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May 04, 2015

Edgar Allan Poe's hair strands endure as collector's item

While Edgar Allan Poe's writings have famously lived on nearly two centuries after his death, so too have some of his hair follicles. 

Legend has it that on the eve of his funeral on October 8th, 1849, Poe's family gathered in his Baltimore home for a pre-funeral party. Locks of his hair were cut off and distributed among the guests. 

A report from Atlas Obscura follows the post-mortem lifespan of Poe's hair strands, which have been scooped up by museums, collectors on eBay and even the Free Library of Philadelphia. The Free Library maintains a locket containing bundled-up brown hair strands worth, according to the report, as much as $500,000.

The strand-bundles, of which there are said to be about a dozen worldwide, had been cut -- not pulled, making identity-affirming DNA-assessment difficult -- from Poe's head both before his death and during his wake in 1849. Keeping hair strands was, for the time period, akin to keeping a photograph on the mantle -- especially after laws surfaced that prevented family members from burying loved ones and creating memorials in their backyard.

From the story:
The custom seems strange now, but it was once fairly common in the U.S. and Europe. “Throughout the nineteenth century, locks of hair were used both as memento mori to commemorate the dead and as symbols of affection for the living,” notes historian Eva Giloi, with even royalty engaging in the practice. 

Read the full rundown of how Poe's hair took on an afterlife.