Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Story of Miss Trilby Wragge


In 1846, at the age of four, Theodosia Burr Vaughan (Dotie) moved to Demopolis, Alabama, with her family where her father practiced medicine until his death. Remaining forever true to a young man who lost his life in the Battle of Gettysburg, and being the only unmarried daughter, she moved into Bluff Hall with her dear friend, Miss Eugenia Lyon, following the death of her parents. There Trilby came into being.

Both Trilby and “Miss Dotie” turned to the pages of literature for their names. Theodosia Burr, the daughter of Aaron Burr, and the subject of many storytellers, was on a ship lost at sea while sailing from South Carolina to New York city to meet her father. Trilby, in turn, was named from the novel, Trilby, by George du Maurier. In this novel, Trilby, the main character, was only a complete, fulfilled person when hypnotized and controlled by her benefactor. So, perhaps this is why Trilby, the doll, who only “came alive” in the eyes of her beholder became the fictional Trilby’s namesake. Trilby also had a surname as evidenced on the back of a picture of the doll given to Mrs. John Reed Long by Miss Dotie. It was Wragge, and its origin is obvious.

Demopolis’ Trilby was first made around the turn of the century by Miss dotie Vaughan for Miss Eugenia Lyon’s goddaughter, Miss George Margretta Taylor (presently Mrs. Douglas). The doll was first entered in the doll show of the Trinity Episcopal Church Fair. It won a prize for the ugliest doll, and Miss Taylor became the proud possessor. She adored the doll and they became constant companions. On nice days in Demopolis a typical sight was Trilby and Miss Taylor, carrying her umbrella from Paris given her by her godmother, riding with Miss Lyon in her Victorian carriage. Miss Lyon also gave her godchild a small tooled leather trunk, and fortunately it “just fit” Trilby; consequently, it became Trilby’s trunk and was destined to become as famous as the doll. When children of friends of Miss Dotie and Miss Eugenia were sick, Trilby, as a special favor, was sent to visit, trunk, clothes, and all. She was not allowed to visit any one household for more than two weeks at any one time, for Miss Dotie declared it impolite to be a houseguest for more than a fortnight. There was one prerequisite to each visit, however. Each home must promise to provide Trilby with a new dress upon her return. It was in this manner that the doll acquired such an extensive wardrobe. As a matter of fact, due to Miss Lyon’s well-known, wealthy friends, Trilby traveled to France and England, wearing Paris and London fashions with a great flair. She also went to visit in eastern cities, such as Philadelphia, bringing back to Demopolis the latest American designs.

When the Taylor home caught fire, Trilby was still living there. Her trunk and clothes perished, and she was burned about the face, but, thankfully, she was saved. She was sent to Tuscaloosa to a renowned dollmaker for repair. It has been said that she returned looking not quite the same about the head and face, but was loved just as well, nonetheless.

At the age of fifteen, Miss George Taylor, feeling that she had somewhat outgrown dolls, returned Trilby to its originator, Miss Dotie Vaughan.

Upon the death of Miss Eugenia Lyon, Miss Dotie bought and moved into the Kelly house on South Walnut Street (presently the home of Miss Cecile Savage). She lived in the upstairs portion of the house, renting the downstairs (at one point in time to Mr. and Mrs. John Rutledge for her meals and $12.00 a month). Apparently, this was her livelihood.

Here, in this house, Miss Dotie and Trilby endeared themselves even more to the people of Demopolis and became an integral part of the neighborhood. Miss Dotie adored children and filled her home with them daily. Thought she had many dolls, Trilby was clearly the favorite of all who came to visit. Each year, Miss Dotie Vaughan would send invitations written in poetry to the neighborhood children for Trilby’s birthday party, requesting a gift for the doll from each child.

There were other games, too. Though she did not sew, Miss Dotie had a large button box, and many times she would set the children to work sorting buttons while she talked to them about things that were meaningful to her. One of those subjects was marriage. Miss Dotie often said it was “better to have a po’ marriage than no marriage at all.” Sometimes she gently pushed the little girls out of the room and did not let them return unless they promised faithfully to get married when they grew up. Her feelings on this subject were further enhanced by the ring she wore. On the third finger of her left hand, she wore a plain wide wedding band given to her by her fiancĂ©e as an engagement ring. Despite his death in “The War Between the States,” Miss Dotie never removed the ring. As she grew older the ring became unremovable. Knowing this, Miss Dotie let the children soap her hand for hours trying to get the ring off. Also to entertain her little friends she took down her long hair and le them comb and style it. On the balcony they would have pretend parties with a lovely little tea set. And, all the while, Trilby was there being loved and “played with.” Evidence of this is that during this time her face was worn off twice and was repainted both times by a local artist, Miss Lena Braswell.

Miss Dotie’s kindnesses were obvious in so many ways. Each New Year’s Eve, she would invite the children of the neighborhood over to ring in the New Year with her. How they looked forward to staying up until midnight to hear the town whistles blow and the church bells ring! Then Miss Dotie would serve them milk and oyster loaf which she had acquired from M. E. Lipcomb’s store located where Levy’s Department Store now stands.

Not only did Miss Dotie love people, but she had love for all living things. One year she gave each child a fern and held a contest to see which child’s plant would be the prettiest at the end of that year. First place winner was Miss Maggie Brown who received a vase for her attentive care for growing things; and second place went to her sister, Miss Annie Louisa Brown. Her prize was a dime well wrapped in much newspaper; and she was the envy of the neighborhood for having earned so much money.

Miss Dotie always put sea shells under a faucet on her front lawn and kept them filled with water for the small birds that frequented her yard. And then there was Dickie, Miss Dotie’s beloved canary. When he died, she had a marble tombstone made with his name inscribed on it. This marked his grave under the sweet olive tree in her back yard.

To attest to Miss Dotie’s unselfishness, there is the story of the fact that because bananas were so scarce during “The War Between the States,” she would never eat one. She thought others needed them more than she. Even after they became plentiful she could not bring herself to eat one, remembering so well their scarcity; but she used to tell the children over and over how she loved to smell them.

Every day of her life, from the time of “The War Between the States” until her death, Miss Dotie Vaughan kept a diary, filling many ledgers over the years. In the margins of the ledgers she drew pictures representative of local wedding, births, and deaths. For weddings, she drew flowers, births, a stork, and deaths, a coffin. Because of this, you could tell at a glance the joys and/or sorrows of particular dates. Once she was so amused by the story of the Brown’s prize bull escaping and having to be coaxed, pulled, and pushed home by the Misses Maggie and Annie Louisa Brown, that she drew a marginal picture of the scene in her diary.

At Miss Dotie’s death, Mrs. Louise Merriwether was given her diaries; but, unfortunately, they burned in a fire that consumed Mrs. Merriweather’s home located on the Tombigbee River where the Jim Bird home now stands.

In 1924, Miss Dotie’s health began to fail. She was taken to Savage Hospital located where Plaza Shopping Center is now built. At one time, no being fully conscious, Miss Dotie, thinking she was back in her home, and trying to go into her balcony walked out a second story window of the hospital. Although this did not kill her, it was described as “the beginning of the end.”

Miss Dotie Vaughan died June 12, 1924. Trilby was soon returned to Mrs. George Taylor Douglas.

Miss Theodosa Burr Vaughan was buried from Trinity Episcopal Church of which she was the oldest member. Now over fifty years after her death, people still speak of her with love and affection.

And, of course, Trilby is still with us.

Ballad of Miss TRILBY WRAGGE

Once upon a time,
Long ago,
When a little girl
In Demopolis was
Sick in the bed,
Trilby Wragge came
To stay until
Illness had fled.

Miss Trilby Wragge
Was a visitor of note
For in a trunk
She brought
Many changes of clothes
Plus a hat and a coat.

When the sick child was well,
Trilby, her clothes
And her coat,
Went back to the home
Of Miss Dotie Vaughan
To stay until
Another sick child
Needed a visitor.

When Trilby comes
To visit you,
There's one thing
You must always do.
Make her something
New to wear,
So she will know
For her you care.

I remember once, about 1910, that when I was ill, Miss Trilby Wragge with her trunk full of clothes, came to visit me. She was soft and nice for a little girl to hold in her arms as she went to sleep. And it was so much fun to dress her in all of her many costumes. It was also fun to help make her a new dress.

When I was a little girl, Miss Dotie lived on Walnut Street, where Cecile Savage now lives. There was a faucet in the front yard under which Miss Dotie put sea shells which were kept filled with water. There was nearly always a group of small birds there drinking.

Miss Dotie gave me a picture of Trilby and the back of it had written “Miss Trilby Wragge.”

Miss Dotie once lived at Bluff Hall as companion of the Misses Lyon. I’m so glad that copies of Trilby will go from there into the homes and hearts of other small girls.

With love to Bluff Hall,
Campbell Long