Posted here (above) is the death certificate for Theodore Dreiser’s nephew Carl Dresser.
Carl Dresser was the illegitimate son of Dreiser’s sister Cacilia (Sylvia).
Carl Dresser … certificate of death #14567 … Department of Health, Chicago … date of birth, unknown … age, 26 years … date of death, March 29, 1915 … occupation, Bellboy … buried Elmwood [Cemetery], March 31, 1915 … evidence obtained at inquest … Cause of death – Asphyxiation by illuminating gas (suicide) … address, 53 W Erie St. …. length of time living in city – 4 years … name of father – unknown … name of mother – unknown. [Elmwood Cemetery is located in River Grove, IL; the village of River Grove is located about 15 miles from Chicago]
Note the cause of death, suicide, and Carl’s occupation, bellboy.
Carl Dresser gets scant mention by Dreiser biographers. In an entry for Cacilia (Sylvia) Dreiser in A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia, her illegitimate son Carl is said to have been born on October 16, 1886. This is accurate. In a letter to Theodore Dreiser dated October 16, 1908, Carl stated, “I am twenty two years old to day.” This would mean that the age of death shown on the death certificate is not accurate. It should have been 28 years.
Carl was raised by various Dreiser family members and had contact with his uncle Theodore over the years, as is indicated by the correspondence posted as a PDF file below. He lived for a period of time with Dreiser’s’ sister Mame (Carl’s aunt) and his maternal grandfather Johann Paul Dreiser in upstate New York.
Here’s a question which intrigues me. Book One of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy is all about Clyde Griffith’s life prior to his moving to Lycurgus to work in his uncle’s collar factory. This part of the novel is all invented; it does not correspond to the life of the actual murderer Chester Gillette, who was the prototype of Clyde Griffiths. Has anyone noticed that when Clyde meets his uncle Samuel Griffiths he is BELLHOP working in a HOTEL in CHICAGO? Could Dreiser have had his nephew Carl in mind when he was writing parts of this part of the novel?
Carl Dresser – correspondence with Theodore Drieser
— Roger W. Smith