Inspector Hannah: The Curious Mysteries of the Poe Toaster & the Antarctic Ghost Octopi
Ciao, babies! It’s winter in San Diego and whilst we’ve got sheer aces weather right now, it’s still winter. That means the Hotel Del is relatively quiet and I’ve got cabin fever of the Muppet Treasure Island degree. Plus, that mook Edward has proved completely useless where elevator pranks are concerned. What a wheat!
Despite the sunshine and good cheer, it’s still winter: too warm to don my fur-trimmed capes, not warm enough to wear those pretty Hawaiian dresses that Dr. Harvey & Hildy sent me. (By the by, I did find me a dead girl, poor thing, and -pouf!- I can now wear my Maui Zowies.) Winter is, however, much as those early New England settlers learned, an excellent time to indulge one’s indoor skills: sewing, reading, sketching, snuggling and the like. Check or cash, baby? Wink-wink! Of course, when one is a ghostie and resides in a vast hotel with a moderate clime and a great poolside bar, there really is only one activity to beset the winter doldrums: preparing to solve a mystery!
Now, maybe I’m keen to snoop out a good caper because I watch far too many mystery series, mostly British. The Brits know how to produce a series of feature film quality, BAFTA-worthy performances from what I assume are the only nine mystery actors in the U.K. and how to expose a murder scene without giving the viewer what could be a sneak peek of the latest Saw incarnation. Subtlety speaks volumes, all you GFX Joes at CSI and NCIS: just a note. Midsomer Murders, Inspector Lewis, Rosemary & Thyme, Inspector Lynley Mysteries, Cadfael, Poirot (Set in 1930s London, so natch it’s my fave!) top my Netflix queue. Well, today is Edgar Allen Poe’s birthday and, Daddy-O, is there ever a mystery or two involved with that fellow! The Mystery of the Poe Toaster is my latest mindboggler.
A Boston baby like me, Edgar Allen Perry was born in Beantown, but then gad about a bit: London, New York, Philly, Baltimore and Richmond to name a few stops. He even did a U.S. Army stint at Fort Monroe in Virgina as artillery Sgt. Major Edgar A. Perry, until he decided the military life wasn’t for him and began showing up on the base’s parade field wearing little other than his hat and angling for a discharge. Whilst there though, he wrote The Cask of Amontillado: a tale set in Vague Europe and based on the true ghost story of a Virginia soldier walled up alive in abandoned stone building. Echoes of such a horrific end make themselves heard in The Black Cat, as well. Yikes! Fort Monroe historians say folks still claim to see Poe’s spirit sitting at a table and writing his stories.
Alas, finally during an 1849 autumnal visit to Baltimore, the man who would come to be recognized as the father of the modern detective tale, with The Murders in the Rue Morgue, died eerily prophetically, under circumstances as mysterious as if prescribed by his own, pale hand. Speculation on his death at age forty runs the gamut from rabies to murder.
Poe’s enigmatic departure took him from this realm and deposited him into mine. No, I’ve yet to meet him, but do have a pally in Baltimore who says she once saw him at the Barnes & Noble on the harbor, flipping through a Calvin and Hobbes comic book and chuckling. Years after he passed on, a secret admirer wafted into the B’more moonlight and began a perplexing proffering to the writer: a half-bottle of cognac and three roses. Lain respectfully by a disguised devotee, swathed all in black, a white scarf and a wide-brimmed hat, Poe’s original grave site at Westminster Hall has silently received the kindly gifts each birthday. Reported sightings of the booze and its bearer date back to my day in the 1930s. Since the 1940s, however, the mystery has ensued annually on the original Goth’s birthday, come 12:00 midnight on January 19th without fail … until 2010 when the admirer was a no-show for the first time. Since then, fans, readers, devotees and beautiful goths have pulled college-worthy all-nighters at the grave site, waiting for the man in the wide-brimmed hat to lay down his bouteille et fleurs, according to Jeff Jerome, curator of Poe House and Museum: a row house situated on Amity Street in Baltimore and cared for under the auspices of the Edgar Allen Poe Society of Baltimore. In the wee hours of Poe’s 203rd birthday, after seeing no sign of the hatted gifter for a third year, fans have decided to let go of the vigil. “It’s over with,” said Jerome.
It has been speculated that there could be copycats to come; many say that’s a shame. Yet, ponder this, kittens. Maybe there had been copycats or even generational hand-overs in decades past. If no one has ever known the true identity, how could we know for certain it’s been the same man, or woman, all along? Maybe there will be copycats; yet in the end it’s not a shame, not by a long shot. Doesn’t it just mean that generations and generations later he’s still thought of reverently? For my part, I hope someone continues the tradition. Horsefeathers! Maybe I’ll do it! Who cares who does it? Don’t we all want to be remembered after we pass on “to the light”? Writers especially! Show me a writer whom doesn’t long, secretly or not so secretly, to be regaled for ages after their death and I’ll show you a great big fibber … with the exception of Franz Kafka.
I had a secret admirer once. After the Ida Lupino incident, some sweet San Diego Sugar Daddy left me gorgeous handbags and beaded purses outside my hotel room door for near forty years. It got kind of creepy, but I still have all the bags and don’t they make for a fabulous collection?! Most all of ‘em are spiffy Whiting & Davis beauties! Eat your heart out, Paris, Eva and Shakira! I never knew who he was and like the 30 Rock episode where Jenna Maroney’s stalker ceases his harangues, I did miss the attention, and the bags, once he stopped. Oh, well. Maybe some new admirer will begin gifting me goodies. Heck, someone already gave Lucy and me Kindles. Go ahead, cats, send me something! Send me a postcard, in fact! Let me know who’s reading my gum-flapping and send it to:
Miss Hannah Hart, ghostdame/Turret Rm.
c/o Hotel del Coronado
1500 Orange Avenue
Coronado, CA 92118
Now you’re on the trolley!
In the waning days of January, the days are getting a tad longer here. Still, Dr. Lucy and I are mighty bored at The Del. After we work out the Poe mystery for a while, we have a new adventure planned. We’re thinking about heading to Antarctica! Marine biologists have found ghost octopi! Tell me Dr. Lucy and Onslow aren’t itching to check out this wild snow show! Zowie!
By the by, the city of Baltimore, Maryland has recently cut all funding to the Poe House and Museum. If you find this as great a travesty as I do and want to make a donation, large or small, to keep the place running past this summer of 2012, send it along to Jeff Jerome himself and tell him Hannah Hart sent you!