EDITOR’S NOTE: This story by Paige Craig was the second-place winner in the 2022 Writing Competition sponsored by the Paris-Henry County Arts Council. The contest required entrants to tie their stories into the Henry County-Paris Bicentennial that is being celebrated this year. This is Part One of the story written by Craig. Part Two will be published Wednesday.
The ‘Silents’ of Dunlap Street
BY PAIGE CRAIG
By the 1880s, the town of Paris, Tennessee, was growing. The war 20 years prior had largely overlooked the small settlement, with the only exception being a short skirmish that was vehemently romanticized by the locals. This lack of attention left the city in one piece by war’s end, and prime for expansion. Such came when the railroad finally reached the town, bringing with it prosperity and opportunity. New businesses and stores appeared on the court square overnight. Theaters sprung up to entertain, photographers emerged to capture images of the locals, and telegraph wires finally connected the town to the outside world. This growth also brought many new residents with it, some moving in from the local area, while others came from much more distant lands. However, it would be inaccurate to claim that every newcomer was the average, hardworking Southerner.
The train would regularly bring a number of strange individuals. Some would have odd hobbies, while others would exhibit behaviors considered unusual at the time. Such levels of bizarreness often left Parisian opinions just as diverse as the settlers themselves. Some would try to accept them into their close-knit community, while most would happily escort them out of town, armed with firearms and bad attitudes. But no matter how long they resided in Paris, many of these odd newcomers would become key figures in regional history.
William B. Cox, an eccentric ex-stage actor from Paducah and well-known womanizer, partook in a street duel with the town's sheriff, after reportedly having sensual relations with his wife. The encounter ended with a .45 diameter hole through Cox’s heart, and with the sheriff being placed on trial for murder. But even with such hefty charges, they were quickly dropped, as the district attorney believed the whole incident to be an “honorable, Shakesperean affair between two men of valor and courage.” Unsurprisingly, the locals believed him to be quite strange as well.
Solomon P. Fuller, a wealthy, hated, landowning carpetbagger from Ohio, had a strange fascination with porcelain dolls. Whenever someone would visit his manor on Wood Street, they would be greeted by dozens of fragile, yet intricate dolls, lining the multiple shelves of his living room, kitchen, and bedroom. Such strange behavior, along with his donations to the Henry County Training School, a school for the black children of the area, made him an outcast among the ex-plantation-owning elite, but quite adored by the town’s lower classes.
The Hunt family were immigrants that came from the new Empire of Germany, and quickly became rival monopolists to the wealthy Douglas Gray, a popular store owner in the town. Despite the competition, the Hunts quickly made a name for themselves, opening various shops and stores across the local area. The family was met with animosity, at first, many offended by their different language and their relation to the Hessians of the Revolutionary War. But because of the business they brought to town, many began to view them in a more positive light, with the exception of Gray himself.
All in all, many curious characters had at some point made the little Tennessee town their home, and made sure to leave their mark. But out of all them, perhaps none were more queer and mysterious than the town’s only other German immigrant family.
The Schreiber family.
They came on the local service around the winter of 1880. Although arriving from such a faraway country, their luggage only consisted of a few suitcases and a large truck. This small oddity was just one of many that would soon surround this foriegn family of four.
The father was a rough-skinned, weary-eyed gentleman, with a thinning hairline, and speckles of white plastered in his black beard. He wore a worn, gray frock coat, and muddied black trousers. Hanging off his white, striped undershirt was a recently bought red puff tie, vehemently displayed in an attempt at appearing proper.
The mother was a plump, freckled older woman, who, similar to her husband, had eyes that exhibited exhaustion. Her toffee blonde hair was cut short and mostly concealed by the white head scarf. She wore an uninteresting striped dress, with green, cloth blanket wrappings around her upper chest. Out of the four members, she also appeared to be the sickliest of all of them.
The eldest of the two children was a young man, perhaps in his late teens, early twenties. On his asymmetrical face resided a large birthmark that stretched from his right cheek to the bottom of his crooked nose. His deep gray eyes made some fellow passengers believe he was blind, yet his dexterity with the family’s luggage disproved this theory. The clothing he wore and his hair color were similar to that of his father, although he lacked the coat and “proper” demeanor of the patriarch.
The daughter seemed about the same age as her brother. She shared the same toffee hair as her mother, yet was almost out of place among her unsightly, tired family. She was a petite, beautiful young woman, with a blue, flowing dress, similar yet more appealing than her mother’s.