The Cooping Theory

by Israel Centeno  and translated by Kelly Harrison  /  June 4, 2013  / No comments

Mysterious death, electoral scandal, and a master of literature.

Cooping Theory

Richard Canton Woodville's 1848 painting Politics at an Oyster House, set in election season Baltimore. Photo via Wikipedia.

On election day, Edgar was found lying in the street, close to a polling station. He was dressed differently than usual, wearing rural clothing and a straw hat. He was immediately taken to the nearest hospital where he remained in a febrile state, delirious and confused, drifting between vague awareness—babbling incoherently—and complete unconsciousness. He remained like this until he died.

  1. Night Watch, a column by Israel Centeno
  2. From his lonely watch post Albert Camus asked who among us has not experienced exile yet still managed to preserve a spark of fire in their soul. “We’re all alone,” Natalia Sedova cried in exile on hearing of her husband Leon Trotsky’s affair with Frida Kahlo. In his novel Night Watch, Stephen Koch follows the incestuous love affair of David and Harriet, wealthy siblings watching the world from their solitary exile. Koch’s writing, Camus’s theories, and Trotsky’s affair all come back to exile and lead me to reflect on the human condition. From my own vantage point, my Night Watch, I will reflect on my questions of exile, writing, and the human condition.
  3. Israel Centeno
  4. Israel Centeno was born in 1958 in Caracas, Venezuela, and currently lives in Pittsburgh as a Writer-in-Residence with City of Asylum/Pittsburgh. He writes both novels and short stories, and also works as an editor and professor of literature. He has published nine books in Venezuela and three in Spain.

There has been much speculation about the circumstances surrounding the event, and several theories are on the table. It would be easy to consider the unfortunate incident the result of a day of revelry marked by an excess of drugs and alcohol. Nevertheless, researchers and articles have insisted that we reexamine the situation.

The electoral setting and the remarkable corruption and violence therein must be taken into account: Political gangsterism, storming polling centers to steal ballot boxes containing citizens’ votes, the paltry value of human life, a lack of respect for basic rights, and threats against undecided swing voters are just some examples.

These were not easy times for a man who found himself passing through the city, his journey impeded by the chaos provoked by the armed brigade’s whips, as he was trying to find a connecting train to continue on his way.

Suspicion was further raised when one researcher learned about the practice of kidnapping and how the electoral mafia used and abused their prisoners for political ends.

Edgar was a passer-by, and travelers like him were perfect for kidnapping and holding captive in a tiny room. In such places, known as pens or coops, victims were plied with alcohol and opiates. One chronicler said that these poor souls were forced to go from one polling station to another, voting over and over again. Their clothing was changed a number of times and they were sent out on more rounds of voting, after having first been stupefied with alcohol.

This theory and its relationship to the “Edgar incident” was first published by John R. Thompson in 1870. He used it to attempt to answer the question of why the victim was wearing someone else’s clothing when he was found, beaten, and in a state of extreme delirium.

A suspicious reader of this column might have believed they were reading an account of the recent elections in Venezuela; however, having read this far, I feel obliged to clarify that I have simply rewritten an analysis of the peculiar circumstances surrounding the death of Edgar Allan Poe on election day in Baltimore, 1849, and the possibility that the master of fantasy fiction and father of the modern detective novel was a victim of “cooping,” one of the many electoral crimes that, back then, were standard in the United States.

About the Author

Israel Centeno was born in 1958 in Caracas, Venezuela, and currently lives in Pittsburgh as a Writer-in-Residence with City of Asylum/Pittsburgh. He writes both novels and short stories, and also works as an editor and professor of literature. He has published nine books in Venezuela and three in Spain.

View all articles by Israel Centeno

Leave a Comment

comm comm comm

Fearless, Ink.