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Wanting to Be Found

Call me crazy, but when I find myself hitting a brick wall in the research, I ask Emmett for help. Truth. Also, every time I’ve done it, I’ve gotten a response — usually in the form of new information, or a new lead.

The fact I am also dogged and persistent, and (yes) somewhat addicted to my research is also a factor in finding new information and leads.

But sometimes, I honestly get the feeling he’s in the room with me when I’m digging around. It is when I get frustrated at the plate-tectonic-speed at which I think I am moving with the research at times that it seems Emmett puts something in front of me. Something I’m supposed to see, but might not notice, otherwise.

I know it sounds nutty, but I believe Emmett actively helps me. I asked him for help two days ago. Here’s what happened:

I was trolling through reels of the Sterling (Illinois) Daily Standard for 1905 and 1906, and frankly, there wasn’t much in there about our Emmett. It’s a big change for me: I would typically see something published about Emmett and his family in the Marianna, Chipley, or Pensacola papers almost every other day, so I’ve been expecting to see his name. Emmett clearly isn’t a famous, popular guy in Sterling, Illinois. It is a little odd, frankly: Lawyers are mentioned quite often on the front page of the Sterling Daily Standard. Lawyers have social cachet — well — the established ones in Sterling hold cachet. Emmett doesn’t seem to run with that club yet.

I’ve seen Nicholas Van Sant’s name here and there; mostly in connection with his work for the local YMCA, and his bank (Van Sant was president of the bank, a leader of his church, and involved in prominent business activities). What about the law firm he was running with Emmett? Not a darn thing. Nothing about the cases, nothing about the firm, which is unusual, I think, given the stature of Van Sant in Sterling. As a point of reference, he was bigger than Cephas EVER was in Marianna.

Nick Van Sant's brother, Sam, was big in Republican politics in the early 1900s. You can't say the same thing about Ceph or Emmett. Image source: Ebay

Nick Van Sant’s brother, Sam, was big in Republican politics in the early 1900s. You can’t say the same thing about Ceph or Emmett. Image source: Ebay

(In fact, the Van Sant brothers were a much bigger deal than the Wilson brothers ever would be. But I’m getting ahead of myself, and that’s for Emmett’s book, by the way.)


I scrolled the film for several unproductive hours on Friday, finding nothing, feeling like I was spinning my wheels. I said out loud, “OK Emmett. What is it that I’m supposed to see here?”

Just like that.

Then, I scrolled on to the next day’s edition of the Sterling Daily Standard for January 15, 1905, and there was an article on the front page that says Sterling, Illinois will have a city directory to be published, with information “about the twin cities” good up through June 1. Big deal, I thought.

But something told me to stop, save the article, and try to find this source, right now. Just like that.

So, I looked over on, and found that Sterling’s city directory for 1906 didn’t exist. Dead end.

But that same ‘something’ told me to look at the article again, that I missed something.  So I reread it. “Twin cities?” Sterling was a ‘twin?’ That was odd. I stopped to look up this term in relation to Sterling — and yes — Sterling and Rock Falls, Illinois, were referred to as ‘the twin cities’ in Whiteside County.

This time, I looked back into the city directory database for Rock Falls.

Bingo. The city directory for 1906 — AND — it is for BOTH Sterling and Rock Falls!

Sterling City Directory. Source:

Sterling City Directory. Source:

And there, my friends, is where I found Emmett’s address, the address for the law firm he set up with Nicholas Van Sant. What’s more, I also identified the family Emmett was living with at the time. A big new lead!

Emmett's address in Sterling. Source:

Emmett’s address in Sterling. Source:

It gets better.  With the addresses in hand, I scouted around and found the Van Sant house, as well as Emmett’s house. Both are still standing.

Van Sant house in Sterling. Source: Ebay

Van Sant house in Sterling. Source: Ebay


The Van Sant house today. Source:

The Van Sant house today. Source:


What’s cool is there’s a realtor’s video of Emmett’s house, and you can see some of the original features that I know Emmett had to have seen in the house (pocket doors, the gas connections still in the walls of the master bedroom, the upstairs hallway, the archway of the living room).

Where Emmett lived in 1906. Source: Zillow

Where Emmett lived in 1906. Source: Zillow


I wonder which of the upstairs bedrooms was his?

After two years of digging around, I have to tell you that I am still surprised at how much information I am coming up with on Emmett the Obscure. I am continuously amazed — and grateful, and humble — at what I am still able to turn up.

I keep thinking back to the night I found his photograph ‘stuck’ in this odd queue of photographs that, frankly, had nothing to do with him. I realized the other day that it was my sobriety anniversary — April 27 — two years ago that I ‘found’ him.

Or, he wanted to be found, I sometimes think.

The more I’ve learned about Emmett, the more I believe that none of this with him is coincidental or even accidental. He wants his story told. God willing, it will happen.

Categories: Addiction Book Interesting & Odd

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Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
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