In 2010, the mysterious stranger—or strangers—who had for decades delivered three roses and a bottle of cognac to Edgar Allan Poe’s grave in Westminster Burying Ground to mark the poet’s January birthday failed to show. It represented the end of the so-called Poe Toaster—until now.
In late 2015, the Maryland Historical Society, Poe Baltimore, and Westminster Hall and Burying Ground held an American Idol-style competition to crown the next Poe Toaster. Twelve finalists performed their own versions of graveside rituals for judges and an audience of about 100, who then chose the winner via secret ballot. The new Poe Toaster, whose identity remains secret, will debut this month during Poe’s birthday weekend celebrations.
As for what to expect, Katie Caljean of the Maryland Historical Society is mostly mum. “We kind of want to keep it a surprise, but it is not a typical three roses and bottle of cognac,” she says. “It’s something more artistic and a little more haunting.” If all goes well, Caljean says that the Toaster could appear at other events throughout the year, like the Mt. Vernon Monument lighting or HonFest, and that the competition could become its own annual tradition.
“In 2009, we lost this little quirk,” she says. “We need to be able to celebrate all of Baltimore’s quirks and characters.”