Text: Susan Archer Weiss, “Chapter 30,” Home Life of Poe (1907), pp. 203-211


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[page 203:]

CHAPTER XXX.

THE MYSTERY OF FATE.

One evening — it was Sunday, the 2d of October — Dr. John Carter was seated alone in his office when Poe entered, having just paid a farewell visit to Mrs. Shelton before leaving in the morning for New York. He remarked to Dr. Carter that he would probably stop for one day in Baltimore, and perhaps also in Philadelphia, on business; would like to remain longer, but had written to Mrs. Clemm to expect him at Fordham some time this week. He would be back in Richmond in about a fortnight.

While talking, he took up a handsome malacca sword-cane belonging to Dr. Carter and absently played with it. He looked grave and preoccupied; several times inquired the hour, and at length rising suddenly, remarked that he would step over to Saddler’s restaurant and get supper. He took the cane with him, Dr. Carter understanding from this circumstance [page 204:] and his not taking leave, that he would presently return on his way to theSwan, where he had left his baggage. He did not, however, reappear; and on the next morning Dr. Carter inquired about him at Saddler’s. The proprietor said that Poe and two friends had remained to a late hour, talking and drinking moderately, and had then left together to go aboard the boat, which would start at four o’clock for Baltimore. He said that Poe, when he left, was in good spirits and quite sober; though this last may be doubted, since he not only forgot to return Dr. Carter’s cane but to send for his own baggage at the Swan Some persons have insisted that Poe must have been drugged by these men, who were strangers to Mr. Saddler, and there was even a sensational story published in a Northern magazine to the effect that Poe had been followed to Baltimore by two of Mrs. Shelton’s brothers, and there, after having certain letters taken from him, beaten so severely that he was found dying in an obscure alley. This story was first started by Mrs. Elizabeth Oakes Smith in one of the New York journals, though it does not appear from what source she derived her information. No denial was made or notice [page 205:] taken of it by Mrs. Shelton’s friends, and the story gradually died out.

For over forty years the mystery of the tragic death of the poet remained a mystery, strangely and persistently defying all attempts at elucidation. But within the last few years there has appeared in a St. Louis paper a communication which professes to give a truthful account of the circumstances connected with the poet’s death, and which wears such an appearance of probability that it is at least worth considering.

This letter, which is addressed to the editor of the paper, is from a certain Dr. Snodgrass, who represents himself to have been for many years a resident of Dakota. He says that on the evening of October 2, 1849, being in Baltimore, he stepped into a plain but respectable eating-house or restaurant kept by an Irish widow, where, to his surprise, he met with Poe, whom he had once been accustomed to meet here, but had not seen for some years. After taking some refreshment, they left the place together, but had not proceeded far when they were seized upon by two men, who hurried them off to some place where they were, with several others, kept close prisoners through the night and following [page 206:] day, though otherwise well treated. It was the eve of a great municipal election, and the city was wild with excitement. Next evening the kidnappers, having drugged their captives, hurried them to the polls, where they, in a half-conscious condition, were made to vote over and over again. The doctor, it appears, was only partially affected, but Poe succumbed utterly, and at length one of the men said, “What is the use of dragging around a dead man?” With that, they called a hack, put Poe within it, and ordered the driver to take him to the Washington Hospital.

Dr. Snodgrass says positively: “I myself saw Poe thrust into the hack, heard the order given, and saw the vehicle drive off with its unconscious burden.”

Thus — if this account may be relied upon — ended the strange, sad tragedy of the poet’s life; none stranger, none sadder, in all the annals of modern literature.

Dr. Snodgrass intimates that his reason for so long a delay in making this story known was his unwillingness to have his own part in the affair exposed, and with the notoriety which its connection with the poet would render unavoidable. But now, he says, in his old age, and having outlived all who knew him [page 207:] at the time, this consideration is of little worth to him. If the story be not true, we cannot see why it should have been invented. At least, it cannot, at the present day, be disproved, and it certainly appears to be the most probable and natural explanation of the poet’s death that has been given. It agrees also with Dr. Moran’s account of Poe’s condition when he was received at the hospital, and with the latter’s earnest assurance that he himself was not responsible for that condition, and also with his requesting that Dr. Snodgrass be sent for. The kidnappers had probably exchanged his garments for others as a means of disguise, intending to restore them eventually. They at least did not take from him the handsome malacca cane which was in his grasp when he reached the hospital; and which which would tend to prove that he was not then altogether unconscious. This cane was, at Dr. Carter’s request, returned to him by Mrs. Clemm, to whom Dr. Moran sent it. His baggage, left at the Swan, was sent by Mr. Mackenzie to Mrs. Clemm, disproving the story that it had been stolen from him in Baltimore.

In addition to the above, we find another and very similar account, apparently by the [page 208:] same Dr. Snodgrass, in the “San Francisco Chronicle of August 31,” the date of the year not appearing on the clipping from which I make the following extracts:

“You say that Poe did not die from the effects of deliberate dissipation?” asked the Chronicle reporter.

“That is just what I do mean; and I say further that he died from the effects of deliberate murder.”

The author of this assertion was a well-known member of this city’s advanced and inveterate Bohemia; a gentleman who has long since retired from the active pursuits of his profession and spends his old age in dreamy meditation, frequenting one of the popular resorts of the craft, but mingling little in their society. When joining in their conversation, it is generally to correct some errors from his inexhaustible mine of reminiscences, and on these occasions his words are few and precise.

“Then you knew something of the poet, Doctor?”

“I was his intimate associate for years. Much that biographers have said of him is false, especially regarding his death. Poe was not an habitual drunkard, but he was a steady drinker when his means admitted of it. His [page 209:] habitual resort when in Baltimore was the Widow Meagher’s place, on the city front, inexpensive, but respectable, having an oyster and liquor stand, and corresponding in some respects with the coffee shops of San Francisco. Here I frequently met him.”

“But about his death?”

“The mystery of the poet’s death had remained a mystery for more than forty years when there appeared in a Texas paper an article from the pen of the editor, in which he gave a letter from a Dr. Snodgrass professing to reveal the truth of the matter.

“About the time that this article was published there appeared one in the San Francisco Chronicle by a reporter of that paper, telling of an interview which he had with this same Dr. Snodgrass, of whom he says: ‘He was a well-known literary Bohemian of this city who long ago gave up his profession and is spending his old age in a state of dreamy existence from which he is seldom aroused except to correct some error concerning people and things of past times, of which he possesses a mine of reminiscences.’”

The Doctor, denying that Poe had died from dissipation, gave an account of the manner of his death as he knew it, corresponding [page 210:] in all particulars with that given by him to the Texas editor. In conclusion, he said:

“Poe did not die of dissipation. I say that he was deliberately murdered. He died of laudanum or some other drug forced upon him by his kidnappers. When one said, ‘What is the use of carrying around a dying man?’ they put him in a cab and sent him to the hospital. I was there and saw it myself.”

“Poe had been shifting about between Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York for some years. Once he had been away for several months in Richmond, and one evening turned up at the widow’s. I was there when he came in. Then it was drinks all round, and at length we were real jolly. It was the eve of an election, and we started up town. There were four of us, and we had not gone half a dozen squares when we were nabbed by policemen, who were looking up voters to “coop.” It was the practice in those days to seize people, whether drunk or sober, and keep them locked up until the polls were opened and then march them to every precinct in control of the party having the coop. This coop was in the rear of an engine-house on Calvert street. It was part of the plan to stupefy the prisoners with drugged liquor. Next day we were voted at [page 211:] thirty different places, it being as much as one’s life was worth to rebel. Poe was so badly drugged that he had to be carried on two or three rounds, and then the gang said it was no use trying any longer to vote a dead man and must get rid of him. And with that they shoved him into a cab and sent him away.”

“Then he died from dissipation, after all?”

“Nothing of the kind. He died from the effects of laudanum or some other poison forced on him in the coop. He was in a dying condition when being voted twenty or thirty times. The story told by Griswold and others of his being picked up in the street is a lie. I saw him thrust into the cab myself.”

And Mrs. Clemm?

When she received Poe’s letter bidding her to expect him at Fordham that week, she hastened thither to set her house in order for his reception. Day after day she watched and waited, but he did not come. And at length, when the week had passed, she one evening sat alone in the little cottage around which and through the naked branches of the cherry tree the October wind was sighing, and in anguish of spirit wrote to “Annie”:

“Eddie is dead —— dead.”

 


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Notes:

In citing material on “cooping” on p. 210, Mrs. Weiss repeats a story from a discredited newspaper article of the mid-1870s. She also erroneously identifies Dr. J. E. Snodgrass as the author of the article, or at least as the source for the interview printed there. This fictional account of Poe’s final days has appropriately been discredited, and attributed to a too-active imagination of some journalist. Unfortunately, it has also been used far too lightly to dismiss the entire theory of cooping as a cause of Poe’s death, although it must be admitted that the story also cannot be proven to be fully true either.


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[S:0 - HLFP, 1907] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Home Life of Poe (S. A. Weiss) (Chapter 30)