Edgar Allan Poe’s Hoboken History + Connection to the Sybil Cave Murder

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Hoboken’s history is painted largely with the face of one man: Frank Sinatra. We’re inspired by him when we name our restaurants and our streets, paint murals, and even hold street festivals. But, anyone who’s been a resident long enough knows he’s not the only famous face to spend time in the Mile  Square.

In fact, one of the most famous American writers of all time was known to spend some time hanging out and buying cigars in Hoboken. And, when he saw something criminal happened here, he did the only thing he knew how to do, he wrote about it. Edgar Allan Poe took the story of a real-life murder at Sybil’s Cave in Hoboken and fictionalized it for one of his short stories. Here’s how it happened: 

murder by sybils cave hoboken history

{Photo credit: @hobokemuseum}

The Murder of Sybil’s Cave

Sybil’s Cave, still located on Frank Sinatra Drive, is the oldest man-made structure in Hoboken. It’s been used as a recreational space, as a place for dumping debris, and has seen new life recently as a part of a park. But, way back in Poe’s day, it was used for something more macabre — it was the dumping site for the body of Mary Rogers, a New York City cigar girl known for her beauty, after she was found murdered

Rogers disappeared on July 25th, 1841, and, three days later, her body was found floating in the Hudson River near Sybil’s cave. The murder was never solved, but stories ranged from a botched abortion {at the hands of the then well-known Hoboken abortionist Madame Costello} to gang violence to love. 

See More: Hoboken {TBT}: Sybil’s Cave and The Murder of 1841

From Murder to Manuscript 

edgar allan poe history hoboken

Rogers’ untimely death was the talk of the town, and Edgar Allan Poe heard about it while visiting John Jacob Astor’s Hoboken villa. Poe, as he has come to be known, had a flair for the sinister, and was inspired by the case of Mary Rogers. 

A year after Mary Rogers’ death, Edgar Allan Poe published the short story The Murder of Marie Roget, written as a sequel to his first detective story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue. He changed the setting to Paris, sure, but he really did look into the true facts of the case here in Hoboken. When the first installment of the story was released, new facts about the case had emerged, and so he changed the second part of the story to reflect that. 

Because Poe frequented Hoboken, spending a lot of time at the Astor villa, questions started to come up about whether or not he was involved in the murder since he was friends with Mary Rogers’ boss, John, the head of Anderson’s Tobacco Emporium. He had a crush on Mary and was jealous of her engagement. People speculated that jealousy was the motive for her murder, especially considering Rogers’ fiancé died in the same spot a few months after Mary did, clutching a bottle of poison. 

Read More: Jersey City: The Last Stop on The Underground Railroad

The Unsolved Mystery

Poe wrote that “the death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.” It’s true, it seems, as Mary’s death was a tabloid story as far away as New England. An Ellicottville, New York reporter was disturbed by the “slovenly manner in which the coroner at Hoboken performs his duties,” speculating specifically about Mary’s case. Poe, however, did not speculate. He was so confident in his analysis — presented in is Marie Roget story — that he claimed to have solved the case. Despite his strong statement, though, he never named a killer and the murder is still unsolved. But, an interesting detail came out in 1887 after John Anderson’s death. Apparently, “John Anderson gave Poe $5,000 to write the story of Marie Rogȇt in order to draw people’s attention from himself, who, many believed, was her murderer.

Murky as the details around Rogers’ death may be, one thing can be said for certain: critics loved Edgar Allan Poe’s story, based on true Hoboken events, and it helped catapult him into the fame and legacy he still carries today, well after his 1849 death. As gruesome as the details may be, Hoboken helped to solidify the famed career of one of the great American writers. 

{PS: the Hoboken Historical Museum offers a virtual walking tour to discover the history of the Mile Square — check it out here via an app and download the virtual map here.}

What is your favorite historical event that happened in Hoboken? Let us know in the comments!

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Erica calls Hoboken her adopted home, after moving from Toronto, Canada nearly three years ago. She completed her graduate degree from NYU's journalism school last year and now spends her days writing and reading. Her interests include everything from sports to books to fashion, and she falls more and more in love with Hudson County with each passing day.


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