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
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.
[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.]
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
Lynchburg, Virginia [Replied with forwarding address]
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
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.
* * * * *
To Melissa Whitehead Dunn
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]
1 This letter has not survived.
* * * * *
To Andre Chenet
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
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
October 3, 1951
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
* * * * *
To Evelyn Scott
Office of Register of Wills and Clerk of the Probate Court
United States District Court for the District of Columbia
December 7, 1951
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.
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.