One of the reasons why Emmett left Florida and moved to Illinois in January of 1906 (in the middle of a blizzard) is because he was desperate. He wanted to get away from his family, because his loved ones were in his face about his life — and especially his drinking. Emmett was only 24, and already acting out of control. He was getting a lot of pressure from family members to (at least) cut back on the booze, to settle down already, and Emmett wasn’t having any of it. He was smart, but also stubborn: He didn’t like anyone telling him what to do.
If you think about it, Emmett was surrounded by alcohol, and likely ‘drinking’ even when he wasn’t drinking: It was in the toothpaste. It was in over-the-counter sleep aids and stomach medications. Alcohol was everywhere.
And if you think about it, that’s still true. There’s 12-15% alcohol in NyQuil. There’s alcohol in mouthwash. If you are desperate for a drink, you can find it somewhere else besides a liquor store.
It wasn’t that everyone around him was into prohibition; the Wilson family drank socially; so did many of Emmett’s colleagues. But he was demonstrating alcoholic behavior already, just when his career was getting off the ground. Emmett had so much potential — I can see his brother Cephas and other family members were worried about him.
And not to sound mercenary about it, but several Wilson family members made a significant investment in Emmett so that he could go to law school, especially Cephas. Everyone in the Wilson family who could chipped in, made sacrifices so that Emmett didn’t have to work during the school year.
Emmett’s family loved him. They wanted the best for him. But they were practical people, too. So, of course, Emmett’s family probably felt they had the right to speak up about his drinking.
And how did Emmett respond? He set out to prove everyone wrong.
What better way to get those loved ones off your back than to make a dramatic move 1,000 miles away, to work with a colleague well respected, well connected, and a Temperance leader in his community?
In making this move, Emmett was telling everyone: I don’t have a problem. I’m in control. Get out of my business. I can handle this. And to prove it, I’m moving to a place to work with a prominent man who is even more tightly wound in terms of drinking than anyone in Florida.
And so, Emmett moved to Sterling. Nicholas Van Sant literally set up an office for him. Literally GAVE him a practice to run all by himself in the heart of Sterling.
Ironically, Emmett’s office was surrounded by saloons.
There’s a third part to this story — which I’ll continue tomorrow.
Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
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