Edgar Allan Poe and The Tell-Tale
of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Allan Poe (1809-1849) -- like everyone else who lived in 19th century American
was repeatedly poisoned by exposure
to carbon monoxide (CO) from illuminating gas,
which was made from coal
and contained extremely high levels of CO.
As shown in the poster below, Poe's face shows a unique abnormality
in which one eye is lower than the other while his mouth slants the other
The same abnormality can be seen in the faces of people poisoned by CO today.
It is caused by the effect of repeated CO exposure on facial nerves
and can be partially
if not completely reversed with months of daily oxygen therapy.
(very high levels of CO exposure,
in comparison, can cause complete paralysis or coma)
Poe described many symptoms of
CO poisoning in his letters, poems and tales, and
he specifically described
multi-sensory sensitivity in both Tell Tale Heart and Fall of the House
Anyone poisoned by CO can identify
with the bizarre physical and mental symptoms he describes,
but of course many people not
poisoned by CO still think Poe was just crazy, drunk or both.
Last Modified: 10/24/06