Fides Exsequor

Editor’s Note: Before tackling this issue you will want to read #334 and #335 first.

The Hyperion Chronicles

“Then Snoop came rapping at my chamber door”

#336 Fides Exsequor

Friends, I have good news: after consulting with lawyers over the weekend, it does appear that I am free to share the following column. However, just to make sure there are no further repercussions, I would like to stress that what I am about to share is theory, and not asserted as fact (wink wink).

In my first column on Poe (#334), I related the following facts:

  • On September 27, 1849 Edgar Allan Poe (EAP) left Richmond.
  • On September 28 EAP arrived in Baltimore, to catch a train to Philadelphia, then to NYC, and back to Richmond for his wedding.
  • Poe never showed up in Philly
  • No one saw EAP from September 28 to October 3.
  • While in the hospital from October 3 to October 7, when he died, Poe spoke of a wife in Richmond.
  • While on his deathbed, Poe called out for “Reynolds,” a figure no one has ever connected to him
  • Poe’s luggage was found checked into a Baltimore hotel.

And, one thing I accidentally cut: Poe was taken to the hospital not in the clothes he was wearing on the 28th, or in clothes he packed to bring on his trip, but in clothes of the type that no one had ever seen him wear.

Then questions that come from these facts are:

  • How did Poe die?
  • Where was he from September 28 to October 3?
  • If Poe was supposed to immediately catch a train to Philly, why did he check his luggage into a Baltimore hotel?
  • Why did he claim to have a wife when he was not yet married?
  • Who was the “Reynolds” Poe called out for?

In the information I gave you, I also pointed out the singular oddity that is the tradition at Poe’s grave on the anniversary of his birth. To recap: every year since 1949 (100 years after Poe died), a solitary figure, dressed in black, has hopped the fence at the cemetery to leave three roses and a half bottle of cognac at Poe’s grave. No one has ever (publicly) determined who this is or the meaning of the ritual. There has been speculation on the roses (Poe’s wife Virginia and Maria Clemm are buried there as well), but a complete loss when it comes to explaining the cognac.

One thing that always bothered me was that on Poe’s grave, Virginia is listed as his wife. They weren’t married yet; that was supposed to be the culmination of the trip Poe was on when he disappeared. It didn’t seem to fit that Poe’s relatives would have allowed this to be on his gravestone. Then you have Poe calling for his “wife” when he's on his deathbed. Did this mean he had a secret wife no one knew about? Was he married to Virginia without telling anyone? I journeyed to Richmond, where Edgar and Virginia were living. I searched every document I could get my hands on. I took the walking tour of Poe’s life and ran down every lead I could find. Nowhere was there a clue as to this secret wife. I hit a dead end.

On my last morning in Richmond, I was staying at the historical Grace Manor Inn, which dated back to colonial times.

They had a guestbook under glass that bragged of Poe staying there. It was cool to see the handwriting of Edgar Allan Poe, with the sweeping “P” and the looping “Ls.” It seemed strange to me though, that Poe would stay at a hotel in Richmond, where he lived and had his own house.

I looked at the page for long moments, just staring idly, and then there it was: hidden in plain sight. On the opposite page, from the night before Poe’s arrival, was the name J. W. Reynolds. Right below that was Virginia Warren. Of course, Virginia was not an uncommon name, and there are many Reynolds, but it still seemed like an awfully big coincidence. Unfortunately, I had to fly back to Atlanta for work, but I felt like I was on to something.

I shared this information with J.P., and we traded theories for several months. I then got the idea to check out the hotel in Baltimore that Poe had checked his luggage into before he died. J.P. agreed to meet me.

We stayed at the famous Admiral Fell Inn, and immediately began skulking around. The Admiral Fell too had their old register books, but no, we were told, Poe had never signed it. However, J.P. and I were unconvinced. Late on our second night we picked the lock of their records room and pried open the case of the guest book from 1849.

The manager was right: no Poe. However, as we carefully turned the pages, and came to September 28, 1849 (the day Poe disappeared), we came upon a “E. A. Montresor.” Montresor, as you may recall, was the name of the storyteller in “The Cask of Amontillado.” How could people have missed this?!?

We scanned the pages—both several days before and several days after—looking for any name that jumped out at us. Nothing. However, on October 2, the day before Poe was found in the gutter dying, I thought that some of the ink looked different. I could have just been seeing things, and was about to give up, when to my eternal astonishment J.P. ripped the page right out of the book!

I almost had a heart attack right there. No matter how big a crime this was, it felt like a sin, and a mortal one at that. But, we couldn’t very well put the page back, so we snuck back to our rooms. We tried using a magnifying glass and holding the page up to the light, but couldn’t get anything. J.P. had an old friend at Johns Hopkins University, and we called her up and begged a favor: could we use one of the university’s electron microscopes?

As you can imagine, this yielded results. Underneath the name “Henry Fields Buffalo, New York” was “J. W. Reynolds Charleston, South Carolina.” This was one coincidence too many. It seemed extremely likely that Poe and this Reynolds were in the same hotels on two different occasions, in two different cities. The first time there was a Virginia there, and the second time was the hotel Poe checked his luggage into—WHICH HE WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO DO—the day he disappeared.

Over the next three weeks J.P. and I feverishly studied genealogy, trying to find a “J. W. Reynolds” who lived in Charleston in 1849. It was difficult work, but when we were done we had six possibles:

James Wilson Reynolds

James William Reynolds

John W. Reynolds

John Warren Reynolds

Jefferson William Reynolds

Jekyll Waverly Reynolds

Looking these six up, via the Internet and phone calls, was frustrating, and J.P. and I knew we’d have to go to Charleston to have more luck. In the meantime I researched the name “Reynolds.” I found out that the South Carolina Reynolds came from Scotland. Something tugged at me with that, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was.

It would be 8 months before I could get to Charleston. I had a new girl friend who seemed insistent that my free time be spent with her. I tried to get her to go with me to South Carolina, but she said I’d probably spend all my time running around looking for clues. (Who, me?)

Meanwhile, J.P. went dark, as he was wont to do. I didn’t hear from him until he showed up at my door late one night, looking over his shoulder. As I’ve explained, this was not unusual with J.P., and but I humored him and asked him in.

J.P.’s story was fantastic and made me ashamed that I’d fallen off the Poe trail. It’s a lot of information, so le me go slow:

First of all, Poe was protecting Virginia. J.P. had come across letters Virginia had written, and it was clear she was on the run. She was also from South Carolina. The significance of this could not be bigger, but at that time I didn’t understand what it meant. Once again, the biggest clue was just hiding in plain sight.

The second thing J.P. found was about the roses on Poe’s grave every year. The were a sign of a secret Organization called The Brotherhood of the Thorn. The 3 roses meant: “Fides Exsequor.” Exactly how J.P. had discovered this was something I had a hard time getting out of him, but was clearly why he was looking over his shoulder.

J.P. had more: the Brotherhood of the Thorn was the mortal enemy of the Order of the Thistle. Now it all came into focus for me. In “The Cask of Amontillado,” Montresor’s family motto was “Nemo me impune lacessit,” which means “No one attacks me with impunity.” This is also the motto of The Order of the Thistle, a group that heralds originally from Scotland, which the South Carolina Reynolds came from. I didn’t have any proof yet, but the evidence was piling up. I went to Charleston.

Running down people who lived 150 years ago is not all beer and skittles. It was very time-consuming and laborious to nail down the particulars of a person, let alone their whereabouts on a specific day.

Fourth on my list brought me to Carolyn Reynolds Getty. She was about 75 years old and prone to talking to me as if it were 1949 instead of a half century later.

Nonetheless, she was the family historian. Carolyn knew everything about the family tree, including all the bad seeds. She was a treasure trove of information on all the Reynolds.

Carolyn talked for hours, and by the time we got to John Warner Reynolds I was exhausted. Then she said that John Warner Reynolds was born in 1767. It seemed extremely unlikely that he was my guy.

“John Reynolds was a rogue and a dark one, “ Carolyn said, “just like his son John Jr.”

I interrupted: “I thought his sons were George, Henry, and William?”

“Yes, those were his legitimate sons, but John had a bastard,” she replied.

“I don’t have any record of him.”

“No,” she said, “In those days the bastards around here went by the middle name. John Jr. was called Jack Warren in these parts.”

The hair on the back of my neck stood up. But before I could speak, Carolyn went on.

“Jack was a terrible one. So secretive dark, so they said. He had a wife—Ginny—and he used to beat her something awful. The gossip said she ran off on him up north…”

The blood drained from my face. ‘Ginny’ is short for ‘Virginia,’ right? Virginia Warren. From the hotel guest book. And she ran off from him. I couldn’t believe my luck. It was like I was uncovering history and peering into the past. Carolyn pulled a family photo album out. On the cover were two purple flowers that looked like this:

I asked Carolyn what they were.

“Oh, this? That’s the Thistle-Rose. It’s always been a part of the family crest.”’

Carolyn flipped through the photo book, prattling on as she went. She continued the gossip: “The rumor was that Ginny ran off after a real bad fight with John Jr. Ginny was pregnant, and Jack got very drunk and made her drink half a bottle of cognac. Poor Ginny could never handle liquor—they said—especially not the rich stuff like cognac, and she lost the baby. So sad.”

My heart ceased beating, and I didn’t breathe. It was one of the most singular moments of my life.

And it was about to be topped.

Carolyn turned the page again. “Oh, here we are. That’s John Jr., or Jack Warren, as they called him.”

And the penny dropped.


It was several years later before I found where he spent the rest of his life. It was J.P. again who helped me. J.P. sent me a letter from—of all places—Scotland. The letter contained several stanzas written like Poe’s “The Raven.” (Not very well written, mind you. J.P.’s single biggest regret in life was that he couldn’t write like Poe, or anything close to it.) The poem, however, served a dual purpose of offering clues as to where to go next. Did J.P. do it this way because he was afraid the letter might fall into the wrong hands, or just because he thought Poe would appreciate it? Maybe a little bit of both.

It took me about a month to decipher it, and then it all fell into place. I went alone, not wanting to share this with anyone (but J.P., who was God knows where).

The town was one I don’t think anyone would ever guess. (Aside: this really is the key to disappearing. Don’t go where anyone might look for you.) That name he lived under was absurdly easy to pick apart, but I supposed he figured if you thought to look for him there, the game was already up and no alias was going to protect him.

As per J.P.’s instructions, I found the manor house he’d lived in. To my shame, I broke into the house when the current owners were gone and snuck into the basement. (In my defense, I couldn’t very well knock on the door and say, “I’m looking for 19th Century literary clues. Might I have a look around?”)

Down in the cellar it was dark and damp, and I used only a flashlight, so as not to arouse suspicion if anyone passed by. I found the bricked wall that looked subtly different. J.P. had pried open several of the bricks, and they weren’t that difficult to pull back. I thought of Montresor walling up Fortunato in “Amontillado,” and I wondered if he’d felt the same when he made this wall so many years ago.

Inside were journals. Dozens of them. I had a sudden urge to take them and become world famous. However, if J.P. didn’t take them, I felt like I couldn’t either. Besides, they seemed to belong there, in eternal hiding, waiting for someone else to figure out the mystery.

I read long into the night. Sadly, very few of the stories were finished, and those that were didn’t meet his standards. It was like he’d given up that part of his life, and only dabbled in it now and again. The diaries, though, were fascinating. I reprint here one small portion from an entry called “Fides Exsequor.”

As to the strange and fantastical events of September 28 to October 3 1849, I cannot explain in satisfactory manner. To put pen to paper would be to say too much, while a lifetime of writing would not be enough. Yet, as the years pass I grow nostalgic, and feel a heart’s tugging to put something down.

I belonged to a brotherhood—although in more nice and accurate sense ‘belong’ is a better word, for one never leaves these types of orgnisations except with the assistance of six men outside a chapel. This group of mine was perhaps joined into not fully understanding the consequences. I thought it a lark, something to do on full moons and stories to share over a quaff at the local. Yet, the seriousness with which matters can escalate I found out one day when I came upon V. She was hiding from a man—a beast would be a fuller description. I was taken with her, and took her in, agreeing to shelter her and become one flesh.

Only later was I to discover that her tormenter was also the member of a secret society, and with one that mine own had eternal enmity. I would count it a privilege to prey vengeance for the weak and my beloved no matter the affiliations of all parties concerned. Then I came upon the most singular fact in all of my existence, one that V. had neglected to tell me.

The Germans, in their quest to define everything even have a poetical term for it. Doppelgänger. One’s exact double. Or, as close to it as a man shall find on this earth.

With this dear piece of information, a plan began to form in my mind. I confess I grew tired of my life as the cause célèbre of the mavens of literature, who clucked to and fro and decided what was fashionable and what was not. The idea of disappearing, and in so doing taking down both a monster and my oldest foe, by right of ritual and of blood oath. These are the things no man can pass up.

So, it came to pass that a switch was performed. Joseph Walker, an old friend, helped me, and when he brought J. W. to the hospital, no one questioned it. I read later and could barely control my amusement that the man called for ‘his wife’ in Richmond, and repeatedly called out ‘Reynolds.’ Truly, the Germans had it right again. ‘The mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceedingly small.’

The only sadness is that no one visits my grave—or his—for the correct reason. Thus, I have made arrangements for one of my order to do so each year. The delicious nature continues in this Doppelgänger masquerade: The anniversary of my birth happens also to be his.

They will deliver three roses and precisely one half a bottle of cognac. The spirits are for a grisly reminder, of which I will write no more in these pages. The roses are an ancient part of Associations, that of ‘Fides Exsequor,’ or in the King’s English, ‘Promise Kept.’

Acta est fabula, plaudite!


January 31, 2005

Motto Explanation

There’s a line in “The Raven” where the titular bird comes “rapping at my chamber door.” I was playing on the word ‘rapping’ by saying Snoop, a rapper, was doing so.


Thanks to Bear

Thanks to J.P.

Thanks to Carolyn Reynolds Getty

Thanks to E.A.P. You were the Man

1 comment:

Sea Hag said...

I blame the children.