Edgar Allan Poe is one of the masters of suspense and horror in the American literary tradition. He also invented detective fiction, with his character C. Auguste Dupin influencing future characters such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. His works have been adapted to the screen many times. The latest, Netflix’s The Fall of the House of Usher, mashes up different stories and characters into a grand and rich tragedy. 

Poe also has become associated with the United States Military Academy at West Point. It’s an association that’s grown in recent years, in part due to books and films about his life. So how did a celebrated poet and horror author, whose mysterious death has spawned several conspiracy theories, end up tied to West Point?

Did Edgar Allan Poe attend West Point?

It turns out that the celebrated horror author did have a stint in the military. And as is fit for an author known for twists, his time in the Army had its own challenges and unexpected turns. Born in 1809, his father abandoned him a year later. Poe was taken in by the Allan family in Richmond, Virginia, which led to his middle name. He went to university but racked up debts and fell out with the Allans. 

Poe instead went to Boston, joining the U.S. Army. This was the 1820s, it was easier to fake personal details at the time, so Poe lied about his name and age. The 18-year-old claimed to be a 21-year-old named Edgar A. Perry. “Perry” served in Boston and then South Carolina, earning the rank of sergeant major. He reconnected with his foster father and was discharged from the Army to go to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1830. He matriculated there around the same time that several future Civil War commanders such as Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant were studying. More family drama and disillusionment with West Point led Poe to seek a way out, this time by court martial. He was dismissed for neglecting his duty and not showing up to multiple classes and gatherings.

Disillusioned as he was with West Point, Poe apparently had some comradery with his fellow cadets. His 1831 collection of poems started with a dedication to the U.S. Corps of Cadets. His brief time at West Point though has inspired other stories. Louis Bayard’s 2006 novel The Pale Blue Eye had the cadet Poe helping a bitter detective solve a murder at the military academy. The story got fresh attention late last year when a film version starring Christian Bale as the detective hit Netflix. Harry Melling played Poe in the movie.

What story is Edgar Allan Poe most famous for?

Poe was a prolific novelist, playwright, short story author, and poet. He wrote extensively, even during his time in the U.S. military. These days Poe is best remembered for his poem “The Raven,” but several other stories are popular. On the horror and suspense front, Poe also wrote “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Pit and the Pendulum” among others. 

Alongside his horror work, Poe essentially invented the modern detective fiction genre with “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” starring his recurring character C. Auguste Dupin. His Auguste Dupin stories remain popular mysteries to this day. 

How did Edgar Allan Poe die?

Despite his acclaim, Poe struggled in life, financially and with alcohol. After a stay at a hospital in Richmond in September (which he attributed to cholera while others suggest came from his drinking), Poe left for New York City on Sept. 27 to take a new job. Instead, he was next found in a tavern in Baltimore on Oct. 3 in a horrible state. Joseph Snodgrass, a friend, was called to help him. Poe was delirious, possibly heavily drunk. He was put in the care of the physician John Joseph Moran, who was the only one to see Poe in his final days.

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The creator of mystery fiction himself died mysteriously. Moran’s notes on his time with Poe had several inconsistencies. According to the physician, Poe was mostly not lucid. At one point he reportedly cried out the name “Reynolds” several times. Poe was mostly not lucid during that period. He died on Oct. 7, 1849, at the age of 40. His final words were allegedly “Lord, help my poor soul.”

The circumstances of his death inspired later works as well. The 2012 movie The Raven had John Cusack as Poe at the end of his life, working to solve a series of murders inspired by his own stories and poems, with the mysterious Reynolds playing a part.

FAQs: The strange and twisted life of Edgar Allan Poe

Did Edgar Allan Poe marry his cousin?

Poe’s troubled family life extended to his love life. In 1836, he married Virginia Clemm, his first cousin. He was 27 and she was 13. However, she became sick with tuberculosis and died in 1847. He was engaged one more time after her death, but that relationship fell apart.

What is an unusual fact about Edgar Allan Poe?

The soldier-turned-poet already had an unusual life for the time. His death alone has spawned several theories. But some of his most steady work was actually about reviewing other authors. He worked extensively as a literary critic and was a caustic one at that. His criticism led to a rivalry with his fellow poet, editor, and critic, Rufus Wilmot Griswold. When Poe died, Griswold wrote an obituary, but signed it under the pseudonym “Ludwig.” Griswold didn’t stop there, publishing a biographical article about Poe that painted the late writer as a miserable drunk, and Poe’s friends and colleagues denounced it.

What is Poe’s most notable quote?

Poe’s iconic poem “The Raven” features one of the most memorable and oft-quoted opening lines in poetry:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

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