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Volume 6750

Emma Centennia Burroughs
(January 1, 1876 - November 5, 1944)
Mother Died Today

Hulbert Burroughs, son of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Emma Centennia Hulbert,
poured out his grief over his mother's death in a tribute
that remains unpublished in the Danton Burroughs collection.
In "Mother Died Today" Hulbert wrote of the tragedy in his mother's life.

Emma had sacrificed the easy life as daughter of a prosperous Chicago hotel owner to follow Ed Burroughs in his pursuit of riches. From their wedding day, on January 21, 1900, until he gained fame as a writer eleven years later, Ed moved from place to place and through a multitude of occupations and failed enterprises. He left the career security as an accountant with his father's American Battery Company to move all their possessions by train and stage coach to join his brothers in their gold dredging enterprise in the "wild west" of Idaho. When this association didn't work out the Burroughses moved to Salt Lake City where Ed worked as railroad cop while Emma took in boarders and did laundry to help make ends meet. Unhappy with this lifestyle, they sold their furniture for enough money to buy train tickets back to Chicago where they moved in with Emma's family.

Ed then entered into a long string of jobs and get-rich-quick schemes  -- most of them failures. During this time Emma gave birth to three children, nursed Ed and the kids through a series of illnesses, stretched a very meagre household budget, and eventually had to sell her jewelry to keep the wolf from the door. When Ed eventually found his true calling as a writer of tall tales it was she who served as a sounding board and main critic for his wildly imaginative stories. It was also Emma who did the first proofreading of his manuscripts -- a task she continued to perform for almost the rest of her life.

The financial bonanza that came with Ed's success as a writer seemed to stoke the wanderlust to even greater heights and he led Emma and the kids on many treks around the country. Perhaps the most notable of these adventures was the 1916 cross-country camping trip they took by auto caravan from Oak Park to Los Angeles. The trip was fraught with danger and hardships as the road system in the Western states at that time was very crude -- and Emma had the added worry of caring for the health and safety of their three young children.

After their 1919 move to Tarzana Ranch in California's San Fernando Valley the Burroughs lifestyle changed dramatically. They entered into the social whirl of Hollywood parties and Emma took on the added role of Lady of the Manor and Hostess for the Burroughs estate. Sadly, the new lifestyle took its toll. By the early '30s Ed and Emma started to drift apart: the three kids had left the nest and Ed had cultivated different interests. These events coupled with the economic depression, bad investments, declining book sales, loss of the Tarzana estate, and the Burroughs "living beyond their means" lifestyle, put stresses on their marriage. Emma started to feel that she was not needed by the family and her loneliness, loss of purpose and dependence on alcohol grew. What had started as social drinking through the '20s developed into a chronic alcohol problem. "Friends" would invite her to the city for shopping trips and she would often return in a near unconscious state. She would be filled with remorse and tried constantly to conquer the problem, only to fall prey to another binge, days or weeks later. Ed was a very proud and sensitive man who was used to placing his real life or fictional heroines on pedestals.  Finally, in February of 1934, he could take no more. He moved out and asked for a divorce. Around this time, former film actress Florence Gilbert's marriage to Ed's film company associate, Ashton Dearholt, was also unravelling and the two sought companionship in each other.

The marriage breakup and Ed's subsequent marriage on April 4th, 1935, to the much younger movie starlet shattered the Burroughs family. The children and many of Ed's closest friends shared Emma's heartbreak and were greatly troubled by the turn of events. As part of the divorce settlement, Emma stayed on the ERB, Inc. payroll as a proofreader but she was totally shattered and grief stricken at the loss of the lifelong partner with whom she had shared so many highs and lows during a long marriage. Although Ed maintained a close relationship with Joan, Hully and Jack, he effectively broke off all contact with Emma. Eventually Ed and Florence moved to Hawaii and Emma was never to see him again even though Ed's second marriage broke up in 1941. Hulbert, who was stationed in Hawaii as a combat photographer kept up regular correspondence with his mother, noting that she wrote "wonderful letters that kept me posted -- but she never wrote of her suffering." On November 5, 1944 Hulbert received a telegram:


"Mother died today. Cerebral Thrombosis."
Everyone knew it was from a broken heart.


Click for full-size preview collage

EMMA CENTENNIA BURROUGHS
A TRIBUTE
ERBzine 6750
Son Hulbert Remembers
"Mother Died Today"
ERBzine 6751
Emma Burroughs
Photo Album I
ERBzine 6752
Emma Burroughs
Photo Album II
Next: Our ERBzine Bio Tribute
Continues in ERBzine 6753


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