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Chapter 88: Huge Clue from Small Clip

August 4, 2020
Chevy Chase, Maryland

I think the most useful tool I’ve had in putting together Emmett Wilson’s research is an extensive timeline, broken down across the decades of Emmett’s life, in which I’ve organized every single article or information source, by chronological date. Anything that mentioned Emmett in any way (actively or passively) generated a line-item mention, along with brief synopsis and bibliographic data.

I use a basic spreadsheet program with my own headings. Information is organized by year.

At this point, the timeline has well over 6,000 individual items with information about Emmett. Granted, a lot of it is trivial stuff, such as the fact Emmett was at a card game at the Kehoe house where he won the consolation prize for a game of 500 at Walter and Jennie Kehoe’s house on February 16, 1911.

So what?

Here, we find that Emmett is proficient at cards and enjoys small games among friends at home on occasion. From the February 17, 1911 edition of The Pensacola Journal, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov.

Well, string all of the items together, and you have, basically, a recreation of his daily calendar, or something as close to it as you can get without much primary data. Valuable, yes?

I also don’t kid myself: The spreadsheet gives me great data, but it isn’t comprehensive. Not until I find something like an actual datebook that belonged to Emmett, or a primary source such as his personal scrapbooks (which I still hold out hope that they — or parts of them — exist somewhere).

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Thanks to the spreadsheets, I had much of Emmett’s brief life charted out, with the exception of what I think was a critical time period: October 1904 to June 1906.

True, I had a few small items that told me Emmett spent most of the summer and fall of 1904 working in his brother’s law office, visiting his father in Chipley, working on a few law cases in Jackson County, Florida, but that was pretty much it. Emmett’s social life appears significantly different, compared to the previous two years when he was mentioned in the Stetson University and Daytona, Florida newspapers on a regular basis. We see a big change from the Emmett in the Stetson and Daytona articles to the Emmett in Marianna and Chipley papers. Surely Emmett hadn’t immediately changed from outgoing social fellow to dull, boring grownup?

Of course not — obviously, the difference was that Emmett wasn’t dating the reporters for the Marianna or Chipley newspapers, so, he wasn’t going to be featured in every single paper as he was while in college.

And he was a grownup now, trying to build a serious career. He’d have to be more focused on work, professional activities and the like. Big brother Cephas was a master at manipulating local press to promote his comings and goings; Emmett would need to do the same to build up a good reputation. I imagine it was hard when he was also competing with his brother, the senior partner, the mayor of Marianna, the judge for any kind of attention in the local papers — West Florida news editors knew who was more newsworthy of the the Wilson brothers, and it wasn’t Emmett.

A thorough search of the Florida newspaper archives turned up very little on Emmett during this time — except for one small item that I just about blew off, until I looked closely at it:

Initially, I thought this was wasn’t our Emmett from Florida. Source: (Tallahassee) Weekly True Democrat, August 24, 1906 via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Whoa — August 26, 1906 — and Emmett has been in Illinois? The other questions just started pouring out on the page as I scribbled them down as fast as I could:

— Where in Illinois?
— How long was he in Illinois?
— What was he doing there?
— When did he leave Florida?

and most importantly:

— What was he running away from in Florida?

or perhaps:

— What was he running TOWARDS?



Categories: Book Family Florida History The Writing Life

jsmith532

Professor
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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