In celebration of the man who penned that ghoulish tale, I offer five creepy facts you (probably) didn't know about Edgar Allan Poe.
1. The gruesome true story behind “The Masque of Red Death.”
Poe married his cousin Virginia and it was her unfortunate illnesses and subsequent death from tuberculosis that inspired many of his stories. According to historians, one particular evening Virginia was singing for the family, when her lungs hemorrhaged and she began bleeding from the mouth. Soon after, refusing to accept the gravity of her diagnosis, Poe wrote the tale of the spoiled Prince Prospero, locked in his castle, desperately fighting to keep the ghostly visitor of plague and grievance from entering.
2. He Created a New Genre
Detective fiction like Penny Dreadfuls along with gothic tales of horror and macabre science fiction owe their popularity to Poe. If your stomach and nerve are up for it, look into two of his lesser known tales, The Facts of M. Valdemar’s Case, and Hop-Frog. Both provide confirmation that he refined his lust for gore.
3. What Mustache?
It’s hard to picture him cleanly shaven, but that’s how he appeared up until the last four years of his life. In the much gloomier and final years, he grew that brooding facial hair he's so well known for.
4. A Mysterious Death
The details of his death have been greatly confused and contested over the years. There are many theories including rabies, diabetes, epilepsy, carbon monoxide poisoning, alcoholism, and cooping.
In 1849 Poe left New York for a visit to Richmond. Instead, Poe turned up in front of a Baltimore bar deliriously raving and wearing clothes that didn’t fit. He was rushed to the hospital, but he died a few days later, never able to provide any clues as to what happened to him.
The most probable explanation is that Poe was a victim of cooping; an ignoble 19th century political custom. Gangs would round up weak men and keep them against their will in a hidden location called a “coop” right before a major election. On election day – and coincidently there was an election in Baltimore on the day Poe was found – the gangs would then drug or beat the hostages before taking them around to vote at multiple polling places.
Poe exhibited symptoms that would be consistent with a victim of cooping, and the loose, mismatched clothes could be attributed to the gangs’ practice of making their hostages change outfits in order to cast multiple votes in disguise. But with no real evidence, the theory is pure speculation, and the cause Poe’s death remains a mystery.
5.His Final Story Was Left Unfinished
After his mysterious death, a partial manuscript was discovered. The story concerned a writer who took lodging in an isolated seaside post in hope of finishing a book. Written in the form of a diary, the man begins to question his emotional health and physical wellbeing. “There is no telling what may happen to a man all alone as I am.” Even though the structure is solid, the man begins to obsess that the light house will collapse on him.
Joyce Carol Oates wrote her own version with an ending and published it in McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories under the title, “The Fabled Light-house at Vina del Mar.”
Congratulations! You made it to the end of this post. As a gift, here's a little sample of the 1961 horror classic, Pit and the Pendulum, starring Vincent Price.
What are some of your favourite Poe stories?