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Edgar Allan Poe Tidbit #5 - Death Theories

Posted: Fri Oct 28, 2005 9:40 am
by Liz
Death Theories

Edgar Allan Poe's death was somewhat of a mystery. See below.

On October 3, 1849, Dr. Joseph E. Snodgrass received the following note:

Baltimore City, Oct. 3, 1849

Dear Sir,

There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan's 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, he is in need of immediate assistance.

Yours, in haste,

This is the first verifiable evidence available of Poe's whereabouts since departing Richmond in the early morning of September 27. His intended destination had been Philadelphia, where he was to edit a volume of poetry for Mrs. St. Leon Loud. Dr. Snodgrass found Poe semiconscious and dressed in cheap, ill-fitting clothes so unlike Poe's usual mode of dress that many believe that Poe's own clothing had been stolen. Poe was taken to Washington College Hospital on the afternoon of October 3 and did not regain consciousness until the next morning. For days he passed from delirium to unconsciousness, but never recovered well enough to tell how he had arrived in such a condition. For no known reason he started calling loudly for "Reynolds" on the fourth night.

In the early morning hours of October 7, Poe calmly breathed a simple prayer, "Lord, help my poor soul," and died. His cause of death was ascribed to "congestion of the brain." No autopsy was performed, and the author was buried two days later. In dying under such mysterious circumstances, the father of the detective story has left us with a real-life mystery which Poe scholars, medical professionals, and others have been trying to solve for over 150 years.

The following is a bibliography of some of the theories of Poe's cause of death that have been published over the years:

Beating (1857)
The United States Magazine Vol.II (1857): 268.

Epilepsy (1875)
Scribner's Monthly Vo1. 10 (1875): 691.

Dipsomania (1921)
Robertson, John W. Edgar A. Poe A Study. Brough, 1921: 134, 379.

Heart (1926)
Allan, Hervey. Israfel. Doubleday, 1926: Chapt. XXVII, 670.

Toxic Disorder (1970)
Studia Philo1ogica Vol. 16 (1970): 41-42.

Hypoglycemia (1979)
Artes Literatus (1979) Vol. 5: 7-19.

Diabetes (1977)
Sinclair, David. Edgar Allan Poe. Roman & Litt1efield, 1977: 151-152.

Alcohol Dehydrogenase (1984)
Arno Karlen. Napo1eon's Glands. Little Brown, 1984: 92.

Porphryia (1989)
JMAMA Feb. 10, 1989: 863-864.

Delerium Tremens (1992)
Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar A1lan Poe. Charles Scribner, 1992: 255.

Rabies (1996)
Maryland Medical Journal Sept. 1996: 765-769.

Heart (1997)
Scientific Sleuthing Review Summer 1997: 1-4.

Murder (1998)
Walsh, John E., Midnight Dreary. Rutgers Univ. Press, 1998: 119-120.

Epilepsy (1999)
Archives of Neurology June 1999: 646, 740.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (1999)
Albert Donnay

Posted: Sun Oct 30, 2005 9:22 pm
by gilly
That's strange..I wonder what 'congestion of the brain 'means..and no autopsy done either,but I guess that wasn't unusual at that time.It was a lonely death..

Posted: Sun Oct 30, 2005 10:21 pm
by DeppInTheHeartOfTexas
gilly wrote:That's strange..I wonder what 'congestion of the brain 'means..and no autopsy done either,but I guess that wasn't unusual at that time.It was a lonely death..

Very interesting that no one has ever come up with any information on his last days before he ended up in the hospital. Very sad but it certainly keeps the mysterious alive.

Posted: Sun Oct 30, 2005 11:30 pm
by Liz
I looked up Congestion of the Brain and was directed to Hydrocephalus, which tends to be a problem in newborns and children. But maybe in Poe's day, it happened to adults also.

HydroCerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is formed in a region of the brain known as the choroid plexus. CSF usually circulates through channels of the brain known as ventricles, as well as flowing around the outside of the brain and through the spinal canal.

When the circulation or absorption of this fluid is blocked, or excessive fluid is produced, the volume of fluid in the brain becomes higher than normal. The accumulation of fluid puts pressure on the brain, forcing it against the skull and damaging or destroying the tissues.

The symptoms vary depending on the cause of the obstruction, the person's age when the problem develops, and the extent of brain tissue damage caused by the swelling.

In small children, hydrocephalus may be associated with infections acquired before birth, injury occurring during the birth process, congenital defects, tumors of the central nervous system, infections that affect the central nervous system (such as meningitis or encephalitis).