Quoth the Poe Toaster: "Nevermore"

First aired on As It Happens (19/1/12)

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Gloomy poet Edgar Allen Poe would have turned 203 years old this week, and for decades, a mysterious figure known as the Poe Toaster arrives at the author's grave in Baltimore on January 19, leaves a gift of three roses and half a bottle of cognac, and then vanishes. Since 1977, Jeff Jerome has been one of the people there to see it. Jerome is the curator of the Poe Museum in Baltimore. But two years ago, the Poe Toaster did not arrive. Nor did he show up the next year. Or last night. Thursday, As It Happens replayed Carol Off's 2010 interview with Jerome about the evident end of this spooky literary tradition, and then followed up with Jerome about what he said would be his last vigil.

"I always maintained that if he doesn't show up, I would spend the night the next two years, and after that I would safely assume that he has stopped, unless I get a phone call or a note from the guy," Jerome said. "But I look at it this way: If I was the Poe Toaster and I was going to stop, I would choose some Poe connection or event, rather than just stopping and not doing anything." The last appearance of the Poe Toaster was in 2009, which was the bicentennial of Poe's birth, so Jerome may be on to something.

In any case, the Poe Toaster has now failed to appear three years in a row (though three Poe Toaster "wannabes" appeared in the graveyard last night, according to Jerome), so Jerome has accepted that the tradition is over. Jerome admitted that the wannabes did make a good effort to look the part, but he maintains that there is only one true Poe Toaster out there, and his reign has ended.

The tradition of the Poe Toaster started in 1949, when a man first put three roses and cognac on Poe's grave. In the early 1990s, the staff at the Poe House received a note with one of the roses indicating that the "torch would be passed." And several years later, they received another note saying that the father had passed away, and that the two sons would be upholding the tradition. "So that's about all that we know, that it is a father and two sons' tradition," said Jerome. But he's given up trying to figure out who the Toaster might be. And now that three years have passed since the last sighting of the mysterious Poe fan, Jerome is retiring even the recent tradition of keeping watch all night to see if the Poe Toaster will return.

"I think it's obvious that the tradition has ended," said Jerome. "I say that with a heavy heart, and I don't take this decision lightly."

And what about all those half-filled bottles of cognac? Thirty bottles have been collected over the years, and Jerome doesn't drink from them. "I have a collection of bottles in the basement of the Poe House," he said. "I have no idea what I'm doing with them, I'm just keeping them."

Read more about Poe's mysterious death, and the tradition of the Poe Toaster.