Po(e)ssibilities

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The Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site in Philadelphia is just one of several locations in which Poe resided during his years in Philadelphia; however, it is the only residence left standing today. Although subsequent occupants made renovations to the home, its current appearance remains similar to when Poe lived there with his Aunt, Maria Clemm, and cousin/wife, Virginia Clemm Poe. The outside of the residence is relatively unchanged, with beautiful brick exterior and a garden in the small yard. The interior, however, received the most change, a key addition being modern bathrooms complete with running water—a luxury Poe had to do without.

While it was very interesting to see Poe’s previous bedroom and quite unnerving to stand in the room that Virginia occupied while she was bedridden with tuberculosis, by far the coolest (and creepiest) part of the house was the basement. The basement of the Poe House is the very same one that is rumored to have inspired Poe’s short story, The Black Cat. Seeing the place where Poe most likely thought up a story about cementing a body into the wall is enough to give anyone goosebumps.

Although the basement of the Poe House and the plot of The Black Cat are frightening, the mystery surrounding Poe’s death is just as haunting. After a life filled with troubled romantic relationships and the tragedy of several family members dying of tuberculosis, Poe himself died alone and delirious in a Baltimore hospital. How he got there, and the cause of his incoherence, remain shrouded in mystery to this day, though there are an array of heavily debated opinions. I feel that this is an appropriate time to divulge that in middle school, instead of going through what most people call ‘an emo phase,’ I had a Poe Phase. I read most of his short stories and poems, even memorizing Annabel Lee. The culminating event of my Poe Phase was completing an earth shattering 8th grade History Fair project investigating the various theories about Poe’s death, eventually choosing one to side with after hours of research.

Some theories about Poe’s death include:

  • A drunken stupor leading to liver failure
  • Attempted suicide
  • Syphilis
  • Lead poisoning
  • Cholera
  • Cooping

The last theory, that Poe was a victim of cooping, stands out significantly from the rest of the possibilities. Cooping was a common practice during the time of Poe’s death, consisting of a victim being drugged or beaten into compliance, then forced to vote in multiple different locations for a specific political party. This theory seems most probable as Poe was found confused and physically battered outside of a polling location in Baltimore.

Though no one knows the exact story of Poe’s death, we can continue to appreciate his life by reading his stories and poems, and maybe even visiting the creepy basement of the Poe House in Philadelphia.

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