34. An inheritance is lost

Seely’s second wife, Melissa Whitehead, married Seely shortly after Maude travelled to Brazil to join Cyril and Evelyn.  She had been a work colleague of Seely’s (there are hints that she had been his secretary), was not much older than Evelyn, and the two women never met.  She would be, however, critical in Evelyn’s search for information about her father and his will:  the following sequence of letters records this search.  

In this sequence there are references to Maude “causing trouble”.  This refers to events of 1915, when Seely sent Maude to Brazil to look after Evelyn and her new baby, and soon after divorced her, in her absence, on grounds of “desertion”.  It was feared that Maude would cause trouble by seeking some form of financial support from Seely, and as a result Seely was anxious that his whereabouts were not known to Maude’s extended family.  In the event, Evelyn and Cyril took financial responsibility for Maude and later, after they were no longer able to do so, Maude became the responsibility of her Clarksville cousins, with whom she lived until her death in 1940.

Although there is no evidence in any of the correspondence to support this suspicion, it is easy to deduce that a reason for Seely’s decision to divorce Maude was his wish to marry his young colleague, Melissa Whitehead.

* * * * *

To Melissa Whitehead Dunn

26 Belsize Crescent
April 20, 1947

Mrs Melissa Whitehead Dunn
Lynchburg, Virginia USA

My dear Melissa

I will appreciate precise information from you about my father’s last years, when he fell ill, the exact date of his death, where he is buried, and so on; and, also, anything you incline to tell me about what you and he were doing in this interval of years since I last saw him, in nineteen-twenty-five; when I went to Washington, to your Kay Street flat (you were away) and he came up to New York.

I have just learned that he was dead, and the news is so belated that condolences may seem to be so, as well.  But believing you and he were very fond of each other, I am sure you feel it a loss not to have him there, and I am sorry—as, I must acknowledge, I am somewhat sorry for myself, too, since I always anticipated an eventual assumption of the old normal affectionate relations with my father, and, of course, with yourself the friendly give-and-take with which I think we began.  The hiatus of years, during which I have repeatedly attempted to re-establish contact, all in vain, would have been discouraging; and yet somehow I never doubted that the gap would be bridged, and an explanation given of his apparent ignoring of me; which I could but conjecture as, however wrongly from my point of view, due to complexities aroused by the fact that I was my mother’s daughter and was responsible for her practically.  My mother died in 1940 and in trying to see both sides of the situation (and you know, and he knew, I never criticized the divorce in any “strait-laced” way—as how could I being divorced myself now from Cyril, though I still respect him very much) I thought that, with my mother in the picture, perhaps normal human attitude would be easier for us all.

Well, that is enough of that!  Your whereabouts were given me in a very clear and good letter from J P Morgan and Company, to whom I wrote after having previously written to the Interstate Commerce Bureau.   They did return it, with a pencil scribble at the bottom, “resigned, Jan, 1926, died, 1943”,  date corrected as May, 1944 but day not given and much official stamping at the top.  And of course I could not let things rest there, and so wrote to the Head of J P Morgan and Company; as I was told, many years ago, that my father was a Morgan employee, and that you and he lived at Cranford, New Jersey.

The most exasperating aspect occurred in 1937, when Walter Frank, of the legal firm of Kurzmann and Frank, 25 Broad St, NY, was asked, by me, as a favour, to inquire about Father of various connections he had in Washington, and he agreed to do so, but refused to give me the address when he got it, because he said the lawyer who gave it to him thought it should be withheld lest my mother “make trouble”.  I did consider that an insult to my father, myself and her; and I was so indignant, at the time, that I suspended my search for a while—it just seemed so stupid, Melissa, when if I were a trouble-maker I would obviously not have waited twenty years to make trouble, damn it!  And Mother had many fatuities but much pride of a sort and would never have done anything of that kind, I am sure—couldn’t have, in her financial circumstances!  So much for meddlers—to hell with ‘em, is my sentiments!

One of the bits of gossip about you and my father that was circulating in Clarksville was that I had a half-brother, and while I would no believe mere gossip from any source, I have always hoped it was true, and it is merely because I heard of it in that way that I have a sort of bizarre sense of “indelicacy” in mentioning it.  But for your sake, too, I hope it was, and if so, you may be sure Melissa that it is an added reason for being on normal friendly terms, and certainly not the reverse.

I have discussed ourselves at some length in proof of the absence of any feeling of constraint on my side, and a perfect willingness to accept the decent explanation I think you must be as ready to give as to why we seem to have been plunged into mystifications, for nothing, all these years.  My address with Scribners has been in Who’s Who all the while, and father given there as father, but as you probably never thought of that when not communicating a happening so vital to me, that is no occasion, in itself, for any grudge.  However, Father being the man of sentiment I know he was, I should like to be assured that I was not forgotten by him in his last years.  Maybe you have a recent photograph of him you could spare?  He told me, in 1925, he still had the “Brick-Brownie” doll and other mementos of me, and I was most touched.

My good wishes to yourself as yourself, and the hope, for us all, of compensations for many things that were not happy.

* * * * *

To Andre Chenet1

Personal
[May 1947]

Mr Andre Chenet
New Orleans, Louisiana

Dear Mr Chenet,

I learned of the death of my father, Mr Seely Dunn, a year ago, when attempting, as I have on several previous occasions since the commencement of the as yet inexplicable silence antedating his death, to locate him as living.  And it has taken all this while to receive confirmation of the place of his interment, and to learn that you, as Melissa’s brother-in-law, had charge of the disposition of his ashes at Metairie Cemetary, New Orleans.

And as I have written Melissa four registered letters, of which three were, I am sure, correctly addressed, and must have reached her, and she has answered none of them, I judge her, for reasons as yet to be specified, to be unfriendly.  And I therefore appeal here, to you, as possibly taking a more detached view of conduct towards me, on her part, and that of my father (originally a most scrupulous man) which has caused me great distress, to assist me toward a human elucidation of what is behind her attitude, and whether or not it reflected his, and what his actually was.

When I last saw my father face to face in 1925, he was friendly and affectionate; and though Melissa was not in Washington when I stayed a night or two at their Kay Street flat, I was told she was not well, and at some sanatorium, and nothing whatever occurred to throw light on my father’s subsequent failure to reply to letters sent to his place of business; as we did not quarrel, and I had already, in 1919, been duly “forgiven” for any discomfort he may have suffered as a result of my having “run away” from home.

I have been indignant, at times, since, as any mother would be, that my father, who had every reason to be proud of his grandson, my son by my first marriage, Creighton Scott  was ignored and I do not pretend that I do not think it distinctly odd, to say the least, that, as I was quite honestly the “adored” only grandchild of my grandparents, Mr and Mrs O M Dunn, and continued to believe they merely consigned to my father a responsibility toward me they had previously considered theirs, when they re-made their Will and left everything to him (in 1921, a year before their death), that there is, as yet, no indication, that my father, when gravely ill, and not give me, his daughter (and as far as I know, he and Melissa had no children) so much as a thought.  But I hope the impression that he did not is erroneous; and will asking for your help in clearing up whatever misapprehension may have given rise to his attitude, to tell Melissa, also, that, in consistence with my own loyalties, I am entirely willing to resume friendly communication with her, provided the decent human explanation is forthcoming.

But as I am not unimaginative about other people’s troubles, I quite realize that the explanation of yourself or any personal friend of my father’s, may completely alter my view of what seems to have taken place; and to that I look forward.  Tell Melissa my father was so afraid of “yellow journalism” when he stayed in NY (1925) he registered at Earls Hotel off Washington Square as “Captain O’Neil” and became panicky when I was visited by a friend who was a “feature-writer” but not of “yellow” journalism.2

The name of my first husband, from whom I am divorced, was legally changed to Scott, and my son, who was originally named for my father, dropped Seely for Creighton, as I dropped “Elsie” for Evelyn; and while my father and Melissa knew this, the fact that we all suffered something as the butt of “yellow journalists”, when I ran away from home, may have been an ingredient in a “mystery” to me highly painful; and may have something to do with the failure of Melissa to inform the Biloxi hospital of my existence and ask them to notify me of his illness, as of his death.  And all these things I am taking into account, in an effort to be just, although I admit I feel somewhat “ill-used”, and Melissa should realize even in New Orleans we are what is called distinguished people.

I acknowledge a “posthumous” clearing of the air cannot be the same as if my father were living, but it is, nonetheless, something for which I would be very grateful, indeed.

Sincerely yours,

[Did not respond or admit he “buried” my father’s ashes—acknowledged this letter and no more. This version of pen most accurate word by word as other letter mailed before I put the pen emendations here but this is approximate and has all the gist of the first minus to crossed and equivalents.]

1Melissa’s brother-in-law

2It appears that Evelyn and Cyril’s “elopement” precipitated a flurry of interest in the so-called “yellow” press, mainly newspapers owned by William Randolp Hearst. This coverage appears to have caused her family and Cyril’s considerable distress.

* * * * *

To the Postmaster, Lynchburg, Virginia

September 8, 1947

Postmaster
Lynchburg, Virginia [Replied with forwarding address]

Sir,

On April 21st, 1947, I mailed registered, a letter addressed to Mrs Melissa Whitehead Dunn, 252 Norfolk Avenue, Lynchburg, Va, which was of the utmost importance, as it was a request for information regarding the death and last illness of my father, Mr Seely Dunn, formerly of Lynchburg, which I have since learned occurred at the Veterans’ Facility, Biloxi, Mississippi, May, 1944; but of which I had not notified at the time.

When I did not hear from Mrs Melissa Dunn, as I had supposed I would, as my letter was entirely friendly, and though distressed, merely repeated an explanation of her silence (I am a professional author and my address with my literary agents or with my publishers, Chas Scribner’s of New York, was available), I also wrote to the Clerk of the Records of Lynchburg, asking for my former step-mother’s address and any information relevant to my father he could give me, and he replied very kindly, but no will is recorded there, and the Clerk knew of Mrs Melissa Dunn, merely that she was said to be “in Washington”.

My father served in the 1914 war, and having no personal contacts in Washington, I wrote, on the advice of a family connection, to the Dependants and Beneficiaries Claims Services of the Veterans’ Administration, asking them for further information and through them learned where my father had died.  But of Mrs M W Dunn they could tell me nothing.

I am, therefore, writing to you to be good enough to affirm the receipt of my registered letter at the Lynchburg Post Office, where I have assumed it did arrive as it had my return address as above.  What is perhaps forwarded to the addressee, and is it permissible to give me her address:  If so I should much appreciate it, though I am certainly discouraged in the matter of her willingness to assist, and especially as I have written to a Mr Oldham, who I am told was, for a very short time, before my father retired, in business with him, and that letter also has so far been ignored.

I feel a degree of apologeticness in appealing thus to a stranger but my predicament is, I believe, sufficiently unusual to justify it.

Very truly yours,

I am known professionally as Evelyn Scott

* * * * *

To Evelyn Scott

 

United States Post Office
Lynchburg, Virginia

September 16, 1947

Dear Mrs Metcalfe:

Replying to your letter of September 8, 1947, the registered letter referred to, sent by you to Mrs Melissa Whitehead Dunn, was forwarded to addressee at #1421 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington 5, DC.

Yours very truly,
S W West, Postmaster

* * * * *

To S W West, Postmaster, Lynchburg, Virginia

October 5, 1947

Dear Mr West,

I greatly appreciate your reply to my inquiry as to whether the letter I addressed to the second wife of my father, Mr Seely Dunn, deceased, and sent to her former home, 252 Norfolk Avenue, Lynchburg, on April 21st, 1947, had reached you, and been forwarded.

I especially thank you for telling me that it was forwarded to 1421 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC, as, while I was awaiting your reply (which was prompt and that, too, is appreciated) I was given 1421 “Moss” Ave,1 as her address by a friend, and as my communication is important you have saved me trouble.  The war has taught us to value accuracy.

Yours very truly

Morgan gave Moss Ave other was “forwarding” address—probably for “bureau” de lon tum etc

1The confusion may have arisen out of the habit of referring to “Massachusetts” as “Mass”. Evelyn would not have known this, and understood the shortened version to be “Moss”.

* * * * *

To Melissa Whitehead Dunn

October 5, 1947

[Mrs Melissa W Dunn (sent with a request for unofficial forwarding and as a personal favour to the sender, by Mr R J Hinton of Washington, DC, whom I have asked to glance at its contents that he may be assured he is not being imposed upon by me)]

Dear Melissa [Was not acknowledged]

This is the fourth letter sent you requesting you to explain why my father did not reply to letters sent various business addresses during all the years since 1925, when I visited him briefly at the apartment in Kay Street you and he had when he was the Assistant Director of the Interstate Commerce Bureau; why I was not notified when he became seriously ill, and I could have been reached as Evelyn Scott through my publishing address, or Chas Scribner’s, as given in Who’s Who and elsewhere, and through other publishers of my earlier books; and why I was not notified of his death?

This is being sent as an “open” letter, which is quite unofficial, Mr Hinton having demonstrated a good will I wish were more frequently encountered as we flounder in “red tape” and as I don’t want to embarrass him with any emotional intricacies which may be involved, I won’t go into detail as I have in letters sent to addresses given me as your home addresses..

But it is a fact that I never quarrelled with my father, and that while my first husband Cyril Kay Scott, for whom myself and my present husband have the utmost human respect, did have a “scrap” with you, about my early books, of which you disapproved, I cannot believe anything so trivial at the bottom of conduct on either your part or my father’s so unjustified I now see things.

When I last saw my father in Washington, and he went to New York to see me, he was as usual affectionate and kindly.  I visited England that year and he sent me a fifty dollar check and wrote in the same affectionate terms.  But when I was in Washington at the flat you were not there, and the explanation was very vague, and made the more so by the fact that Mr Scott and myself had already decided to separate—I say the more vague, because he had defended me to you in the one “tiff” that had occurred.  My father knew I expected to resolve the situation as between Cyril and myself as it was resolved in a civilized divorce.  I afterwards some years later married my present husband John Metcalfe the British-American author but there was certainly no “grudge” there as you have not as yet met him, so what is it about?

I am as would be normal for any mother, more indignant on behalf of my son by my first marriage, Creighton Scott than on behalf of myself.  Creighton as you, Melissa very well know was first named “Seely” because of the affectionate esteem in which his father Cyril Kay Scott and myself held Seely Dunn.  The Creighton which he preferred was preferred and the Seely dropped  because of my father’s inscrutable attitude.  I realize divorces were not, at the time my father got his from my mother, Mrs Maud Thomas Dunn, who died in Clarksville Tennessee, in 1940, taken as a commonplace as they are now, but my father’s very obvious anxiety then lest my mother “make trouble” was preposterous actually.

You will remember that at the time myself and Mr Scott and Creighton saw you and my father in New York, while my father was still in the US Army, my father did not so much as want Creighton to know his grandfather was his grandfather, lest child as he was he tell my mother (Mr Scott was supporting her then) that he was in contact with ourselves.

But of course as I do know such an attitude was not typical of my father.  I think the explanation must be in the falsity of suggestions made to him from some external sources, and, no doubt, to you, too.  In nineteen-thirty-seven, I tried to locate him, and was told by the intermediary, who actually knew where my father was and wouldn’t tell me, that my father had the same fear of being made responsible for my mother; for whom I actually had the entire moral responsibility though financially assisted at intervals by my relatives and present husband.

The preposterous ingredient must have been due to lies of a sort, and really is unreasonable, as my mother made no effort to contest a divorce on the nominal grounds of “desertion” by her; never asked my father for a penny as far as I know-and I think my mother could never have “kept a secret” whatever the condition.  And when I did last see my father, soon after the death of my grandparents, who, though I now know my grandfather remade his Will and left everything to my father, my father certainly had not taken the position that I was to have nothing (and as yet jhaven’t had a cent, or so much as one of my grandmother’s thirty three thousand dollars worth of diamonds), the inference was that he continued to feel some responsibility for myself as his child.

The moment “money” is mentioned, a flavour of the “sordid”, seems inevitable; but after all, tangibles are included with intangibles in most versions of responsibility, and while I put the intangibles before everything I continue, again, to insist that my father owed me some final recognition of my existence and the debt is tangible and intangible both.

I think there is a civilized opportunity for clearing things up and making some amends to both Creighton and myself.

Sincerely

* * * * *

To Melissa Whitehead Dunn

Personal
October 5, 1947

Dear Melissa  [not acknowledged]

I sent you a registered letter air mail1 on September 19th, 47 which I am certain was addressed correctly as far as my information at the time went:  to Apt 607, Heatherington-Apartments, 1421 “Moss” Ave, Washington, DC 54.  But as your address was given thus to a friend who, I think, misread the abbreviation “Mass” as “Moss”; and as Massachusetts Avenue is now confirmed as correct to the Lynchburg Post Office, through which I have been inquiring as to what happened to the registered letter sent to you from here last April 21st, 1947, I sent this to make sure you do know I have been trying to contact you and elicit a reply from you regarding my father ever since I first learned last January that he died.

I have a carbon of the letter of Sept 19th, 47 and of the letter of April 21st, 1947, and if you wish their contents repeated, I will be pleased to send you copies of my carbons, but I feel sure you must have had the first letter at least; and hope the second is in the hands of a Post Office sufficiently perspicacious to realize what mistake was made.  When the letter of Sept 19th, 1947, was sent here in London, there was something of a flurry in the PO, and matters were further complicated by the fact that the officiating clerk wrote “Whitehead” instead of Dunn on the registry receipt; but he says that is not important as the registry number is correct.  However the matter of having been originally given a wrong address, or a misunderstood address, is something else.  And as the letter is concerned with your private affairs, as with mine, and is a point blank demand to know why you have not informed me as my father’s daughter regarding his death, and given me some human explanation of the inscrutable and to me wrong wrong wrong silence maintained during so many years before he died, perhaps you will prefer not to have it fall into other hands than your own.  I therefore suggest that you inquire at the Washington Head Post Office for the letter unless you have already received it.

We have as my other letters tell you, various conjectural explanation of why my father did something so “out of character” as appears, but you are in a position to make a civilized gesture that is explanatory in more than conjecture merely.  And I insist and insist again that my father himself, uninfluenced, could not possibly have completely neglected me his only child voluntarily since nineteen-twenty-five, and that he could not possibly have entirely failed to included myself and Creighton when bequeathing (assuming he made a Will) whatever he had when everything he had was originally my Grandfather O M Dunn’s and was ultimately intended for “Elsie”.  That my name is now legally Evelyn doesnt not affect the situation or the human history behind this.

I hope you will agree both regarding the explanation and the necessity for amends of some sort.

Sincerely as myself first but also as the daughter of Seely Dunn (I may here ask whether he is buried at Metairie, as I haven’t yet found that out)

[1952—Julia Swinburne Scott the fourth grandchild of my father the late Seely Dunn of Lynchburg was born in the USA July 6th, 1951 Evelyn Dunn Scott Metcalfe—nee Elsie Dunn professional author writes as Evelyn Scott]

This letter has not survived.

* * * * *


To Andre Chenet

Personal
October 30, 1947

I think you are the Mr Chenet in question, but wishing to preserve an accurate record of this correspondence, I ask, in case of error, for the return to me of my letter to my present address  I am a US citizen but my husband is British, domiciled in USA which he has recently visited to maintain his status, as a quota-re-entrant, and we are here for the time

Sir,

Having learned by the merest chance, in an effort to re-contact as living, my father, the late Mr Seely Dunn of Lynchburg, Va, at one time a resident of New Orleans, that he had died, in 1944; I have been for the better part of a year writing officials and others who seemed likely sources of information regarding his illness, place of death, place of internment, his executors, and the present whereabouts of his second wife, Mrs Melissa Whitehead Dunn.  And I have just been informed, by the Deputy Clerk of the Civil District Court of the Parish of Orleans, who has been most generous in his efforts on my behalf, that, according to the advice given him, a Mr Chenet he believes to be yourself, as your phone number was also given him, had charge of arrangements for the interment of my father at Metairie Ridge Cemetary.

I am the daughter of Mr Seely Dunn, and as far as I know, his only child, his first marriage having been to my mother, Mrs Maud Thomas Dunn of Clarksville, Tennessee, from whom he was divorced , and who died in Clarksville in1940.  And while I have for many years, been much distressed and perplexed by the conduct of my father, always previously scrupulous and responsible, in not having replied to letters written him at his early business addresses, I cannot yet belief that the neglect to notify me when he became seriously ill was his intention; and it seems to me entirely out of character—his character—that he should have done this.  And I continue convinced he must have remembered me in some way in his Will or elsewhere, and therefore hope that, his executors once located, a distressing situation can be cleared up.

I saw my father face to face, last, in 1925, in Washington and in New York, and he was friendly and affectionate, and send me, afterwards, a check for fifty dollars, for which I had not asked.  And though I have realized the fact that I had the entire moral responsibility for my mother, and supported her, with some assistance from relatives and my husband (my first husband, Mr Cyril Kay Scott and my present husband both actually), probably disturbed his conscience, he was never reproached by me, and must have known I continued fond of him.

If therefore you are the Mr Chenet in question, and did actually arrange my father’s funeral, I hope you will respond to this with the information to which I have a human and legal right.

However, if the explanation exists, we will all be most grateful to have it, as I am sure, would my own grandfather, Mr O M Dunn, who lived in New Orleans for more than half his life, and who was a bond of sympathy between me and my father, as we both admired him as “the salt of the earth”—something said of many people but in this case merely just.

Hoping for an early reply from you, and that it will be one to relieve my natural concern, I am,
Very truly yours

* * * * *

To Melissa Whitehead Dunn

Personal
October 3, 1951

Dear Melissa:

Will you, in case you have actually received the four letters sent by me to this address, one forwarded by the Lynchburg Postmaster, and possibly, a fifth letter I requested the “Veterans’ Bureau” “Department of Claims, etc” to send on—in case you have every one of these letters, or even ONE of them, won’t you please emerge from your silence and make some moderately human gesture in elucidation of why you did not tell the “Veterans’ Facility”, when my Father was ill and dying, that I was his daughter and should know something of his death and his estate.

Will you tell me anything whatever?  You know something of my candour and you must have realized I would not just meekly accept a stand on your part superficially “irrational” as my Father himself identified me when Cyril applied in 1923 for the Permanent Scott Family Passport and he—my Father, the late Mr Seely Dunn of Washington at one time—signed the application, and it is absurd to be aware as I think you must have been that my Father has been on record as my Father since 1914 or 1915 when my Mother came to Brazil to “visit” us and registered as Maud Thomas Dunn (Mrs Seely Dunn) at the American Consulate in Recife the day she landed from the Lamport and Holt steamer.

It was in Recife that Cyril with my agreement took the first step toward the establishment of the Common Law Marriage which we had decided was the one solution since his second wife in New Orleans would not, then, as yet, divorce him, though long afterward—a few years, we gathered—she did.

You know all these things and that every word I have said about any of these official steps is the truth and that our Common Law Marriage was re-established in the States with our documented re-acceptance as a family and our documented change of name:  not a change by deed-pole [sic] but by usage.

We must be accepted as we are, as having taken the steps we did for the motives actually ours, which were accepted until this damnable war seemed to re-poison American and British minds.  And I have brought up the date business because I cannot think of anything else that you could possibly have been exploited to alarm either you or my Father about our relationship.

Maybe I am just “telling you something”—if so well and good.  I do not and never did like any sort of concealment, and that you and my Father began in Lynchburg with what may have been merely as a social lie in denying my existence, has resulted in humiliations, implied insults from every quarter, and I really don’t know what else, as myself any my second husband John Metcalfe have been stuck here in Britain with just enough money to keep us actually in food, and literally no more, ever since he was demobilized.

We have been immolated, Creighton and his wife and children have been nearly so we are allowed to think and it must be so, and this is probably as true of Cyril who is I am certain basically unchanged, though we do not hear from him and his Wellman son does not answer letters, or else does not receive them.

Anyone with an atom of sense should realize that to communicate with myself and Jack normally is to stop libel, and that to be silent, is to foment it.  So it may be your letters—Melissa—have been sent to me and I never got them.  My daughter-in-law says I do not receive elucidating letters sent by her here.

Will you please acknowledge this as suits you
Evelyn-Elsie

* * * * *

To Evelyn Scott

Office of Register of Wills and Clerk of the Probate Court
United States District Court for the District of Columbia
Washington, DC
December 7, 1951

Dear Madam:

In response to your letter of November 21, 1951, in further reference to the estate of Seely Dunn, deceased,  you are advised that this office can add nothing to our previous letter (dated October 16th, 1951).  An examination of the records of this office still fails to disclose that a Will of the said Seely Dunn, deceased, has been filed herein or that Letters of Administration have ever been applied for upon his estate.

Very respectfully
Theodore Cogswell
Register of Wills, Clerk of the Probate Court

* * * * *

The finality of this letter puts a seal on Evelyn’s search for her father’s will and her inheritance. There are hints of Evelyn’s suspicion that Melissa Dunn may have concealed the existence of this will and, as Seely would therefore have been deemed to have died intestate, she would thus have inherited all his property, but there is no evidence for this.

Next week, back to the realities of life in post-war London.

 

33. In search of an inheritance

At about this time Evelyn decided to re-open contact with her father, Seely Dunn, whom she had last seen at a brief but cordial meeting in Washington DC in 1925.  This desire may have been prompted by filial affection, but was very probably also motivated by her difficult financial position and by her hope that her prosperous father would be able to help.

When she tried to re-establish contact in 1946, she was shocked to discover that her father had died in 1943, and that she had not been told. This, naturally, upset her. She also believed that her father would have left her a sizeable sum of money, as her grandfather, Oliver Milo Dunn, had been very well off and she believed he would have passed a sum to Seely to be kept in trust for her.

Evelyn’s search began in 1946, when she learned of her father’s death. She embarked on a flurry of letter writing to try to establish both the facts of her father’s death and the existence of the will which she was confident would establish her claim to this inheritance. These letters, in a very different style to her more informal correspondence, demonstrate Evelyn’s desperate and obsessive search for information by writing to every individual and institution that might possibly help her. Many letters repeated the same information again and again and these passages have been deleted in the interests of brevity and readability.

A significant feature of this correspondence is Evelyn’s increasing reference to libel, as well as some references to the current politica situation as the cause of this libel.  This is a taste of the tone of many of the letters she later wrote.

[Most of the letters from Evelyn in this sequence are unsigned carbon copies.  In the early 1950s, Evelyn began annotating the letters she wrote and those she  received in her characteristic spiky hand.  It is not possible to reproduce this handwriting in this blog, so, as a poor proxy, Evelyn’s comments are designated by italics within square brackets.]

* * * * *

Obituary
Seely Dunn
from The News, Lynchburg VA, May 6th 1944

[Married Maud Thomas Feb 4 1892 divorced during 1914 war.  Evelyn Scott Metcalfe, born Elsie Dunn is Mr Dunn’s only child]

Seely Dunn, 74, of Lynchburg died at 5.15 am in a government hospital at Biloxi, Miss, following a long illness. [born Toledo Ohio]

Born October 13, 1869, he was the only child of Oliver Milo and Harriet Seely Dunn of New Orleans.  He was married Nov 18, 1917, [second wife was] to Melissa Whitehead of New Orleans, a relative of the Virginia Whitehead family.

Mr Dunn was a railroad executive until World War I, in which he was a captain and later a major.  Before the war he spent two years in Honduras as construction engineer in charge of surveying through the jungles for a railroad for the United Fruit Company.  For six years after the war he was with the Interstate Commerce Commission in Washington from which position he resigned to become associated with the firm of J P Morgan in New York.  He retired in 1935 and came to Virginia to live.

Though confined to his home for most of the time he lived in and near Lynchburg, he became well known.

After coming to this section Maj Dunn purchased a home near Forest Road, later selling his place and coming to town.

* * * * *

The following is the letter with which Evelyn started her quest, and which was returned to her with unexpected and unpleasant news.  The letter, in an unopened envelope, was returned and on it was scrawled, in pencil, ” Resigned January 1928, died 1943″.

* * * * *

To Director, Bureau of Interstate Commerce

[This brought return of my letter with unsigned marginal scribble announcing my father’s death.]

Personal Attention, Please
26 Belsize Crescent
Hampstead, London NW3
December 22, 1946

To the Director of the
Bureau of Interstate Commerce
Washington, DC

Sir

It is with a degree of hesitation that I approach a stranger, in connection with so intimate a matter as information as to the present whereabouts of my father, Mr Seely Dunn; whose address I herewith request you to supply if you are able.

My father was, in 1925, when I spent a few days with him in Washington, the Assistant Director of your Bureau, and resided at 1746 K Street, where he had an apartment in a building in which, I believe, he had an interest; and I was told, a year or two later, that he had removed from Washington to Cranford, New Jersey, and was employed by the firm of J P Morgan and Company.  But since he was in Washington, he has neglected to correspond with me; and while I attribute this to the estrangement between him and my mother, from whom he was divorced, and who died in 1940 in Clarksville, Tennessee, and, therefore, bear him no grudge, I have frequently, and particularly during the war, been regretful of the unjust impression created by having to give his address, on my American passport application, and other documents, as “unknown”, and being obliged to say that I do not know whether or not he is, as I hope, still very much among the living. [reply was very sad news of my father’s death—date given in error as 1943.  It was 1944 I now know–1951]

I now hope, however, that you will be able to put me in touch with him, again, and there may be some resumed contact with him—at least to the extent of a letter.

Again, my apologies for troubling you; but I shall certainly be most grateful for any assistance you can give me, preferably by forwarding this letter to my father himself, or, if not that, by requesting Mr DeBardeleben, Junior, to do so, should you chance to know him.  And in any case, if you do neither, and can tell me where to write to my father, I shall appreciate the return to me of this letter, which I should prefer was not in a file to which others have access, where it might be misconstrued as reflecting on him, which is not at all my intention.

Very truly yours,

My father should know, I think, that while British by marriage, I am still an American citizen.

I enclose an envelope with, I hope, the appropriate stamps—the only American stamps I have!

 

* * * * *

From N C Brooke, Postmaster, Washington DC

United States Post Office
Washington 13, DC

April 10, 1947

Dear Madam:

Reference is made to your letter of December 22, 1946, (received under register No 3955) requesting assistance in obtaining information concerning your father Mr Seely Dunn, at one time the Assistant Director of the Bureau of Interstate Commerce and a resident of this city.

Considerable research has been made in an effort to help you in this matter insofar as postal regulations permit.  It has been ascertained that Mr Dunn left this city in the year 1941, moving to a farm in the state of Virginia, where he died on May 5, 1944 and the farm has subsequently been sold.

It is regretted that no information can be furnished concerning the address of the present Mrs Seely Dunn.

Very truly yours,
N C Brooke
Postmaster

* * * * *

So sure was she that her father would have made some provision for her in his will that she sent similar letters to all the possible jurisdictions in which a will may be been lodged:  The Lynchburg Virginia Circuit Court, the Lynchburg Probate Court, the Lynchburg County Court, the New Orleans Civil District Court  and the court for Gulfport Mississippi, as well as  New Orleans and Lynchburg Virgina Public Libraries.  The content was broadly similar, and the following example gives a flavour of these letters and of the irrelevancies Evelyn thought necessary to include.

* * * * *

To Judge of the Probate Court, Lynchburg, Virginia

Personal
June 12, 1947

Judge of the Probate Court  [sent in duplicate was not acknowledged]
For Lynchburg, Virginia

Sir,

I take the liberty of applying to you for any information you can give me concerning my father, the late Mr Seely Dunn of Lynchburg.  I appeal to you in some embarrassment on so personal a matter, but I am Mr Dunn’s daughter and, as far as I know, his only child, and when I have clarified my reasons for doing so I hope that you will consider me humanly justified.

My father’s first marriage was to my mother, Mrs Maud Thomas Dunn, a native of Clarksville, Tennessee, who died there in 1940; and as he had re-married his present widow, Mrs Melissa Whitehead Dunn, after his divorce from my mother, and as I was in constant contact with her, and had the full financial responsibility for her maintenance, that may explain why my father, since 1925, has not communicated with me or replied to my letters.

This, however, is conjecture, for my father, throughout my childhood, was a generous and scrupulous parent, and we never subsequently quarreled.  Nor could he and his second wife have supposed me reprehending regarding his divorce, for I am also divorced; and, for that matter, while still married to my first husband, Cyril Kay Scott (author, painter and lecturer, and an American citizen) I and he met my father and his wife and, I am sure, amply demonstrated our impartiality as regarded my father’s divorce and re-marriage, and my son by my first marriage, my son was then a child of five or six years of age, Mr Creighton Scott (also an American citizen) met my father and his wife as well.

In 1925, when he was with the Interstate Commerce Bureau, I visited him briefly in Washington, DC (when he was most affectionate and considerate), and it was to the ICB I first wrote last autumn; asking them to return my letter if they were unable to forward it to him.  It was returned, with a note on his death scribbled on  it, and that was the first I had heard of it; though on writing to J P Morgan and Company, on the suggestion of the late Mr Morgan’s sister-in-law, I was told, by a Mr Moseley of Morgan’s, of my father’s service with them, his independent business venture (they did not tell me what it was), and his final removal to Lynchburg.  And as soon as I had the Norfolk Avenue address I wrote to my stepmother, and she has not yet answered, and as I am in doubt as to what her attitude toward me is, I cannot even be certain of her replying at all.

In 1925, when my father was especially nice to me, and after I went to Washington, came to New York to see me, in turn, my grandparents, Mr and Mrs Oliver Milo Dunn of New Orleans, Louisiana, had not been long dead.  And my father showed me a news clipping which, though it did not, as I recall it, give the terms of my grandfather’s Will, gave the estimate of his estate as evaluated at something over three-hundred-and-thirty-five thousand dollars, and the jewelry of my grandmother (who collected diamonds, in a modest way) as worth thirty-five thousand dollars in the market as it was then.  And as my father was an only child, I assume this went to him, and that he, therefore, had some substance to dispose of.  But I do resent, at this juncture, having been kept in the dark as to the disposition of my father’s property and effects, and think I have every right to know precisely what was done with them; and this regardless of whether or not I was included in his Will.  He was a man of high standing in business, and prior to the hiatus in our correspondence, was meticulous in his family obligations, and I cannot reconcile with what I know of his character what seems the omission of so much as a memento for me in any of his final arrangements.

I should, also, say, to avoid any possible confusion, that I was originally christened “Elsie”, and any reference to his daughter “Elsie” which exists in a documentary way is to myself.  However, I have never used the name since I became an adult.  I have been signing book contracts as Evelyn all my adult life, my two marriages are the marriage of Evelyn, and my father himself subscribed to my signature as Evelyn on my first application for an American passport, and I was divorced as Evelyn, and Evelyn is now my legal name; though I am still my father’s daughter; and at the beginning of the war, when my husband, who is still domiciled in the USA as I myself am, took up his old commission in the Royal Air Force (in which, until recently, when he was released, he was a Squadron Leader) I requested Judge Matt Lyle, of Clarksville, Tennessee, to procure me my birth certificate and several affadavits, signed by persons who have know me all my life swearing that Elsie Dunn, as I was when christened, and Evelyn Dunn Scott Metcalfe, as I am now, are one and the same.

I am assured that, in England, information regarding Wills can be had by applying to Somerset House, and is open to the public; and while, of course, it is possible my father left no Will, I think it likely he did, and am assuming you are at liberty to advise me in this regard.  But it is on the human side most of all that I would be grateful for any possible illumining as to my father’s incredible silence during these last years, and anything whatever that throws light on that will be welcome, as, also, information as to Mrs Melissa Whitehead Dunn’s present whereabouts, if you have it.

I respectfully await your reply,
Very Truly Yours
[Evelyn Dunn Scott Metcalfe neé Elsie Dunn]

* * * * *

To the Head, Veterans’ Administration

July 9, 1947

In Reference to Major Seely Dunn deceased, and Claim No XC 910 629

Sir,

I am writing to request you, if possible, to amplify the very meager information I have received, in recent months, concerning my father, Major Seely Dunn, who served in nineteen-fourteen; and of whose death I learned by the merest chance, when I wrote to the Interstate Commerce Bureau last fall, requesting assistance in locating him.  My letter was returned by them, as I had asked, if it could not be forwarded to my father, with a pencil scribble informing me that he had died.

I had received no communication from my father for some years, in spite of several efforts to contact him; and while the explanation was yet to be forthcoming, I attributed this to the fact that he and my mother, Mrs Maud Thomas Dunn, of Clarksville, Tennessee, (who is also now deceased) were divorced and he had remarried.  But as when I last saw him he was kind and affectionate and we never quarreled this is merely conjecture; and while until learning of his death I always hoped he himself would elucidate his peculiar silence, I now feel it encumbent on myself to clear it up if this can be done.

I have been much distressed by the fact that I was not notified of my father’s serious illness or death, and I have written to a legal friend in New York to supplement this effort to get at the truth by forwarding an inquiry from me to the Probate Judge in Lynchburg, but as my own attempt to get facts began last September and beyond knowing my father has died I seem to have gotten nowhere, you will I think appreciate my persistence.  I was baptized “Elsie” and was called that by my grandparents, Mr and Mrs O M Dunn of New Orleans, La (my grandfather was the General Superintendent of the Southern Lines of the Illinois Central), but the name Elsie was dropped when I became adult, and I have been twice married and once divorced as Evelyn, and my father himself subscribed to the Evelyn I use on my passport and in book contracts, so I cannot believe the failure to notify me due to any confusion regarding the childhood “Elsie”.

I make myself very explicit so that no time will be lost because of any vagueness on my part, and I await your reply with much appreciation for your attention to my dilemma.

Very truly yours

I was born in Clarksville, Tenn.  I have a birth certificate and refer you for corroboration to Judge Matt Lyle of Clarksville.

 

* * * * *

To R J Hinton, Dependents and Beneficiaries Claim Service

Personal
August 17, 1947

Dear Mr Hinton

This is to thank you very much indeed for your kind and informative letter regarding the circumstances and place of death of my father, Mr Seely Dunn.

I am, however, still ignorant as to what was done with any other estate he may have had, and am as puzzled as ever as to why my step-mother did not notify me or have me notified when he was as ill as he must have been to have been “hospitalized” in Biloxi; and I am as distressed as ever on the human score of an apparent ignoring of us by him which is completely in conflict with my previous knowledge of his character, and with his attitude when I last saw him.

Please do not think that I wrote to the Veterans Administration with any idea of contesting my step-mother’s claim.  I am sufficiently familiar with service regulations in Britain to have realized before writing the Administration that I myself did not qualify as a “dependent”; nor would I have wished to “compete” in such an unpleasant way under any circumstances:  it is a most repugnant thought.

And with this plea regarding the address, and my thanks reiterated, I am

* * * * *

To the Head, Veterans’ Administration Facility, Biloxi, Mississippi

Personal
August 25, 1947

Sir,

I am writing to inquire for information regarding the illness and death of my father, Mr Seely Dunn, formerly of Lynchburg, Virginia; who I learn, was hospitalized in your institution, during his final illness, and there died, on May 5th, 1944.

My father and my mother, Mrs Maud Thomas Dunn, formerly of New Orleans, were divorced (my mother has since died in Clarksville, Tennessee, her native place), but while my father did not contribute to her support, and I was financially responsible for her during her last years, I was always on good terms with my father, who re-married, and whose second wife I also met at a time when she appeared amiable; and I have, in consequence, been much distressed by my father’s silence. And it was to relieve this distress, that I repeated, almost a year ago, my previous attempts to get in contact with him,  and it was then that I learned, on the return of his letter, with a scribble at the bottom[of the envelope] that he had died.

The Clerk of the Court there also replied very courteously, to the effect that my father had no Will recorded in Lynchburg, and that Mrs Melissa W Dunn had removed to Washington.  But did not know her address, nor did he know where my father had died.

New Orleans was the home of my grandparents, and, at one time, of my father and mother and myself.  But my continued mystification is due to the fact that I have written to relatives in New Orleans and to friends who are in close contact with New Orleans and not a one of them have, as yet, been able to tell me anything specific about my father.

So I am somewhat where I was as to specific and personal information and personal contacts with those who knew my father himself.  Can you tell me to whom to write as probably helpful in this connection?  Can you inform me of what illness my father is supposed to have died?

I will be grateful for any assistance,

Will you be good enough to tell me whether obituaries of my father were published in New Orleans newspapers, and whether these mentioned among his survivors myself my son by my previous marriage, Mr Creighton Scott, and his three children, Denise, Fredrick and Mathew Scott my father’s great grand-children

Very truly yours,

* * * * *

To Evelyn Scott

Veterans Administration
Washington 25, DC

September 18, 1947

[I do not think it is with Veteran prerogatives to keep me out of contact with any of my family family-connections or friends]

Dear Mrs Metcalfe:

This will acknowledge receipt of your letter dated August 17, 1947, in which you request information concerning the present address of the veteran’s widow.

In reply you are informed that under the provision of existing laws and regulations this information may not be released to you, however, if you will forward to the Veterans Administration a letter addressed to Mrs Melissa Whitehead Dunn in an unsealed envelope bearing sufficient postage without return address, this Administration will undertake to forward the letter to the latest address of record for Mrs Dunn.

Very truly yours,
R J Hinton
Director
Dependents and Beneficiaries Claims Service

[I complied neither Melissa nor Mr Hinton ever acknowledged my letter  I sealed the letter—not I think, I asked Mr Hinton to read it and mail it as a personal favour]

* * * * *

To Evelyn Scott

Veterans Administration Center
Biloxi. Mississippi

September 22, 1947

My dear Mrs Metcalfe:

I have your registered letter of August 25, 1947, making certain inquiries concerning the last illness and death of your father, Mr Seely Dunn.

I recall very well the hospitalization of your father and recall that his wife, Mrs Melissa Whitehead Dunn, was with him during his last period of illness and death at this institution.

We only have on file the clinical records.  Our records indicate, however, that your father was admitted here for treatment on December 24, 1943, and died on May 5, 1944, the cause of his death being Carcinoma of the Tongue.  On the authorization of his wife, the body of your father was prepared for shipment and sent to J William Lee’s Sons Company, Washington, DC, for cremation.

We have no records as to any other relatives that might have been listed by Mr Dunn at the time of his hospitalization here.  As stated above, the entire records outside of the actual clinical files were forwarded to the Veterans Administration in Washington, DC, for filing in connection with other records in his case.

I am sure that a letter of explanation similar to your letter of August 25, 1947, addressed to this station, if forwarded to the Veterans Administration in Washington, DC, could serve as a basis for the development of further information which you might desired.

Very truly yours
E A Hillier
Manager

[1952—I blame the war for most of medicine’s mistakes—misdiagnosis was said to be frequent.  This happened three or four years after end of All Friends Are Strangers was in first draught—death recounted in it similar]

* * * * *

To E A Hillier, Veterans’ Administration Center, Biloxi, Mississippi

Personal
[September 30, 1947]

Carbon for the record of Creighton Scott

Dear Mr Hillier,

This is to acknowledge your reply of September 22nd, 1947, to my inquiry regarding the illness and death, the place of interment of my father, the late Mr Seely Dunn.

I thank you for the courtesy extended to far, but I still think legally I should have been notified of my father’s illness and death, and that some apology is due me that this was not done.

Therefore, I will continue to appreciate further aid in locating my father’s executors and personal friends if you yourself or anybody else connected with the Hospital has any helpful information.

Repeating my thanks for the assistance already given,
Very truly yours,

* * * * *

To R J Hinton, Dependents and Beneficiaries Claims Service

October 5, 1947

Dear Mr Hinton,

I am sending with this, as you were good enough to suggest, an unsealed letter to my father, Mr Seely Dunn’s, second wife and widow, Mrs Melissa W Dunn, and not merely is it agreeable to me that you have it unsealed, I request that you peruse it yourself before forwarding it.

You yourself have been more human than “official” merely, and for that I thank you, again, as I had written to the Biloxi Hospital, and their reply referred me to you, and though Biloxi is less than a hundred miles from New Orleans, they did not so much as tell me whereabout in New Orleans my father was interred.

Again my appreciation for any assistance
Very truly yours,

If for any reason it seems to you that my objection to ambiguities regarding the enclosed letter implies too great a favour, I will appreciate the return to myself, though, again, I can merely enclose British stamps, which I do with apologies.  I should, however, for the same reason (my detestation of the ambiguous, as a frequent source of mutual injustice), appreciate your reading it first in any case

[self-addressed return envelope sent Mr Hinton with this]

* * * * *

One of the problems Evelyn encountered in her search was confusng or inconsistent information about where her father had been buried.  She had assumed that, since he had been living in Virginia he would have been buried there or in Washington DC:  she eventually discovered that he was buried in New Orleans near her grandparents.

* * * * *

To Metairie Ridge Cemetery Association

October 30, 1947

Head of Metairie Ridge Cemetary Association
New Orleans, La, USA

Sirs,

Having learned, during an effort to contact the living, my father, the late Mr Seely Dunn, formerly of Lynchburg, Va, and at one time a resident of New Orleans, that he died, at the Veterans’ Administration Facility, in Biloxi, Mississippi, on May 5th, 1944; I have been for many months trying to find someone who could tell me who his executors are, and why I was not notified when he became seriously ill.  And Mr R S McBride of the Civil District Court of the Parish of Orleans (the court in which the Will of my grandfather, Mr O M Dunn, once of New Orleans, is filed) has been good enough to put himself to some trouble to extend the meager information I have so far garnered; and tells me that my father, according to the advice given him, is interred at Metairie (in, I presume, the same lot as my grandparents).

Mr McBride says of my father was buried there on May 20th, 1944; and as the Biloxi Hospital wrote he died on May 5th and was “cremated in Washington”, I would like to have this confirmed, if it is correct; in which case the reference to arrangements for his burial, are to his ashes.

I am Mr Dunn’s daughter by his first marriage to Mrs Maud Thomas Dunn, formerly of Clarksville, Tennessee, from whom he was divorced, and who died in Clarksville, April 1940; and I think that, beside my human right to know the circumstances of his death, I should legally speaking also have been communicated with at the time.  And I therefore write to ask you if you will kindly extend the above information.

I am particularly puzzled by the fact that I was not advised what occurred, because as Evelyn Scott the author of eighteen published books, I could easily have been reached through my publishers

The location of my father’s executors is probably of the first importance, but I should also be obliged for any suggestion as to personal friends to whom I might write, if you know the whereabouts of any.

Very truly yours

* * * * *

To Evelyn Scott

Veterans Administration
Washington 25, DC

November 21, 1947

Dear Mrs Metcalfe:

This is in further reference to your letter of August 25, 1947, and your subsequent letter addressed to the Manager, Veterans Administration Facility, Biloxi, Mississippi, requesting information relative to the last illness and place of burial of your father, the above-named veteran.

Supplementing the information previously given you in August 4,1947, it may be stated that it is indicated from information of record that the veteran entered the Veteran’s Administration Hospital at Biloxi, Mississippi on December 24, 1943, and that his death occurred at 4:00 am on May 5, 1944.  It further appears that the remains were shipped to Washington DE, and were cremated by J William Lee’s Sons Company and were then shipped to New Orleans, Louisiana, where interment occurred.  The name of the cemetery is not of record. [1952—Metairie Ridge was supplied later as possible and this confirmed.] As stated in letter from this office dated August 4, 1947, it is not incumbent upon the Veterans Administration to notify relatives of a veteran of his death unless such relatives have potential title to death pension or compensation.  This will explain why you were not notified of your father’s death by the Veterans Administration.

There is no information or evidence on file in this case showing the disposition made of any property of the veteran, either real or personal, since his last will and testament, if he died testate, was not submitted in connection with any claim filed by his dependents.  Since the disposition of any real and personal property of a veteran is not under the jurisdiction of the Veterans Administration, information regarding such matters is not of record.

The Veterans Administration has no knowledge of any obituaries of your father’s death which might have appeared in the New Orleans papers, and the addresses of any of his personal friends are not of record in the case file.  You are further informed that all available information has been furnished you relative to your father’s death.

Very truly yours
R J Hinton
Director
Dependents and Beneficiaries Claims Service

* * * * *

To the Probate Court for Washington DC

October 3, 1951

Sirs:

As I have not yet been assured that there is a Probate Court under Federal jurisdiction, I hope I address you correctly.  I wish to know whether or not you have on file any Will of the late Mr Seely Dunn whose residence was Lynchburg until he fell ill and went to the “Veterans’ Facility” in Biloxi, Mississippi, where in May 1944, he died.

He and my Mother, the late Mrs Maud Thomas Dunn of Clarksville, Tennessee, were divorced and he had remarried a Miss Melissa Whitehead of New Orleans, and she I think disliked me because of my Father’s differences with my Mother, though for a time she appeared friendly.

My Father had never to my knowledge attempted to conceal our relationship until, a few years before his death, he bought a house in Lynchburg and retired there with his second wife.  But I have discovered, in my efforts to ascertain something about his death and his possible Will, that in Lynchburg neither he nor Mrs Dunn second commonly referred to me, and their intimate friends had any idea that he had a daughter and that she was myself.

All these things are matters of public record, so I have found it difficult to grasp that I was not notified when my Father fell ill and no notice of his death was ever sent me:  this admitted by the Biloxi Hospital and by the Department of Claims and Benefits of the Veterans’ Administration.

The hospital blames my stepmother.  I think her dislike led to one of those “social fibs” which are frequent and that she may have involved herself in some technical irregularity by having persisted more or less innocently in a fib in its origin without original intention.  And this seems to me the more likely because my Father’s death occurred in the course of the war, when panics were easily incited.

I have written endless letters about these things to various people whom it might have been reasonably supposed could be informative, but many letters are still unacknowledged and the comparatively small number who have replied either could not or would not elucidate.  However but I have been fairly reliably assured that my Father did not file any Will in Lynchburg; that he did not file any Will in New Orleans where I grew up and my parents lived for a time and that he could not have filed any Will in New York.

Can you advise me on any step that will end a silence so inane, which, however, is dangerous as an incitement to libel.

Mrs Melissa Whitehead Dunn may have been intimidated in some way, as a result of real ignorance of Law.

May I have at the very least the acknowledgment of the receipt of this letter by whoever does receive it—the Probate Court I hope, if there is such a Court in the Federal District.

I consider silence in itself almost a crime with the world in such continual upheaval as it has been since 1939.  And that I will be deeply appreciative of any sort of human response to an appeal which has been iterated to exhaustion ever since 1947, will, I hope be comprehended.

Respectfully Yours,
[(Mrs John Metcalfe) Evelyn Dunn Scott Metcalfe
neé Elsie Dunn
legal authors signature Evelyn Scott]

1 Jigg had just gone to Germany with his family to a position with Radio Free Europe in Munich; but as he was doing his utmost to not tell his mother his whereabouts, she did not find this out until much later.

* * * * *

To Evelyn Scott

Office of Register of Wills and Clerk of the Probate Court
United States District Court for the District of Columbia
Washington, DC

October 16, 1951

Dear Madam:

Referring to your letter of October 3, 1951, you are advised that an examination of the records of this office fails to disclose that a Will of Seely Dunn, deceased, who you state died in May 1944, has been filed herein or that Letters of Administration have ever been applied for upon his estate.

For your further information, you are advised that only the estates of deceased persons who died either a resident of the District of Columbia or who left property in the District of Columbia are of record in this office.  Inasmuch as each state has its own separate probate authority, it is suggested, therefore, that in order to obtain the information desired by you, it will be necessary for you to ascertain the name of the city, county and state in which the decedent was a resident at the time of his death and then correspond with the Register of Wills or Surrogate of such city, county and state.

Very respectfully
[Illeg signature]
DEPUTY Register of Wills
Clerk of the Probate Court

* * * * *

 

To Probate Court, Biloxi, Mississippi

November 19, 1951

Clerk of the Probate Court and Register of Wills of the District Serving
Biloxi, Mississippi

Sir:

I was born Elsie Dunn, in Clarksville, Tennessee, January 17th, 1893, and am the only child of my late parents, Maud Thomas Dunn and Seely Dunn, then of that city.

However, when my Father fell ill and died, his death occurring on May 5th, 1944, at the Veterans’ Facility, Biloxi, I was not notified. I did not learn of my Father’s death until almost three years afterward.   And ever since that time—now four years—I have been doing everything possible to obtain some exact information; at first respecting the circumstances of his death, and subsequently regarding his estate and his possible Will.

I have applied to the Probate Courts of Lynchburg, New Orleans and Washington, and all three have reported that no Will of my Father’s was ever filed with them.

Mrs Melissa Whitehead Dunn had evinced animosity to me, and this had resulted in a gradual drifting apart of my Father and myself so that I know nothing whatever of his life in recent years.  But he an I had not quarrelled, and I cannot see that this estrangement can possibly justify an apparently persistent withholding of information I as his only child, and the only grandchild of my grandparents whose affection for me was great, have a right to.  I have wondered whether or not Mrs Melissa Whitehead Dunn, disliking me as she did, could have begun a concealment of my relationship to him casually, and in the manner of what might be called a “social fib”, and if this was a fib she so neglected to contradict that she abruptly found herself in some illegal position which unscrupulous lawyers have battened on by advising her to “say nothing”.

This is conjecture, but I will be indeed obliged for any help or advice on how to get at the truth, and of course this letter is, first and foremost, an inquiry as to whether my Father filed any Will or whether any letters of Administration on his estate were ever applied for by the Probate Court in which the Wills of residents of Biloxi are filed?

Again, we have no means with which to pay lawyers.  Can this injustice be overcome at this distance in any way?

* *  * * *

To Theodore Cogswell, Probate Court of the District of Columbia

Personal
November 21, 1951

Your letter of October 16th, signed by the Deputy Register of Wills and replying to my inquiry respecting the possible filing in Washington of a Will of my late Father Seely Dunn, has been received and I herewith thank you.

My Father’s death is no mere “rumour”.  I think I have a right to be informed as to what has become of an estate that, when he inherited as to what has become of an estate that, when he inherited it some years ago from my late Grandfather, Mr O M Dunn, who was for many years the General Superintendent of the Illinois Central Railway and was stationed in New Orleans, and who was a Director of the White Star Line and had other investments as well and owned nine houses in New Orleans at one time—was of comfortable size.

I, therefore, incline to the opinion that my stepmother may have become a victim of unscrupulous legal quibblers who, in taking advantage of me because I am stranded in London and have been since 1944, are, also, taking advantage of her and are probably guilty of libel.  I think they have libelled myself and my husband and probably my first husband from whom I am divorced, and, in libelling the old generation have libelled my American son Mr Creighton Scott my Father’s grandson, who has no part in my correspondence about my Father.

I will, therefore, be greatly obliged, also, for any step taken to counteract libels.

With very genuine gratitude for any assistance

* * * * *

To Evelyn Scott

Office of Register of Wills and Clerk of the Probate Court
United States District Court for the District of Columbia
Washington, DC

December 7, 1951

Dear Madam:

In response to your letter of November 21, 1951, in further reference to the estate of Seely Dunn, deceased, you are advised that this office can add nothing to our previous letter (dated October 16th, 1951).  An examination of the records of this office still fails to disclose that a Will of the said Seely Dunn, deceased, has been filed herein or that Letters of Administration have ever been applied for upon his estate.

Very respectfully
Theodore Cogswell
Register of Wills, Clerk of the Probate Court

* * * * *

To Evelyn Scott

Office of Register of Wills and Clerk of the Probate Court
United States District Court for the District of Columbia
Washington, DC
December 7, 1951

Dear Madam:

In response to your letter of November 21, 1951, in further reference to the estate of Seely Dunn, deceased,  you are advised that this office can add nothing to our previous letter (dated October 16th, 1951).  An examination of the records of this office still fails to disclose that a Will of the said Seely Dunn, deceased, has been filed herein or that Letters of Administration have ever been applied for upon his estate.

Very respectfully
Theodore Cogswell
Register of Wills, Clerk of the Probate Court

* * * * *

The final tone of this letter puts a seal on Evelyn’s search for her father’s will and her inheritance. Next week, Evelyn tries to discover from Melissa herself where her father’s will is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. The family scrapbook

One fine day a few years ago there was a knock on my door and I opened it to a FedEx delivery man, a commonplace event in the US, but in Britain a rare event indeed, and I was intrigued by it.  The plastic envelope gave me no clue except that on the customs declaration it said “scrapbook”.  It seemed a bit bulky for a normal scrapbook, and I opened it carefully and with huge anticipation.

Inside, a leather-bound volume.  It was indeed a scrapbook, but an old one, in poor condition.  The gold-tooled leather binding was scuffed at the corners, and very fragile.  The card which accompanied it was from Ned Crouch, director of the Clarksville Museum at the time of my first visit there.  “This scrapbook really should remain with you” it said.  The flyleaf bore an extravagant signature:  “Maude T Dunn”.  It was the Dunn family photograph album.  Its pages are full of sepia-toned prints of the young family, mostly of the baby Elsie during the first years of her life, with an equal number of shots of railway lines and railway bridges (Seely was, after all, a railway man).

Many of the images are so faded as to be indistinguishable.  In 1883, Eastman Kodak introduced a dry gel paper as a medium on which to capture images from a light-tight box, and the Eastman-Kodak camera brought photography to a larger public.  In 1893, when Maude Dunn was taking pictures of her baby daughter and young husband,  the process had been refined and the Kodak camera was being marketed with the slogan “You push the button, we do the rest”.  Even so, photography was an expensive hobby, and the number of snaps in the scrapbook bears testimony to the relative prosperity of the Dunn family.

 

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Next week, we shall take up the story at the point at which Elsie Dunn and Frederick Creighton Wellman leave New Orleans for the next chapter in their lives.

 

 

 

 

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3. The story begins

Evelyn Scott was born Elsie Dunn (her change of name is explained later) on 17th January 1893 in Clarksville, Tennessee to Maude Thomas, from an established Southern family, and Seely Dunn, a Yankee railwayman.  Her earliest years were spent in the home of her mother’s Gracey cousins:  the photo shows it at its height in the 1870s.

In 1956, she prepared a long document, addressed to her son, stipulating that it be preserved with her will and handed to him at her death.  It is presented here as it summarises, in Evelyn’s own words, the years which precede the earliest of the letters which have been preserved.

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“I was born Elsie Dunn and so baptised at Trinity Episcopal Church, Clarksville, Tennessee, where the parish registry contains both the record of my baptism when an infant, and of the marriage of my father and mother, Maud Thomas and Seely Dunn, then of Clarksville.  The date of my birth was Jan 17th, 1893.  The date of the marriage of my parents was Feb 4th, 1892.  My father was then twenty-one and was division superintendent of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, his headquarters Clarksville.  He was written up at the time in the Railway Age as the youngest division superintendent of any railroad in the world.

” When I was 3 years old, my father was promoted and became division superintendent of the L and NRR at Russellville, Kentucky.  I lived in Russellville with my parents until I was nearly 7.  We then moved to Evansville, Indiana, where I first attended School, a public school, and my father there, also, was Division Superintendent of the L and N, the job larger than his two previous ones, as Evansville was the office for a larger division. Not long after McKinley’s assassination, my father resigned in high standing from his position with the L and N, and we moved to St Louis, Missouri, where my mother and I resided while he went to Oklahoma and supervised the building of a new railroad, the Blackwell, Enid and Southwestern, of which, on its completion, he became Vice-President for the short time before it was sold, as had been originally hoped, to the Frisco System.

“He had become interested in railway building and promotion, and from Saint Louis, where we were between three and four years, and where I attended the Marquette Public School, earlier the home of my grandparents, Mr and Mrs Oliver Milo Dunn; my grandfather having been Superintendent of the L and N R R in my father’s earlier days.  My father, while in Memphis in this period, was interested, with several men of greater wealth than he himself had amassed, in building a railroad to be a link between Memphis and Pensacola.  I cannot remember whether it was to be called the Memphis, Pensacola and Gulf, or whether it was to rival that road, which may have already been built.  A Colonel Pond was one of the promoters and my father and he quarrelled and the promotion scheme fell through; though my father, a few years later, took up a segment of the same general idea in connection with the promotion of a small road between New Orleans and Grand Isle, an island in the Gulf once famous as a summer resort.

“I, with my parents, were in Memphis more than a year, and I went to the Public School there, too, and completed the eighth grade.  The school was near a Miss Sally Gentry’s where we boarded most of the time, but we were, also, briefly, boarding with a Mrs King.  I did not like Memphis and I cannot remember even the name of the street in which we lived.

“From Memphis, I moved with my parents to New Orleans, then back to Memphis for a short period, and back to New Orleans, again.  My father, I should add, was of Yankee birth, born in Toledo, Ohio, but his parents had come South for the L and N R R when my father was a child, and had lived successively in Pulaski, Tennessee, Mobile, Alabama, Memphis; my father having attended, in Mobile, the Mobile Military Academy.

“My grandfather Dunn—Oliver Milo Dunn—was, when we first moved to New Orleans, General Superintendent of the Southern Lines of the Illinois Central Railway; a position his for many, many years—about thirty-five years, as I remember it.  He was born in Terre Haut, Indiana; his mother was English.  Elizabeth Troubridge was her name.  The Dunns had come to the USA somewhat earlier, and were from Manchester—I now speak of my great-grandparents on the Dunn side.  My grandmother, on the paternal side, had been Harriet Seely, commonly called Hattie.  She was born near New York City, in New Jersey.  I think the place may be the one still known as Seely’s Mills, a hamlet.  My grandmother Hattie Seely Dunn was of older American stock.  Her mother was Harriet Marcy before her marriage, and when, in Evansville, my father belonged to the Sons of the American Revolution, the near kinship of the Marcy of the various forts, who had been minister to Spain for the USA and a Cabinet Minister under President Buchanan, was often referred to.  My grandmother’s family on the Seely side was one well-known in New York and Massachusetts, many of the Seelys wealthy in the era of my childhood.  However, I cannot remember, and have always lacked the money to have the family-tree re-traced, whether the Hutchinson killed at Bunker Hill from whom she was directly descended was a Marcy or a Seely.  I do recollect, nonetheless, that he was a near relative—nephew?  Younger brother?  Of the last British Governor of Massachusetts.

“I lived in New Orleans with my parents continuously, with the exception of the few months of return to Memphis, from the time I was 12 years old until I lacked three weeks of 21.  In New Orleans, my father held several positions connected with railroads and railroad building.  He was, for a time, General Manager of the International Car Company; founded by a millionaire and his son, to manufacture railway cars.  Doubtless several had invested in it, and I am sure my grandfather must have, though perhaps to a limited extent.  It did well at the outset, and my father added to its possibilities by inventing and patenting a new sort of self-closing freight-car door.  But my father fell out with the chief investor’s son, whom he thought too inexperienced to be as autocratic as he was as either President or Vice-President—he was much younger than my father—and the Car Company, after a couple of years, failed.

“My father, while my mother and I stayed in New Orleans, also went to Spanish Honduras to supervise the building of the railroad from Porto Bello into the interior.  I think this was actually after he had been State Head of the Interstate Commerce Commission his office in New Orleans.  The Honduras road was a success, like the Blackwell, Enid and Southwestern.

“It was when my father was living temporarily at Porto Bello that Dr Fredrick Creighton Wellman, then the Dean of the College of Tropical Diseases and Preventative Medicine of Tulane University—the first college of Preventative Medicine in the USA—went, during a vacation to Honduras to diagnose a plant disease that had attacked banana, and met my father.  My grandfather Dunn, at that time, was a Director of the United Fruit Company, and as it shipped many bananas, this led to the introduction.  My father admired him, and had reason to.

“In New Orleans, in my adolescence, my grandfather Dunn was reckoned a millionaire.  He had made his own way, having begun, like a maternal great-uncle, as a printer’s devil on a country newspaper, and from that progressed to railway telegrapher, I think, though as my father was a train-despatcher at Paris, Tennessee, as his first job, I may be inexact about my grand-father’s railway beginnings.  My father attended Tulane University, but he and his mother had never gotten on well, and he left the University before his graduation because he preferred to be entirely on his own, and in New Orleans this was not possible, as my grandfather disapproved of his impatience with my grandmother; who was, indeed, a “difficult” woman.

“In New Orleans I attended Newcomb Preparatory School, Newcomb Art School, and Newcomb College.  I was the youngest student ever to matriculate at the college, having then been fifteen.  My father did his best to try to persuade me to be inducted into the formal society of the day, but I developed very early, the typical society misses bored me and aroused a contempt that may have been in part defensive.  I could not take everything lightly, as they seemed to.  My parents were an ill-matched pair, and I had become aware of their incompatibility when I was seven years old.  They did not admit it to me, but it was obvious.  My grandfather belonged to the Pickwick Club, and my father to the Louisiana Club.  I was sometimes, in my teens, taken to Mardi Gras balls at the French Opera House, but my mother had entirely retreated from that social life among the wealthy and would-be wealthy and I soon hated what I saw.  I had been writing at intervals since I was 7 and was the winner of a prize given by Little Folks’ Magazine for a story entitled “Helen’s Wonderful Dream”. In New Orleans, after one unhappy infatuation in Clarksville on visits during my fifteenth and sixteenth years, I put aside even boys for books, paintings, Saturdays and Sundays at the French Opera House, Philharmonic Concerts and every concert I could hear

“I write this as if in the third person because I am trying to document a few facts, but the first creeps in, and probably doesn’t matter.  Anyhow I am attempting factual explicitness intended as the record of why myself, when Elsie Dunn, eloped with Fredrick Creighton Wellman.  I did not attempt this in Escapade [her fictionalised account of the years in Brazil and the birth of her only son].

“I was restless in an unhappy household.  My father, when compelled to realize it, tended, I think, to blame my mother altogether.  I was the Secretary of the Woman Suffrage Party, already, at seventeen.  I had written a number of immature stories, had sold two—under the pseudonym Hiram Hagenbeck, the name given by my father to my fox-terrier, and one had appeared—or maybe two—in the New Orleans Picayune.  I had also sold a story about Creoles to the John TrotwoodMoore Magazine but before its publication the magazine failed.  My father was bewildered by my views, which then included some on philosophy, and an inclination to become a socialist stemming from reading Shaw and seeing Shaw first played, and a general conviction that the world’s ways were wrong—as of course they often are and always will be.

“My parents were, I thought, wretched; and my grandfather Dunn, who had always been a voluntary martyr to an adored and compassionated wife, was, also, I could see, not happy, after having voluntarily resigned his position with the Illinois Central in consequence of a quarrel between my grandmother and Mrs Stuyvesant Fish, during one of Mrs Fish’s visits to New Orleans.  My grandmother could be outrageously arrogant, and she mistook something Mrs Fish said as insulting.  And at this point, my grandfather, after some years of entirely amiable relations with the Fishes, took my grandmother’s “side” and decided to retire.

“My father, thinking me about to be victimized by my grandfather’s devotion to his mother—my grandmother had essayed to have me at her beck and call—offered to allow me to attend the Sergeant Dramatic Academy in New York; and I was on the verge of doing so—as I had stopped college in disgust at the limitations of the Victorian view of literature—when my father invited Dr Fredrick Creighton Wellman and his second wife to dinner.”

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Next week, Evelyn’s own account of that first meeting, and what it led to.

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