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Chapter 134: Hurricane Emmett Blows Into Pensacola

June 5, 2021
Chevy Chase, Maryland

From the Tersely Told column, where locals would let editors know what was going on in their lives, in the hopes of garnering attention — sort of a turn-of-the-century version of Facebook. Emmett would be working with Walter Kehoe at his Theissen Building office. This item ran on page three of September 26, 1906 edition of The Pensacola Journal. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Knowing what I know about Emmett’s life, it’s ironic (or maybe, a kind-of foreshadowing) that Emmett moved to Pensacola, Florida, on September 26, 1906, merely one day ahead of one of the most devastating hurricanes in history to hit the Florida Panhandle. I suppose he had no way of knowing he was literally blowing into town ahead of the thing.

The front page of The Pensacola Journal, September 27, 1906, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov.

Of course, he had no way of knowing how devastating this storm was going to be ahead of time. Emmett was only doing what he thought was the next best thing in starting his career over, certainly with the encouragement of his older (and local) brothers Frank Wilson and Meade Wilson, and certainly with the encouragement of J. Walter Kehoe, longtime family friend and one of Emmett’s mentors.

It made perfect sense: Emmett’s mother was born in Pensacola; his uncle Judge Evelyn Maxwell was also local and prominent; Emmett even attended business school in Pensacola during a previous start-over (in between West Florida Seminary and Stetson University). Best of all, it would be away and out of the shadow/influence of his older brother Cephas Wilson, and his well-meaning but judgmental father, Dr. F.C. Wilson.

Pensacola was a safe place for Emmett, where he would have a better chance at starting over.

The Theissen Building. Emmett worked in the Kehoe & Smithwick offices when he first moved to Pensacola in 1906. It is still standing today, in excellent condition. Photo by the author.

What’s also interesting about this part of Emmett’s start-over is the fact that he didn’t burn any bridges when he left the partnership with Van Sant back in Sterling –and — Emmett’s friends have helped him get a fairly prestigious job, despite his being a) so new to the community, and b) relatively inexperienced, compared to the local attorneys who would have also been considered for the position.

October 4, 1906. Emmett tells Nick about the hurricane that did a million dollars (1906 dollars) damage. Note the bottom section where Emmett has an impressive new job already. Source: Sterling Evening Gazette

Emmett as assistant prosecuting attorney already? There’s a few things unusual to note about this appointment: First, it was officially “acting” assistant District Attorney, and the official word was not put out until later, where it was officially announced September 7, 1907. Wonder why this didn’t get a lot coverage? Hmmm. Second, Emmett’s boss, the D.A., was a Republican. Odd? Hell yeah.

From the September 21, 1907 edition of The Pensacola Journal, page 4. Didn’t anyone else find this strange, that Emmett, a loyal Democrat, was serving under a Republican? Didn’t he worry what this might look like for his future political career? Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

I don’t want to jump too far ahead of the story (because there’s other interesting things that happened between September 1906 and 1907 that we’ll cover in Emmett story), but the point we need to understand about Emmett and career was that he had a lot people helping him, doing favors for him, putting him in a position very early on where he would owe significant favors down the road, should he become prominent.

And because he was so young, and so new, and so inexperienced, it seems that Emmett, indeed, was being groomed for something much bigger, by powerful locals.

For a long time, I wondered if Emmett was aware of how he was being groomed — used, really — and if he was preparing himself for this, mentally and psychologically. I believe that early on, he was dazzled by the opportunities and potential offered him by men who he presumed had his best interest at heart, and given his recent situation in Sterling, Illinois. So, of course, he agreed to go along.

I believe, at the time, in 1906, Emmett was earnest about preparing himself for the opportunities and potential before him, but he had no idea what his alcohol addiction had in store for him, either.

With that, I also believe that at this point, he was being very careful about his drinking, and that Emmett probably figured that he’d learned his lesson from what happened in Sterling, and that ‘he could handle it’ himself, because if he screwed up in Pensacola, there was not going to be another chance.

Categories: Book Congressman Family Florida History Interesting & Odd

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jsmith532

Professor
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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