WASHINGTON. For many Americans, 2020 proved a surprise introduction to election fraud. But it’s nothing new to American politics. And in years past, voter fraud could prove deadly. Take the story of one poor soul who in October of 1849 was found semiconscious in a Baltimore alley catty-corner from a tavern that happened to double that day as a polling station. Joseph W. Walker, a printer for the Baltimore Sun newspaper, noticed the crumpled figure, approached and rolled him on his back. Much to his surprise, the disheveled stranger identified himself as poet and author of the grotesque and arabesque, Edgar Allan Poe.
When Walker asked if Poe knew someone in Baltimore he could send for, Poe gave the name Dr. Joseph E. Snodgrass.
In his note to Dr. Snodgrass, Walker wrote:
“Dear Sir: There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you, he is in need of immediate assistance. Yours, in haste, Jos. W. Walker.”
Poe died four days later.
Deadly voter fraud
Snodgrass, a Baltimore resident who lived near the location where Poe was found indisposed, had an interesting take on the cause of the author’s death.
“The ‘Fourth Ward Club,’ a notorious Whig organization, had their ‘coop.’ There was no registry of voters at this time in Baltimore, and almost anyone could vote who was willing to face the ordeal of a ‘challenge’ and the oath administered by a judge of elections.”
A “coop” was a holding pen used by gangs of political thugs to sequester “innocent strangers and foreigners, drug them with bad whiskey and opiates, and send them round to the different voting-places under the custody of one or two of their party, ‘to help the cause,’” Snodgrass observed.
These victims of voter fraud were given multiple changes of clothing, and sometimes wigs as a means of disguise. When Poe was found lying delirious on that Baltimore street, it was noted that his clothes were ill-fitting and clearly not his own.
A victim of media narratives
But Poe’s condition was seized upon by his literary enemies in the press. Poe’s sorry state, they maintained, was the result of alcoholism. The New York Organ newspaper, for instance, said Poe…
“… died of mania a potu in Baltimore hospital. An awful warning comes up from the grave of this unhappy, self-ruined man. Would that it might make its due impression. – Think of Poe’s miserable end, and then resolve to touch not, taste not the cup that poisoned him. When tempted to break your pledge, point to that grave and answer, No never!”
And so, the dye was cast in the 19th century, mainstream media’s narrative of Poe’s untimely death – brought on by low character and demon rum. Like today, a reader would have to venture outside major media markets to find an alternative view.
For instance, in the collection of Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries & University Museums, there is this clipping from an unidentified San Francisco newspaper. A wild city on the fringes of American civilization. In the article, there’s an account of Poe’s death by an eyewitness and fellow victim of voter fraud cooping:
“It was the night before election, and four of us, including Poe, started up. We had not gone half a dozen squares [blocks] when we were nabbed by a gang of men who were on the lookout for voters to ‘coop’ … It was part of the game to stupefy the prisoners with drugged liquor. Well, the next day we were voted at thirty-one different places… Poe was so badly drugged that, after he was carried on two or three different rounds, the gang said it was no use to vote a dead man any longer, so they shoved him into a cab and sent him to a hospital to get him out of the way. He died from laudanum or some other poison that was forced upon him in the coop.”
Wise advice from beyond the grave
What Edgar Allen Poe once said could apply to the mainstream media’s modern narratives challenging every hint of voter fraud in 2020:
“Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see.”
Top Image: Illustration of Edgar Allan Poe by the author.