The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder by Daniel Stashower
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
On a sweltering day in July of 1841, a body was discovered floating in the water off a beach in Hoboken, New Jersey. It was hauled in and, upon examination of what was left of it, it was determined that the girl had been beaten and strangled. She made anything but a lovely sight.
In life, though, she had been uncommonly beautiful. The victim turned out to be none other than Mary Cecilia Rogers, "The Beautiful See-gar Girl" who had gained fame in New York while working the counter at Anderson's Tobacco Emporium. While such employment may seem workaday to modern readers, at the time it was a departure, and there was a fair amount of hand-wringing over whether such a job was proper for a respectable girl. In any case, Mary had what it took to bewitch and beguile Andersons' male customers with her dark good looks and her bright and friendly personality. In no time, Anderson's was teeming with cigar aficionados and those who bought cigars just to be near Mary.
When Mary turned up murdered, it was a cause celebre. The press ripped into the disorganized and slow-to-act law enforcement entities on both sides of the river. Anderson's had become something of a hang-out for the city's literary types, and one of these, a struggling alcoholic ne'er do well, decided to write a fictionalized account of the case and to solve it through what he called "ratiocination", or deductive reasoning. He set his version of events in Paris and titled it "The Mystery of Marie Roget." He introduced literature's first detective, named Dupin, who had first appeared in "The Murders In The Rue Morgue." The author, of course, was Edgar Allan Poe, who may in fact have known Mary Rogers in her capacity as counter girl at Anderson's.
In this book, Daniel Stashower skillfully intertwines the story of Mary Rogers with the fascinating and often dreadful life of Edgar Allan Poe, bringing the times and the people brilliantly to life. I learned a whole world of things about Poe that I never knew. As for Mary Rogers, her story had been largely lost to time, but here it is brought back to life vividly. I will offer a word of warning: no definitive solution for her death is arrived at here, though many possibilities are offered up. There is no final "a-ha!" moment, but the book is nonetheless well worth the read, and I do recommend it for anyone who likes to read popular history.
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