Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Beautiful Cigar Girl

When John Anderson employed a young woman named Mary Cecilia Rogers in his Tobacco Emporium in 1838, pretty shopgirls were fashionable in Europe, but a novelty in the United States.  Her presence behind the counter drew hordes of customers into the shop, she was described in the papers as the Beautiful Segar Girl, and she became pretty much the first young woman in New York to be famous for being famous.

Three years later she was dead, her battered body pulled from the Hudson River.  The crime has never been solved.

That didn't stop Edgar Allan Poe from thinking he'd solved it.  He transferred the setting of the story to Paris, named his murdered girl Marie RogĂȘt, and gave it to his armchair detective Dupin to figure out (as Poe thought he had figured it out) purely from newspaper accounts.

Daniel Stashower's book about the murder and its aftermath, The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder, has more to say about Poe than about Mary, if only because the historical record doesn't tell us a lot about Mary.  It's a very clear and interesting portrait of Poe, though, and it doesn't pretend to have solved the mystery of Mary Rogers.

Originally posted at MySpace 1/15/07

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