Edgar Allan Poe – Tomahawk Man

Day 153 of Colourisation Project – October 7

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1809, Edgar Allan Poe was an American author, poet, editor and literary critic. Considered part of the American Romantic Movement he is best known for his tales and poems of horror, mystery and the macabre. Poe was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story, and is generally considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre.

Edgar Allen Poe

Daguerreotype (crop) of Edgar Allan Poe, 1849 Photographer unknown – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

During his lifetime, Poe was mostly recognized as a literary critic. Described by fellow critic James Russell Lowell, as “the most discriminating, philosophical and fearless critic upon imaginative works who has written in America,” Poe’s caustic reviews earned him the epithet ‘Tomahawk Man’.

Like the mysteries of his fiction, Poe’s final days and cause of death remain somewhat of a mystery. On September 27, 1849, Poe left Richmond supposedly on his way to Philadelphia. Six days later on the 3rd of October, he was found in Baltimore, delirious and in great distress. He was taken to Washington College Hospital where he died on October 7, 1849, at at the age of 40. The actual cause of his death is unknown and has been the subject of endless speculation, including alcohol, heart disease, epilepsy, syphilis, meningeal inflammation, cholera and rabies, tuberculosis and suicide. Newspapers at the time reported Poe’s death as ‘congestion of the brain’ or ‘cerebral inflammation’, common euphemisms for deaths from disreputable causes such as alcoholism.

Unfortunately we will perhaps never know as all medical records, including his death certificate, have been lost. Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in a delirious state, and how he came to be wearing someone else’s clothes. Poe is said to have repeatedly called out the name ‘Reynolds’ on the night before his death. Reynold’s identity remains a mystery. Some sources say his last words were “Lord, help my poor soul.” 

Such was Poe’s ignominious end, full of mystifying ingredients, that some super sleuth like Poe’s own fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin, would find it difficult to unravel.

[Dupin appeared in three short stories written in the 1840s: The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), The Mystery of Marie Rogêt (1842) and The Purloined Letter (1844).]

Adding further intrigue to Poe’s sad end was the fact that on the day he was buried, a long obituary appeared in the New York Tribune signed ‘Ludwig’. The piece began,

“Edgar Allan Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it.”

‘Ludwig’ was soon identified as Poe’s literary adversary, Rufus Wilmot Griswold, an editor, critic and anthologist who had borne a grudge against Poe since 1842, when he had been sharply criticized by Poe. Griswold, was out for revenge and was intent on destroying Poe’s reputation after his death. [1]

Griswold continued his mission in a biographical article of Poe titled Memoir of the Author, depicting Poe as a mentally deranged drunkard, drug-addled madman and womanizer, and included Poe’s letters as evidence. Many of his claims were scotched as either lies or distorted half-truths. Whilst Griswold’s book was denounced by those who knew Poe well, it did nevertheless cause significant damage to Poe’s reputation for some time. Documents presented by Griswold however, were later proven to be forgeries. [2]

Moral to the story? Never cross a critic!

While he never had financial success in his lifetime, Poe became one of America’s most enduring writers. His works today are still as compelling as they were more than a century ago.


1. Hoffman, Daniel (1998) [1972]. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
2. Quinn, Arthur Hobson (1998). Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
This entry was posted in American Literature, Colorization, Colourisation, Literature, Photography, Poetry, USA and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Edgar Allan Poe – Tomahawk Man

  1. Pingback: Vincent Price – Master of Menace | Random Phoughts

  2. Pingback: Mysterious Dorothy L Sayers | Random Phoughts

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s