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Dodge, Ossian Euclid (1820-1876)

Actor, Composer, Journalist, Lecturer, Singer, Travel Writer

Born in Cayuga, New York in 1820, Ossian Euclid Dodge was devoted to both his parents, especially his mother to whom he made a vow never to drink alcohol, a promise he kept his whole life. His father had earned a national reputation as a mathematician having brokered the British government’s disputed claims in Canada. At the age of five, Dodge displayed musical proclivities much to the dismay of both his parents. He went on to become a singer of “moral comic songs which he composed and wrote himself” (Wilson & Fiske 194). In an attempt to dissuade Dodge from this vocation, his parents apprenticed him to a cabinet-maker at age thirteen and he subsequently earned a reputation as an ornamental painter, bronzer, gilder, and manufacturer of perspective landscape window curtains. His proficiency at creating bouquets of wax flowers led him to female seminaries where he taught the art. After being asked to compose and sing a song at the commencement of one of these schools, Dodge was inspired to begin his life’s work and embrace a new musical vocation. Dodge’s trademark and unique selling point became singing genteel, comic songs. He resolved: “I will write my own songs, and the public shall learn that a comic song is not necessarily a vulgar one; and that wit which has no fellowship with profanity or coarseness, will be keenly relished by the best and most refined portions of society” (qtd. in O. Fowler 3).

Dodge’s music brought him to New York City where he was billed as a “Boston vocalist.” He appeared at Tripler Hall on April 19, 1851 and "gave one of his chaste, unique and fashionable entertainments" (Odell 6:82). Unhappily for Dodge, however, his performance ranked second to other performances in Brooklyn that spring, namely the live animal show which was “the most attention-drawing show of that evening” (Odell 6:82,108). Among the more colorful stories associated with Dodge is the imputation that he refused to drink to Henry Clay’s health at a dinner in his honor due to his practice of abstinence from alcohol. Clay famously replied, “Mr. Dodge, I honor your courage and respect your principles, but I can’t say that I admire your taste” (O. Fowler 3). He also moved within political circles in 1844, where he mingled with people like Clay, Millard Fillmore, and William H. Seward. Dodge was elected to the 1851 delegation to the World’s Peace Congress in London. During his time in Europe, Dodge also acted as a foreign correspondent for the Boston Weekly Museum, a journal he founded in 1849. While traveling in Europe, he wrote letters for the journal under the attribution of “Quails, the Flying Correspondent” (O. Fowler 3).

Dodge seems to be only tangentially related to Pfaff's through his relationship with Ada Clare. According to A. L. Rawson, a contemporary to the Bohemian group, Dodge only occasionally visited the home of Ada Clare (102). Scholar Mark Lause supports such a notion, labeling Dodge as one of the "occasional callers" at Pfaff's (110). Dodge did share some connections with other Pfaffians, though. A savvy showman devoted to his musical career, Dodge collaborated with Bernard Covert (composer of “The Sword of Bunker Hill,” a song version of the poem by Pfaff’s visitor William Ross Wallace) to organize a touring concert troupe (Wilson & Fiske 194).

In addition to his musical and journalistic interests, Dodge also pursued business and politics on a smaller scale. He retired from singing and moved to Cleveland in 1858 to devote himself to the sale of music-related publications. He moved to St. Paul, Minnesota to take advantage of real estate investment opportunities. He eventually became secretary of the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce, an office he held from 1869 to 1873. Dodge died in London in 1876. Some of his memorable songs include “Level and the Square,” “My Darling Boy,” “Temperance Shout of Liberty,” “Barnyard Serenade,” and “The Beggar and his Dog.” (Wilson & Fiske 194).