Baltimore City, Oct 3d 1849Dear Sir, —
There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan's Fourth 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
This was the letter which Joseph W. Walker sent to his former employer Joseph Evans Snodgrass on October 3, 1849. It is the first document record of Poe since September 27 (if it exists; I haven't seen it and have no idea where it is housed).
Poe was found in a delirious state near Ryan's Tavern in Gunner's Hall located at 44 East Lombard Street, Baltimore. The exact situation is unknown (though legend persists he was in a gutter, in an alley, or otherwise in the street; he may very well have been sitting on a chair inside the Tavern). He may or may not have been drunk. He may or may not have been drugged. He may or may not have been wearing someone else's clothing. He may or may not have asked for Snodgrass by name, rather than naming any of his Baltimore relatives.
Snodgrass, a physician/editor, made it to Ryan's by the afternoon. He later recounted that he knew Poe immediately, despite an odd hat — "a cheap palm-leaf one, without a band, and soiled." Snodgrass also later claimed that Poe was a drunken wreck, and his fate was a lesson to all who were intemperate. Snodgrass was, of course, one of the most violently outspoken members of the temperance movement — readers may decide if he had any bias. Snodgrass apparently bumped into a "Mr. H——, a relative of Mr. Poe's by marriage" (identified as his uncle Henry Herring) and the two decided to put Poe in a carriage to the Washington College Hospital. Poe was received by Dr. John Joseph Moran, who later claimed that Poe wore a straw hat that day and that he "had not the slightest odor of liquor upon his breath or person."
The day Poe was found was election day in Maryland "for members of Congress and for members of the House of Delegates," according to one newspaper that morning. Ryan's, besides being a tavern, was also hosting the fourth ward polls, as eluded to in Walker's letter to Snodgrass. Scholar William Hand Browne observed: "At that time the polls were usually held at public houses, and the candidates saw that every voter had all the whiskey he wanted."
This coincidental date/location also lent credence to an early theory that Poe was a victim of "cooping" — that he was abducted by thugs hired by a political party or individual politician to force people's vote. Victims were chosen at random and force-fed alcohol or drugs to make them more cooperative. When not forced into polling booths, these people were held in "coops," tight cages which led to the occasional accidental death. Poe might have been forced into another person's clothing to disguise his identity (the thugs would not have known of his celebrity status). He was then kicked to the curb when they were done with him — or, so says this theory.
The six days that Poe went missing is a mystery, but even his reappearance is full of holes and questions. How credible was Dr. Snodgrass? How about Mr. Moran? Was Poe supposed to be in Baltimore rather than Philadelphia or New York? Where was he found? Who called for Snodgrass? Was it just a coincidence that this was Election Day?