Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings

By Paul Ruffin | Go to book overview

On the Death of
Edgar Allan Poe

Back in 1996 the theory was advanced that Edgar Allan Poe, that unassailable bastion of American literature (whom even the revisionists have not attempted to defile, though they’ve nailed every other major male writer in this country, from Heavy Herman to Dead Ernest), died of rabies. All those notions of his perishing from alcoholism or drug overdose or some other sort of self-abuse have been superseded.

According to Dr. R. Michael Benitez, a cardiologist, Poe died in a Baltimore hospital from rabies four days after his admission. Since Dr. Benitez’s office is only a block from Poe’s alleged grave, within shouting distance, who would know better?

Benitez has not admitted, of course, that the guy in the grave has told him anything about this rabies angle. The good doctor is basing his diagnosis, as he should, on the symptoms associated with the case. The patient was comatose the first day of his admission to a Baltimore hospital, perspired heavily and hallucinated and yelled at imaginary companions the next day, experienced a slight recovery the following day, then lapsed into confusion and belligerence and eventually died the fourth day. Further, during his decline, the patient refused alcohol and had difficulty drinking water. Benitez and a Bangkok-based physician, Dr. Henry Wilde, argue that these are classic symptoms of rabies. (Come to think of it, I have suffered those same symptoms after dealing with my two kids on a long weekend, except that the companion I yelled at was very real and yelled back, and I didn’t turn down alcohol.)

Hey, if you really accept the idea that the patient under discussion was Poe, it is easy enough to believe that he might have had rabies. He was awfully fond of black birds—ravens, vultures, condors, etc. (and recall that he is supposed to have died in Baltimore, home of the Orioles, black birds with a streak of red who had some stray genes passed along from an ancestor’s

-31-

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Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xii
  • Things Literary, More or Less 1
  • Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur 3
  • The Mosquito 15
  • The Lady with the Quick Simile 19
  • Workshopping a Cowboy Poem 22
  • Was Emily Mad or Merely Angry? 28
  • On the Death of Edgar Allan Poe 31
  • Making Preparations for the Tour 34
  • The Girl in the Clean, Well-Lighted Place 37
  • Explaining a Poem to a Student 40
  • Some Rare and Unusual Books 43
  • Tales from Kentucky Lawyers 45
  • The Boy Who Spoke in Hymns 48
  • Making a Dam in Segovia 51
  • Just Thinking about Shit 54
  • To San Juan and Back 60
  • On Likker and Guns 81
  • Drinking 83
  • Rats! 100
  • The Bowhunter Asks for My Bladder 117
  • The Day the Sharpshooter Killed Something He Didn’t Intend to 120
  • Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, off to the Gun Show We Go … 128
  • From "Growing Up in Mississippi Poor and White but Not Quite Trash" (an as-Yet-Unpublished Memoir) 135
  • Trains 137
  • Learning about Sex 143
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