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In his section titled "Something About Edgar Allan Poe," author Avi says the following about Poe's death:

[I]n 1849, Poe died in Baltimore under mysterious circumstances (200).

It was a year after Mrs. Sarah Helen Whitman of Providence, Rhode Island, broke off her engagement with Poe for returning to his alcoholism.

Avi is referring to the fact that Poe's death certainly is surrounded in myths and mystery. One thing we know is that, shortly before his death, he became engaged to Elmira Royster Shelton of Richmond, Virginia, whom he had loved and been engaged to in his youth. Poe had then gone from Richmond to New York to collect his aunt, Maria Clemm, and move her to Richmond. On September 27th, 1849, Poe had left via boat from Richmond to Baltimore because he was on a lecture tour to win subscribers to his new magazine The Stylus. While in Baltimore, he saw his cousin Neilson Poe, but based on a letter he wrote to his Aunt Maria Clemm, Neilson did not know what else Poe did while in Baltimore. There is a rumor that, while in Baltimore, Poe had $1500 on him from magazine subscriptions, a rumor that feeds the myth he was mugged before he died; however, the editors of the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore point out the impossibility of having obtained that much money because it would take far more magazine subscribers than Poe was ever able to obtain before.

While in Baltimore, we know Poe went to the voting polls on the presidential election day at a public house, which we know based on a note written by Joseph W. Walker to a physician by the name of Dr. J. E. Snodgrass; Walker wrote to Dr. Snodgrass saying that Poe was very ill and asked for Dr. Snodgrass, an acquaintance of Poe's, to come quickly. There is a myth that Poe was found in a gutter outside of the public house. The editors say it's probably more likely Walker found Poe out on the street and helped him into the public house to await Dr. Snodgrass. When Dr. Snodgrass arrived, he judged Poe to be in a "drunken state" and arranged for a carriage to take him to Washington College Hospital ("The Myserious Death of Edgar Allan Poe"). Poe died in the hospital at either 3 am or 5 am on October 7th, 1849. What is particularly strange about the account of his being found outside the public house is that he was not dressed in his own black wool suit. Instead, he was dressed in a cheap gabardine suit and hat, both of which were tattered and filthy. The fact he was found in someone else's clothes suggests some mysterious foul play.

There are a few theories concerning his death. One theory is he died of alcoholism, but he was not a serious enough drinker to have caused himself death by damaging his liver. Another theory is that he died of a brain lesion he had for quite some time. Finally, since he was found on the presidential election day in Baltimore, a city notorious for the violence of political gangs, there is speculation that he was attacked by one of these gangs or brutally attacked in some other way.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
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