Woodside Cemetery was crowded Monday with those there to remember loved ones, decorate graves, shed tears, and maybe share a funny story or two.
It was Memorial Day, a time reserved for those who have passed.
One Middletown family was there, and their story may be one of the most troubling and difficult to comprehend. In fact, nearly 64 years after the events on the night of Aug. 26, 1950, the Wilson family has more questions than answers. But at least now, for the first time, they have some closure, some comfort.
Six Wilson siblings, four from Middletown, two from out of state, along with family and friends, gathered at 11 a.m. Monday to reflect on the loss of the twin brothers only one of them ever met. There was a moment of silence, the reading of the obituary and a musical tribute. Then the family visited the graves of their parents, who also are buried in Woodside.
“None of it makes sense,” said the Rev. Dwight Wilson, 66, the oldest of the children.
To truly understand their tale, and why Memorial Day 2014 has been circled on the calendar for months, you have to return to 1950, a much different time in Middletown, and throughout the United States. The city was segregated, and certainly at the time, no one could have imagined a black president would ever live in the White House.
Back then, in Middletown, the Wilson family said, the segregation extended through the medical community. There were two ambulance services in the city: one reserved for the white residents, the other, operated by a black funeral home director, designated for black residents.
So when Hazel Mack Wilson, 19, and already the mother of a 2-year-old, was having trouble with the birth of her twin sons, she tried to notify the funeral director to transport her from her home in the 1200 block of Grove Street to Middletown Hospital. But the director was unavailable, tending to the funeral needs of another family.
There was no family car available. Her mother, Fannie Mack, didn’t drive, and Wilson’s husband, Wilbur, was working at Armco. So a doctor was called to deliver the babies two months premature.
As the Wilson children have learned, as the story has been passed down, one of the boys died a few minutes after birth, the other the following day. One was born at 3:30 a.m., the other 10 minutes later, according to birth records in the Middletown health department, but there are no death certificates. There is no official record of what funeral home, if any, was involved in the burial, the family said.
The babies, named Wayne and Dane Wilson, were buried at Woodside Cemetery in an unmarked grave. For years, there was little discussion in the Wilson home about the twins, and the circumstances surrounding their deaths. There were no pictures, no memorial gardens.
It was like the tragedy didn’t happen.
One of the daughters said she accidentally found out she had twin brothers while doing research at the library.
Occasionally, Dwight Wilson said, his mother, who was kicked out of Middletown High School when she was 17 because she was pregnant, talked with “longing for the lost babies.” Hazel Mack died in 1975. She was 44.
Another son, Mark, said his mother never had closure and the death of the boys was “like an open wound that never healed.” He added that since he and his brother, Darren, were born 16 months apart, and they were told they resembled their brothers, it was like they “replaced” the twins. One of the Wilson daughters, Paula, was born on Aug. 26, 1952, two years to the day after her twin brothers.
In 1995, Dwight Wilson said he drove to Middletown from his home in New Jersey, went to the cemetery and asked for the plot numbers where his brothers were buried. He was told there was “no record” of any Wilson twins. So he put on a pair of tennis shoes, and walked around the cemetery in the rain, searching for any sign of his brothers. He checked every tombstone for the Wilson name or anyone was who born on Aug. 26, 1950.
He wore out those shoes and came up empty.
Five years later, Wilson talked to his aunt, Pat Mack Turner, about Middletown’s segregation. He was told at the time, back in the late 1940s, one of the places that was segregated was the hospital. He was told he was born in the basement. That’s when Wilson realized his mother never told her six kids about the twins because she didn’t want to “embitter” the family.
Last year, another of the Wilson children, Michael, 51, of Baltimore, returned to the cemetery where an employee ran a data search and located the burial sites. The family purchased a tombstone, and will memorialize the boys today in Section E, Lot 103C. All six of the Wilson children will be there: Dwight, Mark, Darren, Michael, Paula Stringer and Donna Davis.
The marker features two angels in the corners and reads: Twins of Hazel and Wilbur. They are buried right next to two other infants who died in 1950, David Doolittle and Florenceina Wright.
Dwight Wilson can only think of his mother right now and her struggles, her anguish.
When asked what went through his mind when he heard the story of how his brothers died, Dwight Wilson paused for several seconds. Then answered: “How could the best city people allow that to happen? How could they permit something like this to happen? It was painful for me. Just painful for me.”
Through all the pain, all the years, Wilson said there is no one to blame. That was life in 1950. He can’t rewrite history.
“It was society that constructed the world in that way,” he said.
Ironically, Wilson said, as a minister, he has spent 48 years of his life “trying to heal the world.” Every Monday, he goes to a hospital near where he lives in Michigan, and holds sick babies, prays for them.
“All of them deserve life,” he said. “Blaming people makes no sense whatsoever.”
After that frustrating search, Wilson said he had to “release” the thought of ever finding his buried brothers.
“I couldn’t carry the weight,” he said. “There was nothing that I could do. I had to let it go and move on.”
When Dwight was 9 or 10 years old, his mother pulled him aside and told him he was “her vindication.” At the time he didn’t know the meaning of “vindication” so he looked it up in a dictionary.
Now he understands the word and what his mother meant. She never was given the opportunity to finish school, kicked out her sophomore year, worked as a maid, so she wanted a different, a better life, for her children. All six of them graduated from high school, and two of them earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
“All of that is because of her,” said Wilson, who has funded a scholarship in his mother’s name. “We had to continue her legacy.”
What did he say his his mother would be thinking Monday?
“Let’s say the dead can see,” Wilson said. “She will be crying with joy over this. She will be grateful that she has not been forgotten.”
So Monday, the Wilson family — the six children, the twin boys and their parents — were together for the first time.
By Rick McCrabb - Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio)
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