A 60-year annual tradition that involved a mysterious visitor leaving roses and a bottle of cognac at the grave of writer Edgar Allan Poe on the anniversary of his birthday appears to have ended.
In a custom dating back to 1949, an anonymous visitor has come every year on Jan. 19 to lay three roses and a half-bottle of cognac at the Poe grave marker in downtown Baltimore.
But on Tuesday morning, there were no roses or cognac at the grave.
"I'm confused, befuddled," said Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House and Museum.
Since 1977, Jerome and a small group of Poe enthusiasts have made their own tradition of keeping an overnight vigil at the church cemetery where Poe is buried to catch sight of the visitor.
Jerome speculated what might have occurred: "The guy had the flu, accident, too many people."
Tuesday would have marked the 201st anniversary of the writer's birth.
Hasty funeral in 1849
Poe was known for his macabre writings such as the poem The Raven and fiction including The Pit and The Pendulum and The Tell-Tale Heart.
In fact, the city hosted a formal burial for Poe and a big celebration in October. In 2009, there was a major exhibition on Poe at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
The writer didn't have much of a sendoff when he died.
In 1849, Poe was found, delirious, outside a Baltimore tavern. He was never coherent enough to explain what had happened and spent four days in a hospital before passing away at age 40.
Poe's cousin, Neilson Poe, never announced his death publicly and fewer than 10 people attended the hasty funeral.
Cynthia Pelayo, who's doing a master's degree in writing and flown from Chicago to witness the gravesite ritual, said she was "very disappointed, to the point where I want to cry" with the apparent ending of the tradition.
There have been theories about the visitor and even one person purporting to be the Poe Toaster.
Back in 2007, Sam Porpora, a former historian at Westminster Presbyterian Church, where Poe is buried, claimed he had came up with the idea in the 1970s as a publicity stunt and had been the original Poe Toaster along with a few of the guides at the church.
His story has never been verified and Jerome disputes, pointing to news reports of it from decades earlier.
Ended upon 200th anniversary?
Jerome believes the mystery visitor may have also decided to end his or her annual nightly toast after 2009 — the bicentennial of Poe's birth.
The curator said the visitor usually came between midnight and 5:30 a.m. local time, and sometimes left notes at the gravesite.
"You would have thought he would have left a note saying it's over," Jerome told The Baltimore Sun.
He had waited in the church and on the outer edges of the cemetery along with about two dozen die-hard fans. They spent the time singing Happy Birthday and reciting lines from The Raven.
"Everyone was very sad, but there was still a feeling of goodwill. We were there, and we paid our respects to Edgar," said Jerome, who pledged to continue his ritual at least until 2012.