One of My Best Friends: Happy Birthday, The Raven

raven
I have been on quite the mystery kick lately, so more posts will be forthcoming.

In the meantime, today is the 170th anniversary of the publication of Poe’s The Raven. Earlier this month I wrote a piece for the Review Direct newsletter listing some lesser known facts about Edgar Allan Poe in honor of his birthday. To celebrate both, I am going to share eighteen of those facts.

  1. He was born Edgar Poe in Boston. After his father abandoned the family and his mother died, he was unofficially adopted by John Allan of Richmond, VA.

 

  1. He usually went by E.A. Poe or Edgar A. Poe after his estrangement from his adopted father as a young man.

 

  1. His often scathing book reviews in Southern Literary Messenger increased readership in the publication by almost seven fold- and got him fired twice!

 

  1. He coined the term ‘short story’. There is reportedly no record of its definition before Poe used it in 1840.

 

  1. Poe is considered one of the first Americans authors to make his living solely through his writing (which caused many financial problems in his life).

 

  1. Charles Dickens and Poe were pen pals and even met once.

 

  1. He loved cats and often wrote with his cat on his shoulder.

 

  1. The mustachioed Poe most people think of really only represented the last couple years of his life. For most of his forty years he was clean shaven.

 

  1. In 1837, Poe published Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, the story of shipwrecked men who were forced to select one of their crew to be eaten. The unlucky sailor in Poe’s story was Richard Parker. The books was largely panned as sensational, though Poe tried to claim it was based on a real story (it wasn’t). Later, a real shipwreck in 1884 eerily mirrored Poe’s story right down to the unfortunate victim, the cabin boy, Richard Parker.

 

  1. Poe originally wanted to write about a parrot in his classic, The Raven.

 

  1. After the success of the The Raven there were stories of kids following him down the street flapping at him. It is reported he would respond good naturedly by turning suddenly to face them uttering, “Nevermore”.

 

  1. Poe was a fan of cryptography and tried to make it mainstream by incorporating ciphers into some of his short stories.

 

  1. Before his death, he left Virginia for Philadelphia and disappeared for days, until he reappeared a week later in a Baltimore tavern ill and wearing clothes that did not belong to him.

 

  1. His cause of death is unknown. At the time newspapers reported different illnesses and all records pertaining to his death, including death certificate, have been lost. Speculation often concludes he died of complications from alcoholism, but theories as far ranging as rabies to cooping (the practice of using booze and force to make someone vote for a particular candidate) have been put forth. The later theory has been given more credence recently as he disappeared on election day in an area of Baltimore known for this practice.

 

  1. His travel trunks were not located for weeks when one was found in Baltimore and another in Richmond.

 

  1. After his death, alleged friend Joseph Snodgrass, a teetotaler, exacerbated claims of Poe’s alcoholism to serve as a morality tale to be shared on the lecture circuit. Rufus Wilmot Griswold, who had a vendetta against Poe after a bad review, also helped to spread the rumor Poe was a terrible drunk- including writing a fake biography of his rival.

 

  1. Though his credibility has been questioned, Poe’s physician John Moran claimed that Poe was not a heavy drinker and it was unlikely to have been the cause of his death.

 

  1. The NFL Baltimore Ravens were named in tribute to him, which might not be as odd as it seems as Poe was actually an athletic man and even held a swimming record as a young man.
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