A midnight dreary for Poe loyalists

Birthday: The annual gifts left at the writer's grave contain unwelcome Super Bowl sentiments.

A midnight dreary, thanks to Giants fan

January 20, 2001|By Gary Cohn | Gary Cohn,SUN STAFF

In a moonlight gesture likely to send Edgar Allan Poe spinning in his grave, a stranger in black marked the writer's birthday yesterday by leaving red roses and a half bottle of cognac on his Westminster burial plot - along with wishes most foul for the Baltimore Ravens.

"A Thousand injuries they will suffer," the mysterious figure wrote of the Ravens, who are named for Poe's best-known poem. He went on to extol the supposed superiority of Super Bowl rival New York Giants, known to their fans as "Big Blue."

"The New York Giants. Darkness and decay and the Big Blue hold dominion over all," prophesied the note, left on Poe's gravesite at the Westminster Burying Ground.

Said Jeff Jerome, curator of the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum: "He's obviously deranged."

Since 1949, the so-called "Poe toaster" has visited the grave behind Westminster Hall every year on the anniversary of Poe's birth, leaving behind red roses and cognac. Yesterday, the 192nd anniversary of Poe's birth, the toaster also left his pigskin prognostication.

Jerome said the stranger appeared during the night, just moments before 2:30 a.m. The stranger put two thumbs up, and left behind three red roses and the bottle of cognac, with a blue ribbon and red streamers. (Blue and red are the Giants' colors.) A note on parchment paper was attached to the bottle.

"At first, I thought in the darkness that [the ribbon] was purple," said Jerome. If the colors weren't a giveaway, the note certainly was. And, Jerome said, he was upset both by the idea of bringing football into the literary tradition and the stranger's allegiance to the hated Giants.

"All these years, there's been this sense of mystery," said Jerome. He said little is known about the toaster, except that the role has been played by a father and his sons. The father, who began the tradition, died in 1998, and his sons have continued it.

"Now we find out that at least this particular son is a football fan," Jerome said. "Not only that, he's a New York Giants football fan - a traitor."

"To interject football comments into this tradition is, I think, a breach of decorum," he continued.

David Keltz, who has portrayed Edgar Allan Poe in one-man shows for nearly a decade, said he was surprised that the Poe toaster would support anyone other than the Ravens.

"How very strange," said Keltz. "I would have thought that anyone as fanatical about Poe as he is - I would expected his loyalty would have been transferred from the Giants to the Ravens when the Ravens came into being."

The lines in the note left at the gravesite were taken from two of Poe's short stories: "The Masque of the Red Death" and "The Cask of Amontillado." The latter deals with themes of rivalry and revenge.

Jerome predicted that the Ravens will give the toaster his comeuppance.

"He's sadly mistaken," Jerome said. "The Ravens will win."

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