Mystery Of Marie Roget: The True Story

In 1841, the Beautiful Cigar Girl was found dead in the Hudson River. Edgar Allan Poe wrote his pioneering detective tale, the Mystery of Marie Roget, based on this true story.

In 1842, Edgar Allan Poe was inventing the detective story, basing his fictions on true crime stories in the newspapers of the day. Poe's The Mystery of Marie Roget fictionalized the true story of Mary Rogers, who was known as "The Beautiful Cigar Girl."

Poe moved the death to Paris and the Seine, but his contemporaries all knew it was New York and the Hudson. Mary Rogers's death was one of the biggest news stories of the early republican city in a time when newspapers first emerged as a mass medium.

As late as 1820, New York had 150,000 inhabitants, located in the southern tip of Manhattan. Twenty years later almost 400,000 people lived between the Battery and 35th Street. Mary Rogers and her mother, Phebe Wait Mather Rogers, were part of a great movement of rural Americans into the cities. When mother and daughter arrived from their small town in rural Connecticut in 1837, in the middle of a financial panic, they entered a new world. Their respectable lifestyle and social position abruptly changed on arrival in the city.

Mary's first job was at John Anderson's tobacco shop on Broadway just across from City Hall and right near Publisher's Square or Park Row. The store was a center for Jacksonian Democratic and Tammany politics, for the writers and publishers of the exploding newspaper business, and for the sporting culture that flourished among young male clerks in the seaport.

The "segar" store's totem outside was a statue of Sir Walter Raleigh, the patron saint of tobacco. Inside, as was the custom of the time, Anderson placed a beautiful young girl to wait on customers.

It was called "butterfly catching" and the New-York Herald warned that these girls were ripe victims for "rich rascals who buy cigars and sugar plums, gossip with the girl, and ultimately effect her ruin." In 1838, the butterfly net in Anderson's tobacco store was Mary Rogers. Here, Mary would associate with such urbane characters as Fernando Wood, Mayor of New York, and publisher James Gordon Bennett.

The city was big, it was bawdy, it was dangerous, but surprisingly, not so dangerous as murder. The murder conviction rate was two a year and women moved about the streets freely. Sunday evenings, in particular, saw a promenade of the city's new class of working youth, clerks and mariners, milliners and cigar girls, all out for some fun before the workweek started on Monday. It was out to dance halls and theaters, and, in summer, to public pleasure grounds, on a carriage ride to Harlem Heights or Jones's Wood, on a ferry ride to Staten Island or Williamsburgh, or to the Elysian Fields in Weehawken, near Hoboken, New Jersey.

On Sunday, July 25, 1841, Mary wore a white dress, with a blue scarf and a leghorn hat, and carried a parasol. She was to meet her fiance, Daniel Payne, that evening when she returned from a visit to her aunt in Greenwich Village. Her body was found three days later in the Hudson River near the shore of Hoboken. She had been tied with strips of her own clothing.

The Hoboken coroner initially reported that she had been raped and beaten to death. Word spread that Mary had been attacked and killed by a gang of ruffians (read Irish immigrants), Bowery B'hoys. Another story was of a lone killer.

Three steamships made continuous runs across the Hudson from New York to Hoboken and Weehawken, and the popular pleasure ground, Elysian Fields. Near there was a popular tavern called Nick Moore's House. In 1842, the innkeeper of Nick Moore's House, Mrs. Fredericka Loss, made a deathbed confession of her knowledge of the Mary Rogers affair. The girl had died in a botched abortion by a physician who had accompanied Mary to the tavern. Mrs. Loss's son had put the body in the dead of night into the Hudson River at a place "where it would be found."

A few weeks after Mary's death, on October 8, 1841, Daniel Payne was found just before dying near the spot in Hoboken where her body had been discovered in August. In his pocket was a note reading, "To the World-Here I am on the spot: God forgive me for my misfortune and my misspent time."

In 1845, Edgar Allan Poe revised his murder mystery to say that Marie Roget died of a botched abortion.

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