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Is the Poe Toaster toast?

FILE - This is an undated file photo of Edgar Allan Poe. Edgar Allan Poe is known for his fertile imagination, not his good looks.
FILE - This is an undated file photo of Edgar Allan Poe. Edgar Allan Poe is known for his fertile imagination, not his good looks. But a portrait of Poe that's never been seen in public casts the macabre author in a more flattering light. The small watercolor by A.C. Smith shows Poe sitting at desk with pen and paper in hand. His famous mustache is missing, and there's the slightest hint of a smile on his face. The portrait will be unveiled Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010, in Baltimore as part of Poe's birthday celebration.
(AP Photo/File)
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For the past umpteen years, like clockwork, a crowd gathered in the wee hours of January 19th, craning to see any signs of life inside the cemetery outside Westminster Hall on Greene Street.

And every year, for the past umpteen years, a veiled figure clad in black cape and white scarf, sometimes carrying a silver-tipped cane, sometimes not, appeared from the shadows, traipsed about the cemetery, and quietly set three red roses and a half-empty bottle of cognac on the grave of literary icon Edgar Allan Poe.

The figure then raised a glass and drank a glass of the amber liquid in a half-cocked birthday tribute to the man who was found face down in a Baltimore gutter rambling incoherently so many centuries ago.

Nobody knows the toaster’s identity, or for that matter, why or how the celebrated ritual began. All they know is that at some point in the wee hours of a cold January 19th, they’ll be treated to another installment of the time-honored Baltimore tradition.

Only last night, for the first time in more than 50 years, it didn’t happen.

That’s right. No mysteriously clad figure slinging back cognac toasts. No blood-red roses set on Poe’s grave. No notes tied to the cognac saying Poe’s grave isn't the place for anything French. Not even a kiss-off note telling people eagerly gathered outside the gates they were freezing their tails off for nothing.

So why the sudden "toastus-interruptus?"

Has the toaster transplanted the quirky ritual to a rival city?

Richmond and Philadelphia have been squabbling over Poe for years. Granted, Baltimore’s claim to the celebrated author and poet is partially based on the twisted circumstances of his death, however, we did have the good sense and grace to bury him in a prominent grave with a beautiful tombstone. Lithograph of Poe's Memorial Grave (in Baltimore, Maryland), shortly after its unveiling in 1875. (From S. S. Rice, A Memorial Volume, 1877.)

Shouldn’t that be enough?

Or perhaps, some would-be spectator decided to get cheeky and unmask the toaster once and for all. Stationed outside the catacombs ready to pounce, the idiot probably didn’t realize that in trying to unveil the toaster’s identity he would bring down the curtain on the whole kit and kaboodle.

Or maybe the toaster passed on before passing the reins to another member of some secret society. These reins have passed at least one other time in the past. Maybe the toaster died suddenly without the foresight to ensure continuation of the ritual?

Or maybe as curator Jeffrey Jerome said, it would be befitting to end the tradition on the 200th anniversary of Poe's birth.

In any event, the toaster appears to be toast. Perhaps an anomaly, perhaps not, but assuredly a wicked footnote in a storied tradition that may be "nevermore."


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