CLOSE
Original image

Once Upon a Midnight Dreary, the Poe Toaster Failed to Show

Original image

© Lee Snider/Photo Images/Corbis

For more than sixty years, a character right out of one of Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic tales left gifts at the author’s gravestone to honor his birthday on January 19.

Sadly, today marks the third year in a row the famed Poe Toaster has failed to show. Now that the tradition is likely over, let’s take a look back at the beginning.

Poe died under eyebrow-raising circumstances in 1849: he was found wandering the streets of Baltimore, delirious and wearing shabby, mismatched clothes that weren’t his. He passed away a few days later, but not before crying out the name “Reynolds” several times. Since then, Baltimore’s Westminster Cemetery has served as Poe’s final resting place. Baltimoreans decided to upgrade the memorial of one of their city’s most famous residents in 1875, but other than that, the tragic writer rested in relative peace.

Then, a mysterious man clothed in head-to-toe black, save for a white scarf, appeared at Poe’s grave on January 19, after a midnight dreary but before sunrise. He left three blood-red roses and a half-empty bottle of cognac, and continued to do so every January 19 thereafter.

Although the first time the ritual was mentioned in print was in the Evening Sun of Baltimore in 1950, it’s possible that it started more than a decade earlier. Jeff Jerome, the Curator of the Poe House and Museum, chatted with some older members of the Westminster Church, which shares the land with the cemetery, and discovered that some of them had heard tales of the Poe Toaster as early as the 1930s.

Some quick math will tell you that even if the Poe Toaster were as young as 18 when he started the ritual in the mid-1930s, he would be pushing 100 today. That actually fits in with this whole perplexing puzzle: in 1993, a note that simply read, “The torch will be passed” accompanied the usual tribute. Six years later, another note announced that the previous Toaster was nevermore, but a son had stepped up to fill the role.

And for 10 years, he did. Unlike his predecessor, this Poe Toaster left somewhat controversial notes. Surprisingly, one proclaimed his distaste for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens. Another seemed to express his anger with France, saying that the country’s Martell cognac wasn’t deserving of such an honor, but that he would leave it out of respect for family tradition.

Then, in 2010, the visits came to a halt. Dozens of people waited in the dead of night to catch a glimpse of the mysterious man, but he didn’t come. Nor did he show in 2011, though plenty of impostors stepped up to take his place. Jeff Jerome, who has observed the ceremony since 1978, says he developed a secret signal with the anonymous admirer that lets him know the real deal has arrived. He hasn’t seen the signal for three years. “It’s over with,” he admitted this morning.

Original image
FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images
arrow
Animals
Fisherman Catches Rare Blue Lobster, Donates It to Science
Original image
FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images

Live lobsters caught off the New England coast are typically brown, olive-green, or gray—which is why one New Hampshire fisherman was stunned when he snagged a blue one in mid-July.

As The Independent reports, Greg Ward, from Rye, New Hampshire, discovered the unusual lobster while examining his catch near the New Hampshire-Maine border. Ward initially thought the pale crustacean was an albino lobster, which some experts estimate to be a one-in-100-million discovery. However, a closer inspection revealed that the lobster's hard shell was blue and cream.

"This one was not all the way white and not all the way blue," Ward told The Portsmouth Herald. "I've never seen anything like it."

While not as rare as an albino lobster, blue lobsters are still a famously elusive catch: It's said that the odds of their occurrence are an estimated one in two million, although nobody knows the exact numbers.

Instead of eating the blue lobster, Ward decided to donate it to the Seacoast Science Center in Rye. There, it will be studied and displayed in a lobster tank with other unusually colored critters, including a second blue lobster, a bright orange lobster, and a calico-spotted lobster.

[h/t The Telegraph]

Original image
Courtesy Murdoch University
arrow
Animals
Australian Scientists Discover First New Species of Sunfish in 125 Years
Original image
Courtesy Murdoch University

Scientists have pinpointed a whole new species of the largest bony fish in the world, the massive sunfish, as we learned from Smithsonian magazine. It's the first new species of sunfish proposed in more than 125 years.

As the researchers report in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, the genetic differences between the newly named hoodwinker sunfish (Mola tecta) and its other sunfish brethren was confirmed by data on 27 different samples of the species collected over the course of three years. Since sunfish are so massive—the biggest can weigh as much as 5000 pounds—they pose a challenge to preserve and store, even for museums with large research collections. Lead author Marianne Nyegaard of Murdoch University in Australia traveled thousands of miles to find and collected genetic data on sunfish stranded on beaches. At one point, she was asked if she would be bringing her own crane to collect one.

Nyegaard also went back through scientific literature dating back to the 1500s, sorting through descriptions of sea monsters and mermen to see if any of the documentation sounded like observations of the hoodwinker. "We retraced the steps of early naturalists and taxonomists to understand how such a large fish could have evaded discovery all this time," she said in a press statement. "Overall, we felt science had been repeatedly tricked by this cheeky species, which is why we named it the 'hoodwinker.'"

Japanese researchers first detected genetic differences between previously known sunfish and a new, unknown species 10 years ago, and this confirms the existence of a whole different type from species like the Mola mola or Mola ramsayi.

Mola tecta looks a little different from other sunfish, with a more slender body. As it grows, it doesn't develop the protruding snout or bumps that other sunfish exhibit. Similarly to the others, though, it can reach a length of 8 feet or more. 

Based on the stomach contents of some of the specimens studied, the hoodwinker likely feeds on salps, a jellyfish-like creature that it probably chomps on (yes, sunfish have teeth) during deep dives. The species has been found near New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and southern Chile.

[h/t Smithsonian]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios