John Smithwick: A Kind-of Renaissance Guy

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John Harris Smithwick. Source: Find-a-grave.com

As promised, I’m following up on the earlier post about the folks at the Smithwick luncheon.

I’ll start with information about the host, John H. Smithwick: Farmer, attorney, U.S. congressman, accused check kiter, and survivor of the Knickerbocker theater disaster.

When the 1907 article was published, Smithwick was Walter Kehoe’s law partner. We know from Smithwick’s official biography he was born in Georgia in 1872; was graduated from Reinhardt Normal College in 1895, then attended law school at Cumberland University. He was graduated in 1897; admitted to the Georgia bar in 1898, then moved to Pensacola the same year as Emmett, in 1906.

Kehoe & Smithwick, located at 306 Brent Building, Pensacola. Source: 1907 Pensacola City Directory, from Ancestry.com

Smithwick and Kehoe remained partners through 1907; the next year, however, Smithwick and Kehoe separated amicably:

Smithwick is partners with T.F. West. Source: 1908 Pensacola City Director, Ancestry.com

and,

Kehoe in single practice. Source: 1908 Pensacola City Directory, Ancestry.com

By 1910, Smithwick has changed vocation:

Source: 1910 Pensacola City Directory, Ancestry.com

Although Smithwick appears to have stepped away from his legal profession, he maintained his important connections with The Pensacola Journal’s editor, Frank Mayes. Mayes was considered a political kingmaker in West Florida politics. On April 27, 1913, The Pensacola Journal’s editor, Frank Mayes, wrote a feature about traveling through Santa Rosa County with Smithwick, and visiting his farm:

Source: The Pensacola Journal, April 27, 1913, http://www.chroniclingamerica.gov

Mayes ran another feature on Smithwick’s farm, in the  May 17, 1914 issue of The Pensacola Journal. Although Smithwick expanded into farming, he was listed in the Pensacola City Directory with a business in naval stores; his residence as 206 W. Lloyd (a house still standing).

When Emmett gave notice that he was retiring from congress in April 1915, his two friends, Smithwick and Walter Kehoe (along with two other) ran for the Third District Congressional Seat in the June primary.

Sample 1916 primary ballot, as it appeared in The Pensacola Journal. Source: Chroniclingamerica.gov

Kehoe won the primary, then the general election. He served a rather undistinguished one term, then lost his bid for reelection in the 1918 primary runoff against Smithwick. There were no hard feelings though:

Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

One thing of note — Walter voted against suffrage at the same time his talented sisters, Fannie and Minnie Kehoe, were two of the prominent women leading the suffrage movement in Florida. (I can imagine how uncomfortable it was when Walter came home from Washington, to face his sisters at Sunday dinners and social events.)

Smithwick’s tenure in office was also undistinguished — until he left office.

Source: Wicked Capitol Hill: An Unruly History of Behaving Badly by Robert S. Pohl. Source: Amazon.com

And:

Source: Richmond Times, May 15, 1947. Genealogybank.com

Smithwick claimed he was innocent until the day he died.

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The most interesting story I found about Smithwick was that he was a survivor of the Knickerbocker Theatre disaster in Washington, D.C., January 28, 1922.

In an interview he gave to Associated Press reporters, Smithwick recalled in great detail the how the ceiling of the theatre caved in under the heavy snow that had accumulated on the roof, and that he’d climbed out of the rubble, and walked home, without his hat or coat. He had several cuts and bruises, and likely a concussion. Smithwick said he didn’t realize how badly he was injured, until he arrived at home and family members called in a doctor immediately upon observing his condition.

Interesting fellow, John Smithwick.

===

There are a few excellent articles on Knickerbocker Theatre disaster:

  • Kevin Ambrose’s excellent article 95 years after the disaster, including stories of those who helped rescue theatre patrons, and those who tragically lost their lives.
  • A historical essay about the Knickerbocker disaster on the blog, The Dead Bell.
  • The Knickerbocker tragedy, via the excellent Ghosts of DC blog, and
  • John Smithwick’s interview, with great details, published by the Associated Press (below), via the New York Times.

Source: New York Times, January 1922.

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