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.

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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.

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The back of Rachel Blythe Bauer’s grave

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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.

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Headstone of Adolphus Gustavus

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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.

Scarifying Terms: What Graveyard Shift, Dead Ringer and Wake Means

The 1800’s were surely a macabre time to live in. The notion of death held an ominous cloud over the heads of the upright and dour Victorian citizens. Because medicine was still in its infancy, folks naturally knew next to nothing about the human body. In fact, the discovery of the human body and a slew of creative, albeit radical methods of treatments such as lobotomies and herbal tonics highlighted the times. In those days, when loved ones died, there was a nagging thought that those once lively bodies harboured terrible diseases. Leaving unburied bodies surely meant whatever illnesses could freely inhabit a living person. Also, the colors of death began to change a the physical appearances both outwardly and internally thanks to the minimal use of embalming until later in the century. To ensure the safety of the town, bodies were quickly buried without so much as a blink of an eye.

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Courtesy of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
Antoine Wiertz: “The Premature Burial” in 1854

No sooner did the good people rid themselves with possible illness then another problem arose. Old stories mention the unearthing of bodies in cemeteries for new graves when space ran out. But an unthinkable horror worse than disease surfaced. A handful of coffins bore scratch marks from the inside as if the dead somehow came back to life and wanted to rejoin the world above. Realistically, medicine and wrongful burials stayed in the premature category, so this happened more than often. Unfortunately, these poor souls suffocated in tight, dark spaces and some were never rescued.

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Courtesy of GloCoNJ.com
A boy was found buried alive in the early 1900’s

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Courtesy of Lauren Ayn Lusk
An illustration of the decease’s hands attached to the life saving contraption

Such is the case of Samuel Jocelyn, a privileged man from Wilmington, North Carolina who found himself entombed in frosty waters after making his way in the dark. Who says love doesn’t kill? It definitely was an end for Jocelyn after a heated fight with his darling new wife. Hastily buried, Jocelyn found himself a victim of a burial gone wrong after his friends dug him up only to find their fun loving pal in life a picture of writhing agony and a body in the most horrible contortion. When the searchers found Jocelyn’s body, it was assumed that he was dead on arrival. But the icy swamp only slowed his heart down enough so that the faint murmurs came close to inaudibility. Alas, the warmth of his new earthly home interrupted his slumber and his last breath drew in the underground abode.

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Courtesy of http://www.geocaching.com
St. James Episcopal Church’s Cemetery

Perhaps the grim author, Edgar Allan Poe, sums up this pandemonium the best in his stories of violent deaths such as “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Premature Burial”. His tales captivated the audience of that time but also instilled a fear and truth about early death and the limited knowledge on the topic.

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An illustrated scene of “The Cask of Amontillado”

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Edgar Allan Poe

It’s right to say that while the Victorians stared death on a regular basis due to illnesses and lack of medicine, their fear spurred ways to combat the issue. When it was discovered that the possibility of being buried alive was very real, a system of bells and strings were became the craze. Unlike today’s six feet under and steel vaults, the dead laid in shallow graves a few inches below with loose soil on top. Some historians say families resorted to leaving the bodies’ hands sticking out of the graves with a string attached to the finger or wrist, while others say the dead laid in dormancy underground. If the bell rang, then a night watchman or “dead ringer” came to the rescue with shovel in tow.

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Courtesy of Monovisions Black and White Photograpy Magazine
Daguerreotypes of Victorian Widows in Mourning

The invention of the “safety coffin” also led to the relief of folks in the latter part of the 19th century. The most known device comes from a man by the name of Count Michel de Karnice Karnicki which he aptly termed “Le Karnice”. Here, the body laid in a rectangular box above ground with a bell and a ball on the outside. If the person was still alive, then their movement and change in breath triggered the bell and ball to sound and move, respectively.
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Courtesy of the New York Academy of Medicine Center for History

On another note, most people regard Henry Ford as the first person to create shift work, but it’s rather a misconception. The third shift came to fruition as night watchmen meandered the premises of the graveyard in hopes of finding the living. The shift lasted from somewhere around late evening to midnight until the early morning. Thankfully, many were found. Some people dispute this tale because another origin of this term comes from sailors working in the dead of night. The eerie calm of night coupled with the imagination’s ability to run wild led to more than a few men quaking till the morning. The shift was a dangerous time because being on a boat in the middle of the night meant that a man could easily fall overboard due to the inability to see clearly at night as he continued his watch or being groggy from no sleep. Nowadays, plenty of people find the “graveyard shift” one of the most challenging things about work.

Another strange tradition stemming from fear of interment has to do with a certain drink. The English took to their ale quite heartily and that mixture coupled with leaden cups would make modern hangovers wilt in shame. The part about the lead is up in the air to historians and science as the maker of drunk men may not be in this element. Only prolonged exposure seems plausible. As the drunkards traverse the dimly lit roads, good samaritans would find them faced down on the ground. These civilians and family members dutifully collected the sloven forms and laid them out on the tables at home in funerary finery awaiting a proper burial. The family would gather round to eat and drink and of course be merry while watching the stranger in curiousity. More than likely, plenty a English man woke up from his stupor and did a little walk of shame home. Dispelling this tale, one can take in another. The roots of a Christian wake goes back to the influences of the Celtic people who would place the dead under a table while the watchers sipped their giddy beverages on the table or elsewhere. Either way, the term “wake” has its roots tied to alcohol.

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Courtesy of http://www.missmementomori.wordpress.com

Nowadays, wakes consist of families and friends gathering in a church or another space of significance where eulogies are given in memory of the deceased and prayers are said. A modern form of a wake resembling the one in the old days can be seen in a romantic tragedy about unattainable love and heartbreak where a certain person believes his love is lost forever. No, it’s not Romeo and Juliet! Here’s a hint: it’s supernatural with vampires and werewolves at odds and in love. The Twilight Saga:Breaking Dawn — Part 1 depicts a scene where Bella Cullen’s family and friends wait for her to wake up from her morphine and venom induced siesta in the middle of the house. Families in the 1800’s and even later without parlors made do by using a bedroom. Bodies laid on beds or in coffins on top of the bed and people came for the viewing.

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Save the Last Epitaph

A commemorative inscription. Laud. Poem. A sign of brevity.

Epitaphs travel the length and breath of each moment only to seek immortalization in the indentation of a lithic element. Words carry meaning and instill the vitality a living person once held in ways voice can no longer gratify.

The Historic Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, North Carolina resembles any other cemetery in that it serves one purpose: honor the dead. Whether through burials or cremations, each interment allows families to grieve and remember past lives. To the last words and the impressions left behind…

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Let Us Cross The River

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Darling, We Miss You

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Touched So Many Lives As Husband, Dad, Granddad And Friend

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In His Mouth Was Found No Guile

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I Love You More

“We May Lose And We May Win, But We Will Never Be Here Again. Take It Easy…”

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Blessed Are The Pure In Heart

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So Teach Us To Number Our Days That We May Apply Our Hearts Unto Wisdom

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Two Cousins Playing Together Forever

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Tend The Garden Of My Grave
Plant It With Life, Be Brave
And Somehow Let Me Know, Oh Do
I Have Not Died In You

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In Memory Of My Devoted Husband.
Sleep On, Dear Huband Take Thy Rest,
I Miss You Most, Who Loved You Best,
God Took You Home, It Was His Will,
But In My Heart You Are Living Still.

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I Told You That It Was Hard…

Some Words from Bruce Miller

Some cemeteries display blooming gardens while others hold cinema nights. But no one has Bruce Miller. Oakwood Cemetery boasts the rights to a great historian whose dedication to little old Raleigh is nothing short of a blessing. Earning his tenure as a most knowledgeable guide to all things Oakwood Cemetery, it was only  fitting to etch his memory and name on a street. Miller’s Magnolia Walk houses one of the oldest and famous patrons whose history the eponymous figure knows all too well. Here lies Sophia Patridge, the founder of the Confederate Cemetery at Oakwood, John Haywood, the first Treasurer and Raleigh’s first Intendant of Police (Mayor), and Ellen Mordecai, the author of Gleanings from Long Ago of the Mordecai family whose plantation bears a short walk a few blocks away.

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On a Friday afternoon, Miller accompanied the Raleigh Governor’s Mansion docents through the maze of streets and stones. From far away, one would assume that this tour is rather quiet and normal. But Miller’s demeanor and presence turned even the most intriguing chit chat to a halt with his abundance of never ending wisdom. A true cognoscenti of his time, he never fails to enlighten the crowd with facts intertwined with lighthearted humor. If there is such a thing as a walking encyclopedia then he is it!

As the storyteller introduces each patron and their tale, one cannot help but wonder how this man can remember so much. The theme of the day revolved around the governors and state officials of Raleigh. From Robert Watson Winston to Charles Brantley Aycock, Miller’s genteel Southern introduction brings the past a bit closer to the present. At certain points, he goes on a first name basis with patrons. One can only surmise that given the chance, they would return the favor and tell their own stories about the man himself.

 

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Throwing in a few unrelated tombs and their origins, the crowd hung on his every word as curiosity peaked. As revolutions around the former first park of Raleigh were made, the tour ended with the trademark humble Bruce Miller philosophy as capturing the “spirit of the place” and making a small contribution to a lively place. Miller is no stranger to the plenty of tours and even lectures at North Carolina State University. He is the author of Oakwood to Oakwood which can be purchased at Oakwood Cemetery for $15. A huge investment of time and research was spent on learning and collecting facts and anecdotes about the people and through his generosity, all proceeds go to the cemetery. The book provides an insight on past figures whose influence on the neighborhood remains a great feat to this day. As Miller puts it, the book kindly depicts, “The lives and homes of people who lived in or developed Raleigh’s Oakwood neighborhood — and stayed.”

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Living in Love: The Story of Charles and Dorothy Vlaskamp

“I am dying to get home and take you in my arms again. You had better watch out darling…”

These are the words that captivated me as I read through stacks of letters from World War II from a soldier to his honey waiting at home. There are so many stories about love in literature that makes the heart swoon like The Notebook, Casablanca and The English Patient. But the one that resonates with me the most is the one I heard this morning. I had the pleasure talking to Charlene Stell, a volunteer at Oakwood Cemetery, about her parents who are buried in the Veterans’ Section. Charles Vlaskamp passed away in 1999 while Dorothy Vlaskamp also passed in 2014. Her father was a frequent visitor to Oakwood and enjoyed learning about the history of the Civil War. Charles and Dorothy married on March 27, 1944 in New York. It was a sudden decision when Dorothy took a train from California to see her lover, not knowing if he was going to be there. Once there, she married in the dress she arrived in to her waiting soldier. Soon, Charles shipped out to the next station as the war continued.

What is most endearing is the story of how they met. He was stationed in Twentynine Palms in California and on a night out with friends, the group decided to dance at a United Services Organization Center. She happened to be there at the right time. No one wanted to dance with her more than he did and another fellow. Coins were flipped and the rest is history. However, love is never easy in war and complications ensued. Charles would not be home for a very long time and marriage was a distant photograph. But their love never faded as he sent out letters to her wherever he went from Holland to Paris to Germany to Louisiana to wherever as he followed General George S. Patton’s path. Their love was tried by the adversities in life such as Charles going through a divorce when they first met and the war separating them thousands of miles from each other. But the two found a way to make it work.

Theirs is a story that the 1940’s relished because Charles and Dorothy reunited after the war ended in 1945. Home to a new America, the two built a life together lasting over three decades. Although the two divorced later in life, both remained great friends as well as wonderful parents and grandparents. In his spare time, Charles enjoyed a game of golf, read voraciously and nourished his gift for playing piano by ear. Dorothy remained on the crafty side of things and loved oil painting, making porcelain dolls and gardening. Stell remembered how her mother kept all of her father’s letters in a box. The letters accompany many stunning pictures of the duo in their younger years and are now preserved in an photo album created by Charlene’s daughter, Jennifer Knight, depicting their love story. Along with this is an album created in remembrance of Dorothy as a wife, mother, and grandmother. As for Charlene, she spends her days dedicating hours at Oakwood helping many whose loved ones are interred here and passersby with a sense of curiosity. She has also donated a generous gift by giving all of her parents’ letters and photo albums to Oakwood Cemetery as a way to preserve their love, memories so that others may remember how they once lived.

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Wreaths Across America at Oakwood Cemetery

As I sat down with Sue Purkis, I can tell that a meaningful story is about to unfold. With a smile, she tells me that she is an advocate for Wreaths Across America, an organization dedicated to remember, honor, and teach about our brave military members and veterans. Each December, they lay wreaths on the graves at Arlington National Cemetery and many other veterans’ cemeteries across the country. After creating a chapter of Wreaths Across America at Oakwood Cemetery, she tells me that this venture has been quite successful in the past three years.  Veterans and many of their families dwell in a section known as the Field of Honor where veterans are provided with a white, marble headstone marker by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs free of charge. Oakwood Cemetery’s purpose is to provide a low-cost burial space for veterans and their families while keeping a space that honors the lives of those interred.

Originally from Boston, Massachusetts, Purkis knew about WAA before coming to Raleigh. She considers herself as someone who is interested in cemeteries and also in the preservation aspects. In the past, cemeteries were places where families held picnics and gatherings. As someone who has worked in a hospice setting where taking care of ill and elderly patients were normal, death is not a hidden thing for her. She firmly muses,
“We all deal with it.”

Oakwood is a peaceful place of rest and life for her. When she has time, Purkis volunteers at events such as the North Carolina Science Festival: The Birds and the Bees and the Urn Art & Garden Faire held here. She hopes to see more local events that will create involvement for those who are curious about Oakwood.

On this year’s ceremony for WAA at Oakwood, the goal is to be able to lay more wreaths for all veterans who reside in other sections outside the Field of Honor. In the past, the Girl Scouts came to lay wreaths and Purkis hopes that more of the “next generation” will attend. Moreover, she tells me that if there was full representation from the Army, Navy, Coastguard, Airforce, Marines, and the POWs, she would feel complete and content on this year’s mission.

Oakwood Cemetery will host another Wreaths Across America event on Saturday, December 12, 2015 at 12:00 p.m.

If you have any questions, please call Robin Simonton at 919.832.6077

For those who would like to purchase wreaths this season, please visit:
http:// www.WreathsAcrossAmerica.org

Sponsoring Group ID Number: NC 0016P
Location ID: NC H0FH
Name of Cemetery: Oakwood Cemetery

You can also press on the link below:
http://give.wreathsacrossamerica.org/site/TR/NationalWreathsAcrossAmericaDay/General?team_id=8679&pg=team&fr_id=4196

imagePhoto Credit: Sue Purkis