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Chapter 43: Detour Unusual

February 7, 2015
The American University Library
Washington, D.C.

One small screenshot of one page. Emmett’s entire timeline is well over 5,000 items long. Timelines created by the author.

For the record, I have documented everything you can imagine about Emmett, including family members and close friends of Emmett, receipts or documents mentioning Emmett, schools in which he was enrolled, clubs he attended, and so forth.

I like my data organized, chronological, structured. But most of the time, research data doesn’t come to you that way. So, you have to devise a sense of order for it to make sense; to tell a story.

Example: One day I found Emmett’s funeral record; the next day an article mentioning him playing a baseball game for the Chipley, Florida local team. Totally out of order.

But, if I strung them together on a timeline, I would basically have his life story in front of me, and this would help me write his story.

===

At this point, three years into Emmett’s research, I have a large chunk of Emmett’s life mapped out, except for some gap years; namely 1901 to 1902 and 1905 to 1907. The missing information for those years bothers me, because these are his early adult formative years, when he’s out of college and supposedly building his visibility for a political career. During these gap years, Emmett seems to just drop out sight. For a man who seemed to be hung up on ambition, to disappear during these very important formative years was strange.

From the 1899-1900 college catalog of The Seminary West of the Suwannee (better known as West Florida Seminary). Source: FSU Digital Repository

I think Emmett just had his nose to the grindstone in 1900-1901; laying low, studying hard, then maybe graduating.

The West Florida Seminary (late known as Florida State College, then Florida State University) catalog for 1900-1901 — released January, 1901. By now, Emmett is both Freshman and Sophomore. But this catalog is only for January of 1901. Source: FSU archives

He might have studied hard, but he didn’t graduate with his WFS class.

He isn’t in the 1901-1902 catalog.  In fact, he only finished half of his sophomore year (1900-1901) at West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University); not returning to Tallahassee with his best friend, Paul Carter, when school started at the end of January.

Although it is possible, I doubt he flunked out. I believe something else happened — something probably stood in the way of his completing his studies. The archivists at FSU tell me that contemporary media might have a clue. I jump on it right away.

====

I’m anxious as I pace back and forth in front of Bender Library on the campus of The American University in Washington, D.C. The doors will be open in a few minutes; I have faculty privileges at the university, so I plan to sit in front of a microfilm reader for hours, with the 1898-1903 microfilm of The Chipley Banner, graciously obtained for me via library loan from the University of West Florida.

Microfilm: It’s reel time consuming! One of several reels received via InterLIbrary Loan. Thanks so much to the archivists and librarians at UWF, AU, and U of Maryland for their help. Photo by the author.

I have no idea what I will find, if anything, because there are literally hundreds of unindexed pages to read through on the film. I’m well caffeinated; I have healthy snacks, and I’m looking forward to hours of losing myself in the old newspapers. There’s really no other way to gather the information I need to tell Emmett’s story without tediously reading every single microfilm page I can find. None of pages on the microfilm have been scanned anywhere yet. I think about filming myself doing this to show my research students what it really is like to seek hard-to-find data, since so many seem to want to give up if they don’t see it on the first three or four hits via Google.

===

OK. Two hours into the search, and I find something interesting:

From The Chipley Banner, December 29, 1900. Frank Wilson is Emmett’s older brother, who lives in Pensacola, and is a conductor with the M&M Railroad, later with the L&N Railroad.

What’s interesting about this is that Frank wasn’t present for Christmas with the rest of the Wilson brothers. He reportedly had to work;

And then, a few hours later, there’s this item:

From The Chipley Banner, January 19, 1901. Frank with an ‘abscess of the liver.’ The Wilson family genealogy mentions alcoholism among several of Emmett’s brothers. An ‘operation’ of this sort would have been serious in 1900.

Emmett’s family may have been comfortable, but they definitely were not wealthy. A trip to New Orleans for a stay at a hospital, and for Dr. Wilson to accompany his son the entire time was costly for the family. Dr. Wilson had to suspend his practice while he was gone, in addition to expenses for both Wilson and his son. Dr. Wilson and Frank were gone for several weeks.

If the Wilsons were supporting Emmett in college (very likely), this would definitely be a reason to delay his return to WFS to continue his studies.

From The Chipley Banner, February 16, 1901.

A little backstory:  Frank would later wed May McKinnon of Marianna. In 1900, Frank and May were not yet married, but they probably already knew each other:

U.S. Census page from 1900 via Ancestry.com: May McKinnon is single in 1900, and a telegraph operator (probably at the same railroad where Frank worked).

I wrote about Frank and May in an earlier EmmettWilson.com post; the family members who knew May indicated to me that she would have had a positive influence on Frank regarding cessation of his drinking. In fact, the New Orleans episode may have frightened Frank enough to stop drinking.

And then, I find this gold nugget:

From the February 23, 1901 edition of The Chipley Banner. One door closed for Emmett and another opened elsewhere.

As I think about this article, less than two months after Emmett returned home from WFS, perhaps it was a culmination of things that kept Emmett from returning to finish his sophomore year. Deep down, Emmett probably wanted to be a lawyer from the get-go, finding this out only after being in college and studying something he really didn’t like.

And instead of having to tell his father that he didn’t want to go back to school (after the family spent all that money for his tuition), Frank turns up ill, and that keeps Emmett from going back to school.

And, as that door closed on Emmett, another one opens up with the clerkship at D.J. Jones’ law office.

===

Finding these items in the film during my visit to Bender Library fuels me onward. I can’t wait to see what else is on the reel.

Categories: Book Congressman Family Interesting & Odd Research Status The Writing Life

jsmith532

Professor
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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