Friday, February 13, 2015

"NOW AIN'T THAT TOO BAD" - Charles O. DuPlessis

We have all seen articles through the years describing famous and unusual epitaphs.  One day "Babe" Drake (who I have written about in this blog) told me that there was an unusual epitaph on a tombstone behind her parents' monument at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.  She had planned to take me down there and show it to me, but her advanced age and frail health precluded that.  So, one day years later when I was at Rosehill putting flowers on her grave I started looking around behind the McElroy monument to see if I could find that unusual epitaph - and I found it when I found the tombstone of Charles O. DuPlessis (1853-1907).  His tombstone lists his name, and the dates of his birth and death and then says "Now ain't that too bad."

On the right hand side, where his wife's name would go, was a more sedate epitaph: "Nearer my God to Thee."

Let's see what we can find out about the man with unusual epitaph.

Charles Orpha DuPlessis was born at Syracuse, New York, September 17, 1853, to Jean Odilon DuPlessis (1825-1897) and Marie Rosalie nee Pratte (1829-1875).  In both lines he traced his ancestry to France, but it had for several generations been confined to Canada, where his parents were born. Odilon DuPlessis was a contractor and builder by trade.  In addition to Charles, Odilon and Rosalie had three daughters and two sons:  Maria (1852-????), Josephine (1856-1903), Idia (1859-????), Edward (1861-1942) and Herman (1863-1899).

Charles DuPlessis attended grammar school and high school in Syracuse, New York, until at the age of fifteen, he began to serve an apprenticeship under his father.  The 1870 US Census finds the DuPlessis family in Syracuse.  Odilion lists his occupation as "Carpenter." The family reported that their real estate was valued at $10,000 and their personalty at $2,000.  Even though he had been born in Canada, Odilion indicated that by 1870 he was an American citizen.  An interesting sidelight: According to what they told the census-taker, the only members of the family who could read and write were nine year old Edward, and seven year old Herman.  The rest of the family including Odilion and Rosalie could neither read nor write. Charles is listed as a "Carpenter Apprentice."

Charles DuPlessis developed a taste for athletics and became very proficient as an athlete.  In 1870, when he was seventeen years old, he moved to Chicago and stayed with his father's family.  During this period he became a night instructor in athletics at the Chicago Athenaeum, then at 50 Dearborn Street, while employed by day in his father's contracting and building business.

Starting in 1876 Charles devoted himself exclusively to athletics and until 1881 was professor of physical culture at the Athenaeum, then resigned to accept a like position at the Northwestern University, Evanston.  

On May 10, 1879, Charles DuPlessis married Addie Taylor in Chicago. They were married by the famous Congregationalist clergyman Rev. Arthur Little.

Addie Taylor (1852-1821) was born Adelaide H. Wyotzslay on July 12, 1852 in Cleveland, Ohio.   Her father's name was Peter Wyotszlay, born in Poland; her mother's name is unknown.  In September of 1871 she gave birth to a son, William Robert Taylor in New York.  Nothing is known about Addie's first husband.

Addie DuPlessis

In mid-1879 Charles and Addie DuPlessis were blessed with a daughter, Mary Elizabeth.  All we know about her was that she died prior to 1885.

In 1883 Charles DuPlessis moved his family to Minneapolis, Minnesota and erected gymnasiums there and at St. Paul. In 1884 he began the study of medicine at the Minnesota Hospital College, Minneapolis, and was graduated with the Medical Doctor's degree in March, 1888. In 1888-89 he was assistant city physician of Minneapolis.  In 1890 the family returned to Chicago and during the ensuing year Dr. Charles DuPlessis was connected with the A. G. Spaulding sporting goods establishment.

About this time Charles moved the family again - this time to Detroit where he took a job as superintendent of the Detroit Athletic Club.  In less than one year, he was recalled to Chicago to work for Mr. Spaulding.

Soon after his return to Chicago, Dr. DuPlessis made a tour to the Eastern part of the United States to inspect the best gymnasiums, and then returned to Chicago to oversee the erection of the gymnasium of the Chicago Athletic Association.  At the solicitation of many prominent physicians of Chicago, who had come to recognize the value of massage and physical culture in the treatments of certain ailments, Dr. DuPlessis in 1893 established himself in Chicago on the South Side as an expert masseur and physical culturist.  His clientele, sent to him by influential practitioners, was drawn from among the wealthy.  While engaged in this work he carefully kept up his connection with athletics and general field sports.

In 1898 he was elected handicapper for the Amateur Athletic Association. He was in constant demand by the principal colleges of the Northwest as starter and field judge, in which capacities he acted at every important athletic meet for athletic societies and miscellaneous athletic organizations in Chicago and was employed by the A. G. Spalding company to write up the histories and records for their yearly Sporting Almanac, also by the Chicago Daily News newspaper to write up their annual records published in their paper and Almanac.

The 1900 US Census finds Charles DuPlessis and his wife Addie, along with Addie's son William Taylor living at 293 (now 33 East) Thirty-first Street in Chicago.  The Illinois Institute of Technology currently occupies that site.  Charles listed his occupation as "Physician"; William as a "Stationery Engraver."  There is a shocking fact about Addie DuPlessis on this census form.  She told the census taker that she had given birth to 7 children (!!!) although only one was currently alive.  We were aware of Mary Elizabeth, but there must have been five others who died after being born.  I could not find any other birth records for Addie DuPlessis.

In 1902 Dr. Charles DuPlessis passed a civil service examination and was made superintendent of playgrounds at all the small parks in the City of Chicago, but other demands upon him were so imperative that he soon gladly relinquished the position. He passed another civil service examination in 1907 with a view to accepting the same position but that was not to be.

Dr. Charles DuPlessis died suddenly of an aortic aneurysm on April 11, 1907, at 3104 South Park Avenue in Chicago.  That address and street no longer exist.  Here is his Death Certificate:

As we knew, Dr. Charles DuPlessis was buried at Rosehill Cemetery under the unusual tombstone mentioned at the start of this article:

with the unusual epitaph "Now ain't that too bad."  Addie DuPlessis followed her husband to Rosehill on January 6, 1921, dying from diabetes.  She was buried beside her husband with the epitaph "Nearer My God to Thee" but otherwise her grave is not marked.

We do not know why Dr. Charles DuPlessis had such an unusual epitaph, but it caused Rosehill Cemetery president Elmer F. Hennig to make the following note on the burial record:

Note on burial record:
"Because of the strange or odd manner of inscription - - "NOW AIN'T THAT TOO BAD" - - this grave marker was given national publicity thru - "Ripley's - Believe it or Not" - syndication in newspapers. Perhaps we should NOT GIVE this location out to anyone for fear that it may be removed from our premises as a prank or as another publicity stunt. - Hennig"

It was said of Dr. Charles DuPlessis that "His life was a remarkably clean one, devoid of excesses or dangerous indulgences of any kind, and his lovable character won the high regard of all who knew him."

Dr. Charles O. DuPlessis

May he rest in peace.

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