February 12 - Laid to Rest

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On February 12, 1906, the funeral of Paul Laurence Dunbar took place at Eaker Street A. M. E. Church in Dayton.  Paul had died on February 9 after a lengthy illness with tuberculosis.  Newspaper stories speculated about whether his estranged wife Alice Moore Dunbar would attend the funeral.

A number of relatives from out of the city arrived Sunday, among whom are Robert S. Murphy, William T. Murphy and wife, of Chicago, half brothers of the deceased.  A dispatch from Wilmington, Delaware, states that Mrs. Alice M. Dunbar, the poet’s wife, who is a teacher in the Howard High School, has left for Dayton to attend the funeral.  Mrs. Dunbar did not arrive in this city Sunday, and it is believed that she will be here this morning.  The family were not aware of the intention of the poet’s wife of attending the funeral.

"Final Tribute to Memory of Paul Laurence Dunbar."  The Dayton Journal (Dayton, Ohio).  February 12, 1906.  Page 1.

Robert S. and William T. Murphy of Chicago, half-brothers of the dead poet, arrived Sunday, as did also John H. Burton of Lexington, Ky., an uncle.  A dispatch from Wilmington, Delaware, states that Mrs. Alice Dunbar, wife of the poet, intended to start at once for Dayton.  The family knew nothing of Mrs. Dunbar's intentions.  They had not communicated with her, and if she is in the city, she has not made herself known.

"After Life's Fitful Fever the Poet Sleeps."  The Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio).  February 12, 1906.  Page 10.

The remains lay in state at the residence on North Summit street from 9 o'clock until shortly before the funeral hour.  During that time hundreds of friends and admirers from all stations of life and both races called and in silent sorrow passed the bier of the dead.  Long before the hour of the funeral the capacity of the church was taxed.  It was the largest attended in the history of Dayton.  Despite the announcement from Wilmington, Delaware, that Mrs. Alice Dunbar, the wife of the deceased, would attend the services, her presence was not noted, and she did not make herself known to any of the family or immediate friends.

"Paul Dunbar. The Dead Poet Laureate's Solemn Funeral Services."  The Gazette (Cleveland, Ohio).  February 17, 1906.  Page 1.

Paul and Alice Dunbar had separated permanently four years earlier and she no longer communicated with Paul's family.  No one from Dayton notified Alice about Paul's death or his funeral arrangements and she did not attend.  Months later, Alice gave her perspective in a letter to Lida Keck Wiggins, a writer from Springfield, Ohio, who was conducting research for a biography about Paul.

I was on the train one morning, going to Philadelphia to attend a lecture, and saw the notice of his death in my morning paper.  It was such a shock that I fear I have not yet fully recovered from it.  I waited, hoping that his mother or some friend of the family would telegraph me or say something, but no word came.  You can imagine my bitterness when I saw in a Dayton paper a criticism of me for not attending the funeral.  Of course, I could not go to Dayton with not a friend there.

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.