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Chapter 192: The Sopranos

April 6, 2023
Chevy Chase, Maryland

Emmett remained a bachelor to the end of his life, but he wasn’t without affairs of the heart. He knew what it was to fall in love; but he wasn’t a closer, when it came to settling down. And that was a big deal for someone in political leadership in the early 1900s. It was a big deal in that it stood out from the ‘norm;’ i.e., most young men settled down, got married, had a family, and lived a socially-prescribed ‘correct’ life in that regard.

But there was always something different about Emmett when it came to settling down. It wasn’t explicitly said what that difference was in the family genealogies, or in the family papers I’ve been privileged to see. A few months before the general election, it was hinted about at least once in the contemporary media.

Source: Pensacola Evening News, August 27, 1912; image taken by the author from microfilm.

The editorial above, published in the Pensacola Evening News by Charles Henry Bourke Floyd, a Florida lawyer and humorous editorial writer who used the byline “C.H.B. Floyd“, was based on an earlier, almost verbatim editorial that was published in the January 3, 1912 edition of the New York Sun, berating Florida Governor Albert W. Gilchrist for being unmarried. Not that there was or is something wrong with that, but in 1912 it was, well, unusual.


In two subsequent articles (October 10, and November 3, 1912), Floyd refers to Emmett as ‘Emmett Constantinople Wilson’; paying homage to the local gossip that women were ‘throwing themselves’ at Emmett with the hopes of capturing him as a husband (but he was always aloof and standoffish to them all). The articles mention other single leaders’ too, for the record, pointing out how odd it was to be a man in his mid-30s and unmarried, yet representing the vast majority of the public, who was married.

Sam Sanborn and Herb Felkel were newspaper editors in the Florida panhandle. William C Hodges was a lawyer and the Republican candidate for congress who declined to run against Emmett in the general election of 1912. Source: Pensacola Evening News, November 3, 1912; image taken by the author from microfilm.

That’s why the “soprano” comment probably hit a nerve with Emmett’s (and perhaps Gilchrist’s) political team. It doesn’t seem like anyone approached Floyd about his article focusing on Emmett, because there’s no retraction or anything similar to that in later editions of the Pensacola Evening News; but I wonder, if perhaps, someone did.

My research partner, Nancy Rayburn, and I discussed this a while back. Nowadays, there’s plenty of single politicians holding office, and it doesn’t mean one thing or the other; and who cares if the candidate is gay or not? [Confidentially, this is what I believe was the case with Emmett, and that information would have been the death knell for his career, and likely, would affect other family members’ political aspirations — which is why it was kept so quiet, and why the fake engagement was set up before Emmett ever threw his hat into the political ring.]

Nancy agreed, but emphasized that having one unmarried political leader — in this case, the sitting Governor of Florida — was more than enough. “People like their leaders married and settled, and even if the marriage isn’t so strong, and if the politician in topic isn’t that ‘settled,’ it’s the impression of normalcy and structure that’s important,” she said. “It probably wasn’t a secret among those who knew him — family and colleagues — that he liked drinking more than what passed for ‘normal.’ Anything else, like a rumor that Emmett was gay was just not going to cut it.”


Several weeks later, Floyd wrote about running into Emmett on a train to Marianna. It was after Floyd published several humorous-yet-truthful editorials ‘outing’ Emmett’s unmarried state. Floyd reported that was a little afraid to say anything to Emmett, but he apologized for his rudeness, and reported that Emmett was gracious; said it was ok. Emmett probably was irritated seeing all the attention drawn to that aspect of his life rather than his platform for office, but he knew the best reaction, when confronted with the author and a heartfelt apology, was no reaction.

Source: Pensacola Evening News, September 30, 1912; images taken by the author from microfilm.

And to cap it off, Floyd offered no further details about that conversation on the train, but I think maybe Emmett used the following explanation about his continuous single state: The fake engagement (and of course, not telling Floyd the background on that event).

I believe the fake engagement, while despicable (especially since it had the potential to hurt Byrd Kelly and her family), serve a purpose: Emmett could always say his heart was broken by the ‘broken engagement’ and he never got over it. Or, it was too soon for him to get past the hurt and disappointment.

And so, being the literate, sensitive, heartfelt writer and man that he was, Floyd pretty much backed off of Emmett and his lack of spouse in future essays/editorials.

Regardless, neither Emmett nor the Florida governor married. Both were lawyers; Emmett was the District Attorney, and the law in 1912 prosecuted homosexuality, with the convicted person usually serving time at Chattahoochie (the state mental hospital in Florida in 1912).

I often wonder how many alcoholics that Emmett, as District Attorney and later, as State Attorney, had committed to Chattahoochie?

I wonder if Emmett lived in fear of being placed there himself?

I don’t think Floyd really personally cared all that much that Emmett didn’t want to get married — after all, Emmett, Gilchrist, and other prominent people’s unmarried state gave him fodder to write about — but it was newsworthy, and Floyd had a way of getting to the truth of the matter via humor.

Categories: Book Congressman Family Florida History

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Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
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