The Poe Toaster
For 60 years, every January 19th, on the anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday, a mysterious figure would visit Poe’s grave in Baltimore, pour himself a glass of cognac, raise a toast to the author, and leave three red roses and the rest of the bottle of cognac at his gravestone before vanishing into the darkness. A tradition grew for local Poe fans to gather to watch the shadowy figure (or figures — common wisdom is that the tradition was passed from father to son), and read the cryptic notes he sometimes left behind. Sadly, this January 19th has come and gone for the third time without the appearance of the “Poe Toaster,” so by all accounts this tradition has come to an end. Unless, that is, we can entreat any enterprising Poe fan to take up the mysterious mantle next year.
Perhaps the most famous cultish literary tradition, Bloomsday is an annual holiday celebrating the life of James Joyce. It occurs every June 16th (the day on which Ulysses is set), and is celebrated all over the world, though perhaps most extravagantly in Dublin. Celebrations include pub crawls, readings, music, dramatisations, and hundreds of fans dressed as characters from the book.
Yep, there are probably Harry Potter nerds running around with broomsticks between their legs as we speak. Founded by students at Middlebury College in 2005, Muggle Quidditch has grown into a cherished pastime — in 2011, their NYC world cup boasted 100 teams and 2,000 players, and the video on their website makes it actually look like a legit sport. Next stop, the Olympics.
Hemingway Look-alike Contest
Every summer, boatloads of white-bearded literary enthusiasts descend on Key West to take part in the annual Papa look-alike contest at Sloppy Joe’s Bar. The contest, organized by the Hemingway Look-Alike Society, is only one of many Papa-related events and spectacles in Key West, but it’s by far our favorite.
Kissing Oscar Wilde’s Tomb
For years, Wilde fans made the pilgrimage to his tomb in Paris to lay a lipstick-covered smacker on the provocative writer’s final resting place. Only recently, after years of lipstick grease and scrubbings from caretakers have begun to irreparably erode the stone, has the grave marker been cleaned and covered in protective glass meant to protect Wilde from his many admirers. Somehow, however, we think love will find a way to prevail.
Every May 25th, Douglas Adams fans everywhere celebrate Towel Day by carrying a towel around with them. According to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a towel is pretty much the most important item you can have, and after all, “any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”
The Jane Austen Festival
Every September, thousands of Austenophiles descend upon Bath, England, to spend a weekend dressed up as their favorite Jane Austen character. The events, organized by the Jane Austen Centre, range from promenading to eating to dancing and perusing the wares at the Country Fayre.
The Knights of King Arthur
These boy clubs seem much like the Boy Scouts in some ways — except way less popular and much nerdier. From a pamphlet entitled “The Knights of King Arthur: How to Begin and What to Do,” which you can read in its entirety here: “There comes a time when boys begin to outgrow mere physical activities, boisterous play and the desire to parade in uniform, and like to get together as indoors friends, to talk and plan and work together, and to feel exclusive and perhaps a bit superior. When they have come to this age they are ready to organize a Castle.”
The Annual Moby Dick Marathon
Every year, the New Bedford Whaling Museum hosts a marathon continuous reading of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, among other Melville-related activities including an interactive game of “Stump the Scholars,” over a three day weekend. Nothing fishy about that.
Baker Street Irregulars
In Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, the Baker Street Irregulars are a gang of street kids who Holmes sometimes employs to help him with his cases. In modern life, the Baker Street Irregulars are an invitation-only society who only award membership and the accompanying customary “Irregular Shilling” to eminent Sherlockian scholars. Isaac Asimov and Neil Gaiman are both members. The group convenes for a fancy dinner once a year, and hosts other Sherlock-oriented activities open to the public.