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Chapter 86: A Visit to Marianna (Part 3)

October 2, 2015
Marianna, Florida


After touring St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Sue and I continue to walk around downtown Marianna; she points out several buildings that are still standing from Emmett and Cephas’ time — The Acme Restaurant, Dr. Wilson’s office (no relation to Emmett, Cephas or Frank Wilson of Chipley), the Farrior Block dating from 1899, and the bank where Cephas was president — while simultaneously serving as a lawyer, and Mayor of Marianna. Cephas served four terms as Mayor (one year terms back then).

Sue said this was once the office of a Dr. W.S. Wilson in Marianna (no relation to Cephas or Emmett); it is referred to as the Abstract Office. The date of the building is from 1865. Photo by the author.
This is the historic First National Bank building on Caledonia Street; Cephas worked here as president of the bank in the early 1900s. Note the date on the building is 1902. Photo by the author.

Over buffet lunch at The Oaks, Sue and I talked about what we’d found so far. I remember that I’d thought Cephas would have been the ideal long-term town father; certainly being the mayor had it’s perqs.

But Sue thought Cephas might have gotten bored with being mayor after four terms. “It wasn’t as lucrative as a law practice,” and with the big and successful practice, Cephas would have more visibility outside of Marianna.

“That makes sense,” I add, “because he always has his eye on the Governor’s mansion. He announced for office four different times, but he never was able to get a strong backing for his candidacy. I’ve seen at least two interviews with Cephas where he said it was long his dream to become the governor of Florida. He certainly had the background and experience to get there; but of course, not everyone can make it, even if they have the basics in place to do the job. He had a lot of supporters, and politically, was considered one of the best lawyers (and judges) in the panhandle.

Still, I’m curious: What kept the Florida democratic fraternity from approving his candidacy for governor? Many of the Wilsons’ friends and colleagues knew Cephas was a father figure and mentor to Emmett. Did Emmett’s later personal and professional downfall reflect negatively on Cephas from a political view?

Great details with dates that confirm what I’ve dug up about the Wilson family over the past three years. And — surprise to me — Cephas was once a schoolteacher! Article originally appeared in a Marianna newspaper (specific issue information not available).
Source: Elizabeth Howard. Photo of image by the author.

We return to the archive so that I can take notes and photograph as many documents that had to do with Emmett as I can. Sue is such a great sport — pulling out all kinds of ledgers, giving me tips on what to look for as I carefully turn the pages of the large brown leather ledgers — something struck me about the work Emmett was doing with his brother.

It all seemed rather, well, boring.

I thought about the idea Emmett was going to work with his brother, who clearly had a fairly exciting and interesting life, and how I perhaps misunderstood the implications of Emmett working for Cephas.

You see, Cephas had a LOT of irons in the fire — business, politics, real estate, women — he was wealthy, popular, sought-after, and consulted. He traveled too — to neighboring towns and counties, especially as the travel related to business and court cases. Cephas got around, and his doings were published in several papers (not just the Marianna paper). By the time Emmett joined Cephas in the law firm, Cephas had been an established lawyer for 12 years. Cephas was living the life he’d built after 12 years of hard work.

And so, Emmett didn’t become Cephas by osmosis upon starting work at Wilson & Wilson on June 1, 1904.

Emmett might have become like Cephas in time — it took Cephas at least a decade for him to become who he was in 1904. I’m sure when Cephas first started his law career, clerking for W.O. Butler in Chipley, Florida, Cephas knew he could do it — time was going to be the factor.

And Marianna was a bit of a let-down for Emmett, too, even though being in Marianna and working for his brother was something he’d planned for for at least two year.

See: Here was a guy who had been, for the last two years, on a pedestal — a guy who ran with a popular, well-to-do crowd in college, always getting into interesting and fun activities. A guy who was sought-after and consulted. A guy who had his name in the paper several times per issue (which was a big deal), and for the last six months of his senior year, the valedictorian. Emmett was important at Stetson, and there was pomp and glory associated with him: One example — the senior law students actually attended class in their caps and gowns for at least the last month of law school at Stetson. Attention-getting, yes?

Much was made of Emmett for the previous two years. Much was expected of Emmett, naturally, as valedictorian. Indeed, the editorials and newspaper coverage of the Stetson law school graduation said as much about Emmett’s future. He was going into practice with his older brother, the well-known, well-connected, former state senator of Florida. Who wouldn’t think Emmett was going to lead a similar life as his brother’s law partner?

But as I looked at the records that captured Emmett’s early career, it seemed that Emmett’s expectations were not going to be fulfilled — at least, not for the first year or three. Emmett wasn’t given very exciting or ‘meaty’ cases, as Sue pointed out more than once. “Replevin, lewd cohabitation, garnishment, ” I said, looking through the cases. “And that’s pretty much what Emmett was doing. Did he expect it to be, well, unexciting?”

One of Emmett’s cases as law partner of Wilson and Wilson. Photo by the author.
One of Emmett’s replevin cases. Replevin, garnishment, divorce, lewd cohabitation made up the majority of the cases he handled while practicing law in Marianna between 1904 and 1905. Photo by the author.

I didn’t know if I’d told Sue, but Emmett only lasted at Wilson and Wilson for 18 months. “That’s why his name doesn’t show up in the 1906 dockets. He was looking for another job in October, 1905 and was gone, officially, as of January 1, 1906. I think he was bored working with Cephas.” And when I’d discovered the short tenure with Cephas, I felt a little disappointment with Emmett, like he really didn’t give it much of a chance.

It reminded me of when he’d left West Florida Seminary after only 18 months — an expensive experience for a family supporting him that wasn’t wealthy — to start over two years later at Stetson.

As I packed up my computer and thanked Sue for a wonderful visit at the end of the day, I remember thinking that Emmett wasn’t too different from myself — when I was young and just out of college, I made a lot of decisions and job changes that weren’t always so well thought out, and had to pay the consequences, such as moving expenses after a job didn’t work out, or disillusionment with the career I’d picked and worked hard to earn a footing.

I’m going to reconsider that disappointment I felt when Emmett made the decision to leave Wilson and Wilson in 1905, after having set himself up for what seemed at the time to be the ultimate career move, because obviously, more is to be revealed about Emmett.

Categories: Book Congressman Family Florida History Uncategorized

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jsmith532

Professor
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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