March 31, 2022
Chevy Chase, Maryland
Emmett didn’t get away with the ‘engagement’ announcement without consequences. Oh no.
Emmett was summoned to Columbus, Georgia, by Whit Kelly. I doubt it was by cordial letter. I also doubt Whit would have telephoned Emmett; a telephone call would have been costly. Also, Emmett could have told a secretary at work or someone answering the phone at home that he ‘was unavailable, please leave a message.’ No.
I believe Whit sent Emmett a telegram, which laid out specific terms: Get your ass to Columbus and explain yourself, offer suitable contrition, and face consequences — and Whit had plenty of consequences on his side — Or else.
For one, now that the ‘engagement’ was made public via publication (though it was unknown to his daughter Byrd, and Emmett and Byrd hardly knew each other in the first place) meant that one of the parties — the Kellys — could bring suit for misrepresentation, or even for breach of contract, if they so desired. [Interesting reading on engagement breach of contract in the early 1900s here; here, and here.]
Another thing: If Byrd was seeing another young man (approved by Whit, naturally), and that relationship was serious, publication of Byrd’s engagement to Emmett is damaging and embarrassing. The Kelly’s family image and spotless reputation were everything to Whit Kelly; so, this was unforgivable.
I can only imagine how surprised — then shocked — then upset Byrd and her parents must have been once the news filtered back to them via friends, family, and finally, copies of the newspaper announcement itself about Byrd’s upcoming nuptials! Can you imagine how Byrd tried to explain this too? She was properly chaperoned by her Aunt Evelyn Farmer, and her brother Alex during her vacation in Florida when she met Emmett. If there had been an engagement, wouldn’t Emmett (and her family members, who had traveled with her) have observed the proprieties?
I’m certain Whit did not waste any time sending a telegram to Emmett demanding he explain himself, in person, once he discovered the engagement announcement.
And Emmett must have been profoundly grateful for the fact he was caught up in serious litigation for the state of Florida and was unable to get away quickly. In fact, Emmett’s calendar is extremely busy for almost eight weeks.
The timeline for October is quite interesting too:
Did you notice that there was an attempt on Emmett’s life on October 7, 1911? No, it wasn’t at the behest of Whit Kelly; it was connected to the Frank Penton murder case and it happened as Emmett and the judge hearing the case were leaving Santa Rosa County for Pensacola after one of the hearings. The Pensacola Evening News said Emmett was ‘fearless’ in the way he handled himself with the hearings, and the attempt on his life.
Logistically, the 246-mile trip from Pensacola (or, Santa Rosa County, Florida, where Emmett was in the middle of prosecuting murder cases) in 1911 was time consuming and expensive. Today, a one-way trip is a 4.5 hour drive (depending on traffic). But in 1911, a one-way trip was about 15 hours (mostly by trains traveling an average of 30 miles per hour, with multiple stops, and making a connection at Apalachicola). One could also take the train and then take a steamer up the Chattahoochie which might be a bit faster (10 hours or so), but again, time consuming and expensive for the average person. Because Emmett had family connections with the railroad (older brothers Francis and Meade were well-known conductors on the line he’d have used), the train cost was likely waived. The point is, this was not a trip he took regularly (or, at all).
And he was summoned in the midst of prosecuting very serious, very publicly reported murder cases in Santa Rosa County. Of course, Whit Kelly didn’t care about any of that. As a parent, I can’t say that I blame Whit.
The ONLY indication that Emmett visited Columbus, Georgia at any time after his introduction to Byrd Kelly in 1910 and the engagement announcement on September 7, 1911, is one brief mention from a hotel registration book, which was reported in one of the local papers on Tuesday, October 24, 1911. (Per the timeline above, Emmett was back in his office the following Thursday, October 26, 1911. It makes sense that he traveled on the 23rd, had his conversation with Whit on the 24th, then left immediately so as to be in court on time on the 26th).
The Racine Hotel was located at the northeast corner of First Avenue and 13th Street in Columbus, in the middle business district.
I was looking for an image of M.W. Kelly’s offices, which were located on Broad Street.
I found the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for Columbus, Georgia at the Library of Congress website. I am 95 percent certain that the command performance insisted upon by Whit Kelly did NOT take place at the Kelly home on Oak Street. This was a distasteful piece of business that Kelly would not allow to tarnish his family’s reputation or image — Kelly demanded that Emmett meet him at his place of business, which was not far from the Racine Hotel.
It makes sense that Emmett spend the night at the Racine, took the streetcar to Whit’s office for their meeting, then he took the streetcar to the train station, and made the 15 hour trip back to Santa Rosa County to argue for the defendant in Stearns-Culver Lumber vs. Santa Rosa Log Company. (Emmett would argue the case successfully, by the way.)
I wish I knew what was said in the meeting between Whit and Emmett.
I wish I knew what pound of flesh Whit extracted, if he did at all. Or, if he threatened Emmett in any way. Knowing what I do about Whit Kelly, I like to think he cursed Emmett out — but Whit was probably too smart to allow any emotion. Emmett was the one who was scared; Emmett was the one who pulled an amateurish, cowardly prank in public, and so, he owed amends to the Kellys.
Did Whit tell Emmett he read about the attempt on his life two weeks earlier, and perhaps joke, too bad, it would have been doing him a favor? (I don’t think Whit did that, though; it would indicate to Emmett that he had gotten under this great man’s skin somehow, and was taking up his valuable mental real estate by holding a grudge.)
I wonder what amends Emmett offered? And I wonder what amends Whit insisted upon, if any?
I wish I knew.
But this was a conversation likely held in private, in low, serious voices, without benefit of a secretary or notes. Maybe Whit insisted that his own secretary not make the notation that Emmett had an appointment with him that day, because he wanted nothing to do with Emmett Wilson ever again.
And in the end, Whit got his wish:
He never had anything to do with Emmett Wilson again.
Categories: Book Congressman Florida History
Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
The University of Maryland Global Campus
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