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Chicago Celebrates 200th Birthday Of Charles Dickens

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The great English author Charles Dickens was born on this date 200 years ago, and he has a fan club in Chicago.

As WBBM Newsradio's Regine Schlesinger reports, for more than a century, Dickens aficionados in Chicago have been celebrating the author of such beloved classics as A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, and Oliver Twist.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's Regine Schlesinger reports


It was 1905 when they formed the Chicago Dickens Fellowship, a group that continues to this day. Dickens' second daughter, Kate Perugini, signed the charter for the Chicago Dickens Fellowship on June 16, 1923.

Some of Dickens' personal belongings are in a special collection at the Newberry Library.

Charles Dickens also has a more direct link to Chicago, in the form of his youngest brother.

Augustus Dickens (1827-1866) lived in Chicago for many years and worked for the Illinois Central Railroad. He is buried among many prominent Chicagoans in Graceland Cemetery in the Uptown neighborhood.

But Augustus Dickens was known as a fairly seedy character. He was known as an unrepentant alcoholic, and Graceland Cemetery says he immigrated to America to escape his wife, but actually brought a different woman along.

"He appeared in plays based on his brother's writings, entertained Chicago's leading citizens, failed in business, and until recently, his Graceland plot was unmarked," the cemetery Web site says.

Augustus Dickens died of tuberculosis at the age of 39, but legend has it that when Charles Dickens went on a lecture tour in America in 1867, he avoided Chicago because he didn't want to deal with his brother's family.

This drew the ire of the Chicago Tribune. In December, Chicago Magazine's Whet Moser discovered a Tribune editorial following the announcement that Dickens was skipping over Chicago, which said Dickens' "total want of consideration" for his brother's widow and children "illustrate a point of human weakness on which moralists have never ceased to comment – the pretense of fine sentiments without corresponding practice."

The editorial that Moser quotes dismissed Dickens as a hypocrite who published stories of charity and giving, yet couldn't practice what he preached for his own brother's family.

But Moser reports in 1869, Tribune editor Horace White published a correction. White wrote that if Dickens had come to Chicago, he would have risked exposing that his brother had two wives – one in Chicago and the other still in England.

Still, the fact that Charles Dickens wouldn't help his Chicago relatives stung for generations, according to a Chicago Reader article.

Augustus Dickens' great-great-great-great-grandson, Scott Mehaffey, was working as a landscape architect for the Morton Arboretum in 2004. He told the Reader's Dennis Rodkin that his grandmother, Jeanne Schaefer, was raised to believe that if anyone knew she was related to Charles Dickens, she'd have to "sit on the porch with a bag over her head."

Charles Dickens was eventually honored in Chicago with Dickens Avenue, which runs from the Lincoln Park Zoo west all the way to Harlem Avenue. But Dickens Avenue was actually known as Garfield Avenue until 1940.

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