A poem titled "Leonainie" appeared in the August 2, 1877 issue of The Kokomo Dispatch. It was a fairly unremarkable poem except in one way: the editor of the Dispatch claimed that it was a previously unpublished poem written by Edgar Allan Poe. If true, this claim would have made the poem of great interest to many people.

The editor explained that he had received the poem from a local gentleman whose grandparents had once kept a country hotel near Richmond, Virginia. One night, according to this gentleman's grandparents, a dissipated young man had shown up at their inn asking for a room. He was given one, but the next morning had disappeared without paying his bill. All he had left behind was a book on the fly-leaf of which he had written a poem, presumably as a form of payment for the room. The poem was signed "E.A.P." The grandparents later surmised that their mysterious visitor must have been Edgar Allan Poe.

The publication of this poem caused a brief flurry of excitement among fans of Poe, but it was soon exposed to be a hoax engineered by a young poet from Indiana, James Whitcomb Riley. Riley explained that he had composed the poem and then asked the editor of the Dispatch to publish it under Poe's name. His intention was to prove that the public will blindly praise any poem that bears the name of a famous author.

But this was not the end of the hoax because it experienced a curious revival during the early twentieth century. At this time the famous biologist Alfred Russell Wallace came across it and became convinced that Riley's claim to be its author was a lie. Instead Poe actually was its true author, Wallace believed. In fact, Wallace concluded that the poem was written during the final days of Poe's life and that it was the final piece Poe had ever written. Wallace became embroiled in a heated literary debate in an effort to prove his belief. But in the end, he wasn't able to convince anyone else. Today the poem continues to be considered a work by Riley, not by Poe.

The full text of the poem appears below:

Leonainie—Angels named her;
    And they took the light
Of the laughing stars and framed her
    In a smile of white;
        And they made her hair of gloomy
        Midnight, and her eyes of bloomy
        Moonshine, and they brought her to me
    In the solemn night.—

In a solemn night of summer,
    When my heart of gloom
Blossomed up to greet the comer
    Like a rose in bloom;
        All forebodings that distressed me
        I forgot as joy caressed me—
        (Lying Joy! that caught and pressed me
    In the arms of doom!)

Only spake the little lisper
    In the Angel-tongue;
Yet I, listening, heard her whisper—
    "Songs are only sung
        Here below that they may grieve you—
        Tales but told you to deceive you,—
        So must Leonainie leave you
    While her love is young."

Then God smiled and it was morning.
    Matchless and supreme,
Heaven's glory seemed adorning
    Earth with its esteem:
        Every heart but mine seemed gifted
        With the voice of prayer, and lifted
        Where my Leonainie drifted
    From me like a dream.

  • Schwartz, Joel S. "Alfred Russell Wallace and 'Leonainie': A Hoax that would not Die." Victorian Periodicals Review, Volume XVII, Spring/Summer Issue, July 1984, 2-15.