A Hoard Habit to Break: The Life and Legacy of Silas Bliss

As I was checking out the roster of notables at Maple Grove Cemetery I stumbled across, “Father” Silas Bliss, town character.  I had to find out more.  Turns out there is not a lot known about him until he got to Wichita.

*I could not find any pictures of Mr. Bliss, so I thought you might enjoy these photos from the 1870’s and 1880’s of Wichita from www.wichitaphotos.org

Douglas Avenue looking west 1876
Courtesy: wichitaphotos.org

This is what I found on the good doctor.  He was born on December 8, 1800, in Newton, Massachusetts. He was one of the original abolitionists having been a member of the historical Utica Convention in 1830, of which Gerrit Smith was president.  He was married to Harriet Bliss (1820 – 8/1/1840) who was just 20 years old when she died.  I wondered if had anything to do with the birth of their son, William Penn Bliss? (July 13, 1840 – Oct 13, 1893)

Bliss was a dentist by profession, and at one time was connected with the Cooper Institute in New York.  He was also the first president of The American Dental Association, the first of its kind in the U.S.

Main Street, 1875
Courtesy: Wichitaphotos.org

Bliss came to Wichita some time in 1870 or 1871. On April 4, 1878, the Weekly Eagle listed Silas Bliss as a dentist. His also attended all the meetings at the M.E. Church of which he was a devout and faithful member. “No regular church or prayer meeting, wedding, funeral, or lecture happened in the Methodist church, without the central figure of Father Bliss.”

William Penn Bliss and a daughter-in-law were the only relatives known.

Douglas Avenue 1878
Courtesy: wichitaphotos.org

In 1874, William operated a photography gallery on the lots later occupied by the store of Innes & Ross.  The gallery was moved to the rear of the county building, in what Dr. Bliss called his home. He was known to collect “buffalo horns, tin ware, paper, rags, bones, bottles and an assortment of terrestrial refuse, only equaled but the old curiosity shop described by Charles Dickens.”

Mule Cars on North Main Street 1884
Courtesy: wichitaphotos.org

In June 1877, the gallery caught fire.  The Weekly Eagle wrote, “For many months Dr. Silas Bliss has been gathering every odd and end that happened to fall in his way. We noted boxes of broken glass and iron of every description, kegs of wild or prairie tea, well cured, barrels of cans, buffalo heads and horns, deer’s feet.”  The story hinted at his possible mental health issue saying, “Father Bliss is now very aged, and having little to do he finds utility in everything. His mind is as active as that of a young man, and he must busy himself at something.”

100 Block East Douglas, 1886
Courtesy: wichitaphotos.org

The Wichita Star made another mention of him on August 14, 1888, commenting, “Dr. Bliss in talk and walk shows plainly the weight of his 80 and 8 years.  Still his conversation is lively and to the historical student opens up a volume of interesting matter.”

The church set aside a special easy chair to add comfort to the aging man’s church visits.

Reese & Sawyer Carpenter Shop, 1878
Courtesy: wichitaphotos.org

Bliss passed away on February 15, 1889, The Wichita Eagle noted his passing by writing, “At the age of eighty-seven, like a weary child, he sat down to rest, peacefully and quietly fell asleep in his chair, and when an attendant endeavored to awake him discovered that his spirit had winged its way to realms of bliss; to an eternal rest.”

Obviously well loved and respected on February 15, the Wichita Beacon noted, “A peaceful smile is on the old man’s dead face as he lies in his coffin at Dunbar’s establishment…  No more will his familiar form be seen moving quietly along the streets.  His seat in the church will be vacant.  Only once more will he enter the sacred prints of the edifice so dear to him, and that will be tomorrow when the funeral takes place and the minister, so often eagerly listened to by him, will pronounce the last word that will cosign his body to the grave.”

Civic Celebration, 1884
Courtesy: wichitaphotos.org

At the funeral, the easy chair was draped in mourning and stood near the pastor’s desk.

Father Bliss, a man dedicated to his community, medical profession, and church, rests in an unmarked grave at Maple Grove Cemetery. According to Maple Grove guru, Hal George, there was a small urn at one point but it is gone. Hal was kind enough to walk me out to the spot. The white book is where Mr. Bliss’ headstone would be located. (That’s Hal’s shadow on the ground.)

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