Edgar Allan Poe raven cover

Edgar Allan Poe, the mystery of his death is still unsolved

Edgar Allan Poe is considered the greatest American writer, father of the detective novel and author of tales of mystery and the macabre like The Pit and the Pendulum or poems like The Raven.

Yet the greatest mystery linked to Edgar Allan Poe is not the plot of his novel but in the circumstances of his untimely death.

Poe was 40 when he died on October 7, 1849. On September 27 of that year he left Richmond, where he lived, for Philadelphia where he expected to do some business, but never reached his destination.

Poe couple

The last journey of Edgar Allan Poe

Before his departure Poe, who was widowed two years earlier of his cousin Virginia Clemm (married in 1835 when the writer was 26 and Virginia 13, although it was reported in the marriage certificate that Virginia was 21 years old), had started courting a love of his youth, Sarah Elmira Royster.

Nothing suggested that this would be his last journey. It was October 3, 1849, when a man was found lying on a Baltimora sidewalk near a headquarters of the Whig party (ancestor of the current Republican party) delirious, in tattered clothes that were not his own, unable to say how he was there and in that state.

Sudden death after 4 days of hospitalization

That man was precisely the famous writer, who was admitted to the Washington College hospital and died there four days later. Poe never returned lucid enough to explain what had happened to him, only managing to mumble a name, “Reynolds”. Who was he?

According to the most reliable theories, it could have been Jeremiah N. Reynolds, an American newspaper editor, lecturer, explorer, and author of a proposal for the exploration of the Pacific and the South Seas for the benefit of whale fishing that had inspired Poe the novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. The island of Nantucket was the starting point not only for Poe's novel but also for Herman Melville's Moby Dick.

Edgar Allan Poe obituary and portrait

Did Reynolds play a role in Poe's death?

Although Edgar Allan Poe was likely to know Jeremiah N. Reynolds, it has never been clarified why he had to invoke his name in the delusion, nor if Reynolds was somehow collectible with the state in which Poe was found. Historical reports of the hospitalization indicate that the writer came to the hospital deliriously with chills and hallucinations.

The writer then fell into a coma from which he initially woke up, calm and lucid, refusing the alcohol that was offered to him (to cure abstinence, since Poe had avoided drinking for at least six months) and drinking alone, with difficulty, water. Later he fell into a state of delirium, becoming combative to the point of having to be immobilized.

The official version died from alcoholism

The official documentation, including the death certificate, drawn up by Dr. J.F.C. Handel was lost but the newspapers of the time spoke of “congestion of the brain” or “cerebral inflammation”, terms used as euphemisms in cases of death from alcoholism.

However in recent years the case has been reanalyzed and it has been hypothesized that it was instead a case of rabies, which would explain his hydrophobia. Poe, who loved cats and other pets, may have contracted the disease unknowingly up to a year before he passed away.

Despite everything, many mysteries remain related to the circumstances of the discovery of Poe in Baltimore and his sudden death and over the decades it seems increasingly unlikely that the mystery of Edgar Allan Poe's death will ever be truly revealed.

Edgar Allan Poe Grave

Tags: Unsolved mysteries, history