For more than 60 years now, a charmingly mysterious ritual has been taking place at the grave of Edgar Allen Poe. Each year, on the anniversary of his death, a secretive figure has made a midnight pilgrimage to the Baltimore cemetary where Poe is buried. He quietly lays a half-empty bottle of cognac upon the grave, along with three red roses, and sometimes a note. The last read simply: "Edgar, I haven't forgotten you."
Sadly, it appears as if a wonderful tradition may have come to an end. Last night, for the second year in a row, the Poe Toaster failed to appear.
Alternately described as either sad or sinister, the toaster is always dressed in black, with a scarf and a wide-brimmed fedora hiding his face, and an elaborate walking stick in his hand. It's an easy look to copy, as numerous imposters and copycats appear each year, but not an easy act to follow. Whether the imposters are seeking a moment of fame or are simply trying to keep the tradition alive, there is a secret hand gesture that Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House and Museum, knows to watch for.
A hand gesture he has not seen for two years now.
Given that tradition has been kept alive since 1949, it may very well be that the original Toaster is either too old to continue, or has even passed away. Jeff has promised to maintain one last vigil in 2012 (he's been overseeing the vigils since 1978), but is prepared to officially pronounce the tradition dead if the Toaster fails to appear for a third consecutive year.
It's a shame to see such a lovely tradition come to an end but, in a way, it's also a relief. If the ritual is to be performed nevermore, then at least it can never be ruined. I'd rather have a perfect little mystery to ponder every time I reach for my Poe collection than have the secrets exposed by some less-talented or less-dedicated successor.
Like Poe's work, the anniversary visits have been beautiful, subtle, and almost romantic in their intimacy. So, on this cold January morning, let's raise a toast to Edgar Allen Poe and to his mysterious toaster - may they be remembered forevermore for the stories of the former, and the homage of the later.
They'll both be missed.