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Chapter 141: Family & Friends in Context

August 12, 2021
Chevy Chase, Maryland

I offer a summary of Emmett’s life, in the context of what was going on with different members of his family, and the friends he kept in 1907.

I do this because I have very little primary documents about Emmett’s life; however, the context of the goings-on with his family and friends as reported in the contemporary newspapers gives us a clue. Emmett was also often in the company of his friends and colleagues.

It’s an interesting insight into Emmett, too; based on what I’ve learned about his alcoholism, he was drinking as a teenager, probably alcoholically from the beginning, and he was self-managing his addiction with periods of abstinence until he couldn’t stay away from the drink. I know he had some level of cirrhosis in 1914, which ultimately led to his death [as reported on his death certificate] of kidney failure in 1918. Alcoholism doesn’t directly cause kidney failure; though it can lead to multiple organ failure, which is likely what happened. She told me that, on average, cirrhosis develops within a decade of heavy drinking, and if I did the math, that means Emmett was likely drinking heavily starting in college (certainly not unheard of).

I mention all of this background about Emmett, and how he was likely striving to stay sober, give the appearance of a man in control of himself, because of what was going on with his friends and colleagues. Here’s a snapshot of my “Emmett and Family database,” with annotations in red that I’ll comment on, below.

This is one small example of the detailed timelines I’ve constructed about Emmett’s life since I started the research in 2013. Image from the author’s research notes.

In these context charts, the information is organized by year. This screenshot is from my timeline for 1907. The date column on the far left is the date of the publication where I found the article. Typically, I take a screenshot of the article with the specific information and save it in a specific folder (year, publication) on my hard drive.

The second column from the left is a summary of the article.

The third column from the left is used for my own notes or comments, and the last column tells me where I saved the article, or, if the article exists online in a public database, such as ChroniclingAmerica.gov. For example, you’ll see two links for the “PJ”, which is my shorthand for The Pensacola Journal, which is found online at ChroniclingAmerica.gov; likewise, the Selma, Alabama article is found at that same database.

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This screenshot from my research is important to use in my illustration of Emmett’s alcoholism in his life story, for several reasons.

First, Walter Kehoe, his very good friend and the man who was responsible for basically giving Emmett the foundation for this third career do-over, was not a teetotaler in his lifetime, but, he was not an alcoholic; and, he was supporting prohibition. That seems disingenuous, but Walter was running for the U.S. Congressional seat, and prohibition was gaining popularity in Florida. (A lot of congressmen in Washington claimed to support prohibition, and yet, that didn’t stop them from drinking.) One of Walter’s major life goals was to serve in Congress, and giving at least public support to the policy was an obvious tactic.

Let’s skip over the item that is second in the screenshot; I’ll come back to it.

If you jump down to numbers three and four in the chart, Emmett’s older brother, Meade, had helped set up a group called the Law and Order League, which was morphing into Escambia County Prohibition League. Meade, as mentioned in earlier chapters, was a respected, longtime conductor on the L&N Railroad; he was based out of Pensacola during this time. Eventually, he got into real estate and insurance.

Meade Wilson, Sr., March, 1914 in his office. He died July 6, 1914 from pulmonary tuberculosis. Photo courtesy of Meade Wilson (great-grand nephew of Meade Sr.; used with permission).

I don’t know if Meade Wilson drank, but at least one other brother (Max) did have a problem with alcohol. (Max Wilson was also involved in state politics.) Emmett’s niece, Jule Wilson Perry, told me once that her father, Emmett’s brother Julian, assiduously stayed away from alcohol, and only rarely would take a drink. She was certain it was because of what Julian had seen and experienced with Emmett, and probably Julian’s older brothers too.

The theme I see in this chart of Emmett’s life is that he was surrounded by and connected to several successful people, who are movers and shakers in Pensacola politics. He’s not necessarily riding their coattails to success at this point, but the Wilson family name was important in the Florida panhandle. Emmett’s goal, in 1907, was to get established; set up his own practice, contribute to the dynasty-building of the family reputation. Prohibition was a popular topic; Sidney Catts would receive the nomination of the Prohibition Party (though he remained a Democrat) and won election as governor of Florida in 1916 — he had narrowly lost the Democratic primary that year.

Here’s the other thing I’ve come to understand about Emmett, prohibition, and the reality of his environment: Even though people gave lip service to the “evils” of drink, most of those making such proclamations continued to drink anyway — for some, booze was a problem — for others, not so much. Even Sidney Catt’s efforts to stymie booze in Florida after he was elected were rendered useless by the Florida State Legislature, until prohibition actually became the law of the land. My point is that Emmett probably wasn’t hiding his alcohol consumption rate from anyone at this time. With his personal and professional life restarted in Pensacola, he likely felt he was in control of himself.

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Back to the second item I skipped, where it was noted that Emmett the local citizen stayed at a local hotel. This item stood out to me just because I wondered why he’d do that — he certainly had his own key to the Kehoe house where he was boarding so he could come and go as necessary.

Emmett’s address, as reported in the Pensacola City Directory for 1907. Source: Ancestry.com
Fannie and Minnie Kehoe’s address, as reported in the Pensacola City Directory for 1907. Source: Ancestry.com

That would make sense, correct? Unless he was out and about, perhaps intoxicated? Or visiting the ladies of the Pensacola red light district? Or perhaps he was still hanging out with Paul Carter, who was visiting town earlier in the week.

Does it really matter? Nah. I just like to nit-pick these things as I think about what his life was like in Pensacola.

Categories: Book Congressman Family Florida History

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jsmith532

Professor
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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