Torch passes to new stranger

Tradition: At Poe's grave, the bottle of cognac turns up, just as it has for some 50 years. This time, there's a letter, too.

January 20, 1999|By Rob Hiaasen

Will someone now leave roses and cognac at his grave?

A mystery man who for nearly 50 years left roses and cognac at the grave of Edgar Allan Poe died in December, according to a computer-written note found early yesterday morning at Poe's grave.

The note was tucked among three roses and a bottle of Martell's cognac hand-delivered by another mystery man at Poe's grave on his 190th birthday.

"The gentleman who started the tradition in 1949 died from a prolonged illness this December," says Jeff Jerome, curator of the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum. As he does each Jan. 19, Jerome spent the night in Westminster Hall and witnessed a man leaving the customary gifts at Poe's original grave behind the church.

Jerome found the letter moments after the stranger in black left the cemetery around 3 a.m. In the letter, the original visitor requested that the tradition he'd started be continued, Jerome says. He also thanked Jerome for safeguarding his privacy all these years.

The curator was touched and saddened.

"I'm sort of disappointed to know it was an elderly gentleman, and to learn he did die," Jerome says. "Part of the mystery is gone."

Still, much mystery remains. The letter -- securely in Jerome's possession -- revealed more about the original visitor's identity. But Jerome will say no more, other than not to refute this guess: The latest visitor to Poe's grave -- only the third man to perform the rite -- is related to the deceased stranger.

Meaning there's still a family among us that won't stop at death to keep Edgar Allan Poe alive. Pub Date: 1/20/99

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