Thursday, August 16, 2007

'Poe Toaster' a Hoax

It has been a poignant and touching annual tradition: late at night on 19 January (Edgar Alan Poe's birthday) for many years, a black-clothed figure laid three roses and a bottle of cognac on the writer's grave in a Baltimore cemetery. The story has captivated Poe fans for decades, but now the bubble may have burst.

The AP reveals that 92-year old Sam Porpora, former historian of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, says he concocted the story of the Poe Toaster in the late 1960s, when he told a reporter that the Toaster had begun leaving his yearly offering in 1949. "We did it, myself and my tour guides," says Porpora. "It was a promotional idea. We made it up, never dreaming it would go worldwide." He says since that time, someone actually has taken over the annual practice.

Hearing the news, Poe House curator Jeff Jerome, who has led annual vigils in the churchyard to await the arrival of the Toaster, "reacted like a man who's been punched in the stomach by his beloved grandfather. He's sad. He feels betrayed. But he's reluctant to punch back," according to the AP report. "[Porpora's] like a mentor to me. And I can tell you that if it weren't for him, Westminster Hall may not be there. But to say the toaster is a promotional hoax, well, all I can say is that's just not so."

But does Porpora's story even hold water (or cognac)? "He said he invented the stranger in an interview with a reporter in 1967, but the story to which he refers appeared in 1976. Shortly afterward, the vigils and the yearly chronicles of the stranger's visits began. During the same interview, Porpora said both that he made the story up and that one of his tour guides went through a pantomime of dressing up, sneaking into the cemetery and laying the tribute on the grave ... Jerome found a 1950 newspaper clipping from The [Baltimore] Evening Sun that mentions 'an anonymous citizen who creeps in annually to place an empty bottle (of excellent label)' against the gravestone."

Jerome says he'll continue to keep the annual vigil, whether the Toaster appears or not. Jeffrey Savoye, of Baltimore's Poe Society, says "Even if Sam's story is true, so what? It's a tradition. It's a nice tradition, whether it dates back to 1949 or the '70s."

I suppose - but these revelations do cause it to lose a little of its allure.


Outis said...

What amazes me is that people can read this story without actually reading it all (or understanding what it says). Sam Porpora states that he "started" the whole thing in 1967 or 1976 (depending on which story he is telling at the time), all with not a shred of evidence. And all of this is blindly accepted in spite of a Sun paper article from 1950 which proves that it has already happened more than a decade before the dates he mentions. He might as well be claiming that he is George Washington. The only hoax is Sam's story.

JBD said...

Please see my paragraph beginning "But does Porpora's story even hold water (or cognac)?".

Outis said...

But your heading is "Poe Toaster A Hoax," and you ask a question when a clear statement can and should be made. No, the story doesn't hold any water. There is no water in it. You also note that "the bubble may have burst" when there is no reason for such a statement. Why should a claim which is so obviously untrue cause anyone to have misgivings about an event which, in any meaningful evaluation, remains untainted? The problem is that people read the headline and, at best, skim the story. No wonder we ended up attacking Iraq for non-existent weapons.

Outis said...

Oh, and the CNN article which brought me here is even worse. The headline there is "Mystery of Poe Toaster Revealed," when it isn't even if you accepted Sam Porpora's story at face value.

Ed said...

Outis is clearly upset by all this.