News From Terre Haute, Indiana

History

November 9, 2013

Genealogy: Dresser’s fall in 20th century from wealthy to bankrupt

TERRE HAUTE — Paul Dresser, Terre Haute native and composer of Indiana’s state song, “On the Banks of the Wabash Far Away,” attained wealth and success in the 19th century, but it was all to change in the 20th. Then, several things converged that had a enormous impact on Dresser’s life.

First, music styles were changing. Dresser wrote sentimental songs of mother, country, and home, but the nation’s appetite for these songs was waning — and a style called ragtime was gaining popularity. Dresser, however, continued to write in the same fashion, for whatever personal reason. His sentimental songs began to lose popularity with the public. Second, he was a very poor businessman. His partnership in a music publishing firm fell apart and eventually went bankrupt. These two factors limited his income, which had been substantial. Third, his own generous and liberal nature did him in. He continued to spend and squander his money lavishly in saloons and brothels, and to give away money to family and friends. With less money coming in, he became insolvent. Finally, his health was deteriorating. He weighed more than 300 pounds.

In 1900, on the last census in which Dresser was enumerated, he appears to be living in a hotel in Manhattan, New York, at 37th and Broadway. He is listed as a lodger, age 39, occupation song writer. His birth date and age is off and both his own and his parents’ birth places are given as Massachusetts. He is also listed as married, but there is no wife in the household and number of years married was left blank. (He never married, according to biographers). Did he intentionally give this misleading information, or was it supplied to the census taker by another lodger?

In 1905 he moved in with a sister who lived in New York City. He died there on Jan. 31, 1906, of a brain hemorrhage. He was financially destitute at his death. There was a funeral service held in New York on Feb. 4 at the Church of St. Francis Xavier at Sixth Avenue and 16th Street. It was attended by many performers, musicians, actors and singers of vaudeville. His body was held by the Calvary Cemetery in Queens County until March 19 when the family procured enough money for his burial. He was then moved to the St. Boniface Cemetery in Chicago, where his parents are buried. A funeral service was held there in April. There was never any money for a memorial stone, and the family left his grave unmarked. In 1922, the Indiana Society of Chicago provided a marker in the form of a large boulder transported from the banks of the Wabash River and engraved with his name. This can be viewed on Find a Grave at www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=7173419.

Dresser has been described as generous and charitable, romantic and sentimental, having no business sense, living in the here-and-now, boisterous and jovial, hedonistic and improvident, sometimes moody and brooding, and moved by the pain and misfortune of others. His personality and character were forged in his early years living in Terre Haute and Sullivan. There, he loved music and fanfare. His father, Paul Dreiser Sr., was a German immigrant, a dogmatic and “fanatical” Catholic, self-pitying and ultimately unsuccessful at business. His mother Sarah Schnab was of Moravian descent and from a Mennonite family. She was disowned after eloping with Dreiser. Accounts describe her as hard-working, all-forgiving and controlling.

Paul rebelled against his father’s will, which dictated that he become a priest. He was always forgiven by his mother, even when he caroused with prostitutes and imbibed in saloons. His family had periods of extreme poverty, but being the eldest child who left early, Paul was not as exposed to this as his younger siblings. His optimistic and sentimental point of view allowed him to create music that reveled in home, mother and country.

Continued next week.

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
History
Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Raw: Big Rig Stuck in Illinois Swamp Raw: Bolivian Dancers Attempt to Break Record More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Gaza Residents Mourn Dead Amid Airstrikes Kerry: No Deal Yet on 7-Day Gaza Truce Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma Ohio State Marching Band Chief Fired After Probe Raw: Palestinians and Israeli Soldiers Clash Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Raw: Air Algerie Crash Site in Mali Raw: Deadly Tornado Hits Virginia Campground Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix Cumberbatch Brings 'Penguins' to Comic-Con Raw: Iowa Police Dash Cam Shows Wild Chase Israel Mulls Ceasefire Amid Gaza Offensive Crashed Air Algerie Plane Found in Mali Dempsey: Putin May Light Fire and Lose Control Fox Dons 'Bondage Strap' Skirt at Comic-Con
NDN Video
Big Weekend For Atlanta Braves In Cooperstown - @TheBuzzeronFox Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director What's Got Jack Black Freaking Out at Comic-Con? Doctors Remove 232 Teeth From Teen's Mouth Bradley Cooper Explains His Voice in 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Deja vu: Another NYPD officer choke-holding a suspect 'Fifty Shades of Grey': Watch the Super Sexy First Trailer Now! Reports: Ravens RB Ray Rice Suspended For 1st 2 Games Of The Season Air Algerie plane with 119 on board missing over Mali Diamond Stone, Malik Newman, Josh Jackson and others showcase talent Free Arturo - The World's Saddest Polar Bear A Look Back at Batman On Film Through The Years LeBron James -- Dropped $2k On Cupcake Apology ... Proceeds To Benefit Charity Snoop Dogg Says He Smoked Weed at the White House Raw: Fight Breaks Out in Ukraine Parliament Chris Pratt Interrupts Interview To French Braid Intern's Hair Shirtless Super Mario Balotelli Dances While Ironing - @TheBuzzeronFOX Whoa! Watch "Housewives" Star Do the Unthinkable LeBron apologizes to neighbors with cupcakes Justin Bieber In Calvin Klein Underwear Shoot
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity