Edgar Allan Poe fans waited long past a midnight dreary, but it appears the annual visits to the writer's grave by a mysterious figure in black called the "Poe Toaster" will occur nevermore.
Poe House and Museum Curator Jeff Jerome said early Thursday that fans waited inside Baltimore's Westminster Hall for hours, but the "Poe Toaster" was a no-show for a third year in a row. After last year, Poe fans had said they would hold one last vigil before calling an end to the tradition.
"It's over with," Jerome said wearily. "It will probably hit me later, but I'm too tired now to feel anything else."
The tributes of an anonymous man, who leaves three roses and a half-empty bottle of cognac at Poe's original grave on the writer's birthday, are thought to date to least the 1940s. While three impersonators appeared this time, the real "Poe Toaster" did not, Jerome said.
The gothic master's tales of the macabre still connect with readers more than 200 years after his birth, including his most famous poem, "The Raven," and short stories such as "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Pit and the Pendulum." Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" is considered the first modern detective story.
Jerome believes people still identify with Poe's suffering and his lifelong dream to be a poet. He has kept a vigil for the "Poe Toaster" each year since 1978 and built a team of other Poe fans who stay awake all night to scan the shadows of the burial ground for the visitor.
"I've been part of a ritual that people around the world read about," he said. "I'll miss it."
Poe, who was born in Boston, lived in Baltimore, London, New York, Philadelphia and Richmond, Virginia. During a visit to Baltimore in 1849, he died under mysterious circumstances at age 40. The cause of his death has been the subject of much speculation, with theories ranging from murder to rabies.
The annual tribute was first mentioned in print in 1950, Jerome said. When Jerome spoke to older members of the congregation that once worshiped at the church, they recalled hearing about a visitor in the 1930s.
The visitor has occasionally left notes with his tributes. A few indicated the tradition passed to a new generation before the original visitor's death in the 1990s, and some even mentioned the Iraq War and Baltimore Ravens football team, which was named for Poe's poem.
The vigil inside the former church is closed to the public, but over the years, a crowd has gathered outside the gates to watch. After the "Poe Toaster" failed to show in 2010, last year's vigil attracted impersonators, including a man who arrived in a limo.
"Some people held out some optimism, but this may be the end," Sherri Weaver, 40, said as dawn approached and it was becoming clear that the "Poe Toaster" was not showing up for a third time. "People know this is not a fluke, it's a quiet end."