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Chapter 122: Crisis on the Horizon

March 14, 2021
Chevy Chase, Maryland

At this point in Emmett’s story, he’s been in Illinois three months. Although he’s been Nick Van Sant’s law partner since January 1, 1906, Emmett wasn’t able to ‘practice law’ until he had passed the Illinois state bar examination in February, 1906. That doesn’t mean he was idle until then; the Van Sant & Wilson law practice also had a few side businesses; i.e., real estate and insurance. Cephas Wilson had similar side interests in Florida, so none of this would be completely foreign to Emmett.

Emmett finally passes the bar in Illinois and can practice law with Nick Van Sant. Source: Sterling Daily News, February 5, 1906. Photo taken from microfilm by author.

It was understood when Emmett moved to Illinois that because Nick Van Sant had other businesses to manage (his new bank, the family lumber and shipping interests), he wouldn’t be around every day. Emmett presented himself as a self-starter (or, at least, with a lot of energy, so if he said he’d be fine working independently, it wasn’t a stretch to Van Sant’s imagination.

Yep. OK. I’ve mentioned this several times in previous articles. It probably sounds redundant by now, but the method to my messaging in this chapter is this selling of himself is him acting his way into where he WANTS to be in his life. There’s nothing wrong with healthy self-esteem and the ability to sell oneself into a better position in life. Many of us have done this; i.e., we’ve told a boss to give us a chance and we’ll show you what we CAN do. Then, we do it — maybe not perfectly at first — eventually earning the skill, and becoming the person we want to be. It’s not lying; we may have the qualifications but not the experience. Yet. Salesmanship is important to get that first chance.

Asking for that kind of experience is part of becoming in life.

When I stand back and look at the data I have for Emmett’s life in late March, 1906, the data forms a pattern. It reveals the shape of a young man in the early throes of two different, destructive, and untreated diseases working against him: Alcoholism and depression.

These diseases also run in families — and it is yet something else I share with Emmett. The only difference is that I’ve been treated for depression. It’s still there, but it is manageable, thanks to working with a therapist and Lexapro every day. Although in 2021, we say there’s nothing shameful about depression (it’s an illness that’s treatable), there is a stigma about it. People who are lucky enough NOT to have clinical depression don’t understand it. I can’t exactly loan my type of depression to someone as if it were a sweater one could try on and ‘feel’ what it’s like. Even those who live with me, and love me, don’t really get it, try as they might, God bless them.

During Emmett’s life, depression was referred to as ‘having a nervous breakdown.’ If it happened in your family, you didn’t talk about it. If you had a problem with alcohol, you also didn’t talk about it.

So, what do depressed people do with their depression if they can’t talk about it?

Even if Emmett wanted to talk to someone about it in Sterling, Illinois, he didn’t have anyone to turn to; he was mostly a loner. Van Sant, the key person he trusted in Sterling, wasn’t around. It’s easy to see what Emmett did instead — and we also have the narrative from Emmett’s great grand-nephew, John Evans Wilson:

Copyright 1980, John Evans Wilson
Copyright 1980, John Evans Wilson

We know who the ‘rich northern lumber man’ was: Nicholas Van Sant. But, Van Sant, who was a lifelong teetotaler, who (along with his first and second wives) were prohibitionists, and publicly supported anti-alcohol social and political movements, did NOT ‘start’ Emmett drinking.

Emmett did that all on his own.

And, because Emmett was a good actor (as many alcoholics can be), and, the fact Van Sant was mostly absent the first three-to-four months of their partnership, he didn’t see Emmett’s drinking problem. Likely, he didn’t witness Emmett’s depression either; chalking whatever seemingly ‘down’ attitude with the excuses Emmett gave: He was homesick (perfectly normal). Or, he hadn’t become seasonably adjusted, and was unused to all the cold weather and snow stretching into early Spring (perfectly normal). Or, he was busy in his office all the time, working too hard instead of socializing (also perfectly normal).

For an ‘energetic young man’ (as reported in the January edition of the Sterling Daily Standard) his behavior didn’t support his original presentation to the Sterling reading public.

Here’s another clue that something was amiss with Emmett:

Nicholas Van Sant interview in this issue of Stand By has a clue about what was going on with Emmett in 1906. Source:

Page one of the interview with Nicholas Van Sant from Stand By. Source:
Take a look at the red box on this last page of the interview with Van Sant. Source:

What’s interesting is how unsuccessful the Van Sant & Wilson law firm was that first year. Clearly, it wasn’t Van Sant’s mismanagement, but likely Emmett, because Van Sant wasn’t around. I also believe that Van Sant’s professional reputation was critical here — if the law firm wasn’t doing well, and it was on Emmett, then Van Sant was going to do what he could to cover it up, because he’d made a bad choice hiring Emmett to do the job in the first place.


A change is definitely on the way in the Emmett Wilson saga. Stay tuned.

Categories: Addiction Book Florida History Interesting & Odd Recommended Sources

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Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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