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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

“I found this very interesting as a piece of Poe folklore, but I’m pretty sure it’s a hoax,” he wrote. Then he added, “The New York Sun was the paper Poe published his ‘Balloon Hoax’ in, by the way.”

Aha! So Poe himself had perpetrated a hoax in the very same newspaper seventy years earlier! The Balloon Hoax appeared in the Sun on April 13, 1844. The article authored by Poe described balloonist Monck Mason’s seventy-five hour trip across the Atlantic Ocean in a lighter-than-air-balloon. The fact that Mason was a well-known European balloonist, combined with Poe’s skillful use of detail, created a very credible narrative.

The chain of hoaxes, and coincidences, continues back in time. Poe may have perpetrated his Balloon Hoax in retaliation for an earlier hoax published in—you guessed it—the New York Sun. When the “Great Moon Hoax” appeared over a six-day period in 1835, Poe was offended, believing that some of his earlier writing about discovering life on the moon had been plagiarized by the series’ author. It turns out that the author of the hoax was—what a coincidence—Richard Adams Locke, Poe’s editor when “The Balloon-Hoax” was published.

I wondered what other coincidences I would find if I checked out the authors of the Sun’s 1914 revelation of Poe’s lost “poisonous vampire plant” manuscript, Royal Dixon and Raymond Comstock. Well, it just so happens that Dixon was born in—where else but?—Huntsville, Texas, the location of the state prison and cemetery where Poe’s manuscript was unearthed. Furthermore, Dixon and Comstock co-authored an article published in a popular periodical in October of 1914 entitled “The Folk-Lore of Plants,” Part II: “ Wicked or Irreligious Plants and Their Superstitions.” And in his book, The Human Side of Plants, also published in 1914, Dixon acknowledged “his sincere indebtedness to Mr. Raymond Comstock for encouragement in the pursuance of this work, for critical readings, and for suggestions and advice, which have contributed materially to the production of this book.” Would an article about a vampire plant appearing in a here-to-fore undiscovered Poe story have stimulated sales of his book?

In The Human Side of Plants, Dixon asserts that “We know now that plants have even minds and souls, with which to think and worship.” Are their minds and souls sometimes those of humans who have had them driven from their bodies by unscrupulous men seeking immortality, as in the story attributed to Poe? I think the following lines, written by Dixon in his chapter “Plants that Rob, Plunder, and Murder”—taken together with the rest of the circumstantial evidence I've presented—argue that Dixon and Comstock, not Poe, penned the story of the “poisonous vampire plant”:

“Yet, strangely enough, there are few of these more unscrupulous parasites which are unbeautiful to see; most of them are among the most lovely of the plant species. Their flowers, swaying far up among the honest, dull leaves of some righteous, sturdy tree, seem to be luring their less attractive neighbours out of the straight and narrow path of virtuous industry into the blossoming glory of parasitic idleness. With their gracefully twining bodies and their beautiful flowers, they are like human vampires clinging to their victims, gloating over their conquest, and shamelessly flaunting their ill-won charms into the faces of their fellow-plants.”

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