Break Up


I like to check on my favorite databases every six or eight weeks, so as not to miss any updates. And — SCORE! — the excellent Chronicling America newspaper database (of the Library of Congress) had added several years of The Pensacola Journal since my last visit!

And what an interesting find!


Check out the “Letter to Santa Claus,” almost in the center of the paper. It was written 101 years ago today!


A breakup in progress! Or was it? Lots of little digs at Emmett in here, too.

The editors who wrote this snippy little piece had had it with Emmett by this point. If you recall from an earlier post, Emmett damn near died almost exactly one year ago — he was found unconscious in his room at the Congress Hall Hotel, where he lived right across the street from his office in the House Office Building (today known as Cannon House Office Building).

This was the nadir of Editor Frank Mayes‘ patience with Emmett — whom he had brought out of obscurity to national prominence as  a U.S. Congressman. All Emmett had to do was follow Mayes’ bidding in Washington, D.C.; follow the party’s directives without question, and Emmett would likely be given a nice, cushy job on the Florida State Supreme Court (which Mayes & Co. KNEW was Emmett’s lifelong goal).


Frank L. Mayes of The Pensacola Journal. Champion grudge holder. Poor judge of character too, I think.

What Mayes & Co. didn’t realize was that despite Emmett’s terrible addiction, he had a good heart, and integrity. Emmett was also a people-pleaser of sorts: The  outcry and negative publicity that good old Frank Mayes put out in his own paper, about his personally selected man to represent the party’s ideas in Washington, got to Emmett. He was already a full-blown alcoholic when he took the oath of office on March 4, 1913; Mayes knew that, too. He figured Emmett would spend a lot of his time soused, a little out of his mind, and he’d probably just do as he was told.

Mayes underestimated Emmett’s character, which makes me feel good (because I am not Team Frank), but it also points out the poignancy of someone trying to do what’s best, only to get tripped up by politics, and someone else’ plain old ambition. Emmett wanted to do a good job for his constituency. Mayes didn’t care; as long as his ambitions were satisfied.

Long story short: Emmett followed his heart/good sense with a postmaster appointment because it was the right thing to do, and it cost him his career.

Back to the breakup item: In April 1915, Emmett had already announced he wasn’t running for a third term. In the article about his decision to retire from Congress, he said that it was all his decision, but you can bet your sweet bippy (or the 1915 equivalent) that the Florida State Democratic Party forced it.

Whatta guy.

When I’m not writing…


I’m running.

Mostly, I run with three close friends who kvetch with each other about life, work, and kids while getting into shape.

And yeah, my friends have listened to the trials and tribulations of Emmett Wilson research and writing. We like hearing about each other’s jobs (as we each work in completely different industries), and we’ve exchanged great advice while on the road. We have fun, and it is cheaper than therapy!

At the halfway point at the Rehoboth Beach Half Marathon. It was freezing, but at 6 miles, I was entirely overdressed.

At the halfway point at the Rehoboth Beach Half Marathon with my friend Stacy. It was freezing, but by the 6 mile marker, I was regretting being so overdressed.

Not bad time considering my friends and I didn't train AT ALL.

Not bad time considering we didn’t train AT ALL for this race. And Stacy helped me work out a few of the kinks in my manuscript! Thanks, Stacy!

If you write, what do you do to keep sane?

The Hidden Capitol


A walk in the woods not far from my house, in Rock Creek Park.


You follow a path on the D.C. side, behind the horse stables, near Military Road, NW

You follow a path on the D.C. side, behind the horse stables, near Military Road, NW

On the right side, you find a pile of stones. These are not ordinary stones.


Hidden in a national park are the stones of the old facade of the East front of the U.S. Capitol; stones that graced the building from Abraham Lincoln’s time. From Emmett Wilson’s time.

My husband walking among the aisles of stone.

My husband walking among the aisles of stone.

Some of the stones are neatly arranged, some are scattered about; they are heavy as hell, and deep in the woods. The U.S. Park Service is close by, and near the one point of access, so visitors can walk among the stones.

Some of the stones are neatly arranged, some are scattered about; they are heavy as hell, and deep in the woods. The U.S. Park Service is close by, and near the one point of access, so visitors can walk among the stones.


It is mostly limestone and concrete here. Lovely details still intact, despite the moss and acid rain.

It is mostly limestone and concrete here. Lovely details still intact, despite the moss and acid rain.


You could walk across the tops of these rows of stone, but I wouldn’t recommend it.








If you’d like to learn more about the hidden U.S. Capitol in Rock Creek park, see the link here.


To Tweet or Not to Tweet: In Search of Ceph Jr.

David Farenthold, a reporter with The Washington Post turned to Twitter as he worked through Donald J. Trump's charitable contribution story. It's wonderful research. Photo source: The Washington Post

David Farenthold, a reporter with The Washington Post turned to Twitter as he worked through Donald J. Trump’s charitable contribution story. It’s wonderful research. Photo source: The Washington Post

I believe that a major information source is still out there — and I have to turn this over to the Internet. Or, maybe the Twitterverse. I’m in search of any living descendant of Emmett’s older brother, confidante, law partner, and executor Cephas Love Wilson.

I’ve seen examples where colleagues and reporters with blogs and Twitter accounts have turned questions and searches that stumped them over to their followers and readers. Check out David Farenthold’s work on Donald Trump’s story on charitable contributions — he did his research much like I’m doing, except he used Twitter on a few occasions, with great results. This is inspiring me to do the same. I’ve been reluctant to embrace Twitter. Maybe it is time to think differently about using social media as a part of research.
Emmett’s brother, Cephas Love Wilson Sr., had two children:
I shared Kathleen and Cephas Love Wilson Jr.’s stories earlier this year.
Based on what I’ve heard from the Martin descendants (via email exchange), Kathleen deserted her first husband Ira Martin, and their sons, and Ira remarried within a few years of his divorce from Kathleen. The Martin descendants said that they did not know anything about the Wilson ancestors; I doubt Ira and his new wife kept any artifacts, letters, or information about Kathleen as the divorce was acrimonious.

John D. Grether, Lula Wiselogel Wilson’s second husband. Source: The Grand Chapter of Florida Order of the Eastern Star

Cephas Love Wilson Sr. died in 1925; his widow, Lula Wiselogel Wilson, remarried several years later, to John D. Grether, a widower of Jacksonville. Lula’s children were grown, married, and out of the house, as were the Grether children. If Lula had any journals, letters, artifacts, and keepsakes from Cephas Love Wilson, Sr., it seems likely she would have given them to Cephas Love Wilson, Jr.

The only descendant of Cephas Love Wilson, Jr. and his wife, Mamie/Mary, was a daughter, Shirley, who was born in 1925 in Washington, D.C.
In 1930, Cephas and Shirley moved in temporarily with Lula and her husband, in Jacksonville.
In 1933, Cephas is in Jacksonville, as a professional photographer.
In 1936, Cephas remarried; her name is Louise Adelside Hughes. They live in Jacksonville. He is a professional photographer.
In 1940, Cephas, Louise, and Shirley are living in Jacksonville.
In 1942, the daughter Shirley B. Wilson is listed as a nurse in Jacksonville, and that’s where the trail goes cold.
In the 1945 Florida Census, Cephas is a photographer and Louise is a teacher. It doesn’t look like they ever had children of their own.
Cephas Love Wilson, Jr., died in Sumter, Florida, in 1985.
Louise died in 1972. She was buried in Jacksonville National Cemetery, and is listed on the cemetery record as the wife of Cephas L. Wilson, USA. I found that information from
There’s no listing for Cephas Jr. in Find-A-Grave, but only 34 percent of that cemetery is photographed/cataloged to date. I would guess that is where Cephas Jr. is buried.
So — I toss this out there again, in the hopes that Wilson or Grether family descendants are doing a search of their families, and might stumble across this blog — and I think I’ll start a Twitter account for Emmett’s research, too.

We Gather Together


I’m back in Mississippi this week for our family’s annual Thanksgiving gathering. All 35 of us!

As you can imagine, it is a bit tough getting a few minutes here and there to catch you up on things; it is even harder to get a decent Internet connection out in the country. Every child over 12 has a cell phone, and all of the adults brought their work/phones with them as well — so we bargain amongst ourselves for time online. (I’m writing to you at 5:15 am — I thought I’d be the only one up, but my brother-in-law and nephew beat me to the punch to go hunting.)

My in-laws passed a rule confiscating all children’s electronics until it got dark. There was a whining chorus of “we have nothing to do” when we pried the devices out of their clawing hands — which is/was entirely bullshit.  “Come on,” we said, “we have 17 children all out of diapers and old enough to run around on their won, a variety of balls, board games, hiking trails, four-wheelers. We also have endless chores available if that’s not enough to keep you busy.”

That worked.

It’s nice here.

Brilliant color. It's Thanksgiving!

Brilliant color this week in Maryland, just in time for Thanksgiving!

The trees back home in Maryland have already peaked in color and the leaves are down, but the trees here are still full and just getting their color.

Last night, I sat outside at the fire pit with my youngest son, Calder, who is my Thanksgiving baby. The night was clear and the air was clean — we had a lot of rain earlier in the day. There are no streetlights anywhere nearby, so you can look up into the sky and see the vault of stars clearly. We listened to the logs crackle, and to two owls hooting at each other in the woods.

I’ve told Calder about Emmett’s life — well, not all the details. Calder’s only seven. But he knows I’ve been working on a book for a long time, and I’ve told him some things that he has in common with Emmett, such as: They both came from a large family; they both are the youngest boys in the family (and so get picked on by older siblings); they both like fishing; they both probably played a lot of games and had fun with their cousins, and, they both are/were very close to their mothers.

Calder sat back against me as we watched the fire and listened to owls. He said, “That’s nice. He must have had a nice life.”

Thanksgiving is about appreciating the gifts of family, friends, and blessings.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve come to understand and appreciate all of the gifts in my life — and that it is all a gift. The good times, the difficult work, the crazy schedules, the writer’s block, the fear and anxiety that go along with watching your children grow up.

I’m grateful and thankful for all of the friends I’ve made thanks to Emmett’s book. That means you, too. Thanks for reading!


Election Judgment


I’m a little behind filing my report on working as an Election Judge at my precinct’s polling station. Apologies for that; one (of two) outcomes of the day that I didn’t expect was to develop a major cold, which I’m sure was exacerbated by interacting with literally hundreds of neighbors who live in my precinct.

Rollingwood Elementary School, my voting precinct. Source:

Rollingwood Elementary School, my voting precinct. Source:

I wish I had taken photos of the polling station setup, the crowd, and the election judges in action to share, but the Board of Elections expressly forbade election judges from using cell phones or other technology at any time they were on duty — including lunch breaks. The chief judges were allowed cell phones; they had to communicate with the Board of Elections offices from time to time and to deal with emergency situations, such as when one of the three electronic poll books stopped working right at 6:57 a.m. — three minutes before the polls opened. I was one of the three judges running the poll books — and there was a long line out the door. Thankfully, we were able to get the third poll book up and running within the hour.

The polls opened promptly at 7 a.m. — I remember looking up at the clock. The next time I looked up at the clock (when the line had finally dispersed), it was 9:15 a.m. No kidding. I checked the number of Voter Access Cards I issued at that point — 402.

The chief judges had a giant bag of these lozenges going around the room. Thank goodness.

The chief judges had a giant bag of these lozenges going around the room. Thank goodness.

One of the chief judges came around offering throat lozenges. I took several. My spiel consisted of the following 402 times:

  1. Good morning. May I have your first and last name?
  2. Would you confirm your address?
  3. Would you confirm your day and month of birth?

We weren’t allowed to ask for the year, although most would automatically offered it. Maryland does not check voter identification, unless it is specifically noted on the voter’s registration record.

Then, I’d print out the electronic Voter Access Card, and send the voter on his/her way to the ballot table.

Several of my neighbors and friends showed up in my line. Most of them said hello; we visited for a few minutes, but we couldn’t get too chummy: At least twice while I was there poll watchers were hanging out behind me, watching as I checked voters in, and then, an observer from the Board of Elections visited to make sure everything was running smoothly.

After three hours at the poll books, I rotated to the ballot table, where I assembled the paper ballots and folders for the voters. Yeah, Maryland used paper ballots this time, which were presented to voters in legal-sized folders. The spiel went as follows:

  1. Maryland is using a paper ballot this election.
  2. It is two pages, with selections for you to review on both sides.
  3. Fill in the oval completely, no stray marks, or the scanner will not be able to read your choices, and will reject the ballot.
  4. When you’ve made your choices, return the ballot to the folder, and take the folder to the scanner.

I assembled and distributed about 200 ballots for the hour and a half I was at the station.

My last station was the scanner. There were two scanners set up near the exit of the polling station. My job was to stand next to the scanner and instruct the voter how to insert their ballot into the device, and to instruct the voter that if the ballot was rejected, then he or she would have to cast their ballot again (there’s a whole ballot spoiling process, which includes special forms and handling).

The only drama at our precinct was when an Election Judge at the scanner got cursed out by a voter because his ballot was rejected, and he had to redo it.

Personal observations:

This is a program that is entirely citizen-run, citizen-led, and I never understood or fully appreciated that before. One gentleman who accompanied a poll watcher was from the United Kingdom. He asked the chief judges how our political parties appointed the election judges at precincts — and the chief judge said, ‘We don’t. Our election judges are volunteers.’ After the UK visitor left, the chief judge turned to me and said, “it makes your really appreciate what we have here in the U.S.”

I read that about 47 percent of registered voters didn’t vote at all this year. That’s about 90 million voters. I understand that this was a contentious election; to be honest, neither major candidate was my first choice, but I would never just throw away a chance to speak up. Voting is precious. You think Minnie Kehoe would have thrown away a chance to vote? You think Modeste Hargis or Minnie Neal would have thrown it away, too? Hell no.

About three hours after the polls opened, my oldest daughter walked down to the polling station by herself, to look around. She’s 14, and pushing back against me and her dad (as teenagers will), and definitely keeping her distance from us, as she is of the age where it is ‘not cool’ to be seen with your parents. So, when I looked up from the poll books to see her standing in the doorway, a little hesitant, it warmed my heart.

i-voted-stickerI motioned her over to me, and introduced her to the other election judges. We weren’t busy, so I walked her through the voting process, step-by-step. She watched me check a few voters in, and help one or two voters with the scanning device. One of the chief judges gave her an “I Voted” sticker, with a wink and an admonition to be sure to register as soon as she was old enough, because it was important.

Before she left, she thanked me for showing her around because it was interesting — and, under her breath, she told me she was proud of me for working the polls.

Then she ran home.