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Chapter 132: Transitioning

May 22, 2021
Chevy Chase, Maryland

In early June, 1906, it was probably a tough call for Emmett on what he would do after Nicholas Van Sant had discovered what was actually going on with their law practice. I sincerely doubt Emmett went to rehab, even through the generosity and circumspect-ness of Nicholas Van Sant, and I doubt Emmett wanted to stick around Sterling any longer than absolutely necessary.

The other thing about Emmett is that he likely wanted to delay the inevitable of moving home, facing his father and brother, and his friends, after the big send-off only six months earlier. He had to go to a temporary safe haven, to get a grip or at least rediscover his professional footing.

But I believe his exit from Sterling wasn’t sneaky, that Emmett and Nicholas Van Sant had a positive separation, and Van Sant probably went the extra mile to ensure that Emmett’s reputation was, at least, intact, if not sterling (pardon the pun). There’s evidence Emmett and Nicholas Van Sant corresponded several times, with Emmett keeping Van Sant apprised of his professional progress, and other interesting news.

Here’s one example:

September 27, 1907. The only way the Sterling paper would have known this is through Nicholas Van Sant, via a letter from Emmett. Source: Sterling Evening Gazette, page 1, via

In the time gap between the end of May, 1906 and mid-June, 1906, I suspect Emmett went to Washington, D.C., to visit his best friend, Paul Carter, and I believe the visit to Paul was planned all along, regardless of what was going on with Emmett: On June 14, 1906, Paul graduated from Georgetown University Law School. Paul’s family may not have attended the ceremony in Washington, D.C., but his best friend, Emmett, would likely do it.

Program from Paul Carter’s graduation from Georgetown University Law School, June 11, 1906. Source: Georgetown University Archives.
The Washington, D.C. Evening Star, June 12, 1906, p.13. Those in attendance were listed. Paul was there; Emmett was not, though he likely attended Paul’s graduation. Source: Chronicling

Here’s what I have on Emmett and Paul’s whereabouts in June-July, 1906:

Clip of a news recap from the Marianna, Florida paper, dated June 30, 1903, as printed in The Pensacola Journal, July 1, 1906. Source:
From The Chipley Banner, July 26, 1906. Emmett has been home for at least a month already; the reporting date of this edition doesn’t convey that. Image taken by author from microfilm.

Despite the reporting date from The Chipley Banner, Paul Carter and Emmett Wilson returned to Florida together or about the same time. It’s interesting that, according to the Marianna paper, Paul was also awarded an LLB from Stetson University when he got back — I’m not sure how that came about, since Paul didn’t finish his last year at Stetson — but perhaps the registrar or Dean of the Law School accepted the Georgetown diploma as evidence of his completed work? All Paul had to do was present one of the diplomas to the Florida Bar as proof he was qualified to practice law there.

Back to Emmett and his transition to Florida.

I’m curious as to how Emmett broke the news to his family in Florida — I don’t think he was the kind of person to just show up on someone’s doorstep unannounced. He had good manners. Did he tell his family and friends subtly, in his letters back home, that things were not as grand as he had hoped? Did he let on that he wasn’t happy? Part of me thinks he would not readily admit that to everyone, as we know that Emmett had a lot of urgency to get out from under Cephas’ thumb in Marianna when he left only six months earlier.

Knowing Emmett (based on his patterns of decision making in his career), he wasn’t a sudden-decision kind of guy. If it was serious, he talked to trusted colleagues (who weren’t judgmental) about what to do. And here, I can see that he talked to Paul Carter how best to go about this, and very likely, J.Walter Kehoe — why?

Because of what happened by the end of September, not three months after Emmett was back in Florida:

The Pensacola Journal, September 26, 1906, p. 3 via

A. He was living in Pensacola and working out of Kehoe’s office (not as a partner, but using the office space until he could get his own, and,

B. There’s no information about Illinois. Interesting. It’s as if the last six months didn’t even exist.

The only way Emmett Wilson, who had just bottomed out of a plum job in Sterling, Illinois landed this Assistant District Attorney gig over everyone else, and so quickly after his return to Florida, was if there was some behind-the-scenes fancy politicking by his big buddy, J. Walter Kehoe. It also didn’t hurt that Emmett’s uncle, Evelyn Maxwell, was also local, prominent, and would consider it a huge favor if his nephew was given a soft space to land after his return from the Illinois hinterlands. This was a favor that probably took a few weeks to firm up among the local politicians. (I’m curious about what, exactly, was negotiated, but I don’t think any of that was actually written down and saved for history.)

Emmett’s family and closest friends knew the back story, but it looks like the public story was going to be that Emmett, while visiting family and friends, was made a job offer in Pensacola that he couldn’t refuse. Oh, and he was also missing his family and friends. This would seem like a logical explanation as to why Emmett was back in Florida after only six months and a huge geographical transition. But it looks like no one wanted to talk about that very defining six month period in Illinois.

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