This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News on October 5, 1996
DUNBAR CHRONICLED `A C.H.S. EPISODE'
by Roz Young
People often ask me where I find the local history material that appears now and then in this column. Here is one example:
While he was going through the attic of his parents' home to settle their estate, Don Williams, 217 Monarch Road, Centerville, found a collection of a literary magazine, High School Times , published in 1889-1890 by the Philomathean Society of Central High School in Dayton. These were the years in which both Paul Laurence Dunbar and Orville Wright were in high school, and both their names appeared several times in the magazine.
By lending the magazines to `Old Tells-All Roz,' he made it possible for us to add two more columns on local Dayton history for the recycling bin.
Around Central High School in 1890 (where the Senior Citizen's Center stands now on Wilkinson between Fourth and Fifth streets), vendors of popcorn, cakes, candy and other treats did a good business before and after school and between classes. A young man decided that he would set up a fruit stand on the sidewalk.
To raise capital, he visited the homes of many of the high school boys on Saturday and Sunday and offered free fruit to anybody who would contribute a dime to his fund.
He collected about 40 dimes, and was so encouraged he visited the homes of the girls, too. Many of them gave to the cause and, on Monday at recess, they all dashed out of the school to see the stand and get their promised fruit.
No young man, no fruit stand, no fruits and no dimes appeared. The gulled scholars slunk back into the school, considerably outraged.
One of the Times editorial staff wrote about the event, concluding, `Is the old saying, `Never believe a man guilty until he is proven so,' true? The scholars don't think so. We all learn by experience, if it is a hard master.'
The story inspired young Paul Laurence Dunbar to write a poem, which was printed in the High School Times of February 1890. Dunbar later gathered poems he had written while he was in school and reprinted them in his first volume of poems.
This one he did not include in his collection and, consequently, here for the first time in the public print is this poem, entitled Sold - A C.H.S. Episode, by Dayton's famous poet son:
Sing, heavenly muse, in accents tender,
This bright romance of a local fruit-vender,
How fleeting are all earthy joys!
How badly did he soak the boys!
' tis hard to dress the thing in rhymes
And narrate how they lost their dimes;
The vender pleaded, they heard, ah, well.
The fruit, you know, was intended to sell
But only the boys (not the fruit) were sold.
They gave their money, as you've been told,
All through the day they saw at hand
Their smooth-tongued friend and his welcome stand;
All Sunday night they dreamed the same
And longed for the fruit that never came,
And Sunday eve saw that vender slick
Aboarding the train, time doubled quick,
Lament, oh muse, the wiles of men!
Farewell , ye dimes, we'll ne'er see again.
I don't know that we can learn anything about Dunbar's poetry from this except, perhaps, that even in high school Dunbar was adept at rhyme and his poetry scanned.
He had a sense of humor as well as a classical education, since he invoked the muse, even as Homer did in `Sing, goddess, the wrath of Achilles ...'
In the September 1888 High School Times is a two-stanza poem entitled Songs that he did include in later collections. It shows the young Dunbar as he usually was, thoughtful and serious:
I love the dear old ballads best,
That tell of love and death,
Whose every line sings love's unrest,
Or mourns the parting breath.
I love those songs the heart can feel,
That make our pulses throb;
When lovers plead, or contrites kneel
With choking sighs and sob.
God sings through songs that touch the heart,
And none are prized save these;
Though man may ply their gilded art,
For fortune, fame or fees,
The muse that sets the songster's soul
Ablaze with lyric fire,
Holds nature up, an open scroll,
And builds art's funeral pyre.