Weird History To This Day, No One Knows How Edgar Allan Poe Died  

Genevieve Carlton
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Edgar Allan Poe, famous for “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” was a master of mystery and horror. Poe’s life was full of strange facts, like being disowned and marrying his 13-year-old cousin. Poe is credited with creating the modern detective story – and with his death, Poe left behind a mystery that no one has been able to solve.

How did Poe die? The death of Edgar Allan Poe on October 7, 1849, remains shrouded in mystery. Poe was found in a tavern, completely delirious, and yet his doctor said there was no evidence of intoxication. Poe raved about a mysterious man named Reynolds before he died, but no one recognized the name. And Poe was found wearing another man’s clothes.

Did Poe die from mercury poisoning? Did his cat give him rabies? Or, is the Poe cooping theory correct – was Poe kidnapped and forced into voter fraud? It's one mystery that may never be solved.

Poe Was Discovered Wearing A Stranger's Clothes, And He Died Four Days Later

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Photo: Matthew Brady/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

On October 3, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe’s doctor, Joseph Snodgrass, received a mysterious letter. The letter said that “a gentleman, rather the worse for wear” had been found at a Baltimore polling location, Ryan's 4th Ward Polls. The man, “who appears in great distress,” said his name was Edgar A. Poe. Snodgrass was baffled – Poe was supposed to be in Philadelphia editing a volume of poetry, not in Baltimore. 

Snodgrass rushed to Poe and found his friend barely conscious and dressed in someone else’s clothes. Four days later, Edgar Allan Poe was dead.

The Cause Of Death Was Described As “Congestion Of The Brain”

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On October 7, 1849, Poe regained consciousness long enough to whisper, “Lord, help my poor soul.” Then, he died. On the last night of his life, Poe repeatedly called out the name “Reynolds,” according to the attending doctor, but the mysterious Reynolds has never been identified. The Baltimore Clipper reported that Poe died from “congestion of the brain.” No autopsy was performed.

Poe was buried the next day, but only seven people attended his funeral. One attendant described the ceremony as “cold-blooded” and “unchristianlike.” Poe’s own uncle, Henry Herring, said, “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.” 

Did Poe Drink Himself To Death?

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Poe had a reputation for drinking, and Ryan's 4th Ward Polls, where Poe was found in distress, just so happened to be a tavern. Days after Poe’s death, his friend J.P. Kennedy wrote that Poe “fell in with some companion here who seduced him to the bottle.” Snodgrass also reported that binge drinking killed Poe. 

Alcohol could explain Poe's delirium and how he ended up in Baltimore in the first place. His relatives believed that Poe may have boarded the wrong train after drinking at the station. But the alcohol theory does not necessarily account for Poe’s mysterious clothes, and modern science found another problem with the theory.

Tests show low levels of lead in a sample of Poe's hair that represents the last few months of his life – which is strong evidence that Poe stopped drinking. 

Mercury Or Arsenic Poisoning May Have Made Poe Hallucinate

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Photo: Wilhelm Busch/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In 2006, environmental health engineer Albert Donnay released the results of tests on Edgar Allen Poe’s hair. The tests found arsenic levels 15 times today’s normal level, which may have been caused by contaminated drinking water. Arsenic poisoning can cause cancer, diabetes, and heart problems, which may have contributed to Poe’s death. However, Poe’s arsenic level was only 2/3 of the level associated with symptoms of arsenic poisoning.

Donnay also uncovered increasing levels of mercury in Poe’s hair. Over a few months, Poe's mercury level shot up 264%. In July of 1849, Poe was taking calomel as a treatment for a cholera outbreak, and the medicine contained mercury. This could account for Poe’s hallucinations and delirium – but his levels were still 30 times below fatal mercury poisoning. 

These heavy metals were clearly not good for Poe, but they don't fully explain the mystery of his death.