Morphy enjoyed a swift rise to international acclaim. After sweeping through the National Chess Congress in New York City, he traveled to London, Paris and Havana; in Paris he attracted crowds by playing blindfolded and announcing his moves in flawless French. He was photographed by Matthew Brady and praised by Oliver Wendell Holmes as a "hero of a long series of bloodless battles." Yet by the early 1860s, he had abandoned chess almost as quickly as he had conquered it; he lived the rest of his days in New Orleans, where he mostly obsessed over a failed lawsuit against a family member.
The written records of Morphy's games are still analyzed -- a new book by international grandmaster Valeri Beim, Paul Morphy: A Modern Perspective, came out this summer -- and chess experts love to debate whether or not he could have defeated today's top players. Yet Morphy's shadow over the local chess scene is a shaky one. In 1931, the International Journal of Psycho-analysis published the article "The Problem of Paul Morphy," which portrayed Morphy as a brilliant yet disturbed man, and writer David Lawson titled his Morphy biography, The Pride and Sorrow of Chess. Today, he's often spoken of in the same breath as Bobby Fischer, for both his chess genius and his bizarre life.
"He kind of started the tradition of chess players being weird guys," says John Parsons. The former manager of New Orleans piano legend James Booker, Parsons likes to compare Morphy and Booker's legacies: "They were born about a hundred years apart, they were both child prodigies, they both tore it up in Europe and then never left New Orleans, and they both developed paranoia."
In 1884, Morphy died at the age of 47. He is buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, around the corner from Marie Laveau. -- Tisserand