March 19, 2011 5:47:00 PM
In Monday''s dark, pre-dawn hours, a U-Haul truck and a car occupied by four early risers pulled out of The Friendly City on a mission. The volunteers bound for Collinsville, Ill., very near St. Louis, returned after midnight with a cargo they considered precious -- a collection of furniture from the estate of Edwina Dakin Williams, Tennessee Williams'' mother.
The donation to Columbus and the Tennessee Williams Home Welcome Center and Museum was made by the famed playwright''s niece, Francesca Williams, who visited Columbus during the Tennessee Williams Tribute and Tour of Victorian Homes in September 2010. It comes just as Columbus prepares to celebrate the centennial of the writer''s birth with festivities March 24-27.
"The City of Columbus has been chosen to receive the parlor furniture that once graced Williams'' childhood home," said Tribute chair Brenda Caradine, who traveled with Elizabeth and Claude Simpson and Fred Haley to collect the contributions. "The elegant chairs and sofa have been stored for many years in the Illinois home of Tennessee Williams'' brother, Dakin Williams, after being brought from the house in St. Louis, where Edwina spent her last years."
"Columbus is certainly the spiritual home of the Williams family saga, where young Tom (and his sister, Rose) began their observations of life," Francesca Williams wrote in an e-mail Thursday. "It somehow seems appropriate that Edwina''s furniture will once again sit in a home in which she resided."
In addition to a period sofa, where it''s believed the author, as a young child, sat with his mother, the gift includes two rush chairs and two cane chairs, with matching cane rocking chair.
"There''s also a magnificent altar-type chair with spindles that belonged to his grandfather," Caradine said, referring to the Rev. Walter Dakin, who was rector of St. Paul''s Episcopal Church when his grandson, later known as Tennessee, was born in Columbus March 26, 1911. The rectory (now the Welcome Center) was Williams'' first home and where the furniture is expected to eventually be displayed.
Cup returns home
A special item included in the donation by Williams'' niece is a loving cup, or trophy, engraved with "Brim full of love and good wishes to Rev. Walter Edwin Dakin from the members of St. Paul''s Church, Columbus, Miss., Dec. 1st, 1913." It was Francesca''s wish that the cup, almost 100 years old now, return to Columbus.
"What a day it was -- snow, ice and sleet," Caradine said of the Illinois trip. "But the Tribute volunteers have gained a treasure for Columbus in Tennessee Williams'' 100th year. She (Francesca) wanted us to have it in time for the birthday."
"The Convention and Visitors Bureau has done a remarkable job with the former parsonage, and Edwina''s furniture will add to the story," Francesca wrote. "I feel that my grandmother (Edwina) and father (Dakin) would have been pleased that their family furniture will be on display for others to appreciate. ... I know it''s in good hands."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.