Following the Money

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One of the things I’ve always found curious about Emmett Wilson’s life was why he never lived on his own, never owned a house, never had his own apartment in which he was responsible for everything (food, furniture, utilities and the like).

Emmett was a bachelor with an active and upscale social life and a good job. According to an interview in the Sterling (Illinois) Daily Standard in 1905, Emmett said he was always anxious to be on his own, to prove himself in the legal profession, to be his own man as soon as he could, because he was ready for it.

But according to different editions of the Pensacola City Directory, the U.S. Census for 1900 and 1910, and several articles in Florida contemporary newspapers, Emmett never really was on his own in the true sense of the word.

908 N. Spring Street, Pensacola. Source: Google Maps

In the 1900 U.S. Census, Emmett was enumerated at his father’s home in Chipley, then he moved that same year to his brother Cephas’ house in Marianna. Emmett had roommates both in college dorms and boarding houses while a student at Stetson University; when he moved to Pensacola, he lived with friends at a boarding house, then with the Kehoe family from 1911 onward. Obviously, he paid rent at the boarding houses (In 1908, 124 W. Belmont, today an office building, and in 1909, 908 N. Spring Street, still standing).

Was it money? Couldn’t Emmett afford it?

Sure he could.

Source: Who’s Who in America, Volume 4, 1906, p. 1201

It wasn’t that Emmett didn’t make enough money to live on his own. For example, in 1906, when Emmett was a clerk, then temporary Assistant District Attorney (a part-time position while he also worked in his uncle Evelyn Croom Maxwell’s law office. Emmett eventually became Maxwell’s partner in 1908. But in 1907, Emmett’s salary was $1,500 a year (the average salary for a family of four in the U.S. was about $600 in 1907), in addition to whatever he was making as a private attorney.

Emmett was named to the clerkship, then temporary assistant district attorney in 1906, which terminated in 1907. The image is hard to capture, but you can see the original at this link.

Source: Annual Report of the Attorney General of the United States, 1907.

Emmett also lived with the Kehoes from 1911 onward — he may have paid something towards rent or household costs, but it probably wasn’t substantial, and because Jennie and Walter Kehoe considered Emmett a member of their family, I doubt they would have accepted much, if anything from Emmett towards rent. He made good money, and he had plenty of opportunities to save it.

In 1908 Pensacola, the average rent at a good boarding house was $5 a week, which included room, board, electricity and laundry services.

According to the Inflation Calculator, $5 a week in 1908 has the same purchasing power as $124.56 today — about $500 a month in rent. That was a bargain, considering Emmett’s rent included board and laundry services. Try finding that kind of rent package deal today.

I know that Emmett had to spend a lot of his own money on his political campaign in 1912. He complained in a speech after he won the primary in June, 1912, about how expensive it was — campaign spending records for 1912 show that he spent over $2,000 of his own money leading up to the primary — which is the equivalent of $50,074.14 in today’s dollars, according to the Inflation Calculator. Expensive, indeed.

So, although Emmett certainly would have been able to afford a home of his own by 1912, it seems he put his money towards his political ambitions. It was a gamble, but it makes sense.

But it is too bad that Emmett didn’t invest in real estate, or have something to call his own. Real estate ownership was considered a solid, sound investment. Also, owning a home conveyed the appearance of reliability, consistency.

Even sobriety.

And perhaps the last point was the other stickler.

By 1913, we know Emmett was a full-blown alcoholic, and booze was costly: For example, ONE gallon of nine year old Kentucky whiskey cost $9 in 1913. In 2018 dollars, that’s $225. I doubt Emmett limited his drinking to a gallon a week. It was likely SEVERAL gallons.

Emmett was also a member of two prominent men’s clubs in Pensacola: The Osceola Club and the Elks. The Osceola Club was a fancy society club where one could read, meet and socialize with select and prominent Pensacolians, and drink (although that was not publicized). Membership in The Osceola Club was approximately $500 a year, not including your bar tab, if you had one. And Emmett had one, for sure.

Yes, that’s $500 a year.

In 1913 dollars.

Or, $12,518, according to the Inflation Calculator in 2018 dollars

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I don’t have Emmett’s receipts, of course, but it seems obvious to me that spent most of his money on his political campaigns in 1912 and 1914, and booze.

And when Emmett died in 1918, he was in financial trouble. Emmett’s brother and executor of his estate, Cephas Love Wilson, stated in a letter that Emmett didn’t have anything of value in his belongings except a life insurance policy worth about $13,000, and that Emmett had already borrowed $3,000 against it (that he knew of). In the end, there wasn’t much, if anything, left of Emmett’s estate.

 

 

 

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hmmm

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I think Father was trying to tell me something via imposition of ashes today. (He has quite the wry sense of humor.)

Life Expectancy

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As I write Emmett’s story, I always wonder how long he would have lived had he not drank himself to death. Several of the men in his family, particularly his twin brother Julian, were long lived. Emmett was 35 when he died of uremia on May 29, 1918.

The website, Our World in Data, has an interesting interactive chart mapping life expectancy rates starting from the year 1543 to 2015.

Emmett was born in 1882. According to Our World in Data, his life expectancy, had mortality rates remained the same throughout his life, would have been 39.41 years.

The chart shows data for the years 1881 and 1882. If you hover over the U.S., a box pops up with the life expectancy for that country. Source: Our World in Data

Emmett just about made it to his projected life expectancy. Emmett’s illness as reported on his death certificate, uremia, eventually came about via cirrhosis of the liver (according to my colleague Donna the Nephrologist).

Jule & Emmett’s brother, Julian A. Wilson, about 1940.

Emmett’s twin brother, Julian, died in 1963, age 80. His daughter, Jule and granddaughter, Carol, have told me that Julian rarely, if ever, took a drink, and was in good health most of his life. Julian died from complications resulting from an automobile accident.

Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, was born in 1841. Unfortunately, the chart doesn’t have information going back that far for the United States. The first year reporting life expectancy statistics from this source is 1870; 39.4 years seems to be the average age also for 1870.

 

 

Why Everything is Not Digitized

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Of course, I’d love to have had everything available about Emmett Wilson to be accessible via the Internet. It would have certainly made my life easier as I dug around for primary sources in a variety of libraries and archives, both near and far, over the past five years!

Two tables worth of research materials, when I was at the University of West Florida. About half of the artifacts I handled were in good condition. None of these artifacts are digitized.

But even if Emmett’s primary sources were available or extant in a library archive, here is an excellent discussion about why everything in an archive is not always or necessarily digitized.

Good Orderly Direction (G.O.D.)

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“People who want to believe something will do so despite any and all evidence to the contrary.”

Carolyn Hax, The Washington Post, February 3, 2018

 

“Everything happens on God’s schedule, not mine.”

A.A. meeting, Washington, D.C.

These are two quotes I’ve come to appreciate over the past two weeks. I’ve been away dealing with a crazy family drama that I’d not wish on my worst enemy.

I’ll start by saying as of today, February 4, everyone involved in this story is fine. We all may be a little grayer, a little more frayed at the edges for having the experience, but there’s always a blessing to be gained for weathering a tragedy: Our family has grown closer, and I don’t think my Dad will put off following Good Orderly Direction (G.O.D.) again in the future.

On Saturday, January 20, 2:30 in the afternoon, I received a text from my first cousin Mike, who lives in Vicksburg, Mississippi. It was unusual because Mike and I (although close) don’t really talk that much via text or telephone — only on birthdays and holidays, and during football season when Mississippi State is playing well.

Mike: “When’s the last time you spoke to your Dad?”

“Thursday night.”

At first, I wasn’t overly concerned; but when two hours passed and he still hadn’t called us back, I was uneasy. Mike couldn’t simply drive over to check on Dad; he takes care of his 90-year-old mother full-time.

I told Mike: “I can’t stand waiting anymore. I’ll ask my friend Helen to knock on his door.”

Thank God I did.

When Helen arrived at my Dad’s apartment, she had me on her cell phone as she banged loudly on his door. No answer.

“He’s in there,” she said to me. “Something’s not right.”

“Call 911,” I said.

It was the worst 30 minutes of my life, as I waited 850 miles away, my friend standing by, awaiting EMTs and the police. My heart felt like it was beating 1000 times a minute. I knew it wasn’t good — I thought my heart was going to break right then.

When the EMTs broke down my Dad’s door, they found him on the floor, dehydrated. The apartment was 85 degrees, he’d not been drinking water.

“He’s alive!” Helen said to me, “but he’s insisting on not going to the hospital. He says it’s inconvenient for him! Can you believe it?”

Helen put me on the phone with the EMTs. I told them that I had  Power of Attorney, and to take him to the hospital. My friend stayed with my Dad until he was admitted and stabilized; I got on the next plane out.

When I finally got to Dad’s hospital, the doctors told me he was in renal failure, and would have probably died if the EMTs had gotten to him any later.

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Right now, Dad is in a nursing/rehab facility. And he’s damn lucky: His doctor told him his kidneys will heal, but he’ll need dialysis for several weeks. And he’ll move into assisted living. I insisted.

And yes, he agreed.

I hate that it took something like this to get my Dad to agree to necessary changes for the sake of his health and well being. For so long, he wanted to believe he was fine on his own, even when the signs were there that he needed help.

But the reality is that Dad wasn’t ready to hear the message until it took something dramatic to get his attention.

He’s doing fine — he’s actually making slow, steady progress with physical therapy. He’s cooperating with folks who want to help him.

And, he’s complaining, which my sister and I know is a good sign.

Away

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Poor Emmett’s blog has become a dried husk because I’ve been away for two weeks attending to a family emergency.

I will return in a day or so with an update, and hopefully, be back on schedule.

 

Papist or Protestant?

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The big question I’m exploring with one of J. Walter Kehoe’s descendants is this:

Was he once Catholic or wasn’t he?

A few days ago, I found Walter’s obituary, which mentions a Presbyterian funeral. I reached out to his grandson and asked about it. Walter’s grandson replied that he wasn’t aware of any Catholics in the family, which was a surprise — I’ve always thought Walter was Catholic, because Walter’s father John Kehoe was Catholic.

Chipley Jones. Emmett’s campaign manager, and somewhat jackass.

This is an important detail in telling Emmett’s story — and in case you’re wondering why I’m focused on this, it’s because of something Emmett — or, rather, Emmett’s jackass campaign manager — did during the 1914 reelection.

Briefly:

  • Emmett’s lack of experience and alcoholism were huge indicators that he was in over his head as a U.S. Congressman, and,
  • Woodrow Wilson’s popularity was slipping, as was the Democratic party’s popularity. Every Democratic seat in the Senate and Congress was precious.

In 1914, Emmett was being primaried by John P. Stokes, lawyer, statesman and Roman Catholic. This was a political handicap in Florida — 22nd governor, Sidney Catts, who ran on the Prohibition ticket and won in 1922, largely campaigned as an anti-Catholic.

Days before the primary election in Florida, on May 31, 1914, the word got out:

Stokes claims Emmett’s campaign using religious prejudice. Source: The Pensacola Journal, May 31, 1914, in ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Here’s the problem:

Stokes and his wife were married by a Catholic priest. That was the problem. Source: The Pensacola Journal, in ChroniclingAmerica.gov

This was Emmett’s campaign; ergo, the behavior of Emmett’s campaign staff reflects on him.

Here’s Emmett’s response to Stoke’s charges in the next day’s paper:

Emmett doesn’t say so directly, but his ad states *he* didn’t do anything wrong. This was written by Chipley Jones, by the way. Source: The Pensacola Journal, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Emmett was probably telling the truth — he, himself, didn’t actually do anything — but you can bet someone in his campaign (*cough* Jones *cough*) did. The damning thing about the whole situation is that Stokes wasn’t favored to win. Stokes wasn’t even close! Emmett was hugely popular at this point, and his ineptness in office, and alcoholism, were not visible to the general public.

Emmett may not have actually been the one to ‘ok’ this campaign tactic, but the fact it happened indicates Emmett was hands-off with the management of his campaign. That’s not good; essentially, Emmett gave tacit agreement to do whatever it took to win, even when the nearest competitor wasn’t close; saying his campaign was run on a ‘high and dignified plane’ rings hollow.

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Meanwhile, I think the issue of Walter Kehoe’s Catholicism is important, because the Kehoes considered Emmett family. Emmett lived with the Kehoes for several years; he was much loved, and trusted.  The idea that Emmett’s campaign went after Stokes because he was Catholic might not have sat well with the Kehoes. I wonder what Walter said to Emmett about all of this when it finally played out, if he said anything at all.

Maybe, by this point, Walter had joined the Presbyterian Church.

In the end, Stokes conceded gracefully.

Stokes concedes gracefully. Source: The Pensacola Journal, June 7, 1914, p4, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Stokes would go on to have a long, successful career in law and Florida politics. He was well respected; well remembered.

John Stokes died April, 1939. Source: The Miami Herald, via GenealogyBank.com

 

And we know what happened to Emmett.