Chevy Chase, Maryland
May 1, 2013
A cold cup of coffee sits on the desk next to me; it’s been there so long that the cream has risen to the top and it has a weird looking brownish skin/scum across the top. I never ignore a good cup of coffee, but I’ve been on a roll.
I hear my husband’s footsteps above my office as the floorboards creak — the faraway voice of the 11 pm news anchor is suddenly silenced.
“Gonna pull another all-nighter?” he calls down to me from the stairwell.
“Hope not,” I holler back. I stretch in my ergonomic chair; I lean back, crick my stiff neck left and then right, massage my knuckles. The clock on the bookshelf says 11:20 pm. Last time I checked the time, it was 4:45 in the afternoon. I think, ‘Did I even go to the bathroom the whole time I’ve been in here?’
I haven’t been this focused on a research topic in months — what I found has been like waving a red flag in front of a bull — it’s fueled me better than any amount of coffee could. My sponsor tells me to watch for things like this — although I haven’t had a drink in six years, and I don’t feel the desire to drink anymore — I always look for something, anything, to fill this self-perceived hole in my soul. Emmett is doing that for me, and it is a good thing for me on many levels, but oh man, even a good thing can turn into something bad for you if it isn’t in moderation.
Here’s the thing: I found something out about Emmett. He had a girlfriend, it wasn’t a casual relationship, and I’ve uncovered a boatload of information about it!
Talk about an incredible find for an obscure research subject, right? I mean, I’m only a few days into the research and I uncover a treasure trove hiding in plain sight — specifically, in the Stetson University online archives! I’m talking about dozens of clear, searchable scanned student newspapers from the time Emmett was enrolled at Stetson University.
This will sound strange to you: I love this and I hate this.
I love it because I can’t believe how I found such an unexpected and rich treasure trove of stuff all about Emmett as a teenager, detailing his comings and goings, the people he hung out with, or teased, or held hands with, or visited. How the hell did I get so lucky, I think? As I pore through each issue (and there are dozens of them during Emmett’s tenure at Stetson, and his name is mentioned in almost all of them!), I’m thrilled, capturing and documenting the data as quickly as I can. It is as if a whole new side of Emmett’s personal life/personality is open to me, and I never thought I’d have that.
But I also acknowledge my irritation as I open page after page in the Stetson University archive, with Emmett’s name and something cute written about him, obviously by a female writer who was interested in him, and not just from an objective journalistic standpoint. Granted, most of the items in the newspaper about Emmett are teasing or flattering; something unusual for a young man who was described as shy and retiring in other written observations.
In some of the examples from the Stetson Weekly Collegiate, though, it appears to be a play for Emmett’s attention; i.e., to flatter him in 1903’s social media outlet. Typically, if you had your name in the paper, it meant you were someone; a very big deal. Up until 1903, Emmett’s name rarely appeared anywhere in any contemporary media — so I’m sure this got Emmett’s attention. This leaves a negative impression on me: I strongly dislike games-playing to build a personal relationship. Maybe that’s not what the female writer was intending, but it does look that way, reading the newspapers from 110 years’ distance.
Did Emmett feel obligated to reciprocate the attention to the writer? Or to build a relationship with her?
The writer was Florence Pearl Spaulding.
OK — so whoever this Pearl Spaulding was piques my interest — and I start digging, relentlessly.
Two hours in, and I’ve actually come up with some early details. It’s definitely rough and incomplete. But interesting:
- April, 1903 — Pearl and Emmett appear to have known each other at least at the start of 1903 — they were at the Ormond Beach races in March. They later attended an Easter Dance at a local hotel, where he and his best friend, Paul Carter, were specifically invited. The dance was put together by Pearl’s mother — Mrs. Alice Spangler — and this seems to be the most likely place where Emmett and Pearl began their relationship.
- It makes sense that this is when Emmett and Pearl got to know each other. The Crawford link is especially solid. Crawford, like Emmett, was a law student, and could have sent Pearl to cover the law club meetings and activities. Emmett was president of the Kent Club (the law school club at Stetson).
- May, 1903 — A news item in the Stetson Weekly Collegiate student gossip column reports, “Mr. Roland has lost his valuable pearl. Finder please return to owner.” Pearl Spaulding was seeing Benjamin Roland, also a Stetson University student — but it looks like they aren’t seeing each other any more.
- Pearl’s tenure at Stetson in 1903 was on and off; it was reported that she had weak eyes and had to take a break from school before the end of the year. Pearl was unique; not only was she a music student and an aspiring journalist, but she worked as a teaching assistant in the Music Department. Pearl was enrolled at Stetson starting Fall, 1902, then left for several weeks for her eyes. She was reported back in November, then home again in March. (I wonder if she wore glasses during studies or while working?)
- June 1903 — The school year ends, and Emmett and Pearl go their separate ways. There’s no indication that Emmett visited Pearl during summer break; she lived in Seabreeze and he lived in Marianna with his older brother Cephas, clerking at Cephas’ law practice. Emmett also spent part of the summer with his sister Katie Wilson Meade and her husband, Emmett Meade, in Alexandria, Virginia.
- October, 1903 — Emmett is now president of the Kent Club; Pearl is not only listed as the associate editor of the paper and enrolled in the music school; she’s also now the secretary to the music director at Stetson.
As I scroll through the excellent Stetson University digital archive, I realize I could stay up the entire night — I look over at the gross mess in my cup. Maybe a fresh coffee.
But the clock on my shelf now says it’s 3:15 a.m. And, as interesting as Pearl is, I’m tired; and when I’m tired, I can overlook things.
And hate this? Who am I kidding?
I really love Emmett’s story. I realize what it is I hate is that I wasn’t actually there to witness his story, and I’m having to rely on a lot of secondary stuff to get the information I need. But still, I’m getting information, and more than I thought I would when this project started.
I’ll continue digging after a few hours’ sleep.
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