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Chapter 148: Common Knowledge?

September 29, 2019
Chevy Chase, Maryland

Two things concern me about this stage in Emmett’s story, three years before he ran for office as U.S. Congressman.

First, in 1908, Emmett was drinking alcoholically. I believe he knew (and his family/friends knew) he either drank more and/or could not handle alcohol as other people could because of the consequences to date. I also believe he believed the generally accepted view of alcoholism in the early 20th century: That people who were real alcoholics were mentally and morally broken, people from questionable heritage that were generally committed to Chattahoochie or other state institutions. And of course, Emmett Wilson was none of these things. He was a member of Christ Church (though his attendance was inconsistent); he was from a distinguished political family well-known throughout the Florida Panhandle.

I also believe Emmett’s drinking habits weren’t exactly hidden from view. People drank wine and/or spirits with meals regularly. Emmett hung out with his fellows after court at the end of the day, in men’s clubs or in the parlor back home. Emmett’s friends saw him attending the popular (and exclusive) mens’ clubs, mingling with the Pensacola elite at select parties, like everyone else with a drink and/or cigar in hand. Totally normal in those circumstances.

Elk’s (left) and Osceola Clubs, Pensacola. Osceola was an expensive, select men’s club, featuring a ‘Grill Room’ (essentially a bar where one could order a steak and a beer, among other things), and card rooms. Neither building survives today, although the Elk statue was located elsewhere in the city. Emmett was a member both organizations. Source: State Archive of Florida.

Maybe when Emmett started to talk too loudly, or get clumsy, a friend would ply him with coffee to sober him up some, then call a taxi for him, or see him home.

“Where the elite meet.” Description of the Osceola Club, from the February 2, 1907 edition of the Pensacola Evening News. Interesting that Emmett was a member, as he was decidedly not wealthy at any time in his life. Screenshot from microfilm by the author.

Maybe this was a regular thing for Emmett’s friends, too; they might not have seen this as a problem, as other fellows occasionally had to be helped home after a night with the boys: “Emmett’s a fun guy to hang out with, up to a point. Then he has to go home, or be put to bed to sleep it off. He just has to sleep it off.” Or, “He’s just a young man sowing his oats, just like everyone else. He’ll settle down eventually.” Again, totally normal in most circumstances.

Second, did Frank Mayes know about Emmett’s drinking habits at this point?

In 1908, Mayes might not have seen this as so much of a problem. Yet.

It wasn’t unusual for young men to drink, as long as they didn’t get sloppy in public, and so forth. But when Mayes identified Emmett as his protégé, there was plenty of time to groom him for candidacy for the 1912 election year; by then Mayes felt that he’d certainly be able to smooth whatever edges or character defects that would be detrimental to Emmett winning a political campaign for U.S. Congress.

One thing was for sure: Mayes knew Pensacola, politics, and people. That’s why he was so successful as a publisher and a political kingmaker. Mayes had big plans for himself, and Emmett would be the key.

Categories: Addiction Book Congressman Florida History

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jsmith532

Professor
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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