Have You Heard The Tragic True Tale Of The "Beautiful Cigar Girl"?

Have You Heard The Tragic True Tale Of The "Beautiful Cigar Girl"?

She’s picked for her beauty from many a belle,

And placed near the window, Havanas to sell

For well her employer’s aware that her face is

An advertisement certain to empty his cases.

  ~1841 Poem about the Beautiful Cigar Girl

She was beautiful.

She was hypnotically attractive. 

She was one of the most talked about women of the late 1830's and her beauty sold plenty of cigars.

Her name was Mary Cecilia Rogers and she worked as a clerk in a New York City tobacco shop.

But her untimely death at 21-years-old left a trail of intrigue that would even motivate Edgar Allan Poe to write a fictional story about it.

Working At Anderson's Tobacco Emporium

Around the age of 18, Mary began work as a clerk at John Anderson’s Tobacco Emporium on Broadway. Mr. Anderson paid the young Mary a very good wage because Mary's beauty and hypnotically pleasing looks brought in many customers to the cigar store. 

According to accounts, this retail strategy was highly successful for the cigar shop.

Popular Customers

All sorts of gentlemen of the day would visit Anderson's Tobacco Emporium to exchange glances with the beautiful Ms. Rogers. Some of the more popular clients apparently included:

  • Edgar Allen Poe
  • Washington Irving
  • James Fenimore Cooper
  • Fitz-Greene Halleck

Anderson Stages a Stunt Disappearance?

On October 5, 1838, the a New York newspaper reported that Mary had disappeared. Soon afterward, her mother Phoebe reported finding a suicide note. The very next day, however, her disappearance was reported to be a hoax as Mary was found to be visiting a friend in Brooklyn. Ms. Rogers eventually returned to work at Anderson's Tobacco Emporium and her admirers soon flocked to the cigar shop to see Mary again. 

Due to the effect of creating buzz for the cigar shop, some believed that this was a hoax staged by none other than John Anderson.

Mary Dies In 1841

screen-shot-2014-11-01-at-1.11.51-pm.pngIn July of 1841, Mary took a vacation to visit family in New Jersey. Unfortunately, three days after leaving her mother's house in Manhattan to travel to New Jersey, Mary's body was found drifting in the Hudson River.

Her then fiancé, Daniel Payne, eventually committed suicide through a drug overdose while drinking heavily.

At that time in New York City, the law enforcement was reportedly very corrupt and incompetent, which resulted in Ms. Roger's case never being solved as to who her murderer was.

Theories Abound

Some of the theories that surfaced as to who or how Mary died included:

  • Gang violence (bruises on her body and throat hint to this)
  • A vengeful lover attacked her
  • A failed abortion attempt

In the end, the case went unresolved and to this day no one knows how or why Mary died.

Edgar Allan Poe Writes A Story Based On Ms. Rogers

Poe became enamored by the case and soon wrote his own fictional account of the case in his story "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt". Poe provided several possible murder suspects in his story but never gave an opinion as to who he thought was guilty. Some people consider this story by Poe to be the first modern detective story.

Followup Book

If this tale of Mary Rogers intrigues you, I found this book written by Daniel Stashower in called The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder. I haven't read the book myself, but it looks like it might be a good one with an average rating of of 4 out 5 stars.


Atlas Obscura: The Mysterious Murder Of The Beautiful Cigar Girl

New York Times: The Murder That Made Poe New York’s Star Detective

Wikipedia Entry: Mary Rogers

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1st Nov 2014 Kevin Kauzlaric

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