For the last 60 years a ritual has occurred which rivals that of the annual pilgrimage to Punxsutawney to see if a groundhog will see his shadow. Every January 19th since 1949, a figure known as the Poe Toaster has appeared on the grounds of Westminster Hall and Burying Ground in Baltimore, MD. He or she, disguised in black, makes their way to the grave of Edgar Allan Poe, raises a toast of cognac and then leaves the rest of the bottle along with three roses. It is believed that the roses are meant as a remembrance of Poe, his wife, and her mother who all are interred at the cemetery.
Diehard Poe heads are usually on hand to witness the mysterious event without ever knowing the identity of the toaster. In 1999, a note indicated that the original toaster had died or had at least passed the torch onto a “son” or new toaster. Last year, no note was left, which was odd being that it was the bicentennial of Poe’s birth. Even stranger yet was the no show of the Toaster this year.
Some observers actually cried when the news of no toast had taken place. Some wonder if the toaster had taken ill or had died prior to handing off the torch to another. In any case, the curator of the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum intends to keep a close watch over the site for the next couple of weeks in case the Toaster just happens to show up.
Now, I have a great and profound respect for Edgar Allan Poe. I’ve read several of his stories and poems over the years like Eldorado and The Gold Bug as well as The Masque of the Red Death, The Casque of Amontillado, The Raven, and The Pit and the Pendulum. The one story that has eluded me over the years is the Fall of the House of Usher, but it is definitely on my to do list. Still, this event that has taken place over the last 60 years is something I would definitely get a kick out of attending. Being a native of South Western PA, one would think I would be more up to making the trip out to “Punxsy” as we call it to see Phil’s shadow. Not bloody likely. First of all, I’ve watched the recorded event on cable and it seems like a big drunken party. The observance of the Poe Toaster has that air of macabre being set in a cemetery and the only imbibing to be taking place would be that of cognac or some port wine, which does not come in a box.
To sit in silence and witness such a mysterious event would interest me more than crowd surfing with a bunch of drunken coeds who would rather do a body shot of the groundhog’s belly than to actually be a part of something more steeped in history and culture than a prognosticating Punxsutawney Phil.
But from the looks of this year’s absence of the Poe Toaster, one can only speculate if 200 years after the birth of Poe was a good stopping point. Perhaps a toaster will show up and most likely it will be a copycat trying to keep up the tradition. Given the ravenous fandom of this event, it would be rather humorous but off putting to see multiple Toasters show up at the same time. Perhaps a coordination of members to a secret Poe club can keep the dream alive. After all, It’s hard to think that one will raise a glass to Poe’s memory nevermore.