Rachel Thompson

The Pat O’Malley Historical Steampunk Mystery Trilogy by Jim Musgrave

* * *

     I took the train down to Baltimore, and it was filled with the usual collection of uniformed stiffs awaiting word on payment from the government.  They were talking of riot and were quite inebriated, complaining of “damned President Johnson” and “we better get our just desserts.”  The civilians on the train would listen sympathetically, but I supposed they were as irritated at their drunkenness as I was.

     I enquired at the Church Home and Infirmary in Baltimore, which was known in 1849 as Washington University Hospital, as to the whereabouts of Dr. Moran.  A kindly Episcopalian woman by the name of Mrs. Drew told me I could find him at the Barnum House, 154 Baltimore Street.  I recalled that earlier in the year this hotel was made famous up north for the Rebel raids which took place.  In February of 1865, a band of Confederates known as McNeill's Rangers made a daring raid on Cumberland and entered the city undetected and captured General Benjamin Kelley who was asleep in his bed in the hotel. Union General George Crook was also captured at the nearby Revere House.

     The hotel was four stories tall, and when I asked at the desk as to which room Dr. Moran might be staying, the attendant seemed bothered by my Yankee attire and voice.  I had to repeat to him twice the name, and then he finally began to nod and told me I could find him in Room 218.  “Dr. Moran stays inside, mostly,” the young man stated, “except when he’s seein’ the haints.”

     “Haints?” I asked.  “What is this word?”

     “The doctor likes his toddy,” the clerk said, pantomiming with his hand the action of imbibing from a glass of liquor.  “When he drinks he says he can see ghosts.  When he sees them, he follows them outside into the streets.”

     I was expecting the worst when I knocked on the doctor’s door, but when he answered, the gentleman was not in his cups, but he did seem rather nervous in his demeanor.  He was a tall, red-haired man, with spectacles and a wide forehead.  He wore a business coat and necktie, and he seemed to me to be a person who would not chase after hauntings of any kind. 

     Immediately, I told him of my quandary, and that I needed to know if, when he examined Poe in 1849, whether the author was in a drunken state.  Sadly, I was not given a direct answer, as the good doctor seemed to have been shaken to the core by my reference to his past.  Indeed, I was given a brief recitation of the hard times following the panic of 1837, and how he was discharged from his duties at the hospital in 1851.

     “The Fells Point Savings Institution owned our college’s hospital,” he told me, frowning.  “The doctors who worked there were experimenting on the bodies sold to them from the nearby mortuary and cemetery in order to make a profit from the bodies for their training and research.  Yes, grave-robbers and even kidnappers were known to bring snatched relatives to these nefarious scoundrels who called themselves interns of medicine.  As a result, a mob tried to burn the place down in ’53, by God!” Moran yelled, the veins in his neck pulsing with vigor.

     “Please, Dr. Moran,” I said, “Could you just tell me what occurred when you admitted Edgar Allan Poe into your residence?”  I opened my jotter and took up my pen to make notes.

     “I had him placed in a small room in the turret part of the building where patients were put who had been drinking freely. The room can be recognized in the cut by the star. He was clad in a shabby suit, and being unconscious, I had him put in the place indicated, not knowing at that moment the cause of his distress. I now know that he was perfectly sober when he returned to the city.”

     Dr. Moran motioned for me to be seated on his rather moth-eaten divan, and I did so.  He then continued his report.

     “My witnesses are Judge N. Poe, of Baltimore, a second cousin of the poet, and the conductor of the train, Captain George W. Rollins, well-known in Baltimore. The following testimony was given to me by the conductor a few days after the poet’s death:

     Meeting him on the street he said, ‘I saw in the papers the death of the gentleman I had on my train the other day.’

     I asked, ‘Do you know who he was?’

     He said he did not at that time, but he had learned since that it was Edgar Poe. He remarked that he was the finest specimen in appearance of a gentleman that he had lately seen.

     ‘I was attracted to him from his appearance.’

     I said, ‘Captain, how was he dressed?’

     He replied, ‘In black clothes; his coat was buttoned up close to his throat. There were two men well-dressed that came aboard of the train from the other side of the river, having come from Philadelphia or New York. They took a seat back of Poe. From their appearance I knew they were sharks or men to be feared, and when I got out of the train at Baltimore I saw them following Poe down towards the dock.’

     I asked the conductor if Poe was in liquor.

     ‘Why,’ said he, ‘I would as soon have suspected my own father.’

     I then related to him the facts regarding Poe and where he was found the next morning, and the conductor expressed his thorough belief that those two men went through him. A similar statement was given by this conductor to Judge Nielson Poe sometime during the same month, of the year 1849, and was repeated to me by Judge Poe last April two years ago while sitting in the court-room, after the court had been dismissed. We spent more than an hour discussing the poet’s life and death.”

     “That sounds like valid information,” I told him.

     “And just here let me give you the words of Mrs. Shelton, who yet lives, regarding the style of clothing he had on when he left her in Richmond on the 4th of October. I asked Mrs. Shelton how he was dressed. She replied, ‘In a full suit of black cloth,’ remarking that he always wore black clothing, and was very neat in dress and person.

     ‘Had he a watch or jewelry on his person?’ She could not say, as he always wore his coat well buttoned up to his throat, covering much of his person.

     I said, ‘He told me his contemplated visit to New York was on business and that he expected to return in a few days.’ I related to her the facts of his case, where found, how dressed when brought to the house, and she instantly exclaimed, with tears in her eyes, that he was robbed, as I have always believed, and drugged to accomplish it.

     When brought to the hospital, as I have said, he was unconscious. I had him disrobed and made comfortable in bed. I placed an experienced nurse at the door of his room to preserve quiet, to watch over him and to notify me when he showed signs of waking. He was, at that time, in a heavy sleep or stupor.

     I left him and on entering my office below, I discovered the hack still standing before the entrance door of the hospital, as you will see in the cut. I asked the driver, ‘What are you waiting for?’

     He said, ‘My hire.’

     I asked, ‘Who sent you here?’

     He replied, ‘You have the ticket,’ meaning the card he had brought with him.

     I asked, ‘Where did you find this man?’

     ‘On Light Street wharf, sir.’

     I said, ‘Dead drunk, I suppose?’

     He replied, ‘No, sir; he was a sick man, a very sick man, sir.’

     ‘Why do you think he was not drunk?’ I asked.

     ‘He did not smell of whiskey,’ said the driver, ‘he is too white in the face. I picked him up in my arms like a baby, sir, and put him in the hack.’

     “It would seem he was ill and not with drink,” I pointed out.

     “Without further delay I paid the man his fee. Little did I then think that after sixteen years I should be called upon to give a full account of Poe’s death and to defend the man whom I at that hour believed to be drunk; and that man, the great American genius, whose name is now a household word.”

     “I am much indebted to you for doing so, Dr. Moran.  I wish that I could give you money, but, alas, I am but a lowly veteran,” I said.  He seemed undeterred, and he continued with renewed vehemence. 

     “In a few minutes Poe threw the cover from his breast, and looking up asked the nurse, ‘Where am I?’ The nurse made no reply but rang for me. I attended the call immediately, and placing my chair by the side of the patient’s bed, took his left hand in my own and with my right hand pushed back the raven locks of hair that covered his forehead. I asked him how he felt.

     He said, ‘Miserable.’

     ‘Do you suffer much pain?’


     ‘Do you feel sick at the stomach?’

     ‘Yes, slightly.’

     ‘Does your head ache, have you pain there?’ putting my hand upon his forehead.


     ‘Mister Poe, how long have you been sick?’

     ‘Can’t say.’

     ‘Where have you been stopping?’

     ‘In a hotel on Pratt Street, opposite the depot.’

     ‘Have you a trunk or valise or anything there you would like to have with you?’ supposing he had other clothing than that which he brought on his person to the hospital.

     He said, ‘I have a trunk with my papers and some manuscripts.’ Note this; there was no clothing in the trunk. A new suit of wedding clothes was to have been placed in it for the groom. His visit was a business one and was to be a short one. I offered to send for his trunk. He thanked me and said, ‘Do so at once;’ remarking, ‘Doctor, you are very kind.’

     “I sent the porter of the house with an order for his trunk, which was brought in less than an hour.

     The sick man said, ‘Where am I?’

     ‘You are in the hands of your friends,’ I replied, ‘and as soon as you are better, I will have you moved to another part of the house, where you can receive them.’ He was looking the room over with his large dark eyes, and I feared he would think he was unkindly dealt with, by being put in this prison-like room, with its wired inside windows, and iron grating outside.”

     “Yes, it sounds much like a prison confine,” I admitted.

     “I now felt it necessary that I should determine the nature of his disease and make out a correct diagnosis, so as to treat him properly. I did not then know but he might have been drinking, and so to determine the matter, I said, ‘Mister Poe, you are extremely weak, pulse very low; I will give you a glass of toddy.’

     He opened wide his eyes, and fixed them so steadily upon me, and with such anguish in them that I had to look from him to the wall beyond the bed. He then said, ‘Sir, if I thought its potency would transport me to the Elysian bowers of the undiscovered spirit world, I would not take it.’

     ‘I will then administer an opiate, to give you sleep and rest,’ I said.

     Then he rejoined, ‘Twin sister, spectre to the doomed and crazed mortals of earth and perdition.’

     “I was entirely shorn of my strength. Here was a patient supposed to have been drunk, very drunk, and yet refuses to take liquor. The ordinary response is, ‘Yes, Doctor, give me a little to strengthen my nerves.’ I found there was no tremor of his person, no unsteadiness of his nerves, no fidgeting with his hands, and not the slightest odor of liquor upon his breath or person. I saw that my first impression had been a mistaken one. He was in a sinking condition, yet perfectly conscious. I had his body sponged with warm water, to which spirits were added, sinapisms applied to his stomach and feet, cold applications to his head, and then administered a stimulating cordial. I left him to sleep and rest. He slept about one hour. When he awoke, I was again summoned to his bedside. I found his breathing short and oppressed, and that he was much feebler. I saw that his life was in great danger. He asked several questions as to where he was, and how he came there. Remarking, in answer to my question as to where he went after he returned from the Susquehanna, he said that he had started for the boat. ‘I remember no more,’ said he, ‘but a vague and horrible dread that I would be killed, that I would be thrown in the dock.’

     I said, ‘Mister Poe, you are in a critical condition, and the least excitement of your mind will endanger your life; you must compose yourself and remain quiet.’

     “Did he say anything more?” I asked, reflecting upon my notes thus far.

     “Only when he was crazed and delirious.  He began to yell the name of Reynolds, and he shouted this name in a fevered frenzy for most of the night before he succumbed,” Moran said, taking his spectacles from the bridge of his nose and wiping them with his handkerchief.

     “Thank you, kind sir,” I told him, getting up to leave.  “You have assisted me greatly in my exploration.”  I left the good doctor to his day.

     I was now certain that Poe had not been drunk on the day of his transport to the hospital.  Why had he been accosted on the train?  What was his reason for being in Baltimore in the first place?  I thought about this for quite some time down in the hotel’s tavern.  I surmised that I needed to see what Poe meant when he said he would “avenge the poor girl from the tobacco shop.”  Perhaps this would give me the clue as to his purpose for taking the side-trip to Baltimore, which led to his death.  I knew that the great author had written a version of the death of Mary Cecilia Rogers, the poor tobacco shop girl, which caused such a great media stir in 1841.  Even though he called his version, “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” and it was set in Paris and not New York, I believed that this unsolved murder could possibly connect with Poe’s own demise, and so I wanted to visit a few people in New York to see if I could determine the real reason why Poe was sober in Baltimore in 1849. 

     As for Dr. Moran’s report that Poe shouted “Reynolds” repeatedly in his delirium, this man was most likely Jeremiah Reynolds, an explorer who, in 1829, sailed to discover the Antarctic.  Reynolds wrote about seeing a “Mocha Dick,” a great white whale that destroyed a ship in the South Pacific.  This, of course, later became Herman Melville’s model for his “Moby Dick.”  Poe, also, used Reynolds’ descriptive journals in his only novel, Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Poe was angry that Reynolds had not been chosen by the government to head the United States’ Antarctic expedition because of Reynolds’ theory that the Earth was hollow.  “It is a great pity,” Poe wrote, “that the control of this important enterprise was not given to its originator, Reynolds. He is, in every respect, as thoroughly qualified as Commander Wilkes is not. A more disgraceful—a more unprincipled—a more outrageous system of chicanery, never was put in operation, before the open eyes of an intelligent community, than that by means of which Mister Wilkes was made to occupy the position, and usurp the undeniable rights of Mister Reynolds.”  In his state of delirium, Poe was probably thinking back to Reynolds and his injustice and to Poe’s own failure as a novelist.   

Jim Musgrave

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Genre – Historical Steampunk Mystery

Rating – PG13

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Website http://contempinstruct.com/Forevermore/

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