Chapter 51: Inauguration Blues

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January 7, 1901
The Leon Hotel
Tallahassee, Florida

The lobby of The Leon Hotel, Tallahassee, Florida; 1905-1910. Source: State Archives of Florida

Cephas and I met his friend and former law partner, Walter Kehoe, in the lobby of The Leon Hotel right before supper. Walter had come to Tallahassee ahead of us by a day or so. “Legal business with the Governor-elect,” he said mysteriously, as he shook hands with me, and exchanging a glance with Cephas, who smiled conspiratorially in response. “I’m glad you’re here, Emmett,” he said to me. “This is an important occasion, something you wouldn’t have wanted to miss.”

From the 1901 Jennings Inauguration Scrapbook, from the Florida State University archives. Cephas and Walter Kehoe were invited to participate in the inauguration festivities; Emmett likely stayed with his brother as they were reported to be at the Leon Hotel in the Tallahassee newspapers. Source: Florida State University Archives.

After we checked in, the three of us ate in the hotel dining room. And after dinner, Cephas and Walter walked outside to the porch to smoke cigars. I told them that I wanted to walk over to campus for a bit. Cephas said it was fine with him, but not to stay out too late.

“Remember, you’ve got a full day tomorrow. We’ll need to start early,” Cephas said.

“I haven’t forgotten,” I said.

Truthfully, I didn’t want to attend the events. I didn’t want to be seen by anyone I knew, but I couldn’t stay cooped up in the hotel with Cephas, feeling as if I were constantly under his thumb.  I had been feeling claustrophobic for the past few days, always being watched by family members or people who knew me in Marianna, planning my life for me since I wasn’t coming back to WFS.

Being in Tallahassee meant I could be anonymous for a little while.

I could lose myself in a crowd, I could walk around the town with less of a chance of being recognized.

By now, it was dusk; the city was full of visitors and crowded.  As I walked away from the hotel, I noticed that there were a lot more prostitutes hanging around than usual. Ceph didn’t say anything about not availing myself in that direction — I instinctively felt for my pocketbook — I knew I didn’t have much money with me; probably not enough for a prostitute —

It was six blocks from the Leon Hotel to the campus; I kept my head down, my face out of the light of street lamps. I wasn’t going to walk too near my old dormitory in case some of the fellows would be sitting on the front porch, smoking, playing checkers or chess, or just shooting the breeze.

The main WFS building, also known as College Hall. It was constructed in 1891; it was then replaced by Westcott Hall in 1909. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/11572

As I neared College Hall, I noticed the entire building was lit up, and groups of people — faculty, students, alumni — all in formal dress. I was about 75 feet away from the arched entrance, in the shadows of the large oak trees nearby. I saw Dr. Murphree was hosting a gathering in honor of the inauguration in the parlors and the recitation rooms; there was quite a large crowd there. And in there, shaking hands with men in tuxedos, laughing and smoking cigars, one turned and I saw it was Paul Carter. Paul. I instinctively stepped behind the oak tree I was next to.

So. My friends were in there, hobnobbing with important looking people.

At that moment, I realized the irony of all of this: If I were truly honest, I’ve always been on the outside, on the periphery here at the Seminary, and on the periphery of my family. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to succeed, or to be accepted; I realized that I didn’t fit in anywhere.

And ironically, this understanding about myself felt simultaneously relieving and depressing at the same time. It felt true, and logical. But what was I supposed to do with this new knowledge? What if I never found the right place for myself? What if I never succeeded? What if I ended up just an obscure, unknown…a failure? I couldn’t tell anyone about this —

And then, knowing I had to keep this to myself: Would I always feel this lonely?

I felt for the silver flask down in my coat pocket. I took it out. If I took a small drink, no one would know, and I would feel some immediate relief.

But I had promised Ceph I wouldn’t drink anything while I was in Tallahassee, because I had to be above reproach, and circumspect about my behavior at all times. I could not take a chance on anything. “We’re all on display in Tallahassee,” Cephas told me while we were on the train this afternoon. “Act the part for it to be believable, and don’t take any stupid chances.”

I agreed to it.

But I was feeling the worst kind of tension and anxiety. I wanted relief, and knew I would get it almost instantly with a quick drink, but I knew I couldn’t take the chance here, on campus, even though I was standing in the shadows — so, I turned, and started to walk out from behind the massive oak, towards the sidewalk, away from College Hall.

 

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