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The unexplained tradition began in 1949 and has occurred on the author's birthday (January 19) of every year since. In the early hours of the morning on that date, a black-clad figure, presumed to be male, with a silver-tipped cane enters the Westminster Hall and Burying Ground in Baltimore, Maryland. The individual proceeds to Poe's grave, where he or she raises a cognac toast. Before departing, the Toaster leaves three red roses and a half-bottle of cognac on the grave. The roses are believed to represent Poe, his wife Virginia, and his mother-in-law Maria Clemm, all three of whom are interred at the site. The significance of the cognac itself is unknown. Many of the bottles left behind have been taken and stored by the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore.
The Toaster wears a black coat and hat, and obscures his or her face with a scarf or hood. A group of reporters and Poe enthusiasts are usually on hand to observe the event. Generally, none have attempted to interfere with the Toaster's entry, tribute or departure or to identify the individual out of respect for the tradition (and, perhaps, the mystery).