Edgar Allan Poe was an American author and poet, best remembered for his poem “The Raven” and his grisly short stories. Many people consider him to be the master of macabre and the original goth. He’s often painted as a tragic and tortured character because he endured many hardships during his short life. Poe died under mysterious circumstances at the age of 40.
Edgar Allan Poe didn’t enjoy much success during his short life. Like many other well-known artists, his work went largely unrecognized during his career, but he gained a cult following after his death, which still continues today – nearly 170 years later. Now that’s leaving a legacy.
He paved the way for short stories as we know them today and was among the first writers to introduce the “detective story”. He still has a social presence in modern times, but he is often depicted as a tortured artist and mad, bushy haired artist. But most of the ideas we have about him just aren’t true.
Poe is still an immensely powerful figure in the literary world and an inspiration for writers. Poe was adamant that he would make his living as a writer – something that was very difficult in the time he lived in.
16. Tragedy Struck When He Was Just A Year Old
Poe wrote about tragedy, heartbreak and the dark side of life, all of which he experienced from a very young age. When he was only a year old his father abandoned the family and just one year afterward he lost his mother to tuberculosis.
He was lucky enough to be taken in by a wealthy man called John Allan and his wife, and although they never formally adopted him, he was given their surname to carry along with the name Poe. But soon after turning 20 his adoptive mother also died, followed by his older brother just two years later.
Before Poe himself passed away at the young age of 40 he would know true heartbreak and suffering, but he channeled this into his writing; creating some of the best-known Romanticism works of the period.
15. He Married His 13-Year-Old Cousin
When Poe was 27 years old, he married his first cousin, Virginia Clemm, who was two months away from her 14th birthday. By today’s standards this may seem quite unorthodox but at the time their relationship wasn’t seen as unusual as the average age for girls to get married was around 15.
Some biographers believe that the pair didn’t share a bed for the first two years of the marriage and behaved more like brother and sister than husband and wife. But one thing is for sure, their relationship was loving. Sadly, Virginia was just 24 years old when she too died from tuberculosis, which she had been battling for many years. The only authenticated image of her is a watercolor portrait painted a few hours after her death.
14. The Creepy Cannibal Coincidence
Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket was Poe’s only complete novel; the majority of his work was short stories. This fictional book told the tale of a group of men who became shipwrecked and end up killing and cannibalizing one of their crew, a man named Richard Parker. The book was not well received and even Poe called it “a very silly book”.
But here’s a twist that would have delighted the master of macabre; 46 years after the book was published a small vessel, The Mignonette, set sail from England bound for Australia, but on the way, the ship sank and the crew escaped in a life raft. In order to survive, they opted to kill and eat one of their shipmates. His name? You guessed it, Richard Parker.
13. He Predicted The Big Bang Theory
Many people consider “The Raven” to be Poe’s greatest work but the poet didn’t agree. He considered the prose poem “Eureka” his masterpiece, but today it is one of his least read works. But what it contains and predicts is truly awe-inspiring.
In his 1848 poem, Poe talked about the possibility that the universe could have begun with a singularity, a single event, which gave rise to all the particles in the universe. Keep in mind that this idea was a scientific theory only in 1927 — eighty years after the poem was written. He even reasoned in the poem that the universe could constantly be expanding – an idea completely unheard of at the time.
12. We Still Don’t Know What Killed Him
We still don’t know what killed Edgar Allan Poe and in all likelihood, we probably never will. All of his medical records, including his death certificate have been lost over time. Some of the many theories about the cause of his death include tuberculosis, cholera, drug overdose, and heart disease. Newspapers reported that the cause of death was “congestion of the brain” which at that time was another way of saying he died due to alcoholism.
He was found weak and delirious out on the street on October 3rd, 1849 and taken to hospital. The friend who found him said that he was “in great distress, and… in need of immediate assistance.” Poe never recovered enough to tell anyone what had happened and died 4 days later in the Washington Medical College.
11. The Mysteries Surrounding His Untimely Death
A week before Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore he had left Virginia to travel to New York. No one knows what happened to him during that week, but when he was found, a friend noted that his appearance was completely out of character. He was unwashed, his beard was untidy and bedraggled, and his eyes were listless.
Stranger still were his clothes; clearly not his own. He had on a stained old coat, worn out shoes, and an old straw hat. This was uncharacteristic for Poe, who always kept himself well groomed. He also had no idea what had happened to his luggage.
In the days before his death, Poe was incoherent and unable to offer any explanations about how he had come to be in that state. According to some accounts, his last words were “Lord help my poor soul”.
10. “The Raven” Made Him Famous But Not Rich
“The Raven” was Poe’s crowning achievement and one of the few poems that have endured through history. He described it as a personal challenge to himself – he wanted to create a 100-line poem that could be easily read in one sitting. Initially, he planned to use a parrot and not a raven, but felt the parrot didn’t quite hit the right note. We agree!
He wrote “The Raven” at the age of 40 and it made him a household name almost overnight. You might think that this meant a big paycheck for Edgar too, but that wasn’t the case at all. He was only ever paid about $9 for its publication.
He was so well known for this poem that children would often follow him in the street imitating ravens by flapping their arms and cawing. The story goes that Edgar would play along, suddenly turning and saying “Nevermore!”
9. Only Seven People Came To His Funeral
This one is hard to believe judging by how popular Edgar remains 168 years after his death, but only seven people attended the funeral of Edgar Allan Poe.
He was buried by his cousins the day after he died, which was unusually hasty for the times. One of the few observers of the funeral noted that it was a miserable cold-hearted affair that took place on a grey cloudy afternoon. The entire service lasted less than three minutes. The reverend didn’t even bother with a sermon because there were so few people in attendance. One of the men attending the burial said this about Poe, “I didn’t have anything to do with him when he was alive, and I don’t want to have anything to do with him after his death.” Nice.
8. Poe’s Enemy Wrote His Obituary
Poe’s bad luck continued following his death when one of his professional and personal enemies wrote a long scathing obituary that was so slanderous he published it under a pseudonym. The article framed Edgar as a mad, opium-addicted womanizing drunk. Most of what he wrote was complete lies. Today it is well known that Poe was not a drug addict.
His article, called “Memoir of the Author” began, “Edgar Allan Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it”. He claimed that the author was depraved and that he had based his tales on his own dark personal experiences. The distorted picture that was painted of Poe has haunted him ever since.
7. One Of His Rare Books Sold For $662,500
When Poe was 18 years old and still serving as a private at Fort Independence in Boston Harbor, he published his first book of poetry. The name of the 40-page book was Tamerlane and Other Poems and it did not even carry his name – instead, it was simply attributed to “a Bostonian”. Only 50 copies were printed and the work received almost no attention, which must have been a crushing start for young writer.
It is believed that only 12 copies of the book have survived and they are now exceptionally valuable. In 2009 one copy went on auction at Christie’s, New York and fetched a record-breaking $662,500 – one of the highest prices ever paid for a work of American literature. We’re sure this would have made Edgar smile.
6. He Had A Second Burial
Poe was originally buried without a headstone towards the back part of a churchyard. A tombstone had been ordered by one of his cousins but it was destroyed in an accident before it reached its destination. In its place, all that marked the grave was a stone block that simply read “No.80”.
In 1873, 24 years after Poe had passed away a poet visited his gravesite and shocked to find it in a very poor condition. He wrote an article about it and campaigned for a proper reburial. In 1875 Poe was moved closer to the front of the churchyard and a monument was erected to honor him. You can still visit his gravesite today at the Westminster Hall and Burying Ground, part of the University of Maryland School of Law.
5. Writing From The Grave?
Lizzie Doten was an American female poet and spiritual medium. She was an outspoken campaigner for equal rights for women and was passionate about addressing double standards with regards to morality. She was also a sought-after trance-speaker who participated in séances and a prose writer.
In 1863 she published a book of poetry called Poems from the Inner Life, in which she made the outlandish claim that several of the poems had been written under the “direct spirit influence” of writers such as Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe. Poe had died fourteen years before the book was published. Needless to say, not many people believed her, seeing her claims as a way to draw attention to her work.
4. He Dropped Out Of University
In 1826 Poe, aged 17, enrolled at the University of Virginia, which had opened its door just one year earlier. He registered to study ancient and modern languages, but things didn’t go as planned. Poe racked up massive gambling debts and soon fell out with his adoptive father who refused to send him more money. Poe insisted that he didn’t have enough money to cover all his expenses, but after a while, the two became estranged from each other.
A few months later, Poe discovered that his childhood sweetheart had married another man and this was the final straw. He was heartbroken and struggling financially so he decided to quit university and move to Boston, where he sustained himself with odd jobs as a clerk and a writer.
3. He Was Dishonorably Discharged From West Point
A year after leaving university, Poe was in a bad way and had no means to support himself with so he decided to join the United States Army. He lied on his application listing his age as 22 (when in fact he was 18) and giving the false name Edgar A. Perry. As a private, he earned $5 a month. He served for two years and achieved the rank of Sergeant Major for Artillery. He then applied and was accepted at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Things seemed to be going well for Poe, but after another serious fallout with his adoptive father in 1830 he decided to leave West Point and chose to do so by getting himself court-martialled. He was tried for gross neglect of duty and disobeying orders and tactfully pleaded not guilty, knowing that he would be dismissed.
2. His Adoptive Father Disowned Him
Soon after his adoptive mother passed away Poe announced to his father that he planned to leave West Point. This was the breaking point in their strained relationship. John Allan did not approve of his son’s plans to make a life as a writer and poet. Allan had already remarried; just a year after his wife had died, Poe was bitter and accused his father of having affairs and fathering children out of wedlock. By this time Allan was at the end of his rope with Poe and no longer wanted to support him.
Allan and his new wife had a baby son not long afterward and that meant Allan had an heir and he swiftly removed Edgar from his will. Edgar tried to see Allan on his deathbed, but the dying man chased him away and so they were never reconciled.
1. He Has An Entire Museum Dedicated To Him
Even though he enjoyed very little recognition while he was alive Poe has become a cult figure and now even has an entire museum dedicated to his memory.
The Edgar Allan Poe Museum is situated in Richmond, Virginia and although Poe never lived in the buildings it houses a treasure trove of Poe memorabilia. There is a display of furniture taken from the homes he lived in throughout his life, including his childhood bed and a piano that once belonged to his sister.
There is also an eighteen-foot long model of Richmond as it was during his life and a collection of his works. This includes first and rare editions such as the book of poetry Tamerlane and Other Poems of which only 12 copies still exist.