Edgar Allan Poe is known for his awesomely gruesome short stories like The Black Cat and The Fall of the House of Usher, and for his poems like The Raven and Annabel Lee. While many think of Poe as an alcoholic with a tendency towards the horrific, here are some little-known facts that shed some light on the troubled life of Edgar Allan Poe:
1. His father abandoned his family when Poe was one, and his mother died from tuberculosis when he was two. He was subsequently orphaned, and taken in by John and Frances Allan, from whom he adopted the name Allan.
2. He moved with his foster family to London in 1815 and stayed there until the family moved back to Virginia in 1820.
3. His childhood and adolescence were plagued by the deaths of those close to him: his mother died when he was 2, his first love when he was 15, and his foster mother when he was 20. His brother died of alcoholism-related illnesses when Poe was 22.
4. He is considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre.
5. Poe had an issue with gambling, which became a problem for his foster father. They constantly fought over both gambling debt and the cost of Poe’s education at the University of Virginia. Poe claimed that Allan didn’t give him enough money for classes, but when Allan sent more money, Poe’s gambling debt increased. When Allan didn’t want to pay more, Poe dropped out after a semester and enlisted in the army. After the death of Frances Allan and Poe’s purposeful expulsion from West Point, his foster father disowned him.
6. In 1835, Poe married his 13-year-old cousin Virginia. She was half his age but was listed on the marriage certificate as being 21. The marriage was thought to be brotherly, and some doubt its consummation. Twelve years later, Virginia died of tuberculosis. Poe’s short story The Masque of the Red Death was inspired by Virginia’s illness. While singing for the family, Virginia’s lungs hemorrhaged and she began bleeding from the mouth. While in denial about the severity of Virginia’s illness, Poe wrote the story about Prince Prospero trying to keep the disease from his castle.
7. Poe may have been named after the character Edgar in Shakespeare’s King Lear, a play his parents were performing at the time of his birth.
8. He and Nathaniel Hawthorne feuded over plagiarism claims. Poe also accused Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of plagiarism.
9. In 1849, Poe was found disoriented, wandering the streets of Baltimore in clothes that weren’t his. He was hospitalized for four days but was never coherent enough to explain how he ended up that way before he died. All medical records about his death have been lost, so the cause remains a mystery. Speculation has included heart disease, epilepsy, syphilis, meningeal inflammation, cholera, and rabies.
10. Another theory surrounding Poe’s death is that he was cooped, a form of voter fraud in which victims were drugged and forced to vote at multiple polling places before being left for dead. Poe was found at Ryan’s Fourth Ward polls.
11. His beloved cat Catterina died the same day as Poe, miles apart.
12. Poe invented the word “tintinnabulation” to describe the sound of ringing bells. He first used the word in his poem “The Bells.”
13. A month before his death, Poe joined the nineteenth-century version of Alcoholics Anonymous: the Sons of Temperance. Members took a public pledge against alcohol, and their pledge was printed in the newspaper. Not so anonymously.
14. The publication of his renowned poem “The Raven” put Poe on the map. He was paid just $9 for the poem that later inspired the team name for the NFL Ravens.
15. Poe was athletic and handsome, as well as mysterious and brooding. He held a record for swimming six miles up the tidal James River in Virginia, and he enjoyed rowing around Turtle Bay in New York City and hiking through the countryside. He was also a champion long jumper.
16. Poe was nowhere near the drug-addled, drunken image we have of him today. His work as a writer left him little time to drink, and he once took a small dose of an opiate that made him so sick he swore it off for life. His negative image comes courtesy of his rival and detractor Rufus Griswold, who went so far as to fabricate lies about Poe in a pseudonymed obituary to perpetuate rumors of his alcoholism.