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The Surrogate

When Emmett lived in Sterling, Illinois from January to June, 1906, he boarded at the home of Mrs. Luella Snow Anning, widow, 802 West Third Street.

From the Sterling-Rock Falls City Directory, 1906. Source:

From the Sterling-Rock Falls City Directory, 1906. Source:

Emmett’s best friend in Sterling was Nicholas Van Sant; a wealthy, prominent 50-something who considered Emmett the son he never had.

Emmett’s closest-age friend was Sidney Earnest Anning was a sales clerk with Lawrence Brothers, a hardware manufacturer with a factory located across the river in Rock Fall, Illinois. Sidney was born in 1884. There was an older son, Henry H., who had moved to Chicago by the time the 1906 Sterling-Rock Falls City Directory was published.


From the Sterling-Rock Falls City Directory, 1906. Source:

Emmett rented a room at the West Third Street residence. I believe that it was Nicholas Van Sant, Emmett’s benefactor, who set up his living arrangement. It makes sense: Emmett knew no one in Sterling other than Van Sant; Van Sant wanted to help Emmett settle in without difficulty.

Nicholas Van Sant. Source:

Nicholas Van Sant. Source:

I believe one of the reasons why Emmett was living with the Annings had to do with Van Sant’s wife, Ella: Ella knew that the Annings were a devout Episcopal family, active in their congregation. Emmett was a long way from home, and knew nobody other than that Van Sants — Nick and Ella — who were devout Methodists. The Van Sants  believed this was a good way for Emmett to establish a connection and build his social network.


The crusading Ella Van Sant. Source: The Sterling Gazette, 1907

The crusading Ella Van Sant. The Van Sants were strict prohibitionists. Source: The Sterling Gazette, 1907

Ella Van Sant was keenly observant: She recognized right off the bat that Emmett needed grounding. As a longtime member and one of the officers of Sterlings’ WCTU chapter, Ella probably recognized — discovered — that Emmett drank. Although he was circumspect around Nicholas and Ella, Emmett, like so many of us alcoholics, probably thought he hid it well. I have no doubt that Emmett’s friends were (minimally) noticing the quantity he put away; perhaps also saying things, such as: Why don’t you take it easy?

For all that Emmett had moved to Sterling to get out from under the control of his family, I don’t think he realized that he had traded one controlling family for another: Ella Van Sant was a take-charge woman (as was her husband, Nick), who, like Nick, had big ideas for Emmett.  All he needed was to be with a good family, the right friends, exposure to the right social events, and he’d be just fine.

Nick and Ella didn’t have children — I believe that they considered Emmett the son they never had. The Van Sants became Emmett’s family in Sterling. I wonder if Emmett realized he was simply trading one controlling family for another?

Perhaps Emmett also viewed Sterling as a town where he might be able to get his drinking under control, something he couldn’t do back home while everyone he knew was watching.

Categories: Addiction Recommended Sources

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