The Murder of Edgar Allan Poe
The Dying Man
Ryan's Tavern in Baltimore had been busy all day, men coming in and out to cast their ballots for the elections. Most went about their business quickly, either not seeing the man slumped over nearby or choosing to ignore him. Since the polling place was also a saloon, many men may have felt the man was a sad example of someone who had indulged too heavily the previous night.
Joseph Walker may have initially entered Ryan's merely to cast his vote on October 3, 1849, but unlike the others running in and out of the establishment, he took the time to see if the man needed help. Walker may have even asked the man if there was anyone Walker could get to come and fetch him. The man, whom Walker now believed was clearly drunk, may have rattled off some names, finally hitting one that Walker knew.
Walker quickly sent a note to a Dr. Joseph Snodgrass, stating, in part: "There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan's Fourth Ward Polls — and who appears in great distress and he says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you, he is in need of immediate assistance."
Upon receiving the note, Dr. Snodgrass went to fetch the man and had him taken to nearby Washington College Hospital, where the ailing man was placed under the care of Dr. John Moran.
Moran tended to his patient over the next few days, and concluded that alcohol was indeed at the heart of his patient's ailments. The weakened man seemed to slide in and out of reality, although he was never able to answer questions about what had brought him to such a low state. Word spread of the man's condition, and his cousin came to visit, but was turned away and told that the patient was not fit for visitors.
Four days after being brought to the hospital, the man experienced a rapid decline. Dr. Moran attended to his deathbed, as the man reportedly repeated the name "Reynolds" in his delirium. The patient finally died in the early hours of October 7, 1849.
The dead man, while not prosperous, was certainly well-known, causing the local newspaper, the Baltimore Sun, to comment in their October 8th edition:
"We regret to learn that Edgar A. Poe, Esq., the distinguished American poet, scholar and critic, died in this city yesterday morning, after an illness of four or five days. This announcement, coming so sudden and unexpected, will cause poignant regret among all who admire genius, and have sympathy for the frailties too often attending it."
At 40 years of age, the master of horror fiction and the father of the detective whodunnit story was dead. Poe was lamented by many, but everyone took as fact Dr. Moran's conclusion that alcoholism had finally claimed Poe's life. Poe's reputation for drinking was known by anyone who had even a passing acquaintance with him.
Soon, however, in a manner that Poe himself would have admired, cryptic whisperings began up and down the East Coast hinting that the instigator of so many horrible literary deaths had possibly met his end by another's hands.