If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you probably know that I’ve long been fascinated by the so-called “Poe toaster,” the mysterious figure in the hat and white scarf who for 60 years visited the grave of Edgar Allan Poe in the middle of the night on the writer’s birthday (January 19) to leave behind offerings of cognac and roses. Something about this theatrical ritual appeals to my romantic heart, the part of me that thrills to pulp adventure stories involving secret societies and ancient duties passed down generation to generation. I like the idea of continuity.
Sadly, the toaster has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. In 2006, overzealous spectators tried unsuccessfully to detain the toaster. In 2007, a man claimed he was the toaster. In 2010, there was no toaster at all. And now this year he has failed to appear for a second time, leading some to speculate that the tradition is over, either because the heirs of the original toaster aren’t willing to continue, or possibly because the 200th anniversary of Poe’s birth was seen as a good place to stop.
I’d like to think the toaster has just grown tired of the efforts to unmask him and is laying low for a few years, until the crowds get tired of waiting around and go home, so he can resume his tribute in solitary peace. Of course, I also like to think that the toaster is actually an immortal being who is fulfilling some obligation owed to Poe himself for reasons we will never know. The odds of either of these ideas being true aren’t very good. I’m afraid the modern world of ubiquitous video surveillance and would-be debunkers everywhere just doesn’t have room for these little mysteries anymore; sooner or later, the mythbusters will uncover the truth of all them. And how much less fun will there be in a time when we know for sure whether Butch and Sundance survived Bolivia, and where Amelia Earhart’s plane went down, and whatever happened to D.B. Cooper, and if Melvin Dummar made up the whole damn thing? These sorts of stories, these little remnants of harmless magic, enrich our culture, in my opinion. Clearing up the ambiguity of them diminishes us, just as Tolkien’s Middle-Earth was lessened by the departure of the elves. How’s that for a geeky comparison?
Meanwhile, in related news, I’ve learned via Boing Boing that one of my favorite actors, John Cusack, will be playing Poe in an upcoming movie titled — what else? — The Raven. Go here to see him in costume. No idea what the story is about, but he certainly looks the part, if nothing else. The Raven is due out sometime this fall…