On January 19th, 1809, one of the most influential figures in Gothic literature was born—Edgar Allan Poe. The American writer is renowned for his terror-filled works, where death plays a major theme. His poetry and short stories have been categorized under the horror fiction umbrella, and they have also been associated with dark Romanticism, a subgenre of Romanticism that fixated on the grotesque and morbid. It should also be mentioned that he had a major impact on the development of the modern detective story.
More than two centuries later from the date of his birth, his words continue to stir the macabre spirit within us. I still have the research paper I wrote as an undergrad about The Black Cat. Since countless biographies have been published on the poet, I will not retell the details of his life. Instead, to commemorate this occasion, I thought I’d compile a brief, but amusing list of Edgar Allan Poe’s presence in pop culture. Happy Birthday Eddy!
FILM & TV
The Simpsons (1990): Who can forget the first “Treehouse of Horror” episode that aired in October 1990 featuring a rendition of “The Raven?” Lisa reads the poem, and the setting transforms to a dark, brooding house where we see Homer as the tortured lead character and Bart as the raven. Interestingly, teachers have referenced the episode as an introduction to Poe for students. I still like revisiting it when Halloween rolls around.
The Raven (2012): A psychological thriller set in 1849 that stars John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe. In it, a killer is committing murders inspired by the writer’s works. Poe, along with detectives, try to track down the assassin. The plot reimagines Edgar’s final days. Although the film was not received well by critics, I really enjoyed it.
Extraordinary Tales (2015): I absolutely love this animated presentation of Poe’s poetry. It had a limited released in theaters in October 2015 and arrived on Netflix the following year. That is how I discovered it. It includes interpretations of The Tell-Tale Heart, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar and The Masque of the Red Death with narration provided by Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Guillermo del Toro and more! The animation is stunning, and I recommend watching it. In case it’s no longer on Netflix, you may be able to find it on another streaming service.
As I was researching music inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, I found a multitude of offerings out there, from classical compositions to operas to rock songs. Here are just of couple of suggestions that I have listened to and love.
Nox Arcana: Gothic fantasy artist Joseph Vargo is the founder of this group and produces haunting sounds, so it’s no surprise he would create an entire album dedicated to the American poet of darkness. The album Shadow of the Raven was released in 2007 and features 21 tracks that capture the Gothic essence of Poe’s works. You can grab a copy at the official website.
Aurelio Voltaire: Dark cabaret singer Voltaire has released two songs inspired by Poe. One is “Graveyard Picnic” where he references a few of the poet’s works and mentions him by name. The other is a track named after “The Conqueror Worm” on the album Raised by Bats. You can listen to these songs at his official website.
So, while there is no official Edgar Allan Poe fashion line in existence, there are places on the web where you can still snag cool, Poe-inspired apparel. Following are links to a few.
Name: We know him as Edgar, but intimate letters have revealed he referred to himself as Eddy.
Death: The cause of Edgar Allan Poe’s death remains a mystery to this day, although it has been attributed to alcoholism, suicide, rabies, heart disease and syphilis. It has also been said that Poe kept repeating the name “Reynolds” the day before he died, but no one has been able to ascertain who this individual might have been. To make matters even more puzzling, his medical records and death certificate have been lost.
Burial Site: Poe’s gravesite is at Westminster Hall in Baltimore, Maryland. He was initially buried in an unmarked grave there. At the persistence of some friends and family, a headstone was made, but destroyed when a train crashed into the place it was being stored. In 1875, the grave was relocated to its present-day spot to serve as a more suitable monument to the poet.
Poe Toaster: It has been speculated that this mysterious figure would visit the poet’s original gravesite every year on January 19th between the years 1930 to 2009. The person would leave an unfinished bottle of cognac and three roses. The identity of the Poe Toaster has never been discovered, but some believe the tradition was started by one man and later passed down to his son to continue the tradition upon his death. Inevitably, hype around the identity of the Poe Toaster grew and people would wait around Poe’s grave on his birthday to try to catch a glimpse of this unknown devotee. Possibly due the increasing curiosity of the public, the Poe Toaster paid his last respects in 2009, but we cannot know for sure why this individual stopped returning.
After-Life: In 1860, a medium named Lizzie Doten claimed a collection of poems she wrote was spoken to her by Poe’s spirit. Also, his fiancée Sarah Helen Whitman believed he was trying to communicate with her, so she invited a medium to live with her in attempts to contact him.
The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?
The Premature Burial”
Well, that’s my roundup of interesting facts and pop culture references about Edgar Allan Poe. If you can’t get enough of Poe pop culture, check out author Cat Winters’ book The Raven’s Tale, which is a fictional reimagining of the writer.
You can also learn more about the American poet at the Poe Museum official website.
10 thoughts on “Poe Pop Culture: A Birthday Tribute to Edgar Allan Poe”
Fascinating collection of facts; a wonderful tribute that you took time to research all of this. Somewhere – likely in one of my Poe collections – there’s a clipping from the Baltimore Sun about the Toaster, including a grainy (and deliciously spooky) picture of him visiting the grave. My theory? He quit in 2009 because the bicentennial seemed a logical spot to do so. Still, the dedication is admirable. Seventy bottles of cognac ain’t cheap. Nor are all those roses, for that matter..
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Wow, how awesome to have an original clipping mentioning the Poe Toaster! That’s an interesting theory you have about why he quit and seems very likely. Thanks for reading 🙂
It’s amazing how a man who died 170 years ago still exerts a major impact on culture today.
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I agree. Poe’s writings are truly timeless.