Category Archives: Dreiser’s family and relatives

“Dreiser’s Nephew Carl” — UPDATED

 

 

addendum – ‘Dreiser’s nephew Carl’

 

 

 

I have updated my post “Dreiser’s Nephew Carl” again.

 

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2020/05/20/roger-w-smith-dreisers-nephew-carl/

 

The post is mostly in the format of downloadable Word document.

The reason for the update is that I have obtained a valuable piece of evidence: a chapter from the second typescript of Dreiser’s Dawn (at the Lilly Library) which was not available to me until now because of the library being closed during the pandemic.

The only addition to my essay is the Addendum at the end. I have posted the Addendum here as a downloadable World document (above).

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 2020

Roger W. Smith, “Dreiser’s Nephew Carl”

 

 

 

‘Dreiser’s nephew Carl’

 

 

This post is in the form of a downloadable Word document (above).

 

 

'Dawn' - first typescript - Chapter XLII, pg. 13

Theodore Dreiser, “Dawn,” first typescript, Chapter XLII, pg. 13

 

 

 

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Abstract

 

 

This article focuses on Theodore Dreiser’s nephew Carl Dresser, who was born out of wedlock in 1886 to Dreiser’s sister Cacilia (Sylvia) Dreiser. The article provides hitherto unknown details about Sylvia’s affair with Carl’s father — the pseudonymous “Don Ashley” — when Theodore Dreiser, his sister Sylvia, and other siblings were living in Warsaw, Indiana with their mother, as recounted by Dreiser, with some major modifications of facts, in his autobiographical work Dawn.

I have discovered the identity of Carl’s father and confirmed details of Carl’s death. It was “known” on scant evidence that he was a suicide. It has been said, which is inaccurate, that Carl died in his teens. I have found Carl’s death record, as well as his birth record.

Dreiser’s sister Sylvia abandoned Carl and did not raise him; he was raised by Dreiser’s parents and also by his aunt Mame (Theodore Dreiser’s sister) and her husband. As an unwanted child, Carl had a difficult life. Many details have remained sketchy or were never investigated by Dreiser biographers; there is scant mention of Carl in Dreiser biographies.

The story of Sylvia’s affair and pregnancy, a scandal at the time, is worth investigating, since Dreiser saw it as not insignificant in his family history and as contributing to ideas about sex and morality he had as a teenager — he used it as the subject matter of two chapters in Dawn. And, the story of Carl’s birth and his short, unhappy life throws some light on characters in Dreiser’s An American Tragedy and, to a lesser extent, in his novel Jennie Gerhardt.

 

 

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Theodore Dreiser, “The Return of the Genius,” Chicago Sunday Globe. October 23, 1892 (under byline Carl Dreiser)

 

 

Theodore Dreiser, ‘The Return of the Genius.’

 

 

 

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132 West 15th Street, NYC

+ 132 West 15th Street, Manhattan; photo by Roger W. Smith, May 2020. Carl Dreiser was born at this address, in the apartment of Theodore Dreiser’s sister, Emma, in 1886.

 

 

 

Carl's building

53 West Erie Street, Chicago; where Carl Dresser lived at the time of his death; photo by Tamie Dehler

 

 

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Addendum, August 16, 2020:

 

I received an email from Professor Emeritus Thomas Kranidas today which called my attention to something I had overlooked (italics): “Dreiser was surely influenced by memory of Carl’s bellhop days. And Carl was tragically influenced by Dreiser’s portrayal of Hurstwood’s suicide in “Sister Carrie.”

Note that Carl Dresser (as detailed in my essay ) died from “Asphixiation by illuminating gas.”

 

 

— posted by Roger W.  Smith

   May 2020; updated August 2020

Carl Dresser, bellboy

 

 

 

Carl Dresser death certificate

 

 

 

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

   October 2017

 

Roger W. Smith letter to Harold J. Dies, March 24, 2007

 

 

Harold J. Dies (1914-2012) was Trustee of the Dreiser Trust.

 

 

Roger W. Smith to Harold Dies 3-24-2007

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

excerpts from the autobiography of Harold James Dies

 

 

Posted here below as a downloadable PDF document are excerpts from the autobiography of Harold James Dies (1914-2012). Mr. Dies was related, on his mother’s side, to Theodore Dreiser’s second wife, Helen (Patges) (Richardson) Dreiser. He was Trustee of the Dreiser Trust.

The full title of the autobiography is “The Kingdom of God and the World’s Final Generation: The Life Story of Harold James Dies” (2010).

Included in the autobiography is anecdotal material related to Theodore Dreiser and his second wife Helen, as well as some information about Dreiser’s niece Gertrude Amelia Hopkins (1894-1963) that is not available elsewhere. Topics of interest discussed in the autobiography, and included in the excerpts posted below, include:

Mr. Dies’s relationship with Dreiser’s second wife Helen, whom he knew from his early years, and biographical information about her

his meeting Dreiser and some anecdotal material about Dreiser

mention of his cousin congressman Martin Dies, chairman of the House un-American Activities Committee

his relationship with Gertrude Amelia Hopkins, Dreiser’s favorite niece and the daughter of Dreiser’s sister Emma (“Sister Carrie”)

negotiations over the production of Tobias Picker’s opera “An American Tragedy”

I wish to thank Joann Crouch, Mr. Dies’s niece, who told me about this unique book and made it available to me for photocopying.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

      February 2017

 

 

 

the-life-story-of-harold-james-dies-excerpts

 

photo of Gertrude Amelia Hopkins (Theodore Dreiser’s favorite niece)

 

 

See commentary below.

 

 

 

Gertrude A. Hopkins (Dreiser's niece)

Gertrude Amelia Hopkins (1894-1973)

 

 

 

This photograph of Gertrude Amelia Hopkins (1894-1973), Theodore Dreiser’s favorite niece, is, as far as I know, unique. It is the best photo of Gertrude that I have ever seen.

I am grateful to Mrs. Gloria N. Vevante, Gertrude’s niece, for giving me this photo.

Gertrude Amelia Hopkins was the daughter of Theodore Dreiser’s sister, Emma (Dreiser) Nelson (1863-1936). Emma (Dreiser) Nelson was the real life prototype of the lead character, Carrie Meeber, in Theodore Dreiser’s first novel, Sister Carrie.

 

— Roger W. Smith

     December 2016

 

 

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email to a Dreiserian from Roger W. Smith, Janrary 15, 2017

 

Attached is a gorgeous photo of Gertrude Amelia Hopkins (1894-1973), who was TD’s favorite niece.

The photo was given to me by Mrs. Gloria Vevante.

Mrs. Vevante was born Gloria Nelson. She was Gertrude’s niece. Her (Mrs. Vevante’s) father was George Nelson.

George Kates Nelson (1892-1955) was the son of Emma and Hopkins. He took the name of his stepfather, John Nelson.

George was a hotel manager in Manhattan for most of his professional life. He married a woman, Gunda Ryerson, who had emigrated when young from Norway. For many years, his family lived in Manhattan.

George had nothing to do with TD and did not seem to have been intimate with his mother, Emma, as an adult. He was apparently somewhat of a wild kid who straightened out as he matured. He knew Paul Dresser and as an adolescent would spend time with him.

His first name, George, is possibly significant, since Hurstwood’s first name is George and he has a son named George, Jr.

Gertrude alternatively used the names Gertrude Hopkins and Gertrude Nelson when she was young. She aspired to be singer when young. She was close to Emma. She ended up working for Con Edison in Westchester County. She married a coworker, Emil Dorn, and became Gertrude Hopkins Dorn. But, she found out — much later (I believe it was after Dorn’s death) — that Mr. Dorn was already married (when he married Gertrude) to a wife who had been found mentally incompetent and was confined to a hospital. Gertrude went back to being Gertrude Hopkins.

Gertrude died in Westchester in 1973.

Her letters to TD are touching.

Harold J. Dies (1914-2012), a descendant of Dreiser’s aunt who was Trustee of the Dreiser Estate (he was a cousin of Dreiser’s second wife, Helen Patges Dreiser), knew Gertrude well and played a major role in administering her estate. It is clear that he was fond of her. Tedi Dreiser Goddard and her mother, Dr. Vera Dreiser, knew Gertrude but didn’t seem to give her the time of day or think that much of her. Helen knew Gertrude and liked her. And, at an early age, at least, Gertrude used to correspond with Jug.

Carmel O’Neill Haley, “The Dreisers”

 

 

Carmel O’Neill Haley, ‘The Dreisers’ – Commonweal

 

 

 

Attached above as a downloadable PDF file is an article about the Dreiser family:

Carmel O’Neill Haley, “The Driesers,” The Commonweal, vol. XVIII, no. 10 (July 7, 1933), pg. 265-267

 

Ms. Haley knew Theodore Dreiser’s sister Maria Franziska Dreiser (1861-1944) – known by Ms. Haley as Mary and by the Dreiser family as Mame — and her husband Austin Daniel Brennan (1874-1928) well. She also knew Paul Dresser well.

In the article, she provides brief reminiscences of Mame and her husband; Theodore’s Dreiser’s father and mother; Theodore and Mame’s brother Paul Dresser, the songwriter (1858-1906); and a “red-headed nephew,” Carl Dresser (1888-1915), who was the son of Theodore and Mame’s sister Cacilia (Sylvia) Dreiser.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

  November 2016

contemporary newspaper accounts about the real life Hurstwood’s theft

 

 

 

the-safes-contents-missing-chi-inter-ocean-2-16-1886

 

 

cashier-and-money-missing-ny-times-2-16-1886

 

 

hopkins-skip-chi-inter-ocean-2-17-1886-pg-8-3

 

 

item re Hopkins (returned money) - Chi Tribune 2-19-1886, pg. 8.jpg

 

 

hopkins-is-sorry-chi-tribune-2-17-1886

 

 

See downloadable files above.

 

 

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Theodore Dreiser’s first novel, Sister Carrie, was based on real people and incidents: (1) Dreiser’s sister Emma Wilhelmina Dreiser  (Carrie Meeber in the novel); and, (2) Emma’s lover L. A. Hopkins (George Hurstwood in the novel). They absconded to New York after Hopkins, a married man, stole money from his employer in Chicago.

The incident in which Hopkins stole cash from his employer, Chapin & Gore (Fitzgerald and Moy in the novel), a firm that owned a number of Chicago saloons, and absconded — a central incident which underpins the plot of Sister Carrie (where Hurstwood does the same things) — happened in February 1886 and was covered in contemporary newspapers.

Five such newspaper accounts are attached here as downloadable files:

“The Safe’s Contents Missing,” Chicago Inter Ocean, February 16 1886

“Cashier and Money Missing,” New York Times, February 16, 1886

“Hopkins’ Skip,” Chicago Inter Ocean, February 17, 1886

“Hopkins Is Sorry,” Chicago Tribune, February 17, 1886

news item re return of money by Hopkins, Chicago Tribune, February 19, 1886

 

 

–Roger W. Smith

    November 2016

Roger W. Smith, “Lorenzo A. Hopkins, Emma Wilhelmina Dreiser, and Family”

 

 

‘Lorenzo A. Hopkins, Emma Wilhelmina Dreiser & Family’

 

 

See downloadable Word document above.

 

 

 

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Lorenzo A. Hopkins (aka L. A. Hopkins; 1847-1897) was the real life counterpart of the character George Hurstwood in Theodore Dreiser’s novel Sister Carrie.

Gertrude Amelia Hopkins (1894-1973), Theodore Dreiser’s niece, was the daughter of Dreiser’s sister Enema Dreiser (1863-1936). Emma was the real life counterpart of, and model for, the lead character in Sister Carrie.

 

 

 

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Abstract/Summary:

 

Theodore Dreiser’s first novel, Sister Carrie, was based on real people and incidents: Dreiser’s sister Emma; and, Emma’s lover L. A. Hopkins with whom she eloped after Hopkins, a married man, stole money from his employer in Chicago.

In the novel, Carrie Meeber’s lover, George Hurstwood, commits suicide. Very little has been known hitherto about the identity of L. A. Hopkins, the real life model for Hurstwood, or what became of him after he and Dreiser’s sister Emma, the model for Carrie Meeber, settled in New York City.

This article provides information about Hopkins and his death. It also provides information about the life of Dreiser’s sister Emma after Hopkins’s death and about the children of Hopkins and Emma; they had two children whom Dreiser met in 1894 when he first visited New York City: George Nelson and Gertrude Hopkins. The former, George Nelson, did not relate to Dreiser in later life, though in his youth he had some contact with Dreiser’s brother Paul Dresser. The latter, Gertrude Hopkins, was Dreiser’s favorite niece.

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   October 2016; updated July 2020

 

 

 

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Also, see below:

photo of Lorenzo A. Hopkins’s grave

photo of Theodore Dreiser’s niece Gertrude A. Hopkins

 

 

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See also my posts:

 

“contemporary newspaper accounts about the real life Hurstwood’s theft”
https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2016/10/10/contemporary-newspaper-accounts-about-the-real-life-hurstwoods-theft/

 

 

Roger W. Smith, “The Real Julia Hurstwood and the Lutz Murder Case”

https://dreiseronlinecom.wordpress.com/2017/03/01/the-real-julia-hurstwood-and-the-lutz-murder-case/

 

 

PHOTOS

 

 

lorenzo-a-hopkins-grave-posted

gravestone of Lorenzo A. Hopkins (1847-1897); Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Maspeth, Queens, NY (photograph by Roger W. Smith)

 

 

Gertrude A. Hopkins (Dreiser's niece)

Gertrude Amelia Hopkins (1894-1973)

death notice, Sarah Dreiser

 

 

Theodore Dreiser’s mother, Sarah Maria (Schnepp) Dreiser died in Chicago on Nov 14, 1890 at age 57. (Her maiden name is sometimes spelled Schanab.)

Posted here is a death notice from the Chicago Daily Inter Ocean of Sunday, November 16, 1890.

 

 

 

Sarah Mary Dreiser death notice - The Sunday Inter Ocean (Chicago) 11-16-1890.jpg