March 09, 2008

"The Beautiful Cigar Girl"

Mary Rogers was, by all accounts, a very beautiful young woman whose battered body was found floating in the Hudson River on July 28, 1841. The subsequent investigation into her violent demise has been the stuff of legend, and although many have tried, including, most famously, Edgar Allan Poe, the murder has never been solved.

It's an intriguing story, and a recent book by Edgar Award-winning author Daniel Stashower is a fresh and compelling account of a crime that riveted New Yorkers for years. "The Beautiful Cigar Girl - Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe and The Invention of Murder" is a both a fascinating look at 19th Century New York City and a biography of one of America's greatest mystery writers Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1839).

They say that the "Truth is stranger than Fiction" and that is indeed the case here. The lovely Miss Mary Cecilia Rogers lived with her mother and worked behind the counter of John Anderson's Tobacco Emporium on lower Broadway. Miss Rogers was the object of affection for many customers but by all accounts maintained a professional distance with both her employer and her clients. It was a surprise then when she went missing one July afternoon after having told contrasting stories to her family and friends, and finally ended up dead and floating in the river off Hoboken, New Jersey.

A string of delays, compounded by the July heat, resulted in the body not being examined in a timely or thorough manner and consequently the autopsy was inconclusive. This did not stop the press from sensationalizing every detail, real or imagined, or offering wild speculation into the reason and possible guilty parties. However, after a year with no concrete results the public's interest in the lurid exploitation had begun to wane.

Enter Edgar Allan Poe. In 1842, Mr Poe was 31 years old and despite the initial success of his detective story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", he was in a downward spiral professionally, personally and financially. His family relations were in tatters, his military career a disaster, his fondness for the bottle legendary and he was regularly fired from every writing post he held. In a desperate attempt to salvage his reputation as an author, and to earn some much needed cash, he proposed a three part series to be published in Ladies' Companion magazine, that would solve the murder of Mary Rogers. "The Mystery of Marie RogĂȘt" was Poe's entry into the fray of competing stories proposing a solution to this baffling crime. Although his research was remarkably thorough and his conclusion viable, it came a little too late and not quite solid enough to be considered the absolute answer. His effort did not succeed in resurrecting his career or his situation and he continued to deteriorate until his death, under unclear circumstances, a few years later.

"The Beautiful Cigar Girl" is true story that reads like a novel. We may never know what terrible fate befell Miss Mary Rogers, but this well-researched and engaging book will captivate readers of New York City lore and mystery thrillers alike.

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