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“I was angry at myself at that point,” Jerome said.

He said he finally spotted the toaster for the first time a couple of years later when he and four friends spent the night in the cold, dank catacombs beneath the church. He said his heart was pounding as he spotted the well-dressed figure carrying a cane, the face obscured by a derby-type hat and white scarf.

After that, Jerome got permission to watch from inside the Hall, always inviting friends, teachers or special Poe fans to join him. The public didn’t start gathering outside the gates until after 1990, when Life magazine published the only known photo of the Poe Toaster, a black-and-white image that does nothing to reveal his identity.

Around that time, Jerome publicly stated that it would be nice if the visitor performed a sign to distinguish him from impostors. The visitor obliged by starting to perform two signs at the gravesite _ both so subtle that Jerome said he needed three years to pick up on them.

Also, as the crowds grew each year, Jerome realized the toaster could no longer just walk into the main gate without being spotted.

“What we ended up doing was making it easier for him to get in,” Jerome said. “And I didn’t feel the least bit guilty in deceiving the people.”

Jerome isn’t saying how he made it easier, other than uttering a cryptic “maybe” when asked if it was by leaving open the Wineholt Gate, which was used to bring in Poe’s body.

A note left by the toaster in 1993 said the “torch will be passed.” Several years later there was another note saying that the original Poe Toaster had died and that his two sons were continuing the tradition.

The sons didn’t take the tribute seriously. Jerome said they “started getting lazy with the way they dressed” and blended into the crowd by wearing winter jackets and caps instead of the traditional outfit. They left notes that marred the ritual _ one referencing the Super Bowl, another dissing the French for opposing the war in Iraq.

“I promised myself that if they started leaving these goofy notes again, I wasn’t going to go along with it,” Jerome said.

The next time a note was left, Jerome said he was chagrined at the contents, as were his fellow witnesses inside the Hall. He decided to fib and say that no note was left. He declines to reveal its contents, other than to say that, in hindsight, it was a hint that the vigil was about to be nevermore.

“My personal feeling is the novelty wore off and they didn’t like fighting the crowds and trying to find ways to get in here,” Jerome said. “And being afraid someone would try to tackle them with a camera right in their faces.”

Jerome is still bothered there wasn’t a farewell note when the toaster last visited in 2009. He has held the vigil each year since then, in case the visitor returned.

He declared that 2012 was the end for good.

Now, however, he says he might pull another all-nighter Saturday.

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