The Edgar Allan Poe Collection of Susan Jaffe Tane


Manet Le Corbeau Illustration

The circumstances surrounding Poe’s untimely death remain one of the great mysteries enveloping the author, fueling the public’s perception of a man haunted by demons who lived a debauched or demented life. Gaps in the record of his whereabouts and activities during the final days of his life have made it difficult to uncover definitive answers. According to newspaper accounts published in the days following his death, Poe was found delirious in Baltimore’s Lombard Street on election day, October 3, 1849. Some reports described him in a state of drunken stupor, while others observed that he seemed as in a delirium from some sort of fever. Poe was taken to the Washington College Hospital, where he regained only partial consciousness before dying on October 7. Speculation regarding the ultimate cause of his death continues to this day, with theories ranging from alcoholism, cerebral hemorrhage, poisoning, and diabetes, to heart disease, tuberculosis, and rabies. A hastily-arranged funeral was held just one day after his death.

Poe had appointed the Reverend Rufus Griswold to be his literary executor. The unflattering and unjust obituary Griswold wrote for the October 9, 1849 New York Tribune, which said that “few will be grieved” by his death and that he “had few or no friends,” later became the source of much misinformation about Poe’s life.

The Tane collection features Griswold’s obituary, as well as other, more sympathetic newspaper obituaries that appeared in the days following Poe’s death. Also in the Tane collection is a fragment of wood from Poe’s original coffin, reportedly obtained when Poe’s body was relocated from the Poe family plot to a new marble monument in the burial yard of Baltimore’s Westminster Church in 1875.

New York Daily Tribune. Tuesday Morning, October 9, 1849.
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The contents of this obituary came largely from R. W. Griswold’s book The Poets and Poetry of America. “EDGAR A. POE is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it. The poet was known, personally or by reputation, in all this country; he had readers in England, and in several of the states of Continental Europe; but he had few or no friends; and the regrets for his death will be suggested principally by the consideration that in him literary art has lost one of its most brilliant but erratic stars.”

Fragment of Edgar Allan Poe’s Coffin. Framed with a portrait and an autograph note in Poe’s hand.
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This coffin fragment was obtained when Poe’s body was relocated from the Poe family plot to a new marble monument in the burial yard of Westminster Church. An article in the October 1, 1875 Baltimore Evening News described the process as well as the apparent origin of the fragment: “On carefully raising the coffin to the brink of the grave Mr. Tuder discovered that it was partially broken in at the sides, and the lid near the head was so much decayed that it fell in pieces on the ground. The flesh and funeral robes of course had crumbled into dust and there was nothing left but the bare bones and a few clumps of hair attached to the skull, to tell that a body had once been there.”

The unrelated note framed with the coffin fragment, dated April 30 1845, New York, acknowledges the receipt of five dollars regarding the Southern Literary Messenger, the Richmond literary magazine Poe edited in the 1830s.

John H. Hewitt. Shadows on the Wall, or Glimpses of the Past Fifty Years. Sketches of Noted Persons Met with by the Author. Baltimore: Turnbull Brothers, 1877.
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This volume of reminiscences contains two essays on Poe, along with Hewitt’s poem “At the Grave of Edgar A. Poe.” Hewitt is best remembered today as a figure in one of Poe’s first literary controversies, the Baltimore Saturday Visiter affair. In this volume Hewitt recounts his version of the episode and reprints both his and Poe’s poems.

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