The bizarre life and mysterious death of Edgar Allen Poe is a Halloween story of its own

Edgar Allan Poe

More than 150 years ago, Edgar Allen Poe, literary icon and father of gothic horror, died a dark and untimely death. His demise is shrouded in so much mystery, the story could easily be plucked from the pages of one of his books.

(Cue thunder and lightning.)

Edgar Allen Poe is a name synonymous with suspense and dark romance. His poem "The Raven" is a classic that still appears in modern pop culture, and yes, a football team named themselves after it. Without his book "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," the world's very first detective story, we very well might not have the likes of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. His beloved moody aesthetic has even inspired other prolific cultural icons such as Salvador Dali and Alfred Hitchcock, according to Biography.

And with the recent news that Mike Flanagan, creator of Netflix's "The Haunting of Hill House," will be adapting "The Fall of the House of Usher" into a series, Poe's name is buzzing around yet again.



Though many of us can recite a famous morbid line or two, not everyone knows about the tragic life and utterly bizarre death of the Master of Macabre.

It seems Poe was destined to become well acquainted with melancholy, and even some scandal. Born to transient, alcoholic actors—both who died within a few days of each other—Edgar was sent off to a foster home when he was just 2 years old. Later, at age 27, he secretly married his cousin Virginia … who was 13. To be fair, we're still not sure if this was indeed a romantic relationship. It's certainly a conversation starter in cultural relativism circles though. Oh, did I mention that the controversial relationship was also cut short by death, when Virginia was overcome with tuberculosis? Are you surprised? Me neither.

Edgar Allen Poe's child bride Virginia Edgar Allen Poe's child bride Virginia upload.wikimedia.org

During his life, Poe was the poster boy for "starving artist." Struggling to make any sort of money from his work, he resorted to gambling to pay off debts. Spoiler alert: It led to more debt … We're talking burning your furniture to stay warm kind of poor. Not a good look. It eventually led him to joining the army to escape his creditors.

"The Raven" was Poe's first worldwide success. Other works like "Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque" and "The Tell-Tale Heart" began gaining popularity and critical acclaim. At long last, the writing career he had pursued since the age of 13 was finally coming to fruition.

And then….DEATH! Behold, I'll tell the tale.

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe upload.wikimedia.org

Once upon a midnight dreary … it was a rainy night in Baltimore, 1849. Election Day (more on that later), a man was found addled, immovable and in the shabby clothes of a stranger. That man was none other than Poe. He spent the next three days in delirium, flowing in and out of hallucinations and calling the name "Reynolds," who to this day, is unidentified. The great poet's last words ever uttered were said to be: "Lord help my poor soul."

Though an official record states the cause of death as "brain swelling," it has sparked much speculation and alternative theories.

There's the good ol' fashioned "beating by ruffians" theory, thought to have happened after friends left Poe in a drunken stupor. Or, for something a bit more sensational, the gang fight could have been instigated by a woman who "considered herself injured" by Poe. Seeing as Poe had a reputation for tumultuous romances, this is entirely plausible.

Then there's a possible "cooping." Don't know what "cooping" is? I didn't either. But Smithsonian Magazine defines it as "a method of voter fraud practiced by gangs in the 19th century where an unsuspecting victim would be kidnapped, disguised and forced to vote for a specific candidate multiple times under multiple disguised identities." It added that before the Prohibition, alcohol was often given as a reward for voting. So basically, Poe could have been voted to death. You really can die from anything.

One doctor has hypothesized that rabies was to blame. This theory has a few reported kinks to it, however, as there was no evidence of hydrophobia. Yeah, apparently a common side effect of rabies is a fear of water!

A more modern theory developed when Poe's grave was dug up and, inside his skull, an unidentified mass was found. A mass that studies now show could have been a lethal brain tumor. I, for one, could see a mind like Edgar Allan Poe's eating him slowly from the inside in silent agony. And they say that you don't have to be pained to be creative.

There are still other theories of carbon monoxide poisoning, heavy metal poisoning and, yes, alcohol poisoning. Though that last one is a tad boring.

Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe upload.wikimedia.org

No matter which theory ends up being true, the legacy of Edgar Allan Poe is one that continues to bewilder, inspire, disturb and delight us. In a way, he is the absolute epitome of transfiguring the grotesque into the beautiful, both in life and in art. And his romantic, yet sorrowful spirit lives on in our retellings of his beloved classics.

Though he himself is nevermore, his poetic style will remain forever timeless.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

This article originally appeared on 11.21.16


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So we wanted to go back and talk to the photographer directly about this soul-baring project.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."