A mysterious black-clad stranger continued an eerie 40-year tradition Thursday by placing a bottle of cognac and a red rose on the tombstone of Edgar Allan Poe in a solemn birthday salute to the famed horror writer.

Jeff Jerome, curator of the Edgar Allan Poe House museum in Baltimore, and a small group of people celebrating Poe's 180th birthday watched from the catacombs of Westminster Hall, which adjoins the cemetery.

At 3:40 a.m., the stranger placed the cognac and roses at the grave where Poe reportedly was buried 139 years ago. Jerome said the stranger's annual pre-dawn appearance "never loses its thrill."

Jerome said the 1989 visitor is likely not the same person who began the tradition in 1949, but the scenario has changed little.

"He wore a black hat, a black cloak and black pants," Jerome said of the pre-dawn visitor. "We think he is elderly because he stumbled three times and was very thin. He placed the cognac and roses on the gravesite, then kneeled very slowly, placed his left hand on the tombstone and paused for about 20 seconds as though saying a short prayer. Then he left."