Augustus and Charles Dickens


Graceland Cemetery in Chicago is the final resting place of a collection of both known and unknown souls from the worlds of commerce, the arts, sports and government. And whether it’s the autumn breezes, or the inspiration of Edgar Lee Master’s classic book “Spoon River Anthology,” it’s under the “Ghost Moons of October” that the spirits of Graceland Cemetery can be heard if one is very, very still.

So it’s under the starbright moons of October I return. Because there is so much more to my story.

You know my brother. Charles. He wrote books. You do not know me.

I was 39 years old and said to be penniless when they put me in the October soil. The year was 1866. My brother Charles with uncounted millions. But I had plans…no one knows that I had plans.

When the autumn leaves come blowing, swirling in a misty woodsmoke haze and dancing in muted golden crinkly brown, orange, and blazing red; my brother Charles rises up from an untold distance to come meet me. And lit by the moon we walk these grounds of Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. We walk and I remember my plans.

You’ll forgive my manners. An introduction is in order. My name is Augustus Dickens. My brother was Charles Dickens. He was 15 years my senior. He wrote books; told stories that were heard by the world. Heard by the whole world. Read forever. That was my brother. That was not I.

In our lifetimes my brother never came here to Chicago. Certainly not to this quiet island; Graceland Cemetery with its tall red brick walls keeping out the rush and roar of the city. Here where I rest, with the distant rumble of a passing train like a heartbeat. The marble-sculpted markers of my neighbors like elegant morning greetings. The green quiet of the lawns and the swaying rhythm of the trees now decked out in their finest for October. I am always so proud to welcome my brother here to my final resting place.

I was not always so proud.

I left our native Portsmouth, by the crashing sea, with my love, Bertha. Left to come to America. And yes, there was the matter of my wife Harriett; when she became blind, I left her. I was not proud of that, and I offer no excuses. But you see, I had plans. There are stories you don’t know. Stories even my brother Charles doesn’t know or hasn’t told.

No one can really know the stories of another, can they? Especially when, like me, one has plans.

Bertha and I went first to Amboy, Illinois. Draw a straight line from where the muddy lanes of commerce called Chicago rested on a giant lake directly west, and there you’ll find tiny Amboy. From the blinding white prairie snowstorms of February to the muggy long evenings of August, I was the Editor of The Amboy Times. I had plans for that newspaper. I saw the promise in what Amboy could become.

But then there were the plans for my store. I called it the “People’s Cheap Store.” Ah, the store. Perhaps it was something in the Green River that bubbled up thoughts of new kinds of stores. Samuel Carson, he was also from Amboy. Carson and Pirie and Scott. They also had visions of a new type of store. But they didn’t have my plans.

So I sold the store, and bought the small farm. But those winters on the prairie were hard. In June of 1860, when the job with The Illinois Central Land Department opened up, why Bertha and I, we had to go live in Chicago. These were the times when the Illinois Central Railroad was fueling the prairie like blood keeping a dying man alive. And to be in the middle of all that? It was the place for a man with plans.

In Chicago, we lived at 538 North Clark Street. Our home was filled with music. That was the time of the music. Bertha at the piano; in the evenings her voice echoed through our rooms like sweet wild fruit that could feed my plans forever and a day.

Yes, I knew the pleasures of the drink. But a man who has plans, a man so far from his home, a man whose path was not an easy one, that man would of course know the pleasures of the drink. Because the drink would help me with my plans.

It wasn’t the drink that finally took me. It was the tuberculosis. And then I came here. To the outskirts of muddy Chicago. A full pulsating city now, grown around this quiet Island of Graceland. No longer on the outskirts of anything. An October garden right in the middle of it all. An October garden where once a year my brother Charles comes to visit.

After I was gone, Charles supported both blind Harriet and my love, Bertha. Charles did that up until that first Christmas Eve after my departure when Bertha, now alone, took the morphine, closed her eyes and joined me.

Sometimes, on a summer evening here in Graceland, you can hear the faint echo of Bertha’s piano as she sings and I still make my plans.

But now it’s October. Grand and glorious October. When my brother Charles joins me and we walk the quiet paths of my final resting place in Chicago. As the autumn leaves swirl down crunching beneath our spirit feet, I tell my brother my plans. Share the rest of my stories.

He hears me. He nods. And my brother, my brother Charles Dickens, the writer, offers me up an October smile.

Photo Credit: geekgrrl++

8 Responses to “Augustus and Charles Dickens”

  1. toritto Says:

    Roger – I so look forward to your October – Halloween stories! I had no idea about Augie Dickens!



  2. chicagoguy12 Says:

    Yep. Augie is about 6 blocks from where I am typing this. . .or he is right here. . .BOOO!!!

  3. Sandra Stephens Says:

    october is my favorite month…beautiful elegiac post with just the right shiver…

  4. chicagoguy12 Says:

    Excellent! Sandra, back to the old OS days, you would inspire me on a regular basis.

  5. Sandra Stephens Says:

    Aw. by the way thanks for introducing me to this singer, so beautiful…..

  6. Ted Schneider Says:

    Roger, didn’t know about Augustus. Interesting that we all have plans or at least should but do they turn out as we expect or do we even get to them with everything else that fills our lives. Perhaps for some of us our plans are finalized only when we are gone or when our spirits walk the earth after we are gone.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: