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Move Over, Rodney Dangerfield

Readers, imagine you are Emmett Wilson, seated in the VIP viewing stand with others of similar importance, at the 1915 Pensacola Mardi Gras parade.

All is well; suddenly, the following float drifts by, and pauses in front of the viewing stand:

I just wish I had a photograph of that thing. Source: The Pensacola Journal, Feb. 17, 1915.

I just wish I had a photograph of that float! Source: The Pensacola Journal, Feb. 17, 1915.

Yes, people, someone actually designed and built a FLOAT for the Pensacola Mardi Gras of 1915, highlighting Emmett’s failures as their U.S. Congressman.

And, yes, Emmett was there at the parade, seated with his friends and colleagues, who were in on that float and its creation.

Trust me, his friends knew this thing was coming down the street. I have found a list of the folks who were responsible for these floats, and sure enough, many of them had been staunch Emmett supporters. These guys even started — and managed — chapters of ‘Emmett Wilson Clubs’ in several West Florida counties to raise money and get the word out about his campaign. Yes, these were the friends who were part of this float’s inception.


How did Emmett laugh this one off, I wonder?

I can only imagine Emmett’s reaction — but, having gotten to know him well over the past year, he was probably, publicly, a good sport about it. He might have even joked a little about it, a la Rodney Dangerfield.

My first reaction when I saw that little article was that Emmett’s press secretary was going to be up to his collar buttons in damage control — but, oh yeah, his press secretary bailed on him back in October, 1914. Emmett hadn’t had anyone managing his press coverage consistently for months.

In a nutshell, this press secretary coveted — and pressured — Emmett for months about a postmaster’s position (a sinecure in those days). The thing was, that press secretary had done a few questionable (unethical) things during Emmett’s previous campaign; Emmett didn’t like the press secretary, so he recommended someone else he felt better suited (and more ethical) to the job.

That former press secretary, by the way, probably helped with the float. He was just that kind of guy. More on Emmett’s former press secretary in a later entry. Suffice it to say that the research has turned up some interesting things about this fellow, and no, while this guy always had some kind of axe to grind, Emmett was not the vindictive type. In fact, Emmett pretty much let this guy — and his pettiness — go. That was Emmett.

I could not have imagined being a Congressman back in those days, especially someone so young (he was the youngest Member of Congress when he started back in 1913), and so inexperienced in the national political arena. I have to give Emmett a lot of credit for showing up to do his job when I know he probably felt unappreciated and overworked. Honestly, I think Emmett had vastly underestimated the kind of pressure he would encounter just to get work done for his constituency.

Despite the negative publicity generated by the parade Phunmakers (and that was the name of the group who helped build the floats that year), Emmett did accomplish things for his congressional district. The unfortunate thing about Emmett, though, was his inability to turn public opinion around in time to salvage his career, and to make a third run for Congress. Fate — and a lack of press management — conspired against him.





Categories: Congressman Florida History

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Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
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