Lots of interesting things as I take a little writing break to organize notes/ideas for the next two books in this research project. Sometimes it helps me to work on sections of Emmett’s story out of sequence — I get a fresh perspective on the information I’ve collected over the past three years!
Yesterday, I was looking in my records about Emmett’s funeral, and came across the my notes on the Fisher-Pou Funeral Home in Pensacola, Florida. The funeral home records were donated to the University of West Florida archives several years ago, and they are excellent sources of information. Even though Emmett’s funeral records are not in this database (the Fisher-Pou records only cover 1926-1979; Emmett died in 1918), the funeral home’s history has some relevance to Emmett’s story.
First, it wasn’t always the Fisher-Pou Funeral Home — the partnership was formed after the death of Francis (Frank) Robinson Pou (pronounced ‘pow’), who had a long history as one of the leading funeral directors for the city of Pensacola.
Pou had an interesting career. He wasn’t just an undertaker, but he had a successful livery, served as City Councilman (during which he was charged [but later acquitted] with election fraud in 1914), and served as acting Mayor of Pensacola in 1914; then Mayor of Pensacola in 1918 during the influenza pandemic.
Frank Pou died in 1923 after an illness, according to an obituary from the New Orleans Times-Picayune. It is unclear what happened to Pou’s funeral business records after his death; it is possible the records were lost after Pou’s heirs established the Fisher-Pou Funeral Home partnership.
Frank Pou, Emmett’s Undertaker
According to Emmett’s death certificate, his body was released to Pou on May 29, 1918. Pou’s records — if I could find them — would likely have had important details about the day — as in, who arranged the funeral, what was Emmett wearing, who selected the headstone and the text and so forth.
However, through old-fashioned sleuthing, I have been able to reconstruct a chunk of the event:
Emmett died (or, was declared dead — it appears that he was alone when he died) at 12:25 am on Wednesday, May 29, 1918.
Hospital records reveal that Emmett’s brother Cephas was listed as responsible for the bill and/or patient, so he would have been the first contacted upon Emmett’s death. Cephas was in Marianna; a few hours’ train ride away. Likely, Cephas next called or wired Emmett’s father, Dr. F.C. Wilson in Chipley, then telephoned Jennie Kehoe in Pensacola to tell her the news.
Cephas released Emmett to Frank Pou’s funeral parlor on Romana Street on the morning of May 29. Visitation was not at the Fisher-Pou Funeral Home, but at Walter and Jennie Kehoe’s home at 904 N. Baylen.
According to the article on Emmett’s funeral on May 30, 1918 in The Pensacola Journal, Emmett’s friends and acquaintances called at the Kehoe residence all afternoon on the 29th to view Emmett’s remains, and that most of the callers were reported to be in shock, totally surprised that Emmett had ‘died so suddenly.’ The tone of the article is along the lines that his friends had to see it to believe it.
Emmett was laid out in the Kehoe’s living room at least from mid-afternoon of May 29 until 9:30 am the next day, Thursday, May 30, when the cortege left for Christ Episcopal Church, on W. Wright Street, for the funeral service.
Emmett’s funeral was held at 10 a.m on Thursday, May 30 at the church. From there, Emmett was buried in in St. John’s Cemetery, according to the obituary that ran on Friday, May 31, 1918 in The Pensacola Journal.
As I study the details, I think the speed at which Emmett’s funeral was executed is interesting. Everyone moved rather quickly to pull it together. This stands out because of a statement in the funeral writeup that Emmett’s family had to come to Pensacola from various distances across West Florida. That took a lot of time and effort, especially with the funeral the day after Emmett died. I’m almost certain that Jennie Kehoe was the hands-on manager of this event, until Cephas and Lula could get to Pensacola.
I’m curious if Emmett’s older brother Francis Jr., who also lived in Pensacola, volunteered to host the visitation or not. Nowhere is he mentioned in the articles about the funeral; it would not have surprised me that Francis Jr. and Emmett were estranged by 1918, as Frank had had problems with alcohol too. I feel certain he attended Emmett’s funeral; I also feel certain that Emmett’s father, Dr. F.C. Wilson, stayed with Francis Jr. during this time.
Emmett was buried with his older brother Meade who died in 1914, in Meade Wilson’s family plot. Meade’s widow, Carrie Bond Wilson, had to approve the space for Emmett. Because Carrie had moved to Jacksonville after Meade’s death, I’m not sure if she and her sons made it to Pensacola in time for the funeral; I rather think she didn’t, given the distance and time it would have taken. However, it seems logical that she would have told Cephas and Lula, when they broke the news to her, that even though she couldn’t make the trip, that Emmett should be buried with Meade at St. John’s.
Hopefully, I’ll have more to add to Emmett’s funeral story over the next several months.