170 years later, Edgar Allan Poe’s death still a mystery

170 years later, Edgar Allan Poe’s death still a mystery
Edgar Allan Poe. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Monday marked the 170th anniversary of the death of Edgar Allan Poe.

Poe’s death on Oct. 7, 1849, is mysterious. The circumstances and cause of death are still disputed to this day. Just 10 days before he died, Poe left Richmond on his way to New York City. But on Oct. 3, he was found delirious in Baltimore. Reports say Poe was never coherent enough to explain what happened. He died at the hospital just four days later.

His death certificate listed phrenitis, or swelling of the brain, as his cause of death – but that has created much debate.

While the exact cause may remain a mystery, many have developed their own theories as to what happened. The Smithsonian has even gathered the most popular belief’s behind the author’s death. Some of the more prominent theories are listed below.


According to the Smithsonian, one biographer believes he became drunk and was robbed and beaten.


Some believe Poe was a victim of cooping, which was a common voter fraud practice by 19th century gangs, and was well known in Baltimore. Voters were often given alcohol after voting during this time. Some say Poe was given liquor, forced to vote multiple times and then left to die.


It was said that Poe could not handle alcohol, and theorists say he might have drank himself to death.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

A health researcher thought Poe might have died due to carbon monoxide poisoning since coal gas was used for indoor lighting. Testing on his hair came back inconclusive.

Heavy metal poisoning

While testing for carbon monoxide, mercury was found in Poe’s body. However, the level was well below what would have been expected in mercury poisoning.


During a conference, doctors were working to solve and compare cards with patient symptoms. One card had a patient called “E.P., a writer from Richmond,” on it. Doctors say the symptoms are clear and he was suffering from rabies.

Brain Tumor


This theory suggests Poe had the flu, which later turned into pneumonia.


Another theory by John Evangelist Walsh is that Poe was murdered by the brothers of his fiancée, Elmira Shelton. He says the brothers found him in Baltimore, beat him and made him drink whiskey, which would make him deathly sick.

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