The whole “till death do us part” spiel doesn’t apply to those married to the mystery of Edgar Allan Poe’s demise.
His death created a dedicated following of people ready to put on their best detective hats to sift through fact and conspiracy theories — a fitting reaction, since Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is thought to be one of the first modern detective stories.
So how did he die? Too much alcohol? Was he attacked? Did he have a disease? It’s been 174 years and people still want to know. An upcoming film screening is about to stir the Poe pot even more.
“The Death of Poe,” a dramatic telling of his final days, will air at Harbor East Cinemas on Friday at 8 p.m., kicking off the International Edgar Allan Poe Festival and Awards that coincides every year with the anniversary of the writer’s death.
Tickets for the film screening will benefit the National Edgar Allan Poe Theatre and Poe Baltimore, which includes the Poe House & Museum. A post-screening panel with Mark Redfield, the director and star of the film, and David F. Gaylin, president of The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, will give audience members a chance to ask questions.
Without giving too much away, the movie walks viewers through a hallucinatory depiction of Poe’s final days. The famed author was found delirious in Baltimore and didn’t regain full consciousness before his death on Oct. 7, 1849.
Poe was initially laid to rest in an unmarked grave, but today has a monument on the grounds of Westminster Hall and Burying Ground in Baltimore.
“The Death of Poe,” which Redfield said was produced with a humble budget of under $12,000 and was shot in 12 days, was originally released 17 years ago this month. But the director said Poe has often played a part in his more-than-45-year career in the film industry. Starting Oct. 12, you can see Redfield in a few episodes of Netflix’s new miniseries “The Fall of the House of Usher,” based on Poe’s short story.
“I can’t seem to escape him. He always seems to cross my path at some point,” Redfield said. Redfield has also created several audio dramas based on Poe short stories, such as “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Black Cat,” but his bucket list goal is to create a film for “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
Thanks to all the research that went into producing his Poe-centric work, Redfield has come to his own conclusions about the writer’s death. He thinks Poe had a preexisting condition — specifically a brain tumor — that was exacerbated in some way and caused delirium. The tumor could have also made him very sensitive to alcohol, Redfield said; it was well-known that the artist struggled with alcoholism, complicating many of his personal and professional relationships.
Redfield also thinks there’s some truth to the theory that Poe was involved in a cooping scheme, an early form of election fraud that often led to kidnapping people and forcing them to vote, likely several times, for a specific candidate.
Alex Zavistovich, founder and artistic director of the National Edgar Allan Poe Theatre, also supports the cooping theory, and said alcohol toxicity may have played a role in the death, too, though some still postulate that rabies or other forms of poisoning were possible causes.
“Once you get further into the life of Poe, this becomes such a fascinating, unanswered question ... 174 years after his death, people are still talking about it,” said Zavistovich, who considers the circumstances around Poe’s death to be one of the greatest mysteries of American literature. He’s looking forward to the panel discussion after the movie with like-minded people.
“I really hope that people can begin to develop an appreciation for the man as well as the work, and maybe that will prompt them to do more deeper reading into all his work,” Zavistovich said.
Though the National Edgar Allan Poe Theatre usually puts on a production for the Poe Festival, Zavistovich said they were busy finishing up a stint at the Tennessee Williams Theater Festival. They are, however, working on an audio drama adaptation of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” with Enoch Pratt Free Library on Oct. 21.
There will still be plenty to do during Poe Fest, which pulls together a weekend of music, art, performances, vendors and books every year.. Ticketed events include the Black Cat Ball, a dress-to-impress event on a gothic red carpet at Westminster Hall, and a bus tour of “Poe Places” in Baltimore, including his gravesite and the hospital where he died. More often than not, there’s a Poe impersonator moseying around the festival, too.
And you can’t forget RavenBeer, a sponsor of the National Edgar Allan Poe Theatre, for a chance to raise a glass to another year of never fully unraveling the mystery.