Bard in the Coop

February 15, 1994|By GEOFFREY FIELDING

Newly surfaced is a copy of an account of the death of Edgar Allan Poe, written by Eugene Lemoine Didier in 1899, on the 50th anniversary of the poet's death.

The basis for the account, according to Didier, one of the earliest biographers of the poet, is a former, unidentified, Baltimorean ''recently living in California.'' In his journal, Didier notes that on June 9, 1899, he sent ''the Poe article to the Sat. Evg. Post.'' It was accepted and he was paid $50. The following September he sent an article on the semi-centennial death of Poe to the Baltimore American, the Philadelphia Times, the Washington Post and the St. Louis Globe Democrat. He doesn't say if these were copies of the article sent to the Saturday Evening Post, nor does his journal mention any payment.

The following is the Californian's account taken from the carbon copy found recently among family papers.

''I was an intimate associate of Edgar Allan Poe for many years. Much that has been said and written regarding his death is false. His habitual resort in Baltimore was the Widow Meagher's Place. This was an oyster-stand and liquor-bar on the city front, corresponding in some respects to the coffee-houses of San

Francisco. It was frequented much by printers, and ranked as a respectable place, where parties could enjoy a game of cards or engage in social conversation. Poe was a great favorite with the old woman. His favorite seat was just behind the stand, and about as quiet and sociable as an oyster himself. He went by the name of 'Bard,' and when the parties came into the shop, it was 'Bard, come up and take a nip;' or, 'Bard, come and take a hand in this game.'

''Whenever the Widow Meagher met with any incident or idea that tickled her fancy, she would ask the 'Bard' to verify it. Poe always complied, writing many a witty couplet, and at time poems of some length. These verses, quite as meritorious as some by which his name was immortalized, were thus frittered into obscurity. It was in this little shop that Poe's attention was called to an advertisement in a Philadelphia paper of the prize for the best story; and, it was there that he wrote his famous 'Gold Bug,' which carried off the $100 prize.

''Poe had been shifting for several years between Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. He had been away from Baltimore for three or four months, when he turned up one evening at the Widow Meagher's. I was there when he came in. He privately told me he had been to Richmond, and was on his way North to get ready for his wedding. It was drinking all around and repeat, until the crowd was pretty jolly.

''It was the night before election, and four of us, including Poe, started up town. We had not gone half a dozen squares when we were nabbed by a gang of men who were on the lookout for voters to 'coop.' It was the practice in those days to seize people, whether drunk or sober, lock them up until the polls were opened, and then march them around to every precinct, where they were made to vote the ticket of the party that controlled the coop. Our coop was in the rear of an engine-house on Calvert Street. It was part of the game to stupefy the prisoners with drugged liquor.

''The next day, we were voted at 31 different places, and over and over, it being as much as a man's life was worth to rebel. Poe was so badly drugged that after he was carried on two or three different rounds, the gang said it was no use to vote a dead man any longer, so they shoved him into a cab and sent him to a hospital to get him out of the way.

''The commonly accepted story that Poe died from dissipation is all bosh. It was nothing of the kind. He died from laudanum, or some other poison, that was forced on him in the coop. He was in a dying condition while he was being voted around the city. The story by Griswold of Poe's having been on a week's spree and being picked up in the street is false. I saw him shoved into the cab myself, and he told me he had just arrived in the city.''

Didier noted that the Californian's narrative agreed in several respects with the account given him by the late Chief Judge Neilson Poe, of Baltimore.

Geoffrey Fielding writes from Baltimore.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.