19th century

The Last Mystery of Edgar Allan Poe

portrait by Samuel Stillman Osgood, 1845.

This week marks the anniversary of the death of famous American poet/author/critic Edgar Allan Poe on Oct 7, 1849. Although the cause of his death was vaguely listed as “congestion of the brain,” the root cause is still a mystery. No autopsy was done or death certificate issued.

The circumstances of Poe’s death:

photo by KRichter (CC)

Poe was found in Baltimore near Gunner’s Hall (a tavern being used as a polling place that day) “rather the worse for wear,” according to Joseph W. Walker, the man who discovered him. Poe was able to give him the names of two acquaintances who lived in the area. Walker sent them urgent notes to come and help decide what to do with him. When they came to assess the situation, the general consensus was that Poe was the worse for drink, and they took him to Baltimore’s Washington College Hospital.

Strangely, he was wearing clothing not his own. According to the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore:

Poe’s clothing had been changed. In place of his own suit of black wool was one of cheap gabardine, with a palm leaf hat. Moran describes his clothing as “a stained, faded, old bombazine coat, pantaloons of a similar character, a pair of worn-out shoes run down at the heels, and an old straw hat” (Moran, Defense of Poe, p. 59.)

There wasn’t much that the doctors could do for him other than make him comfortable. Although he briefly regained consciousness at intervals (though never for long enough to explain what happened), he died four days later.

Which leaves us with all kinds of questions: how did he come to be where he was found, and in someone else’s clothes? What happened to him? What killed him?

We know that Poe left Richmond for Philadelphia (some say New York) via boat (one source says the train…arghh, research is a minefield) and arrived in Baltimore on September 28th. However, there is no reliable account of what happened to him between then and when he was found on October 3rd.

Poe’s bitter rival, and 150 years of slander:


Griswold, 1855.

I didn’t realize until my adult years that what I thought I knew about Poe and his death as a high schooler (decades ago, never mind how many, LOL), was shaped by the accounts of Poe at the hands of his most bitter rival, Rufus Wilmot Griswold. Griswold was extremely adept at character assassination, which he had already directed at Poe during his lifetime. But now the floodgates were about to be opened wide. The day of Poe’s burial, an obituary signed by “Ludwig” (later proved to be Griswold) appeared in the New York Tribune, characterizing Poe as brilliant but “erratic…. He had few or no friends.” He doesn’t stop there:

He walked the streets, in madness or melancholy, with lips moving in indistinct curses, or with eyes upturned in passionate prayers for the happiness of those who at that moment were objects of his idolatry, but never for himself, for he felt, or professed to feel, that he was already damned. He seemed, except when some fitful pursuit subjected his will and engrossed his faculties, always to bear the memory of some controlling sorrow.

With a eulogist such as this, who needs enemies? Griswold, aka the King of Nasty, also snipes at Poe’s professional abilities as poet, author, and critic, but I’ll let you read the rest on your own. You’ll find the entire obituary here.

Griswold took character assassination to a whole new level with his next trick: he publicly claimed that Poe had selected him to be his literary executor, and got Poe’s mother-in-law and beneficiary, Maria Clemm, to agree to it. Griswold was a literary critic and editor who had acted as an agent for other American authors, so that probably gave him some legitimacy in Maria’s eyes. In 1850, Griswold sealed the deal by publishing a collection of Poe’s works with a preface, “Memoir of the Author.” In it, he portrayed Poe as a tortured genius, drug addict, and drunkard who had died alone in the gutters of Baltimore. Griswold produced letters (later determined to be forged) from Poe as evidence of his depraved, drug-addled mind.

Wow. Talk about your revenge dramas. Ever want to know where I get my ideas? This kind of stuff.

Those who knew Poe protested the accounts, but Griswold’s was the only official biography out there at the time. And consider how easy it is, then and now, for readers of Poe’s macabre tales – its protagonists half-mad, half-evil – to believe that only a tortured genius could create them.

The Theories:

Since then, more has come to light about Poe’s life and character (links posted below) that contradict this characterization, although the five days before he was found in Baltimore may never be unearthed. Theories abound, of course, alcohol poisoning being the early favorite that has only been seriously questioned in recent decades. Other theories include cooping (a variation on the alcohol theory, really), brain lesion, tuberculosis, epilepsy, and…rabies.

Wait. Rabies? Here’s the first paragraph and link to the 1996 medical report in support of the rabies theory:

In an analysis almost 147 years after his death, doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center believe that writer Edgar Allan Poe may have died as a result of rabies, not from complications of alcoholism. Poe’s medical case was reviewed by R. Michael Benitez, M.D., a cardiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center. His review is published in the September 1996 issue of Maryland Medical Journal.

Read the rest here: Poe Mystery | University of Maryland Medical Center

Whether you agree or not with the rabies theory (and the Edgar Allan Poe Society emphatically does not – their argument against rabies is in the link below), it makes for an interesting read.

Want to read more?

The Still Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe – Smithsonian Magazine

The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore


The Poetry Foundation

The Death of Edgar Allan Poe – wikipedia

So, what do you think? While we may never know how Poe died, as an author it’s a cautionary tale to make sure I know who my literary executor is going to be….

Any real-life mysteries that fascinate you? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,


Be the first to like.

Play Ball! 1890s Baseball Trading Cards

New York World, April 1895.

For many folks, summer means…baseball! And you know what? That was true in the 1890s, too, when the sport was in its second full decade. Rule changes and refinements during this time helped shape the sport into a closer approximation of the game we now know. For more about the specifics, check out this baseball history guide.

Bubblegum baseball cards were popular when I was growing up in the 70s. It wasn’t too tough for kids to do an extra chore or scour some change out of the sofa to buy a pack: 16 cards, with a stick of bubblegum inside! Cool!

In the 1890s they had baseball cards, too, but a stick of gum wasn’t included. The cards were inside tins of tobacco. (Yeah, not for kiddie consumption). Here are some pics of 1895 baseball cards from Mayo’s Cut Plug tobacco:


Amos Rusie, pitcher, New York Giants, 1895.


Bill Joyce, centerfield, Washington Senators, 1895.


Cap Anson, first base (though the Baseball Reference site has him down as manager), Chicago Colts, 1895.


Charlie Abbey, centerfield, Washington Senators, 1895.

By the way, in case you’re curious about how the teams above did in the 1895 season, the Washington Senators finished 10th, the New York Giants finished 9th, and the Chicago Colts finished 4th. The Baltimore Orioles finished in 1st place that year.

The site Baseball Reference has kindly made its table available, so if you’re a statistics geek and love getting into the trenches, check it out below. If it doesn’t display, the hyperlink will get you there. Enjoy!

Do you collect baseball cards, or enjoy America’s Pastime? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,


P.S. – Wonder why I’m talking about baseball? Well, there might a a tenuous connection to the next Concordia novel! Stay tuned….

Be the first to like.

Happy Thanksgiving! What’s on the Menu?

Puck Thanksgiving cover, 1896.

Puck Thanksgiving cover, 1896.

Happy Tuesday before Thanksgiving! We’re all pressed for time right now, so I’ll just share a brief montage of interesting historical menus as you plan yours…who knows? It may give you ideas.

Another cool thing about the following menus is who is hosting it. We have a hotel, a college, and…a hospital. I guess everyone wants turkey on Thanksgiving, although some of these menus make it seem like turkey is an afterthought. *wink*



Hotel Vendome Thanksgiving Menu, 1895. Image via wikimedia commons.

Hotel Vendome Thanksgiving Menu, 1895.

The one below is tough to read, my apologies. I can make out Mock Turtle Soup, and Salmon, but I have trouble after that. I’m sure turkey is in there somewhere.

1874 Vassar College Thanksgiving Menu. Image via wikimedia commons.

1874 Vassar College Thanksgiving Menu.


Thanksgiving menu, 1864. Jarvis U.S.A. General Hospital, Baltimore.

Thanksgiving menu, 1864. Jarvis U.S.A. General Hospital, Baltimore.

Hmm, looks yummy. And what variety! Who knew hospital food was holiday-worthy? But someone needed spell-check on “turkies.”

Most of us won’t be eating at a fancy hotel or at a college, and I sure hope we won’t be eating at a hospital! So, if you’re cooking at home, be safe. Firefighters see house fires triple on Thanksgiving Day, with some states in the Union more prone than others. For more info on that, check out my 2014 post:

When Turkeys Strike Back

However you spend your holiday, or even if it isn’t a holiday in your part of the world, I wish you much to be grateful for. I know that I’m grateful for all of you!

Until next time,


P.S. – If you’re in the vicinity of Manassas, Virginia on Shop Small Saturday (Nov 26th), I’ll be doing a book signing and would love to see you!






2 people like this post.

1890s Etiquette for Engaged Couples

1890s Etiquette for Engaged Couples

Today I’m over at Misterio Press, talking about what was considered proper conduct for engaged couples in the late-nineteenth century. Since Concordia Wells is an engaged lady in Beloved and Unseemly (book 5 of the series, and just released), it seemed a fitting topic!

1890s Courtship Etiquette

Hope you can join us!


Concordia logo FINAL small

1 person likes this post.

Day 6: The Twelve Days of Concordia

Day 6: The Twelve Days of Concordia

Welcome to Day 6 of the quote-a-day countdown giveaway, to celebrate the November 1st release of Beloved and Unseemly. To learn more about the lady professor’s adventures in book #5, along with details of the contest and prizes, click here:

The Twelve Days of Concordia Giveaway!

Here is today’s quote…uh-oh, looks like Concordia’s getting an earful!


Well,  I suppose she’s heard that sort of thing on occasion….

Thanks so much for participating! By the way, if you’re looking for recipes to stay cozy in the chill weather or to celebrate Halloween, you’ll enjoy today’s post from Misterio Press! Included are two cocktail recipes of mine, one with alcohol and one without. Hope to see you there!

Stick-to-Your Ribs Weather


Concordia logo FINAL small





5 people like this post.

Day 5: The Twelve Days of Concordia

Day 5: The Twelve Days of Concordia

Welcome to Day 5 of the quote-a-day countdown giveaway, to celebrate the November 1st release of Beloved and Unseemly. To learn more about the lady professor’s adventures in book #5, along with details of the contest and prizes, click here:

The Twelve Days of Concordia Giveaway!

So here’s today’s quote, where you get a glimpse of Concordia’s…ahem, inquisitive nature:


Hope your Monday is going well, and thanks for being part of the countdown and giveaway!


Concordia logo FINAL small

3 people like this post.

Day 4: The Twelve Days of Concordia

Day 4: The Twelve Days of Concordia

Welcome to Day 4 of the quote-a-day countdown giveaway, to celebrate the November 1st release of Beloved and Unseemly. To learn more about the lady professor’s adventures in book #5, along with details of the contest and prizes, click here:

The Twelve Days of Concordia Giveaway!


You mystery fans are going to like today’s quote:



…because it wouldn’t be a mystery without a body, am I right? *wink*

Thanks so much for sharing and responding! I’d say the quote-a-day giveaway is going well so far, and it’s all thanks to you guys!


Concordia logo FINAL small

2 people like this post.

1890s Fashions for Women (and an announcement)

1890s Fashions for Women (and an announcement)
Francois Courboin, In the Cabinet des Estampes (Bibliothèque Nationale), 1897. Image via wikimedia commons.

Francois Courboin, In the Cabinet des Estampes (Bibliothèque Nationale), 1897. Image via wikimedia commons.

In writing about the world of Concordia Wells, I have to make sure the lady professor and her colleagues are always suitably attired in the style of the day.

I use a variety of sources for descriptions and sketches of what these ladies wore during the Progressive Era. Two of my favorite books for research are the Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalog of 1897 and Victorian Fashions & Costumes from Harper’s Bazar, 1867-1898.

1897 Sears Roebuck & Co. Catalogue

Other sources include newspaper advertisements from a search of Chronicling America (a digital archive of 19th century U.S. newspapers from the Library of Congress), and etiquette books of the period, such as Manners and Social Usages by Mrs. John Sherwood, an 1898 self-help book (yes, they had those way back then!), which I quote from extensively in book #5 (more about book #5 in a moment).

I also have to keep reminding myself not to overlook YouTube, which has a surprising collection of old film footage and picture montages. Below is one I think you’ll enjoy. If you want to skim (it’s a bit long), there’s a wedding dress at 5:12 and a series of bicycling outfits similar to what Concordia wears at 10:06.



Book 5 of the Concordia Wells Mysteries is complete and we have a cover! Official release day is Tuesday, November 1st. For those of you who have read the series from the beginning, book 5 comes full circle in several ways that I’m hoping you’ll find satisfying. Here’s a portion of the cover and the blurb:




A stolen blueprint, a dead body, and wedding bells….

Change is in the air at Hartford Women’s College in the fall of 1898. Renowned inventor Peter Sanbourne—working on Project Blue Arrow for the Navy—heads the school’s new engineering program, and literature professor Concordia Wells prepares to leave to marry David Bradley.

The new routine soon goes awry when a bludgeoned body—clutching a torn scrap of the only blueprint for Blue Arrow—is discovered on the property Concordia and David were planning to call home.

To unravel the mystery that stands between them and their new life together, Concordia must navigate deadly pranks, dark secrets, and long-simmering grudges that threaten to tear apart her beloved school and leave behind an unseemly trail of bodies.


I’m so excited and can’t wait for you all to read it! I’ll post the full cover reveal in my newsletter and here on the site when the links go live. I know you guys have been so patient(!) waiting for this next Concordia installment, and I really appreciate your loyalty.

If you don’t want to wait for November 1st, you can be one of my advance readers! I’m offering ten free advance review copies (ARCs) of the ebook version of  Beloved and Unseemly.

I love ARCs. Not only does the reader get a freebie ahead of time, but releasing the book “in the wild” may generate early reviews. Reviews then help prospective readers decide if this book is their cup of tea.

Please note: readers receiving ARCs are under no obligation whatsoever to rate the book or post a review. This is per Amazon reviewer policy and I agree wholeheartedly. If something is free, it should not have strings attached. (But if you do decide to rate/review the book, Concordia and I thank you very much!)

So, if you’d like an ARC, send me an email at: contact(at)kbowenmysteries(dot)com. Let me know what format you want: mobi (Kindle) or epub (Nook or iPad/iPhone). I will send them out to the first ten readers who ask. Thank you!

Until next time,


3 people like this post.