Richmond, which was not true, and that he did not remember when he had left that city. When the doctor tried to pacify him by telling him not to worry because friends would soon be there to take care of him, Poe said that the best thing a friend might do was to blow his brains out for him. After saying this, he fell asleep.
On the evening of Saturday, October 6, Poe woke up and was once again delirious. He began calling out the name “Reynolds” continually until three o'clock the following morning. The doctor later wrote, “Having become enfeebled from exertion, he became quiet and seemed to rest for a short time, then gently moved his head and said, ‘Lord help my poor soul’ and expired.” Edgar Allan Poe died on Sunday, October 7th. He was just 40 years old.
The only public reference to a cause of death was from the Baltimore Clipper, who wrote that Poe had died from “congestion of the brain”. Death certificates were not required at the time, and none was filed.
Poe’s funeral was held on Monday, October 8th. Only four people attended; Poe’s cousins, Henry Herring and Neilson Poe, and two other unknown mourners. Poe’s close friends and relatives were totally unaware that he had died, and only learned of his death when they read about it in the newspaper after he was already buried.
Today, Poe is remembered as a great writer, but in his day he was known as a magazine editor and harsh literary critic. His nickname was “tomahawk man” for the cutting quality of his reviews. As a result, he had many enemies. The after Poe’s funeral, author Rufus Griswold posted in the New York Tribune, “Edgar Allan Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it.“
Theories of how and why Edgar Allan Poe died abound. Some are far-fetched, others are plausible, none are definitive.
Poe often said, “I am done with drinking forever” -- a familiar proclamation of many an alcoholic. There is no doubt the Poe struggled with alcohol. Friends, acquaintances, and enemies alike wrote of his frequent bouts of drunkenness. And while it’s true that he only drank intermittently and then abstained for months at a time, there is strong evidence that he often ‘fell off the wagon’.
Although alcohol may have played a large part in the situation that Poe found himself in his last days, there are problems with alcohol being the main cause of his death. For one thing, it fails to explain Poe’s change of clothes, nor does it explain the five days of delirium he suffered. Even if he drank heavily before he was found, the effects would have worn off.
To add to the mystery, in 1874, the doctor who took care of Poe, Dr. Moran, wrote, “ I have stated to you the fact that Edgar Allan Poe did not die under the effect of any intoxicant, nor was the smell of liquor upon his breath or person.” Dr. Moran, however, changed his story many times over the years, and some say that he claimed that Poe was drunk when he was in his care.
In 1996, Dr. R. Michael Benitez published a theory in the Maryland Medical Journal that Poe died from rabies. Dr. Benitez said that …
”The writer entered Washington College Hospital comatose, but by the next day was perspiring heavily, hallucinating and shouting at imaginary companions. The next day, he seemed better but could not remember falling ill. On his fourth day at the hospital, Poe again grew confused and belligerent, then quieted down and died. That is a classic case of rabies.
In the brief period when he was calm and awake, Poe refused alcohol and could drink water only with great difficulty. Rabies victims frequently exhibit hydrophobia, or fear of water, because it is painful to swallow. Although there is no anecdotal or physical evidence that a rabid animal had bitten Poe, 25% of rabies victims reportedly cannot remember being bitten. After an infection, the symptoms can take up to a year to appear. But when the symptoms do appear, the disease is a swift and brutal killer. Most patients die in a few days.”
Poe was known to be affected strongly by taking just one drink. His intolerance for alcohol may have been rooted in a problem with his blood sugar levels. Untreated, diabetes can progress to damage to the kidneys resulting in acute confusion from hypoglycemia. Studies have shown that psychiatric disorders can also be a risk factor of type 2 diabetes.
Poe biographer, Jeffrey Meyers, believes that the poet died from low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia. Symptoms of untreated hypoglycemia are trouble talking, clumsiness, loss of consciousness, seizures, sweating, and shakiness. Poe exhibited all of these signs. Alcohol may have triggered such a steep drop in Poe’s sugar levels that he was unable to recover from it.
Some believe that Poe died from complications from untreated Syphilis. If so, he may have contracted the disease prior to marrying Virginia Clemm. Rumor has it that the couple never consummated their marriage; but obviously such a rumor is hard to prove and may have been started by one of Poe’s many detractors.
Twenty seven years after Poe’s hasty burial, his body was exhumed in order to prepare the foundation for a large monument that was to be erected over Poe’s grave. George W. Spence, the sexton in charge of Poe’s burial in 1849, directed the exhumation. Three years later he told a visitor to Poe’s grave that when the grave was opened in 1875 he had lifted up the head of Poe’s skeleton and “his brain rattled around inside just like a lump of mud.”
The brain is one of the first organs to decay after burial. Tumors do not decay at the same rate, and often are present a very long time after the body has decayed. Could the rattling sound in Poe’s skull been a tumor, and was this what eventually lead to the poet’s death? The last photo of Poe may provide additional evidence. The right side of Poe’s face is drooping. It is especially noticeable in his right eye. This is a classic symptom of a brain tumor or stroke.
Based on Poe’s own letters, and letters from those who knew him, Poe likely suffered from manic depression. He alternated between bouts of debilitating depression and bursts of physical and creative energy. Poe was far from wealthy. In fact, he made practically no money from his writing, and in the final years of his life was so poor that he and his wife were often given food and money just to survive. Could poverty combined with mental health issues have played a part in Poe’s death?
In November of 1848, after the death of his wife, Poe attempted suicide by taking laudanum, a medicine derived from opium. But he had taken such a small amount that it was more of a half-hearted suicide attempt than a real one. Reports that Poe was an opium addict are pure fiction. They grew from the 1845 reviews of Poe’s Tales which more than one critic dismissed as “the strange outpourings of an opium eater”. Poe himself only mentioned opium, or in this case laudanum, when he wrote a friend telling her of his suicide attempt.
The question is, did Poe attempt suicide again in Baltimore? Like the alcohol theory, this one is improbable. If he attempted to take more laudanum the second time, he would have fallen into unconsciousness and died rather quickly.
While it is highly unlikely that Poe was actually murdered, a series of events occurred three months months prior to his death that illustrate his extreme paranoia brought on by either physical or mental problems.
On July 1, 1849, Poe was arrested in Philadelphia for being drunk in public. His incarceration apparently lasted just a few hours, as the mayor recognized Poe and had him released without fining him.
The following day, Poe visited his friend John Sartain at his home. Sartain later described Poe as looking "pale and haggard, with a wild and frightened expression in his eyes." Poe told him that he was looking for "refuge and protection" because he was being followed by men who were trying to kill him. He said that he had overheard their plan to kill him while on the train. Sartain asked why anyone would want to kill him, and Poe said that it was "woman trouble."
To conceal his identity, Poe asked for a razor so that he could shave off his mustache. Not trusting Poe with a razor, Sartain suggested he do it himself using a pair of scissors. Sartain wrote, "Accordingly, I took him to the bathroom and performed the operation successfully."
After taking a walk outdoors, Sartain took Poe back to his house and helped him to bed. Poe stayed with Sartain until July 4. Speaking of the supposed murder plot a few weeks later, Poe claimed that his pursuit was just paranoia or hallucinations "created by his own excited imagination."
Cooping was a form of 19th century electoral fraud by which unwilling individuals were forced to vote several times for the same candidate in an election. These innocent bystanders would be grabbed of the street by gangs working for a political candidate, and they would be kept in a room and given alcoholic beverages in order for them to comply. If they did no cooperate, they would be beaten or killed. Often, their clothing would be changed to disguise them as they voted multiple times at the same location.
There was an election going on in Baltimore when Poe vanished, and he was found outside of a polling place. We can imagine Poe walking the streets of Baltimore as he waited for his train to arrive. If he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, he could easily have been kidnapped and given alcohol. For Poe, even a little alcohol was too much. And the cooping theory would explain the odd clothing he was wearing. But because the cooping theory is really an alcohol theory, we are still left unable to explain how alcohol alone could have killed Poe.
Troy Griffin’s Psychic Impressions
I spoke to Troy Griffin a few weeks before writing this article and asked if he would be willing to reach out for intuitive information about Poe’s death. He liked the idea, and said that he would give it a try. A few weeks later Troy wrote me about the impressions he picked up on the Poe case, and they were fascinating. Troy wrote:
I feel that Poe was in Baltimore seeking medical help on his conditions in a private and secret manner. I believe that he called upon Dr. Nathan Covington Brooks for such help and that he was using current conventional medicine of the time along with seeking the use of holistic alternatives.
It is well known that Poe went to Philly to comply with the request of Mrs. Leon Loud to edit her collection of poems. I do think he had intended to edit her poetry collection,
but I also sense that he was ill and that part of his trip was to seek medical help to try to figure out what was wrong with him.
It is merely a coincidence that Poe was found outside of a polling place. I believe that he put on the strange clothes he was found wearing in order to try not to be recognized. I discount the cooping theory. He was not given liquor, nor was he beaten in order to vote.
Alcohol use by Poe seems to be consistent and no cirrhosis of the liver is noted. I discount the alcohol theory altogether. The confusion that Poe displayed when he was found was caused by a brain lesion, not by alcohol. When he used alcohol, it was to fight the pain and severe depression that accompanied the illness. Poe’s confused state of mind was due to his brain lesion and illness, not from alcohol.
When I read about all of the theories about diseases and suggested causes of death mentioned by others -- tuberculosis, epilepsy, diabetes, rabies, etc -- many of these diseases have a connection to brain lesions, some of which are called cancer in today’s medical wording. I sense that Poe was drinking and taking opium to help with the pain and tremors associated with brain lesions.
I conclude that Poe died of a brain lesion, with added complications from diabetes. I believe Poe’s brain lesion could be traced to an infection that he sustained early in life. Poe had a scar on his left shoulder. I believe that this is where the infection started, and that it lead to the brain lesion that eventually killed him.
In concluding this newsletter, I’d like to take you to a little cottage in the Fordham area of the Bronx, New York. It was the last home that Poe lived in, and for a brief time it was the place where he spent the happiest days of his life. At the time, Fordham was very rural. The small cottage sat on two acres of land. The sparsely furnished home had a kitchen and sitting room on the first floor, and a bedroom and Poe’s study on the second floor. Poe and Virginia kept songbirds in a cage on the front porch, and Virginia and “Eddy”, as she called him, spent a good amount of time out of doors. In a letter to a friend, Poe once said of the cottage “The place is a beautiful one.”
We tend to think of Poe as an eccentric, strange man who struggled with inner demons. It’s hard to think of Poe enjoying life, laughing, and spending time with friends and family. But that’s just what I’d like you to do. Poe’s mysterious death came at the end of a very hard, sad life. So for just a little while, let’s picture him in his best times and close by imagining that he went on to live a long, full life. A life full of joy. And oh what tales he would have told!
- http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1993-04-28/news/1993118157_1_david-poe-edgar-allan-poe-poe-life (Modern Psychologists diagnose Poe as manic depressive)
- http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0004-282X2014000600466 (Neurological diseases a possibility in Poe’s death)
- https://www.biography.com/news/edgar-allan-poe-death-facts (Excellent article)
- https://www.eapoe.org/index.htm (Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore website)
- https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/still-mysterious-death-edgar-allan-poe-180952936/ (Smithsonian Magazine article on Poe’s death)
- http://touch.latimes.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-81611676/ (‘Looking Back at Poe on the Anniversary of his Death’ - L.A. Times)
- https://www.folklore.ee/folklore/vol65/mollegaard.pdf (Excellent article about Poe’s fame after his death)
- http://worldofpoe.blogspot.com/2010/08/riddle-of-neilson-poe.html (Poe considered his Cousin Neilson Poe to be his enemy. This article examines their relationship)
- http://knowingpoe.thinkport.org/library/source_death.asp (Primary source documents related to Poe’s death)
- http://poecalendar.blogspot.com/2009/07/poe-prison-pursuers-and-shaved.html (‘Poe, Prison, Pursuers, and a Shaved Moustache’)