Yesterday, I came across this little article, nothing more than a little snippet from a news roundup about weekly goings-on in Washington, D.C.
It was something easily overlooked, buried away on the second page of the paper. Actually, I found it about two years ago, when I was busily collecting anything and everything that had ‘Emmett Wilson’ in it, and filing it away to read/reference later.
Now, three years into Emmett’s research, I now see that it is full of information about Emmett. It speaks volumes to me about Emmett’s ambition, his resiliency, and what he was willing to do to make it big in West Florida politics.
I say all of this because I’ve been in a bit of writer’s funk for the past week. I’m stuck in the middle of a chapter that is going nowhere. When that happens, frustration builds, because I think I should be much further along with the manuscript than I am at present — bla, bla, bla — and then, I have an experience like I did yesterday, of looking back at a seemingly minor and unimportant article, and recognizing important details.
Two years ago, I didn’t (and couldn’t) see the importance of this short article, and now I do.
Why is this little article important? Here’s the back story:
In 1904, Emmett was the valedictorian of the Stetson University Law Class of 1904, a young man full of promise and potential, and energy. He had it made, too. This was a young man who (unlike most of his graduating class) had a job ready to go in his profession of choice upon graduation, a home where he would live rent-free, and powerful and important political contacts to use in fledging his career.
Emmett never had to ‘apply’ for a job at any time in his entire 35-year existence. Seriously.
Emmett never had to scan want ads in a newspaper, or sign up with a placement agency. He never had the experience of sitting in a stuffy reception room, sweating it out with other applicants, perhaps fiddling with his uncomfortable three-inch collar while waiting for his name to be called for an interview. He didn’t have to worry about the interview questions. He really didn’t have to ever worry about unemployment. Must have nice, huh?
Every single job he had was provided to him, by a family member. No effort (and, so it seems, no significant experience) required.
Once Emmett started whatever job he had, he worked hard. I know this — his work ethic is mentioned several times across his career. We really don’t know what the actual quality of his overall work product was — but it had to have been at least adequate for him to represent clients. He didn’t win every single case, but he didn’t lose every single case, either.
During his first year as an attorney, his cases weren’t all that exciting: Mostly, his clients were either plaintiffs or defendants in lewd cohabitation, bigamy, assumption, partition, and embezzlement cases. My friend, the excellent Sue Tindel (the clerk and archivist of the Jackson County [FL] Court), once commented to me that Emmett was either a fiery, aggressive attorney or there was some influence that got him appointed federal prosecutor in 1907, because his court experience appears limited.
I rather think it was the latter, based on how Emmett was ‘given’ every one of the jobs he ever held — and — given the fact that two years after he graduated from law school, Emmett was jobless, homeless, and having to move back home with his father for a short period.
That must have been a hugely humbling experience for Emmett.
Back to the topic of the article in today’s post: Eighteen months after Emmett hit bottom, he’s apparently near the top again, as he is in the company of several highly important political figures in West Florida history, to meet the 26th President of the United States.
It is unclear why this group was in Washington, but one name jumps right out at me: General W.A. Maxwell. That would be Walker Anderson Maxwell, Emmett’s uncle, brother to Evelyn Croom Maxwell (with whom Emmett was a law partner in 1908) of Pensacola, son of Augustus Emmett Maxwell.
There isn’t a lot of information available about Walker, but this is what I’ve discovered so far:
In 1900, Walker was enumerated in the Phillips household, in Marianna, Florida. He was listed as a boarder, and was a bookkeeper by profession. Walker would have known (and seen) his nephews Emmett and Cephas on a regular basis.
In 1902, Walker married Emilie Cussen in Richmond Virginia.
I wasn’t able to locate any military service associated with Walker, but then, I found a source that indicated that his title was an honorific often given to members of the Florida governor’s staff.
Walker Maxwell died in 1909 at age 48. I have a request in for the death certificate; I’m curious about the sudden death. The newspaper’s explanation (above) is worded very much like Emmett’s obituary; an ‘illness’ which, in reality, was not of a ‘short duration’ at all.
I’ll present a quick sketch of the other members of the group listed in the first article in a follow-up post. I remember once reading an article from Emmett’s days at Stetson, when he vocalized great disdain for the hero of San Juan Hill. After I dig around a little bit into these other fellows’ lives, I may be able to figure out why this group of important Florida Democrats would visit Teddy Roosevelt.
For now, I feel the muse speaking to me about the book chapter that’s been driving me crazy this past week.
Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
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