April 19 - Paul Gets a Makeover

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On April 19, 1893, Paul Laurence Dunbar gave a poetry reading for a social club in Toledo, Ohio.  He was 20 years old and had recently published his first book of poems, Oak and Ivy.  Paul gave an enthusiastic account of his Toledo visit to his friend James Newton Matthews, a country doctor and poet from Mason, Illinois.

I should like to tell you all about my visit to Detroit and Toledo if I could, but there were so many pleasures about them both that one cannot put down on paper.  Financially, I was quite successful in Detroit and very successful in Toledo at which latter place I read for a very wealthy and aristocratic private club who received me enthusiastically and took twenty-eight of my books, besides a small contribution which they also gave me.  The Toledo papers gave me very favorable notices.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to James Newton Matthews, May 2, 1893.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).

Paul's reading took place at the West End Club in Toledo.  He had been invited by a Toledo lawyer named Charles Thatcher, who wrote to Paul a few days afterward.

Of course, a city of Toledo's rank has all sorts and conditions of clubs.  The West End Club, on Adams Street, has a literary reputation, and the legal and medical professions are largely represented in its list of members.

"Clubs:  Of all Sizes, Shapes and Previous Condition of Servitude."  The Enquirer Supplement (Cincinnati, Ohio).  September 23, 1894.  Page 9.

On behalf of the members of the West End Club, I wish to thank you for the pleasure afforded us on Wednesday evening.  I have heard a number of comments from members present and all express themselves as not only greatly pleased with your compositions and delivery but surprised that one of your years should produce such beautiful poems.  If in the future you should wish to come to Toledo again by giving me due notice can make your trip even more prosperous than was the first.

Charles A. Thatcher to Paul Laurence Dunbar, April 21, 1893.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).

Paul returned to Toledo several times and established significant relationships with supporters there, such as Dr. Henry Tobey, superintendent of the Toledo State Hospital.  During one visit, Tobey's young daughters playfully put makeup on Paul's face.  He described his embarrassment in a letter to his future wife Alice.

The girls and I have been having a jolly good time and they have powdered me and black my eyebrows and under my eyes.  It was lots of fun at the time, but merciful heavens!  I forgot to remove it before the company came, and here I sit writing with my head bowed low in order to conceal my shame, just waiting for a chance to make a break for my room.  (An old maid across from me is watching me so closely that I think she must have discovered my secret -- but I put my hand to my head and beg pardon for hastening on to finish a very important letter!)  (Old maid smiles.  I swear inwardly.)  Ah thank heavens -- have been to my room and washed it off.  Am entirely myself now.

Paul Laurence Dunbar to Alice Ruth Moore, April 19, 1896.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 8).

Two years later, Paul made another appearance in Toledo and Mayor Samuel Jones looked forward to meeting him.  However, Jones was unable to attend the event due to illness.

I must regret that the hoarseness has taken a turn for the worse and I am ordered by the doctor to stay in the house.  My feelings plainly indicate that the order is a wise one and I therefore obey.  I fully expected to have the pleasure of hearing you this evening but prudence forbids.

Samuel M. Jones to Paul Laurence Dunbar, December 12, 1898.  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 1).

Mayor Jones had another opportunity to meet Paul during a later visit to the city.  Jones was devoted to physical fitness and would sometimes give impromptu demonstrations of calisthenics, resulting in a humorous encounter at the Toledo State Hospital.

When Dunbar was on a lecturing tour he found himself in Toledo a very sick man.  Dr. Tobey invited him to the hospital as his guest.  During their talk the poet happened to speak in terms of admiration of Mayor Jones and Dr. Tobey assumed that they were acquainted.  On meeting the Mayor he told him of his distinguished guest and of the flattering words that he had spoken of him.  That afternoon the Mayor appeared at the asylum and asked to see Dunbar.  Dr. Tobey pointed to his room and told the Mayor to go right in.  Now, that fact is that Dunbar had never seen the Mayor.  The latter upon entering and exchanging greetings informed Dunbar that what he needed was more exercise and less medicine.  He gave the poet a lecture on laziness and went through his usual calisthenics.  Later, he informed the now alarmed poet that he (the Mayor) was stronger than ever before in his life;  that he could run farther than when a boy and that he could do more tricks.  To illustrate he got down and proceeded to stand on his head.  This performance gave the poet the opportunity for which he sought, and he bolted out of the room, down the corridor and into the office.  "One of your patients has escaped, doctor," he shouted.  "He is down in my room telling me how strong he is and carrying on frightfully.  I think that he will hurt somebody if he isn't restrained."  Summoning an attendant the doctor ran into Dunbar's room expecting to find one of the hospital inmates raging in delirium.  To their surprise they found the esteemed Mayor standing in the middle of the floor anxiously looking for Paul Laurence Dunbar, the colored poet.  He was quite sure that something was wrong with the distinguished man he had come to see.  The situation was embarrassing for the doctor, but he managed to straighten it out.

"Dr. Tobey's Experiment Proved Embarrassing."  The Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio).  January 18, 1903.  Page 3.