Friday, December 03, 2004

Cooping, or You Thought THIS Election Was Bad!

Cooping: "getting voters drunk and forcing them to vote repeatedly".

I just finished listening to the audio book version of An Unpardonable Crime by Andrew Taylor. The story takes place in London in 1819 and one of the characters is Edgar Allan Poe as a child. At the end of the book, the author includes a note discussing where the actual history ends and the fiction begins. As part of this discussion, he mentions the various theories to explain Poe's mysterious death in 1849. One of these theories is that he was a victim of "cooping" - which according to the author means "getting voters drunk and forcing them to vote repeatedly".

Well. At that point I paused my iPod and rewound it. Did I hear that right? I had a bit of trouble with the logistics of do you force drunk people to vote, multiple times or otherwise? And why such a strange name for it?

Well, here is one description from an article in the Baltimore City Paper:
"Cooping" was another election-day gambit. Drunkards, vagrants, visiting farmers, shore-leave sailors, and other hapless souls were yanked off the street, corralled in dank cellars, and then dragged en masse to the polls and forced to vote the Know Nothing ticket--sometimes dozens of times. (This practice predates the Know Nothings--they simply copied it; a besotted and ill Edgar Allen Poe is said to have been "cooped" just days before his death in 1849.)
The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore also mentions this as a possibility in Poe's death:
Coincidence or not, the day Poe was found on the street was election day in Baltimore and the place near where he was found, Ryan's Fourth Ward Polls, was both a bar and a place for voting....Some gangs were known to kidnap innocent bystanders, holding them in a room, called the "coop." These poor souls were then forced to go in and out of poll after poll, voting over and over again. Their clothing might even be changed to allow for another round. To ensure compliance, their victims were plied with liquor and beaten. Poe's weak heart would never have withstood such abuse.
Learn something new every day.

Incidentally, I highly recommend the book -- it is a very entertaining mystery. It is available from

1 comment:

  1. Quoth the poet, "One more shot..."

    (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

    Great to see you online, looking forward to seeing your posts!