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The mystery behind the death of Edgar Allan Poe

The iconic American writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe died on this day in 1849 at a hospital in Baltimore. Poe was of course known for his Gothic tales of the macabre such as “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Black Cat.” But one of the most bizarre and confounding stories associated with the author is actually not fictional at all.

Four days before he died in hospital, Poe was found on the street in front of a public house, dressed in dishevelled clothes and delirious. The cause of death was officially listed as phrenitis, an inflammation of the brain that is accompanied by delirium, but to this day no one knows for sure how Poe died, or where he was during the five days prior to his discovery, during which he vanished without a trace. Suppositions about the cause of Poe’s death run the gamut from alcoholism to syphilis to a brain tumour to a fatal beating. One of the weirdest theories is that Poe was a victim of “cooping,” a form of voter fraud in which a victim is kidnapped, beaten, and forced to vote multiple times in disguise. (The public house Poe was found in front of doubled as a polling station.)

This episode of BuzzFeed’s Unsolved series investigates the circumstances around Poe’s disappearance, discovery, and subsequent death, and offers some suggestions about what might actually have happened to him. It’s an enjoyable mini-doc, if for no other reason than presenter Shane’s resemblance to the canonical writer and his partner Ryan’s abject astonishment at discovering where the name of the NFL team the Baltimore Ravens came from.

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