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June 4, 2024 8 mins

Politics is a nasty business. But it always has been. And it may have played a role in the death of a literary genius. You know the Edgar Allan Poe story called The Tell-Tale Heart, about the heart of a murder victim that never stops beating? Maybe Poe is still trying to tell us something 175 years after his mysterious death.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
You think our politics are dirty? Have you ever heard
of cooping? It was a really common method of voter
fraud back in the eighteen hundreds. Imagine being grabbed off
the street, drugged, and forced by your kidnappers to vote
for their candidates at various polling places around town. It happened,
and may have been what killed one of the most
famous authors of the nineteenth century. I'm Patty Steele. The

(00:23):
mysterious death of Edgar Allan Poe. That's next on the backstory.
The backstory is back. The election process is getting a
lot of negative press these days, right, the anger coming
from all fronts and all political ideologies, and a lot
of folks think it's never been this bad. But guess what,

(00:46):
it's just the latest iteration of politics as usual in
the US. Let's go back to the early eighteen hundreds.
How we voted and who got to vote changed dramatically.
Starting in the late seventeen hundreds, the only people who
were allowed to vote were white male landowners, mostly Protestants. Now,
alcohol always played a huge role in elections, which were

(01:08):
seen as social occasions that chanced to discuss the topics
of the day with your pals, and also to party
with them. In fact, George Washington, running for office in
Virginia before the Revolutionary War, spent his entire campaign budget
on booze, handing out to voters twenty eight gallons of rum,
fifty gallons of rum punch, thirty four gallons of wine,

(01:30):
forty six gallons of beer, and two gallons of cider Royal.
That was all for just three hundred and ninety one
male landowner voters, about a half a gallon apiece. His
campaign even rolled barrels of liquor to polling places on
election day, a custom very popular then known as swilling
the planters with bumbo. The heck is bumbo? Well, actually,

(01:53):
it seems it was a drink made from rum. But
by eighteen hundred, states started to remove the land owning qualification,
meaning you no longer had to own property in order
to vote, which led to the right of working classmen
to vote. That's when it became a free for all
because there were lots more people voting, lots more opinions,

(02:15):
but still plenty of booze. Political parties of all sorts
began to show up, and everybody wanted their candidates to
win at all costs. Plus you no longer had to
cast a voice vote. Now it was election by anonymous
written ballot, and that's where the practice of cooping came
into play. Cooping victims again were kidnapped by gangs, drugged

(02:37):
or forced to drink, and disguised several times, including a
change of clothes, in order to cast several votes at
the same or different polling places. In most cases, they
were given already filled out ballots to hand in. Often
they were already people who had alcohol or drug problems,
so they were easily persuaded to do what they were told.

(02:59):
The most popular theories about Edgar Allen Poe's mysterious death
has to do with cooping. It stems from the fact
that Poe was found on election day in a gutter
outside of a polling location, delirious and wearing somebody else's clothing.
He died without ever regaining his sensibilities. We all know

(03:20):
Edgar Allan Poe right, the master of dark, creepy fantasy.
He was famous for his terrifying poems and short stories
about death, like The Raven Annabelle Lee, The Telltale Heart,
The Pit and the Pendulum, and Murders in the Room
more just to name a few, but as terrifying as
those poems and stories were, his own death, though less

(03:42):
well known, was equally as spooky. He had a tragic life.
His father and actor abandoned the family when Poe was
just a year old, and his mother died when he
was only two. He and his older brother and younger
sister were split up and taken in by different families.
His foster father was extremely wealthy, but Poe was a

(04:03):
difficult guy. He went to the University of Virginia, but
he drank, gambled, and neglected his study, sounds like a
typical college kid, and finally his foster family broke with
him and he left school unable to support himself. He
joined the army at eighteen and by twenty entered West Point,
but the academy wasn't exactly his cup of tea either,

(04:27):
and he left after just six months. He began spending
more time writing, and within a couple of years and
with the help of a wealthy sponsor, he started to
find some modest success, and he began working for a
small newspaper, but once again his demons caught up with
him and he was quickly fired for being drunk on
the job. It's eighteen thirty five and Poe is twenty six.

(04:51):
He heads to Baltimore to marry his thirteen year old
cousin Virginia. Yes, I said thirteen. They were married for
eleven years before her death in January of eighteen forty seven,
and that sent him into a deep alcohol fueled depression
from which he never recovered. Now it's September of eighteen
forty nine and Poe is forty years old. He'd had

(05:14):
some literary success, but it wasn't always financially rewarding. For instance,
you know his poem The Raven. Everybody knows that when
made him a household name quoth the Raven Nevermore, but
he was only paid a total of nine bucks for
it by the newspaper that published it. So, in search
of a few extra bucks, he heads from Virginia to

(05:36):
Philadelphia to help a poet edit her work. But somehow
he stops off in Baltimore, maybe to see his dead
wife's family. Well, next thing, you know, a man who
recognizes him finds Poe in the gutter again outside a
polling place on election day, wearing ratty clothes that don't
seem to belong to him. The guy contacts a friend

(05:59):
of Poe's, doctor Joseph Snodgrass, who finds Poe delirious and
unable to explain what happened to him. He stayed that
way in the hospital for four days. During those days,
he kept repeating the name Reynolds. Who was Reynolds one
of the cooping gang members? Was it an explorer and
journalist that Poe admired named Jeremiah Reynolds? But then why him?

(06:22):
It's another mystery surrounding Poe's final days. Finally, October seventh,
eighteen forty nine, Edgar Allen Poe spoke his last words,
Lord helped my poor soul, and then this tormented genius
was gone. Is it possible Poe was a victim of cooping?

(06:43):
Sure seems like it, and due to his alcoholism, he
would have been a really easy mark for those guys.
But others have suggested maybe he was beaten and robbed,
or even that he somehow got rabies, but he had
no bite marks. Maybe he had some other illness, some
people say, or maybe he simply drank himself to death.

(07:04):
The idea of him being used to some political end
seems not only probable, but kind of chilling when you
think about our own political climate, but it's fascinating to
think about his mysterious death. In fact, he couldn't have
written a more fitting end to a life completely dedicated
to tragedy, mystery, and death. Edgar Allan Poe was a

(07:27):
literary genius who gave us a peek into the darkest
corners of the human mind, and his death only adds
to his legend. Hope you're enjoying The Backstory with Patty Steele.
Follow or subscribe for free to get new episodes delivered automatically,

(07:47):
and feel free to dm me if you have a
story you'd like me to cover. On Facebook, It's Patty
Steele and on Instagram Real Patty Steele. I'm Patty Steele.
The Backstory is a production of iHeartMedia, Premiere Networks, the
Elvis Durand Group, and Steel Trap Productions. Our producer is
Doug Fraser. Our writer Jake Kushner. We have new episodes

(08:10):
every Tuesday and Friday. Feel free to reach out to
me with comments and even story suggestions on Instagram at
Real Patty Steele and on Facebook at Patty Steele. Thanks
for listening to the Backstory with Patty Steele. The pieces
of history you didn't know you needed to know.
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