This is a true story about fabrications that improbably became common knowledge. The protagonist is a poet whose name you’ll recognize, but whose life is still widely mischaracterized. The story’s villain is a poet whose name you won’t recognize, but is arguably the sole reason you believe the false information.
On October 9, 1849, two days after Edgar Allan Poe’s death, one of the most popular newspapers of the era ― the now defunct New-York Daily Tribune ― published an obituary.
It begins matter-of-factly, “Edgar Allan Poe is dead.”
But within the very first paragraph, the obit stated, “This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it,” as well as, “he had few or no friends.”
Perhaps most ridiculous, the writer of this obituary described Poe as a person who “walked the streets, in madness or melancholy, with lips moving in indistinct curses, or with eyes upturned in passionate prayers, (never for himself, for he felt, or professed to feel, that he was already damned).”
This piece achieved a vast readership across America. The author, Rufus Griswold, was Poe’s arch-nemesis.
Griswold then convinced Poe’s mother-in-law to sign away the rights to the author’s work. Later he published the collected works, including his own biography of Poe that invented stories of his drunkenness, immorality, and instability.