Cooping, Election Fraud & Edgar Allan Poe

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The cause of death of famed American Author Edgar Allan Poe has been a mystery for 174 years. But could it have been the result of a form of election fraud? In this episode, we talk about election fraud throughout history, including recent claims, then tell the story about the mysterious conditions surrounding the  death of “The Raven” author. Then we chat with Food & Travel Writer, Nick “Dr. Breakfast” Dekker!

Wilmington coup

In May of 2017, Executive Order Number 13799 was signed by the President of the United States. Having claimed that millions of people had voted illegally in the 2016 Presidential Election, Former President Trump signed this order to establish the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The mission of the executive order was to have the commission seek out and prove true claims of voter fraud.

The commission was headed by Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State. Kobach had been outspoken with claims of voter fraud in the past, so he was a good fit for the job. The Former President had lost the popular vote by 3 million votes and claimed that he would have won the popular vote had it not been for millions of illegal immigrants voting. Trump was using a heavily criticized study from Old Dominion University to support his claims. The study said that 14% of non-residents were registered to vote. But the study was not only panned by the larger academic community, Trump himself was reading the study wrong. The Department of Justice conducted a study in 2006 to examine voter fraud. They had found that out of 197 million votes cast for federal candidates between 2002 and 2005, only 40 voters had been indicted for voter fraud. Only 26 of those resulted in guilty convictions. A study from the Brennan Center found just 30 cases of non-residents voting nationwide out of 23 million votes cast in the surveyed regions.

As part of the President’s Voter Fraud Commission, they asked for states to send them a ton of information about voters, including voter histories, birth dates, felony conviction records and partial social security numbers. Many states refused to give this information as it was against the laws and constitutions of those states. 

The commission refused to share the data they did collect with its Democratic members, so they sued for the information and the court ordered that it share its working documents with Democratic members. Having not found any widespread voter fraud, and embarrassed by the multiple roadblocks and lawsuits, the Trump White House disbanded the commission after less than a year. 

In a more modern story, Florida Governor Ron Desantis proposed spending $5.7 million dollars to establish a voter fraud task force in his state. Out of around 11 million votes cast in Florida, they found around 20 cases of voter fraud. So if they’re spending $5.7 million dollars, that’s about $285,000 being spent per case of proven fraud. 

Despite many, many efforts to show the opposite, there hasn’t been any evidence of voter fraud to the level that would impact an election result. The modern system of voting just makes it too difficult – even in the election of 2020 that saw many people using mail-in ballots due to the Pandemic. That’s not to say there isn’t such a thing as voter fraud. There is, but it’s not anywhere what it would need to be in order to change an election result. The Brookings Institution verified data on voter fraud from the Conservative Heritage Foundation and concluded that, “There is surprisingly little voter fraud and not nearly enough to justify blocking vote-by-mail systems in a pandemic.” More realistic and impactful efforts are things like voter intimidation or voter suppression. But as far as fraudulent voting? It’s not really happening as much as some people think. There’s little benefit when compared with the costs. Hefty fines and huge prison sentences await those who get caught. Migrants would face deportation. It’s a problem that seems to have been all but eradicated. But it wasn’t always that way. 

In fact, voter fraud used to run rampant in the United States. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, these huge political machines controlled local vote locations. They had all kinds of corrupt methods of getting their candidates elected. One of the things that used to happen in the case of the corrupt Tammany Hall political machine in New York was that they would offer new immigrants jobs and fast-tracked immigration in an agreement that they would then vote for their candidate. They used the threat of job loss along with the threat of physical violence to enforce the bargain. One of the more interesting things they would do is have their voters grow their beards out leading up to election day and then encouraged people to shave a little bit of the beard each time, changing their appearance enough to fool the poll workers. They’d have a central location – usually some party house – where they would loosen these folks up with free food and booze. They’d register voters under fake names and if the folks didn’t agree to take part in their fraud schemes, they had a whole team of tough guys ready to beat them up. These voters were often referred to as “floaters.”

Some places even rigged ballot boxes with false bottoms and pedestals to stuff the ballot with fake votes. At one point, ballot boxes were made of clear glass to address this issue.

But maybe one of the weirdest types of voter fraud – and one I had never heard of – was something called cooping.

Briefly – cooping is pretty similar to what I described above but with more force and violence. Basically, the corrupt powers would hire these tough guys to go out and find homeless guys, give them free booze and drug them, then bring them to a central location. Usually they’d keep them cooped up in a hotel room with all the free booze and drugs they wanted. They’d then walk them to polling locations and back, having them change clothes and appearances each time. It was basically voter fraud mixed with kidnapping. They’d have someone go to a polling place a half a dozen times with half a dozen disguises. 

And this act – the act of cooping – may actually help explain one of the literary world’s biggest mysteries. 

Edgar Allan Poe is regarded as the first American writer to earn his income from writing alone. And although he’s a household name now, he spent much of his life struggling financially. Part of this was because he authored his many popular short stories in a time when copyright law wasn’t a thing in the U.S. So his works were often copied without his permission and published without giving him a cent. His most financially successful piece of writing during his lifetime was “The Gold-Bug.” It was a short story about hidden treasure and a man who claims to have seen a bug made of gold. It won literary competitions and was widely read at the time it was published in 1843. Two years later, “The Raven” would make him famous, but didn’t make him very much money while he was living. 

He was born in Boston, but grew up in Richmond before moving to Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City. At the age of 27, he married his 13 year old cousin, which is gross, but whatever it was 1836. She died in 1847, which pushed Poe further into his alcoholism – something he struggled with through most of his life. It’s still debated whether or not he also struggled with drug addiction, but we know for a fact that he used opium at least medicinally at different points in his life. Some literary experts have argued that his use of drugs was nothing but a literary device. There was a doctor who knew Poe, Dr. Thomas Dunn English and he was quoted as saying “Had Poe the opium habit when I knew him, I should, both as a physician and a man of observation, have discovered it in his frequent visits to my rooms, my visits to his house, and our meetings elsewhere. I saw no signs of it.” This is notable because apparently Dr. English was a bitter enemy to Poe, having previously been sued for accusing Poe of getting drunk, conducting ungentlemanly conduct and forgery – a case that Poe won and was awarded $225. Part of the lore surrounding Poe was made from people writing about him after his life, especially a memoir by Rufus Griswold that depicted Poe as an opium addicted lunatic. Griswold was another man who had a long grudge against Poe. He was the one that submitted Poe’s obituary to newspapers throughout the country. He did it under a fake name and wrote. “Edgar Allan Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it.”

Here’s what we know about how Poe died. There is pretty sufficient evidence to suggest that Poe was an alcoholic and suffered from depression. At the age of 40, he was trying to raise money and interest for a literary magazine and as part of that, was traveling from Richmond to Baltimore and then was going to head off to New York after that. We know that he made it from Richmond to Baltimore somewhere around September 28. But he would never make it to New York. And the cause of his death that October in Baltimore has been a mystery ever since. 

On October 3rd 1849, Poe was discovered by a Baltimore Sun reporter, Joseph Walker. He was laying in the gutter outside a pub, Gunner’s Hall near the inner Harbor of Baltimore. The man was confused, could hardly speak, and appeared to be under the influence of some sort of drugs. Walker helped get Poe to the Washington Medical College Hospital and the only thing Poe could say was a name. He kept repeating “Reynolds…Reynolds.” He stayed there in the hospital while his health declined over the next 4 days and he died on October 7th at the age of 40. The official cause of death was listed as phrenitis, which was the term they used to use for swelling of the brain. The doctors also used to use phrenitis as the cause of death when someone died of alcoholism. 

The theories about Poe’s death and what caused it really didn’t start until years later. This was largely due to the fact that the world believed Poe to be a raving opium-addicted lunatic. So it wasn’t a surprise that a person like that would be found half dead in the streets. But as we stated earlier, there wasn’t much actual evidence that he was a habitual drug user. He was a drunk. He was depressed. We know that about him. But he was also a man on a mission with a goal in mind. 

In the 174 years since his death there have been a lot of theories as to how Edgar Allan Poe ended up in that gutter. One theory is rabies. A Cardiologist R. Michael Benitez laid out this theory in a 1996 research paper. So apparently in the time before he died, Poe refused drinking anything, but had only a little bit of water with great difficulty. Rabies is a condition known to cause hydrophobia. But it seems like that’s all he had to go on. That and a doctor visit for a fever that he had in Richmond before leaving for Baltimore. 

Other historians believe Poe had syphillus. It’s been known to cause madness. I also read about people who believe Poe died from meningitis, heart failure, cholera and carbon monoxide poisoning. 

But to me – the most credible explanation comes from some experts who have linked his death with the election fraud act of cooping. Here’s why. 

Poe was found outside Gunner’s Hall. Gunner’s Hall was a bar. But it was also a polling place. He was found on an election day. There was a local Maryland election happening. He was clearly drugged. And – perhaps the most captivating piece of the puzzle. It was reported that he wasn’t wearing his own clothes. Poe was known to commonly wear very nice black clothes. He was wearing tattered, used clothing that didn’t appear to be his at all.

So if you ask me – after reading everything I’ve read this week. Cooping definitely seems to be the thing that killed the mysterious Edgar Allan Poe. But maybe it was carbon monoxide poisoning, or rabies, or syphillis. Sadly – the world will never know. 

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Forgotten history, bizarre tales & facts that seem too strange to be true! Host Michael Kent asks listeners to tell him something strange, bizarre or surprising that they've recently learned and he gets to the bottom of it! Every episode ends by playing a gameshow-style quiz game with a celebrity guest. Part of the WCBE Podcast Experience.


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