Originally created 01/20/99

Mysterious stranger leaves roses, cognac on macabre poet's grave



BALTIMORE -- A mysterious stranger clad in a three-quarter length black peacoat left roses and cognac at the grave of Edgar Allan Poe early today, continuing a tradition that began 50 years ago.

About a dozen people waited inside and outside Westminster Church until the tall, unknown visitor made his arrival at the tiny brick-walled cemetery just before 3 a.m. EST.

The stranger placed his hands on Poe's tombstone and appeared to pray. A moment later he was gone, leaving three roses and a bottle of cognac to mark the 190th birthday of the macabre author.

The identity of the first mysterious visitor, who had been dressed in black topcoat and fedora, has remained a riddle since the ritual began in 1949, a century after Poe died.

The aging visitor believed to be the original carried on the tradition until 1993, when he left a cryptic note saying, "The torch will be passed."

His followers have agreed to carry on the anonymous annual tribute, said Jeff Jerome, curator of the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore.

"They said they would continue the tradition in his footsteps," Jerome said. "I don't want to say too much more because some of the note's contents are of a private nature. I'm not trying to be mysterious, but some of this has to remain with me because it may give a clue as to who it is."

Poe penned classic horror stories such as "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Telltale Heart" and "The Masque of the Red Death." His famous poems include "The Raven" and "Annabel Lee."

He lived in Baltimore from 1829 to 1836 and died here in 1849 at age 40. The three roses left each year are thought to represent the poet, his wife, and her mother. All are buried in the tiny cemetery.

Lynne Finley, of Nashville, Tenn. spent the night at the church with her sister, D.J. Gaskin, of Burke, Va. to celebrate Ms. Finley's 40th birthday, which she shares with Poe.

"Knowing that the tradition will be carried on was encouraging, but I was a little saddened," Ms. Finley said.

Her sister said the atmosphere was "almost spooky."

"Its such a mysterious devotion," Ms. Gaskin said. "And the cemetery is almost like a little time capsule in the middle of the city. It's beautiful."