Whose House Was This, Anyway?


John Dunbar, I discovered, had not led a long and happy life. Most of his time in office, from 1923 to 1932, he spent wrangling with a hotheaded governor who tormented him by ordering him to pursue ridiculous cases. At the height of Prohibition, Dunbar turned to alcohol. Repeated arrests for drunk driving threatened his re-election in 1928, and he died at fortyfive from what reporters called “a liver ailment.”

By then Marie had divorced him and moved out, taking the baby, Dorothy, the daughter for whom they had papered the nursery walls with castles and elves. Marie went on, within a few years, to a long and successful run as chief society writer for the Seattle Times . Dorothy, the child raised on fairies, grew up to write Blood in the Parlor , a collection of true murder tales. A secondhand bookstore found me a copy in Kalamazoo, Michigan. There’s a picture of Dorothy on the back cover; she looks just like Marie.

Our home is noW’an official Olympia Heritage Site, with a bronze marker declaring it the John H. Dunbar House. It’s the house where the Dunbars were happy, at least for a little while, when the Great War was finally over and the future seemed ripe with hope. Dorothy died young, like her father, without leaving any heirs. But the plaque guarantees that the Dunbars will never quite disappear.

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