February 10 - A Monument to Paul's Memory

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On February 10, 1906, the French sculptor Jules-Andre Meliodon in Boston wrote a letter in awkward English and fancy handwriting to Alice Moore Dunbar in Wilmington, Delaware.  He included a sketch of a proposed monument for her estranged husband Paul Laurence Dunbar, who had died the previous day in Dayton.

I respectfully come to offer you of executing the bust marble or bronze of your regretted Paul Laurence Dunbar.  I am sure that this offer will be in connection with your feeling so his friends and admirers too.  I offer you bust or medallion, but if a monument like this sketch was not too much an expense.  If among the friends of your regretted husband it was judged a possible execution.  I am sure his admirers so will help.  I should represent a young girl beholding the poet and holding a book half read, symbol of a life too early done.  As you were Madam his work and studies' companion I could ask you the permit to represent you (so forever) near P. L. Dunbar.

Jules-Andre Meliodon to Alice Moore Dunbar, February 10, 1906.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

The monument sketched by Meliodon was never built, and Paul's gravestone was designed by a committee in Dayton without Alice's involvement.  Paul had anticipated his death for years and given instructions about his grave to Alice.  However, she was not inclined to share the information with his family, since they hadn't informed her about Paul's death or funeral.

I have letters of his, hundreds of them, little poems never published, and the epitaph he wrote for himself when he was first taken ill, which he asked me to have engraven on his tombstone.  It never will be, of course, because his family and friends would object, and I should not make the offer to give it to them, after the way in which they treated me.

Alice Moore Dunbar to Lida Keck Wiggins, August 7, 1906.  Alice Dunbar-Nelson papers, Special Collections, University of Delaware Library (Newark, Delaware).  MSS 0113, Box 5, F134.

Lida Keck Wiggins was a writer from Springfield, Ohio, and the author of Paul's first biography.  She contacted Alice the following year and asked for Paul's epitaph, but the committee ultimately chose to put a dialect poem on the tombstone.

In an earlier letter you told me that you have in your possession the epitaph that your husband wished on his monument.  I have not mentioned this to anyone except Dr. Clark, the Methodist clergyman who is engaged in securing funds for a monument for Mr. Dunbar.  They have been intending to cast the words of the poem "Lay Me Down Beneaf' de Willers" in bronze and use it as a tablet on a natural-stone shaft.  I told him that you have Mr. Dunbar's epitaph in autograph, and he asked me if I would ask you whether you would trust it to him to present to the Advisory Committee.  You know that the whole country is interested in this monument -- not merely the poet's family, and I hope you may let us have the little verse or sentiment.  Dr. Clark is particularly anxious to have the autograph copy, as it could be cast into bronze then in Mr. Dunbar's own writing.

Lida Keck Wiggins to Alice Moore Dunbar, June 6, 1907.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 9).