September 29, 2015
When Nancy and I returned to the hotel, we found an empty table near the gigantic coffee pot. Nancy made us both two cups of coffee, while I pulled out my laptop and a folder of notes, a spreadsheet, archived newspaper clips, and letters, and arranged them on the table.
She laughed at the display. “Damn, girl. Whatever it is you have to show me, you’ve kept under the radar for awhile.”
I gratefully took the coffee cup. “I wasn’t trying to hide this, but I couldn’t believe it when I found it, and had to be sure of some things before I shared it with anyone.” I scrolled through my electronic archive of newspaper clips, and found the clip from The Chipley Banner, dated September 14, 1911:
Nancy frowned. “Benedict?”
I nodded. “It was a term used to describe a confirmed bachelor who got married.”
Nancy sat back and stared at me. “What? Emmett had a girlfriend? We haven’t seen anything about that, except from his Stetson University days. It wasn’t Pearl, was it?”
I shook my had. “No. Not Pearl. And I was just as surprised when I saw the clip. It mentioned The Pensacola Journal article about it — and you know, and I know — if Emmett was seeing anyone, and by that, I mean any ‘one’ particular person, it would have been mentioned already in the social columns….”
“…because Emmett was all about getting his name in the paper, having it connected to high-powered people in the community, advantageous associations,” Nancy finished for me. “Everything he was doing was getting put in the paper somewhere, to get his name out in the public because he was building name recognition to run for office. I agree.”
I nodded. “So, immediately, I dug up up all editions of The Pensacola Journals for September, 1911. And look:
And from the Pensacola Evening News:
“You know what’s interesting about all of this? There was nothing AT ALL in the Georgia newspapers about this engagement. Not a word. And believe me, I looked at everything on line, even called the Atlanta newspaper archives to see if I’d missed anything — and I didn’t,” I said.
She frowned at the screen. “But it says ‘special’ to the Evening News, as if it was a wire service or telegram. And who’s Byrd Kelly? When did he start courting a woman in Columbus, Georgia, for Pete’s sake, which was — what? — at least a day’s travel one-way back in the day? When did Emmett have the time to court someone that far away?”
“Exactly my thinking. And I’ll get to who Byrd Kelly was and the whole courtship thing, because I actually have her REAL wedding announcement — she got married in 1915 to someone else entirely — “
Nancy laughed at me at that moment. “Well, of course you started digging into that woman’s story. Totally new data trail!”
I nodded. “Here’s the thing. I picked Emmett’s announcement apart because there’s a lot of problems with it, right from the start. See: I believe this thing was made-up, and done with Emmett’s consent, which surprised and disappointed me.”
I pulled out hard copies of the Wilson announcements and Byrd Kelly’s actual wedding announcement in the Georgia newspapers, and laid all of the different engagement announcements down side-by-side, comparing them with Nancy watching closely as we went line-by-line.
“See, even though it’s two different newspapers, with two different newspaper styles, both newspapers had women editors for the society sections. In reading these papers for the past few years, I think it’s easy to tell the difference between a man and woman’s writing style — the society section was written for women, so…”
Nancy agreed. “And even if there was a male editor for these pages, the writing would be in a style geared towards a female reader. Lots of ‘frilly’ language, like how Byrd is an attractive young woman. Also,” Nancy said, “The society announcements always make much of the bride instead of the groom. After all the announcement is usually written by the bride’s family, right?”
“Unless the groom is the Prince of Wales, or someone of that social level, where it would make sense for the announcement to come from there,” I said. “And that’s why I believed Emmett’s announcement was written by a man. The details make much of Emmett and who he is; nothing about the qualities of Byrd.”
“And look,” Nancy said. “Emmett is a nobody in Columbus, Georgia, compared to the Kellys. Why is he so prominent in the announcement? Why isn’t Byrd the star, especially if the bride’s parents are MAKING the announcement?”
To be honest, at this point in Emmett’s career, he’s also kind-of a nobody in Pensacola society, though he is a known entity I said. “Emmett, a mostly unknown local lawyer has top-billing in the Pensacola paper announcements. Do you really think the bride’s family, who were quite well-to-do in Columbus, Georgia, would have only mentioned Emmett’s qualities and not hers?”
Nancy asked me who I thought was the male writer? I didn’t know. “Whoever he was, though, he did not act alone. And whoever did it was just stupid — they did not know Byrd’s family well, and didn’t bother to get a few critical details correct — things that could have been easily checked. Whoever did it needed the announcement more than the needed the actual engagement.”
“How do you know Emmett didn’t know the family well?” Nancy asked.
“Look at the name on the clip: W.H. Kelly. Byrd’s father was known locally as “Whit” but his name was Matthew Whitfield Kelly, not W.H. Kelly. There IS a W.H. Kelly family in Columbus, but they were not related to Byrd’s family. That was a bonehead mistake.”
Nancy took a few minutes to read the Kelly obituary, and she frowned at the screen. “This is just strange. Kelly is important in Columbus. Powerful. I can see how a marriage with Byrd would be really advantageous, politically speaking.”
“Look at the other problems with this announcement. The redundancy. For example: It had a ‘dateline’ Columbus, and then repeats itself “of this city.” That’s not what a seasoned society reporter would have written from a wire notice. Also, identifying the Kellys as being ‘of this city’ is just — stupid. It tells me the writer really didn’t know how important the Kellys were in Columbus. They wouldn’t have had to be identified as being ‘of Columbus’ in the first place. Whit Kelly OWNED a huge chunk of Columbus.”
“So, Emmett probably heard her father’s name was ‘Whit,’ and didn’t bother to find out any additional details or double check. That’s kind-of unlike him, that is, what we know about his reputation as a detail-oriented lawyer, isn’t it?”
I agreed. “It’s sloppy, that’s for sure.
Nancy asked what else bothered me about the announcements.
“The author used the word ‘clubman’ to describe Emmett. The Kellys were hugely active in the local temperance movement in Columbus. The implication of belonging to a well-known, exclusive men’s club was that alcohol was consumed there, and Emmett was a proud member of at least two men’s clubs (The Osceola Club and the Elks).” I shook my head. “That would not be something the Kellys would want known; it was entirely contrary to the kind of people they were.”
“Strict, churchgoing, law-abiding, temperance,” Nancy said, nodding at me. “There’s no way the Kelly patriarch would have agreed to this. I don’t see it.” She sat back and thought a few minutes. “If this was a made-up engagement, did they even meet? How do you think this came about?”
Emmett and Byrd did actually meet — was it a love connection? And who was Byrd Kelly to Emmett Wilson, really?
Stay tuned for the next chapter.
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