Someone has left a bottle of cognac and roses on Edgar Allan Poe’s grave since 1949. Has anyone ever discovered who it is and why? Any ideas?    

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As the 207th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe falls on the 19th of January, 2016, speculation again revolves around the identity of the individual or individuals responsible for a decades-long tradition of placing three roses and half-empty bottle of cognac on the late poet and author’s grave. The mystery as to the identity of the individual(s) responsible for this tradition remains, as no credible suspect has emerged to claim title to this rather poignant and touching remembrance of Poe. What little information on this mysterious figure that exists is that of a single individual dressed in black, wearing a white scarf and wide-brimmed hat. While the identity of this individual(s) remains unknown, he or she has become popularly known as "the Poe Toaster," as in, "let’s drink a toast to Poe."

The best source of information on “the Poe Toaster” is the website maintained by the Edgar Allan Poe Society, a link to which is provided below. According to the Poe Society, the appearance of the three roses and bottle of cognac began in 1949 on the anniversary of Poe’s birth, and the practice continued until 2009, when the heretofore annual arrival of the roses and cognac ceased for unknown reasons. There are two main possibilities explaining why the roses and cognac are no longer placed on Poe’s gravesite. The first, and most obvious, is that the individual responsible died. The second, and also credible theory is that public fascination with uncovering the identity of the mystery person(s) drove the responsible party away. As Poe fans and others simply interested in spying the mystery person(s) began staking out the cemetery where Poe is buried, the responsible person(s) may have decided that it was no longer worth continuing what had been a sincere, heartfelt display of admiration and appreciation for the long-deceased writer. Either way, the roses and cognac are no longer delivered, although imposters (known as “Faux Toasters”) have attempted to usurp the mystery person(s) persona.

So, who might have been responsible for the annual display of appreciation for Edgar Allan Poe? One can only surmise, but the pool of possible candidates could run into the thousands, or more. Public fascination with Poe remains strong, although it is not as prominent as it was in early periods, especially during the years when film director Roger Corman was making low-budget movies ostensibly based upon—and using the titles of—Poe’s short stories and poems. Obviously, the individual or individuals responsible greatly admired Poe’s body of work, as well as the tragedy that befell this master of the macabre. That, however, as noted, could be any one of thousands of Poe’s admirers. There is no obvious explanation for the specific items left at the grave, although members of the Poe Society believe that the three roses are for the three people buried at the gravesite: Poe, his wife Virginia, and Virginia’s mother, Maria Clemm. The reason for cognac is a complete mystery, as that particular alcoholic beverage plays no prominent role in any of Poe’s stories or poems.

As the roses and brandy first appeared in 1949 and continued until 2009, whoever it is, he or she has almost certainly died by now, as that 60-year span of time (logically assuming that the individual or individuals in question were adults in 1949) would make the original individual at least 80 years old, and probably older, although some college student of the time could have begun the tradition. In any event, there is no way to know the person’s identity. The Poe Society’s website notes the following:

“A note left for Jeff Jerome (curator of the Poe House and Museum in Baltimore) in 1993 stated somewhat cryptically that “the torch will be passed,” and another note left in 1999 indicated that the original “Toaster” had died within a few months before the annual event. After 1993, sightings of the visitor suggested two younger persons were exchanging the obligation between themselves, presumably in honor of their father.”

So, there you have it. An individual began and continued the tradition until he or she was no longer physically capable of carrying it out, at which time someone else continued the tradition until 2009.