The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allen Poe


Edgar Allen Poe is one of the most influential writers and poets that ever lived. His short stories are some of the most iconic pieces of horror literature that have ever been written with stories like “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat” and poems such as “The Raven.” However, to many, what is the most fascinating thing about Poe was his death.

On October 3, 1849, Poe was found in a state of delirium in a gutter near a tavern known as Gunners Hall. He hadn’t been heard from or seen in nearly a week and appeared to be in very shabby clothing that was two sizes too small for him. Luckily, he was conscious enough at the time to tell the man who found him to write a letter to a friend of his who was a doctor. The letter went as follows, “Dear Sir—There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you, he is in need of immediate assistance. Yours, in haste, Jos. W. Walker.”

Poe was then taken to a hospital and never was conscious enough to say what happened to him or where he was the previous week. He died merely four days after arriving at the hospital. There are many theories as to how he died ranging from alcoholism to murder. Here are the top three most likely theories:

1. Alcohol 

The most common theory that has been circulating from around the time he died was that he drank himself into a stupor and never really recovered from the effects of all the alcohol he drank. While this theory seems to fit Poe’s personality from the popular view of him as a man who was nearly always drunk and an alcoholic, this was actually based on an obituary by a literary rival. Poe also had been sober for multiple months and became involved with temperance movements of the day so it seems unlikely he would have drank himself to death out of the blue with no explanation. It also doesn’t explain why he disappeared for a week before he was found in that gutter near the tavern. There is also little evidence of any alcohol being in his system at the time of his death, so this theory might not be entirely reliable. 

2. Brain Tumor

This is a more recent theory and one that has a little more likelihood than the one before. When Poe died, he was originally buried in an unmarked grave in a very poorly put together coffin. While moving his body to another grave, it fell and split apart revealing what little remained of Poe’s body. One thing someone noticed though, there was something rolling around near Poe’s skull. According to many reports at the time, the thing rolling around in his head looked suspiciously like his brain, though we know that is false now. It was revealed to most likely be a tumor by a doctor. This could help explain his attitude when he was found but not where he was for a week; however, it is entirely possible that he had this tumor before disappearing. 

3. Cooping

The last theory is that Poe somehow got involved with something known as cooping. Cooping was a common method of voter fraud in which a group of people would kidnap someone and then proceed to force that person to vote multiple times using different disguises. When Poe was found he was found in clothing that was not his and poor fitting. He also appeared very rattled as if he had been beaten and traumatized. This is very likely as typically people who were victims of cooping were beaten and forced to drink alcohol, which affected Poe greatly even in small amounts. This theory would also explain why he hadn’t been seen for a week before being found as well as it being around election time. 

Whichever one of these theories is correct we may never know but we should never forget what contributions Edgar Allen Poe made to American literature and the horror genre in general.