First Detective Story Published 181 Years Ago Today by Edgar Allan Poe

by HB Auld, Jr.

A hundred and eighty-one years ago, writer Edgar Allan Poe created a completely new genre of literature when he published the first detective story.  The tale, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, first appeared in the Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine on April 20, 1841.

The story follows Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin as he solves a series of murders in Paris, France.  The tale is narrated by the great detective’s roommate…a style which would be adopted by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with his tales of detective Sherlock Holmes, narrated by Dr. John H. Watson, more than 45 years later in 1887.

Wilkie Collins expanded the detective story genre to his full-length novel, The Moonstone….

Following the 32-year old Poe’s detective short story, English novelist Wilkie Collins expanded the detective story genre to his full-length novel, The Moonstone, in 1868.  His novel’s hero, Sergeant Cuff, searches for the mastermind who stole a sacred Indian moonstone.  His detective novel contains many of the mystery elements found in today’s detective thrillers, such as red herrings, false alibis, and others. Later, mystery writers such as Dame Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane, Sue Grafton, Lee Child, and many, many others became famous, publishing their own variations of detective and mystery stories and novels.  The detective genre survives today with new authors following in the footsteps of Edgar Allan Poe and all the others who followed him.

Today is Anniversary of Birth of Edgar Allan Poe: January 19, 1809

by HB Auld, Jr.

Today is the birthday of the Master of the Macabre, Edgar Allan Poe, born January 19, 1809, (the same year Abraham Lincoln was born, incidentally).

Both of Poe’s parents died before he was three years old. He was raised by his godfather, John Allan, a wealthy tobacco merchant. Poe married his 13-year old cousin, Virginia Clemm, in 1836, the same year he finished his first horror novel, Arthur Gordon Pym, which was published two years later.

Poe moved to Philadelphia, where he became known for his horror and detective novels. While there, he published The Fall of the House of Usher, and The Tell-Tale Heart. Poe also began writing mystery stories, including The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter.

1845: famous poem, The Raven, published.

He moved to New York City and published his seminal poem, The Raven in 1845.

His wife fell ill and died in 1847. Poe returned to Richmond, VA, where it appeared he began drinking at a party in Baltimore and disappeared, only to be found incoherent in a gutter three days later. He was taken to the hospital where he died on October 7, 1849, at age 40 under suspicious circumstances.

Poe’s detective novels and superb ability at solving cryptographic ciphers influenced later authors and famous people such as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft, Alfred Hitchcock, and America’s foremost cryptologist: William Friedman. Two of Poe’s own cryptograms published in 1841 were not solved until 1992 and 2000.

Between 1949 and 2009 (200 years after Poe’s birth), a mysterious grave visitor known as the “Poe Toaster” left a bottle of cognac and three roses on Poe’s tombstone in Baltimore, MD, on his birthday each January 19. Sam Porpora, a historian, claimed to be the “Poe Toaster” in 2007, but was unable to prove it and some of his facts were inaccurate. The final annual bottle of cognac and three roses from the “Poe Toaster” were left on January 19, 2009, the bicentennial of Edgar Allan Poe’s birth.