The place was a bar called Ryan’s Tavern, in Maryland, and the time was October 3, 1849. Joe Walker, merely an amateur drinker, found an acquaintance of his who seemed completely and slovenly drunk in Ryan’s. That man, who was in his early 40s, wasn’t making any sense and kept babbling to Joe various names and places. But, upon closer inspection, Joe decided that the man wasn’t only drunk, but that he was also seriously ill. In a delirium, the man gave Joe the name of a friend, and Joe reached out to the friend to help him find a place for the obviously distressed man.
When that man, a Mr. Snodgrass, arrived at Ryan’s to help Joe, he later described the delirious man as being “beastly intoxicated,” and described a man wearing dirty, unkempt clothes, his hair all askew, and vacant, staring eyes. Those clothes, by the way, appeared to not have belonged to the man–they were several sizes too large for him.
Joe and Snodgrass took the man to a doctor, a man named John Moran, who put the ailing man in a hospital for observation. Moran knew the man, had been his person physician at one time, in fact. Dr. Moran forbade any visitors to the man, and he kept him in what was basically a drunk tank inside the hospital, almost more prison than health care facility. In his condition, the only thing the ailing man could do was to call out the name Reynolds.
Over the next four days, Dr. Moran became convinced that the man was suffering from severe depression and some illness that he could not diagnose. During this time, the man’s strength ebbed and flowed. In the short periods the man became lucid, Moran kept asking what he could do for him, but the only answer he received was that the man asked the doctor to shoot him and put him out of his misery.
As the man’s condition worsened, he thrashed about on the bed. At times, he also cried out for a woman he said was his wife in Richmond, Virginia. He despaired for his traveling trunk, which he said had all his possessions in it. Finally, in the early morning hours of October 7, the man suddenly stopped his thrashing and lay still. Dr. Moran noted the time and called for the orderlies to remove the still warm body to the morgue.
All in all, it was a mysterious and curious death. Later, it would be suggested that the man suffered from cholera or even from an overdose of laudanum or opium. Some said he died from being poisoned. Even Dr. Moran became a suspect in the strange death because he didn’t inform the family of the passing for a month, and then only after the family requested information about their missing relative. And the story told here is based only on Moran’s recounting as he allowed no visitors to the room while the may lay dying.
To this day, we still don’t know the truth of how and from what the man died. Truly, it was a death worthy of a mystery story.
And that’s a fitting end to someone like Edgar Allan Poe.