Top Ten Theories of Edgar Allan Poe’s Death

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most respected and influential writers in the history of people wearing out of date clothes and talking about how dreadful life is. He is also one of the most world famous cases of ‘no-one-knows-what-the-heck-happened-to-him’ in history. While having written countless works that would be treasured for their literary influence, Poe himself died broke and after having a raving mad few days in a hospital after a good friend found him passed out in a Baltimore gutter. So what killed the shockingly young forty year old master of macabre? Here are ten possibilities that have kept people guessing over the years.


10. Delirium Tremens


Anybody familiar with Poe knows that he had more than a passing fondness with alcohol. Just read one of his tales and you will notice this particular trend weaving its way through his writing. One theory as to how the great writer spoke his “Nevermore” to the world is by not getting enough of the hard stuff. Delirium Tremens—also known as the shakes—is withdrawal symptoms related to the physical dependence on alcohol. It’s not just a hankering for a shot of whiskey or wanting to tip back a cold beer when taking in a good Shakespearean morality play. Mr. Poe could have been whisked away from this world by his body shutting down after not getting the alcohol that it has come to need in order to function. This also goes far in explaining the strange behavior that Poe reportedly exhibited in the days leading up to being found so un-poetically in the ditch. DT is known to cause hallucinations and psychotic behavior.


9. Heart Disease


Though it may seem that the favorite dark son of literature had a heart of ice, but it seems that even the chilliest of telltale hearts may be subject to failing. Edgar Allan may have had his heart broken by the loss of his beloved wife (who also happened to be his first cousin and thirteen at the time that they married), but he probably didn’t mourn himself to death—though that would definitely have been appropriate. Some believe that Poe had long suffered from heart disease that led to a massive heart attack and his ultimate demise.


8. Epilepsy

“The Fall of the House of Usher” might have described a tremendous shaking before the collapse of the home, but where are the records of tremendous shaking before the collapse of Poe? Some medical experts believe that if anybody had been watching when Poe was wandering along that road they would have seen him suddenly begin convulsing, eventually pitching himself into the ditch. The theory of death by epileptic seizure is not among the most popular of theories because there is little to no evidence that the master of horror suffered from this chronic condition, but it does lend credence to his seemingly unexpected death having to be the result of some kind of sudden medical concern.


7. Cooping


Quick! What did Edgar Allan Poe look like? Most likely if you are thinking about Mr. Poe you are envisioning a drawn and somber-looking man cloaked in black. Indeed, this is what many people saw of the man as he preferred a black wool suit and, when the weather necessitated it, cloak. When he was discovered, however, Poe was not in his usual Prince of Darkness garb. Rather, he was in a cheap suit made of soiled gabardine and a badly damaged shirt. To top it off he had apparently donned a straw hat. If this sounds like it is totally outside of Poe’s character, you may want to go along with the theory of cooping. “Cooping” was a practice that was perpetrated during Poe’s time on election day. People were kidnapped, shoved into small rooms and forced to drink huge amounts of liquor. They were then funneled into various polling places and compelled to vote for a particular candidate over and over again. To make sure they complied, the kidnappers would often beat the “cooped” people—and change their clothes to make the repeat vote less conspicuous. Talk about a midnight dreary.


6. Cholera


Despite the somewhat romanticized ideas of Poe wasting away for days before finally succumbing to that sweet death he seemed so fond of, those that spent time with Mr. Poe in the days leading up to his death actually report a very sudden onset of his symptoms. Several days before his tour of Baltimore had a particularly distasteful ending friends remarked on Poe’s cheerful demeanor, hearing him discuss his much-anticipated return to Richmond, the city he loved dearly. This indicates a very sudden disease, lending credence to the idea that he may have fallen victim to the fast-acting and wholly unpleasant disease cholera. This disease develops and kills within days if not treated, and causes dehydration that often results in delirium.


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