MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

No writer has had the ability to evoke a sense of horror and dread more effectively than Edgar Allan Poe did, which is fitting given the performance this season of the #NFLTheTVShow team in Baltimore that was named after Poe’s greatest literary work, “The Raven.”

Poe was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston, which made Thursday his 214th birthday. After failing as an officer cadet at West Point, Poe devoted his life to becoming a poet and a writer, and his work took him to cities such as New York, Washington and Baltimore, where he published his poem “The Raven” in 1845 to become a huge success.

Poe died in Baltimore on October 7, 1849, at age 40, under mysterious circumstances, the cause being unknown, but variously attributed to any number of things such as disease, alcoholism, substance abuse and suicide, with Poe having once said, “I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity,” which made him eminently qualified to have been a sportswriter.

Poe is buried at the University of Maryland, Baltimore Westminster Hall and Burying Ground under the care of the University of Maryland School of Law, the third oldest law school in the nation. For over 70 years an unknown person paid tribute to Poe by visiting his grave every year on the early morning of the poet’s birthday, pouring himself a glass of cognac and leaving three roses with the unfinished bottle.

The known identity of the famous Poe Toaster is nevermore (see what I did there?), but that hasn’t stopped Baltimore from celebrating Poe and his toaster each January 19, not unlike Punxsutawney, Pa. celebrating Groundhog Day.

The decades-long Baltimore tradition was reenacted Wednesday night as an unnamed man paid tribute at the gravesite with flowers, words in Latin and a toast.

Tracey Mathias, who grew up a few blocks from the cemetery, has seen this in some form for years, telling WMAR, Baltimore, “We used to hide out here at three in the morning and wait for the toaster to arrive.

“This is nice, that they’re continuing the tradition.”

Since the so-called original toaster disappeared, local historians have kept the tradition going.

“For several years, nobody was doing it, and it was decided to resurrect him,” Jeff Jerome of the Westminster Preservation Trust told WMAR. “This is just so Baltimore. And I hope it continues for many, many years.”

The Westminster Hall and Burying Ground will also host a virtual birthday celebration for Poe on Saturday.

Now I don’t claim to understand the symbolism or the custom, but Baltimore has long been a city of celebrating custom and mystery, as there are many there who naturally believe the Poe Toaster was murdered (well, of course, he was), even though nobody ever knew who the guy was.

Kind of like the mysterious orange scarf that magically appears around the neck of the Brooks Robinson statue at the intersection of Russell Street and Washington Boulevard beyond left field of Oriole Park at Camden Yards every Opening Day. Nobody ever claims to have put the scarf there and nobody seems to know who the Brooks Scarfer is, though I have long suspected somebody within the confines of Pickles Pub, which the statue sits directly in front of.

But when you see that orange scarf draped around Brooksie’s neck you know it’s Opening Day, which has long been the greatest and happiest day of each year in Baltimore. Of course, the thousands of celebrating fans swilling beer on the square is a pretty good clue as well, but we’re talking symbolism today, so work with me, okay?

There must be something to this whole Poe’s birthday thing. Ask Greg Roman, the former offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens. That’s right, I said former, as the team announced on Thursday Roman had stepped down to pursue other opportunities.

Stepping down (more like “Jump or be pushed”) from Poe’s football team (no, he was not the original owner) on Poe’s birthday? Coincidence? We’ll leave that for the thousands of now-delighted Ravens fans to decide, but as the Curse of Glenn Davis has haunted Baltimore with since 1991, “Be careful what you wish for; you might just get it.”

On top of that, without thinking about it, I put on a black Ravens hoodie to wear on Thursday, four days after their season ended. I don’t know why I did (maybe I’m just a lazy slob?). But when the first thing I saw of the day was a picture we have of Poe in the house on a ceramic-tile coaster (I know why we have the coaster; I have no idea why Poe’s picture is on it) I got the feeling that larger forces might just be at play.

So, happy birthday, Edgar A. (no relation to Stephen A.). The cognac I toast with happens to taste great and is less filling, so I can assure you there were nothing but good thoughts.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT