Sunday, September 27, 2009

Poe takes his last trip

On September 27, 1849, Edgar A. Poe fell off the radar. He will not be seen or heard from again for another six days.

The night before his disappearance, there are several stories about what he was doing; how true they are is debated. He apparently visited the office of the Southern Literary Messenger (his former employer) to meet with John R. Thompson. He told Thompson he was leaving for New York the next day but stopping in Philadelphia on the way. In Philadelphia, he was supposed to edit a volume of (bad) poetry by a poetaster named Mrs. Marguerite St. Leon Loud — a gig he only accepted for the decent pay. Thompson gave Poe $5 to cover the trip (as well as a letter to give to Rufus Griswold in Philadelphia); Poe paid him back with a manuscript of a poem titled "Annabel Lee." Likely, this was just a gift, not intended for publication, as "Annabel Lee" had just been sold to John Sartain of the Union Magazine. Thompson published it anyway, claiming to Griswold that he paid "a high price" for it. Information from Thompson comes from his letter to Griswold as well as interviews with the questionable William Fearing Gill, an early (fanatic) biographer of Poe.

Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton claimed that Poe visited her at home the same day. "He came up to my house on the evening of the 26th Sept. to take leave of me — He was very sad, and complained of being quite sick." Elmira claimed he had a fever and urged him not to travel in such a condition the next day. She claims that she confirmed he had already left the next morning when she tried to check on him. Elmira's recollections often wavered so she may or may not be credible.

"About half-past nine" in the evening, Poe visited a young doctor named John F. Carter, presumably for the fever Elmira mentioned. He left (supposedly switching canes with Carter) to eat dinner at Sadler's Restaurant. According to Dr. Carter, the restaurant later told him Poe left "at exactly twelve that night" to board a boat which would depart at four o'clock. Biographer Arthur Hobson Quinn did some considerable thinking about this aspect of the story, whether Poe was really taking a boat which left at 4 a.m. or one at 4 p.m. and which boat, if any, was scheduled to leave that day.

Either way, it was the next day, September 27, a Thursday, when Poe left Richmond. It is believed he boarded a steamer to Baltimore (odd, considering the plans he revealed to John Thompson), identified by Arthur Hobson Quinn and others as Pocahontas. If it was this particular ship, we know that it successfully arrived in Baltimore the next day. Whether it was the next day or not, Poe's next appearance (six days later) would definitely be in Baltimore. Speculation rages if Poe went to Baltimore first, then went on to Philadelphia or New York, then returned to Baltimore, or if he never made it out of Baltimore. That's not including the speculation about whether or not Poe actually left on the 27th or if he went a day or two later. Poe was not in a condition to explain any of it. More on that soon.

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