One of the most well-known poets and fiction writers of all time, Edgar Allan Poe captivated audiences with his dark mysteries in the early 19th century. His writing, most famously “The Raven,” continues to engage readers today.
But while Poe wrote mysteries, his legacy was becoming one himself. His death came as a surprise in 1849, and no one knows just how the young writer had died.
Found delirious on the streets
On October 3, 1849, Poe was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore by Baltimore Sun compositor Joseph W. Walker. Poe asked for the assistance of his friend, magazine editor Joseph E. Snodgrass. Poe was later taken to the hospital, where he died on Sunday, October 7, at age 40.
How did he die? His medical records, including his death certificate, have been lost for over a century. But the greater question remains: How did he even end up on the streets of Baltimore, alone and wearing someone else’s clothes?
He was fine a week earlier
A week prior to his death, Poe was traveling from Richmond, Virginia, to edit a collection of poems in Philadelphia. He never made it there, nor did he make it back home to New York City. He found himself in Baltimore, delirious and walking around wearing someone else’s clothes. But why?
There are many theories about Poe’s experience in Baltimore before his death, including a beating by street thugs that led to a brain injury, carbon monoxide poisoning, and alcohol. One of the earliest theories is that he was involved in cooping, in which men were kidnapped, disguised and forced to vote for a candidate multiple times.
Other plausible theories include heavy metal poisoning, rabies, murder, and general illness.
So, what’s the answer?
How did Poe die?
For Chris Semtner, curator at the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, none of these theories fully explain Poe’s unfortunate demise.
“I believe Poe’s cause of death resulted from a combination of factors,” Semtner said. “Poe was most likely suffering from encephalitis (brain inflammation) or meningitis, either of which might explain his symptoms.”
It seems Poe’s death will always be a mystery. It’s almost like he wrote it himself.