Love in the Time of Error: The Sad Tale of Adolphus and Rachel Bauer

“In thy dark eyes splendor
Where the warm light loves to dwell
Weary looks get tender
Speak their last farewell.”

Such words immortalized the love of Adolphus Gustavus Bauer for his young wife, Rachel “Unaka” Blythe Bauer. Her sudden end resonated with him so deeply that in his heartbroken state, he felt the need to join her in death.

Blythe came from a family of Cherokee descent of Swain County. Among their tribe, her family held prestige as leaders. After attending Baptist Female University (current day Meredith College) for stenography, Blythe found work at the Post Office in Raleigh as a stamp clerk. She met Adolphus Gustavus Bauer, an architect whose reputation preceded him in works such as the Raleigh Executive Mansion, the Pullen Building, the Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill and the Western North Carolina Hospital for the Insane in Morganton.


Husband and wife met as boarders in a house and married in 1894, but kept it a secret from the Raleigh folks, as she was in the family way. Also, the marriage was not kindly looked upon much to the chagrin of the public. A marriage such as theirs went against the legality of marrying within one’s race. In June 1895, the couple journeyed to Washington, D.C. for a second wedding after seeking legal advice guaranteeing the out of state deal would be valid. Upon their return to Raleigh, the matter became a great debate as many deemed it illegal. Later that year, their first born daughter, Owenah was born. The Bauers remained in North Carolina and Adolphus’ career grew.

Unfortunately, tragedy never took a final bow. On May 2, 1896, while travelling with a business associate in Durham, a train struck their carriage. His fame dwindled as he found his new ailment set a true handicap on him. A brain injury would become the root of physical and mental distress in forms of dizziness, delusions and melancholia.

Shortly after the birth of their son, Fred, the lovely Rachel fell ill and died a few days later. Overcome by grief over his wife’s death, Adolphus sent his children to stay with relatives. It is said that even though his illness had taken over, he was still able to function, but becoming no stranger to death resulted in his mind never settling in the right direction again.

As a token of his love, a Grecian temple in the form of a tribute to Diana at Ephesus was erected. A photograph of Rachel in wedding attire set against the portico. Perhaps, Adolphus wanted to commend his wife’s virtues and attributes when he chose the Greek goddess. Underneath the dates is a play on the North Carolina motto, Esse Quam Videri which translates from Latin as “To be rather than to seem.” Instead, the words, “True worth is being, not seeming.” Adolphus gives a not so gentle reminder of the mistreatment of Rachel by the people of North Carolina. Though he had a hand in a number of important landmarks, this remains his great opus.


The back of Rachel Blythe Bauer’s grave




One of the sides of the grave

Sequestering himself from the world, Adolphus spent his last days in a room reading Shakespeare and writing. On May 11, 1898, he died from a fatal wound to the head. In his right hand rested a revolver and his left lingered on a photograph of Rachel. As a last testament, his suicide note denoted: “If I, by violence to myself should die, I wish to be buried by the side of my wife, in Raleigh, N.C., where I have so long sojourned and along the Southern people I have liked so well.” Even in his death, the honest architect maintained the satisfaction of having the last word laced with perhaps sarcasm in the mix. Adolphus resided next to Rachel in an unmarked grave until a stone was dedicated to him by the Triangle Native Society, who chose to omit the first part of the speech indicating that death came by his hand.


Headstone of Adolphus Gustavus

The back of A.G. Bauer’s headstone

Although these parents never lived long enough to see their young children grow into adults, Owenah and Fred led long, full lives and became pathfinders in their own right. Fred went on to live with his maternal uncle James and his wife Josephine Blythe. During World War I, Fred joined the American Air Corps and returned to teach at multiple institutions for Native Americans around the country. His work also included advocating for the rights of Native Americans and he is remembered as a tribal councilman among the Cherokee people. Owenah attended Ohio State University and was a part of the Philomathean Literary Society as President. Like her mother, she worked hard and found pleasure in education, which the society endorsed as well as reading. She was quite active at her institution and spoke on occasions about the goodness there.

The union of Adolphus and Rachel lasted a short while in life. Rachel’s weak disposition may have led to her eventual death and Adolphus’ own end may have stemmed from his inability to strive in the world as he was wrought with bereavement, but the emanating source derived from misunderstanding and culture at the time. But in their affinity and death rose a legacy of enduring love in a time of error.

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