Another Mystery Solved… Maybe

A couple of weeks ago, a story went ’round the Interwebs that the mysterious “Poe Toaster” — a man dressed in black who has been visiting the grave of Edgar Allan Poe annually on the writer’s birthday for decades, always leaving behind three red roses and a bottle of cognac — had been identified as a 92-year-old former advertising exec named Sam Porpora. Porpora claims to have made up the story of the Toaster in the late ’60s, and to have donned the concealing fedora and scarf himself, as a publicity stunt to raise funds for the dilapidated church and graveyard where the famed poet rests.

Being as I am a hopeless romantic — what, you hadn’t noticed? — I’ve loved the idea of the Toaster ever since I first heard about it back in college. And part of the appeal was, naturally, the mystery of who the Toaster actually was. Was he — everyone’s always been certain it was a man — a distant relative of Poe’s? A fan with a flair for the dramatic? The Shadow? Frankly, I never wanted to know, just like I don’t want to know for certain whether Butch and Sundance died in Bolivia or if D.B. Cooper‘s rotted corpse is hanging in a tree somewhere in the northwest. The truth is always much more disappointing than the fantasy; it certainly was in this case. A publicity stunt? It doesn’t get much more pedestrian than that…

Except maybe there’s more to the Toaster than Porpora would have us believe. In an article in the Washington Post, Jeff Jerome, curator of the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore, flat-out denies that Porpora is either the Toaster himself or the inventor of the tale. Apparently, there were newspaper accounts of the tradition as early as 1950; Porpora’s story evolves with each re-telling; and Jerome claims to have some kind of information about the real Toaster that he’s not at liberty to disclose.

I like it better this way, an elegant tradition and a secret known only to a small handful. And even if Porpora did invent the whole thing, I suspect the tradition has acquired enough of its own life to continue. I’m willing to bet somebody with flowers and a bottle will be in that graveyard on January 19…



2 comments on “Another Mystery Solved… Maybe

  1. steph

    Jas, I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve loved this story since the first time I heard about it, and I too was disappointed when the gentleman appeared stating he was indeed the toaster. Leave it alone, let us have our fun….

  2. jason

    Well, like I said, I have a hunch this tradition will continue, whether the old guy who claims to have started it is on the level or not. People need their mysteries, and this one is too good to let go…