Where the Hell is Valparaiso, Dobbs?

Much of what I know about my great-grandfather, James M. Dobbs, Sr., I learned from newspaper articles written about him and even some that might have been written by him. Searching on the newspaper archives website for James Monroe Dobbs between 1893 and 1922, I received many hits. Most of them were in April 1893. Then later I found some other brief yet informative blurbs that appear to have been planted by my great-grandfather.

In 1893 he received an appointment from Pres. Grover Cleveland to the office of consul general to Valparaiso Chile. He served in that position from then until 1897. There were two long articles published about him, both appearing in the Atlanta Constitution. One was written before he left for Chile and the other written upon his return. As I said, there were a lot of hits in the spring of 1893 when newspapers all over the United States published lists of persons who had been appointed by the Cleveland administration. Now days the newspapers do not publish the names of every single appointment that the President makes, but perhaps in interest of transparency they should.

So glad we made it…

When James and his family returned to the United States in 1897, they traveled from Chile by schooner first to the Hawaiian Islands and then to Washington, DC via San Francisco and Chicago.

I found articles in not one but three Hawaiian newspapers announcing the arrival of US Consul Dobbs. It appears that two newspapers copied and condensed the story from the other rival newspaper, the Hawaiian Star, published December 21, 1897. One of the copy-cat papers said that Dobbs arrived with his wife and “children”, but I know that to be incorrect and there was just one child. Regarding my great-grandfather, the article appearing in the Hawaiian Star stated that he was “a very pleasant spoken and interesting American” and that he “has considerable experience in the consul service and has devoted his time especially to the Latin American races, whose language he has readily at his command” (the italics are mine) .

He spoke highly of his time in Chile and when asked his opinion of the annexation of Hawaiian Islands he said that “he had followed the matter very closely in the American press and was convinced that the islands will surely be annexed during the present session of Congress. The annexationists, he said had been very judicious in their distribution of literature throughout the United States much of which was placed directly in the homes. The best people, in his estimation, were advocating the cause, which is also receiving support from the clergy of the country, all of which are potent factors.”

Hawaiian Star (December 21, 1897)

It was not too long after the family returned to the United States, that both the mother and child became sick and died. The long trip back from Chile must have played a factor in their deaths. The first leg of the journey from Chile to Hawaii took nearly 40 days.

Their journey from Valparaiso to Honolulu was not by steamship but rather they traveled aboard a four-masted sailing ship known as a “barkentine” and christened the “Encore”. (see illustration at The Barkentine Encore in Trouble Off Point Montara). According to the article, the trip from South America to Hawaii took 38 days. While my great-grandfather had prior sailing experience, having been in the commercial maritime service back in the 1870s, it is easy to imagine that the trip may have taken a toll on Emma and their son who also bore the name “James Monroe” and contributed to their early deaths shortly after returning to their home in Georgia.

I found one of the death notices of Emma Hahr Dobbs; this one was published in the July 17, 1898 edition of The Morning News (Savannah Georgia). Emma was an internationally known pianist of high regard. The child, named James Monroe, was born in Chile and was only a few months old when the family traveled to the United States. It is unknown what the cause of death was for the mother and the child.

The Morning News (Savannah Georgia) – July 17, 1898

Friends will be interested to learn…

There were a more than few curious things that I found in the newspaper archives. For example, my great-grandparents, James M. Dobbs and Helen Spiegel, his second wife, were married in New York City in August of 1901. It appears they may have eloped; she was from Dallas Texas and he was from Marietta, Georgia. Also, He was nearly 15 years older than her. Her grandparents and mother, all now deceased, had at one time lived in Little Germany on the lower east side of Manhattan. The only other connection I have found to NYC is that the family spent a number of vacations on Staten Island. An announcement of their marriage appeared in the Atlanta Constitution.

Atlanta Constitution August 1901

The curious parts of this are: Helen’s surname is misspelled (it is “Spiegel”), the addition of “von” in her surname (I have only seen “Von Spiegel” two other times), and that the blurb says she is “of New York“. When exactly Helen left Dallas for New York City is not known. Neither is James connection to New York. He could have been working there while in the Foreign Service. According to Dallas city directories Helen had been working as a sales lady in Dallas as late as 1896.

She was 29 years old when she married in 1901. Her first and only child, my grandfather, was born the following year in Dallas.

Helen Spiegel – c. 1900 – Dallas, Texas

Then the other day, I found the following personal mention in a 1908 edition of the Atlanta Journal.

Atlanta Journal 1908

It reads: Friends of Mr. Hans P. Spiegel will be glad to know that he is the guest of his sister, Mrs. Jams M. Dobbs, at her country place in New York.

Here again we see the name “Von Spiegel” and there is the phrase “friends… will be glad to learn.” And I would like to know where in New York is this “country place” that my great-grandmother presumably owned? Most likely this refers to a house at South Beach on Staten Island where the Dobbs family stayed on at least two occasions as evidenced by photographs taken of my grandfather – one taken of him at age three in August 1905 and another around 1910.

Hans P. Spiegel was 18 years old in 1908 and at that time he lived with parents in Dallas. He became an auto mechanic and later in 1920s, was a cars salesman in Dallas. I suspect someone (my g-grandfather?) planted this mention to honor Hans on his 18th birthday. But why plant the blurb in a Georgia newspaper and not a newspaper in Dallas? Again, this points to my great-grandfather as the source. Perhaps he was doing some self-promotion through his home state newspaper of record.

On the postcard below you will observe my great-grandfather is writing to his mother but is pretending to be his son who in those days was called “Monroe”. When my grandfather was born, he was named “Monroe James”, but later he had his name legally changed to “James Monroe, Jr.”

James Monroe Dobbs, Jr. – South Beach, Staten Island, NY – August 1905

That’s Our Clay!

J. M. Dobbs 1893

Then I found a series of newspaper articles retelling a story told by my great-grandfather about a hometown friend who became a US Senator from Georgia, Alexander Stephens Clay (1853-1910).

Paraphrasing the story will not do it justice for it is an example of what passed for humor back in the “gay nineties”. Today, I imagine that it would not even elicit a groan from an audience, but I do imagine that the crickets would be having a field day.

In 1897, the New York Sun published a story in its Washington News column on page 9 of the 28 Feb 1897 edition that told of when my great-grandfather was escorted to the White House to meet with Pres. Cleveland for the first time regarding his appointment to the post in Chile. The story was told by my great-grandfather to a Washington reporter about the meeting in 1893 when Sen. Clay was a Georgia state senator and state chairmen of the Democratic Party. In 1896, Clay was elected to the US Senate.

New York Sun (28 Feb 1897)

The story goes:

One bright morning Clay and Dobbs and several Georgia Congressman went to the White House. Both Clay and Dobbs were introduced, and Clay began to speak in impulsive monosyllabic style:

“Mr. President,” said he, “I am glad to know you and shake your hand. I want you to appoint our friend Dobbs as consul down here in South America. He has been there, he knows the country, and he speaks Spanish. I tell you he is the man for it, and you will be doing a great act to appoint him.”

“For what consulate is Mr. Dobbs an applicant?” asked the President.

“Down here in South America, Mr. President,” responded Clay, “Down at… What is the place? Clay asked turning to Dobbs, “Yes, yes Valparaiso, Mr. President.”

Cleveland glanced knowingly at the others present, and then looking Clay squarely in the eye, said: “Valparaiso, Valparaiso, where is Valparaiso, Mr. Clay?”

“Why, it is in… It is in…” Then turning to Dobbs, he whispered: “Where the hell is Valparaiso, Dobbs?”

I found the same story reprinted in at least one other newspaper that same year. Nearly 6 months later, it appeared in the July 1, 1897 edition of the El Paso Daily Herald.

Then 13 years later, a few weeks after Senator Clay had passed away, the exact same story was reprinted in a Washington DC newspaper. The story told in the January 4, 1911 addition of the Washington Herald was almost identically word-for-word rehash except for two modifications. For one, while it did mention my great-grandfather by name, it does not attribute him as being the source of the story. Secondly, instead of the Senator saying, “where the hell…“, in this retelling it had him say “Where the blazes is Valparaiso, Dobbs?

The editors at the Washington Herald apparently would never wish to offend someone by printing “H-E-double-toothpick” on its pages.

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