Today, January 19th 2012, was Edgar Allan Poe‘s two hundred and third birthday. It was the third consecutive year that the Poe Toaster failed to materialize.

The Toaster, for all my life and much longer, offered an elegant annual salute to the father of American poetry and inventor of the modern short story (who was also, not uncoincidentally, the first American fatality of the self-inflicted writerly lifestyle). Every year in the early morning hours of January 19th, the toaster would leave at Poe’s original burial site a half-bottle of cognac, and three red roses. Everything I know about the way Poe lived and the way he died tells me he would have understood and approved the gesture.

From possibly as early as the thirties, certainly the forties, this beautiful and enigmatic ritual went on. In latter years vigils would be kept, and glimpses caught of the Toaster; but only the vaguest descriptions: tall, darkly clothed, wearing a wide-brimmed hat. Even the vigil-keepers seemed to know, even after a cold-night’s vigil, that the mystery of the Toast was most of its allure. So they always kept their distance and let the ritual go on, unimpeded.

There have of course been copycats and hoaxers, some of them sloppy enough to bring the wrong cognac or the wrong number of roses, or to even leave the tribute at the wrong gravesite.

The real Toaster, whether it was a single hero or a family of them, seems pretty certain to have ceased the tradition on January 19th 2009, Poe’s bicentennial.

I’m sorry to see such a simple treasure go, but I’m happier it ended this way – under the same inscrutable Toaster’s whim that started it – versus any of the horrible media-soaked alternative fates I can think of.

The story of the Poe Toaster will by all rights be something we can tell to the next few generations, who’ll understandably doubt it, probably wondering how anyone could ever believe such a thing.

I’ll hold out hope for that one grandchild, the one who’s read and enjoyed Poe, and who wants the story to be true. And I’ll hold hope that they’ll ask me, “When will the Toaster be back?” Just so I can answer, “Nevermore.”

About editor, facilitator, decider

Doesn't know much about culture, but knows when it's going to hell in a handbasket.
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