Emmett, Texter

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Did you know that Emmett got his professional start texting (of sorts) for a living?

True. And if you think about it, telegraph operators were early ‘texters.’ (Here’s a great history of telegraphing — see the first half of the article for details about the importance of the telegraph in our society.

Emmett Wilson’s first “official” job was as a general, all-around assistant at the Chipley, Florida Pensacola & Atlantic train depot, sometime around 1894. Working for the railroad was not just a family tradition among the Wilson men; it was today’s equivalent of a kid interested in space working for NASA.

And Emmett was a kid, starting out at the bottom of the railroad depot job hierarchy, at about the same age as his older brothers Frank Jr. and Meade. Working for the railroad was important; and, if Emmett was willing, he’d rise up the ranks to a professional position, as did Frank Jr. and Meade, who were now conductors. (Emmett once told a reporter that he once dreamed about working for the railroad so that he could run along the tops of the cars while they were in motion, en route to faraway, more interesting places than Chipley. Early on, Emmett probably saw working for the railroad as a means to an end.)

Emmett was more than willing. He was super ambitious from the get-go — his eye was on the telegrapher’s job — a coveted and critical communication position that served not only the messaging for the community, but the telegrapher often conveyed critical transportation data up and down the rails.

After a year or two proving himself capable around the depot, Emmett eventually became expert with Morse code, and was tapped to train as a telegrapher, and by age 17, was managing small depots along the P&A line.

Emmett was 17 when he was dispatched to run small-town train stations on his own, which included the telegraph. Source: The Chipley Banner, December 2, 1899, in ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Emmett’s full-time career with the railroad was over within a year, as he would enroll at West Florida Seminary in 1900, to pursue a college degree. He’d fill in at both the Chipley and Marianna train depots now and again, when home from WFS on vacations or weekend visits to supplement his school funds.

 

 

 

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In Search of Himself

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Continuing our story about Cephas Love Wilson, Jr. from here:

We next find Cephas Jr. and his father, Cephas Love Wilson Sr., visiting Emmett in Pensacola:

The roster of the San Carlos for May 11, 1911. From The Pensacola Journal, in ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Another clue of what’s going on, as reported on page 3 of the May 11, 1911 issue of The Pensacola Journal, from ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Cephas Jr., age 17, should still be enrolled at Marianna High School, but he appears to be clerking in his father’s law firm. It’s a logical leap — at this point, Cephas Sr. still has dreams of living in the Governor’s mansion, and of building a Wilson-family political dynasty. Cephas Sr. and the Florida Democratic party are in the process of moving potential candidates for U.S. Congress around on their chess board. Emmett is being groomed for a Congressional run; and so, why wouldn’t Cephas Sr. decide to groom his namesake for further Wilson family prominence?

But what were Cephas Jr.’s dreams?

Without any of his actual letters or anecdotes from family members, it is hard to tell, but if we observe his actions as they were written about in contemporary media, we see that he loved music, he loved photography, and he was a gifted artist (much like his mother, Lula). We get the picture (no pun intended).

Here’s why I believe Cephas Jr. was clerking for his father (keep in mind by this point, 1912, Cephas Jr. is 18 years old):

Catalog of the University of Florida, 1912-1913. From Archive.org

Cephas Jr. is a junior in the College of Law at the University of Florida in Gainesville — an upperclassman. So, when did he finish high school?

I don’t doubt Cephas Jr. was intelligent. But it is dubious that he’d go right from high school into advanced academic standing that quickly. There were definitely several strings pulled for Cephas Jr., by his father. Cephas Sr. only wanted the very best for his son, and he knew what it took to get there in 1912 — a law degree. It’s natural he’d want his son and namesake to have similar aspirations, and at least similar professional success.

But law school? I sense that was Cephas Sr’s dream, not his son’s, because otherwise, why wouldn’t Cephas Sr. encourage a vocation in the fine arts?

Cephas Jr.’s definitely there, ready or not. Here’s another source listing Cephas Jr. in the junior law class of The Seminole for 1913. Source: University of Florida archive

Cephas Jr. threw himself into campus social activities, also likely at the encouragement of his father. Source: 1913 Seminole; University of Florida archive.

Source: 1913 Seminole, University of Florida archive

Cephas Love Wilson, Jr. Source: 1913 Seminole, University of Florida archive.

Compare this photo of Cephas Jr. to his father, below. Striking resemblance, isn’t it?

Cephas Love Wilson Sr., about 1910. Striking resemblance between father and son, down to the bow tie.

As I go through the clips, I get the feeling that Cephas Jr. wasn’t happy at The University of Florida. I don’t believe it had anything to do with his intelligence, or ability to do the work: He just didn’t want to be a lawyer. Cephas Jr. was being pushed to do something he wasn’t ready or willing to do — similar to what happened with Uncle Emmett.

Fast forward to April 1913:

Cephas Jr. is home. Is this when he told his father he wasn’t cut out for law school? April 13, 1913 issue of The Pensacola Journal. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Cephas Jr. moved back home at the end of the Spring, 1913 semester, and apparently got a job with the local newspaper as a photographer. He never finished his degree at the University of Florida, and he spent the next few years in search of a way to market his talents:

Cartoonists Magazine, Volume 2, 1916. Source: Archive.org

And an article in the Marianna Times-Courier for 1917 mentioned that he had a job playing the piano in the local movie theatre. Cephas Jr. is clearly not sitting around twiddling his thumbs; but, he was working in a variety of different jobs to earn a living. It is unlikely he went back to work for his father.

Then — the U.S. entered World War I, and things changed for Cephas Jr.

I’ll continue with his story in a few days.

“…to accept the things I cannot change…”

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Two weeks ago, the realization that it was time to accept things I cannot change arrived at the door, around 11:15, courtesy of our mail carrier Jesse, of the United States Postal Service.

 

 

My dear friend Nancy’s cousin had written earlier that week, asking for my address, because Nancy had gifts for me.

Christmas gifts.

This was unexpected: Nancy was still in the hospital a few days before Christmas without any discharge date in sight. Also, she and I had a deal where we didn’t exchange Christmas gifts. Just corny holiday cards. Thing was, I didn’t know Nancy’s condition was precarious. Had I known, I would have gone to visit her, and I’ve regretted it ever since. I said as much to her cousin.

“Nancy was an extremely private person. She didn’t want anyone to know. You were on her mind even as she was failing,” she wrote to me. “She wanted you to stay strong and she was proud of your accomplishments.”

The box arrived.

The box sat on my desk for several days.

Now, I admit, I haven’t completely processed Nancy’s death, and I don’t expect to ‘process’ Nancy out of my life, ever. I’ve grieved on and off outwardly, but I’ve put her death aside mostly because I don’t like to wallow in sadness. I’ve come to understand the addictive nature of my personality. I would latch onto that grief; use it as a way to defer action on Emmett’s book, for example, or to hide behind it as an excuse to eat mint chocolate chip ice cream every day. I know Nancy wouldn’t like that one bit. She’d give me holy hell for shelving Emmett, and/or for using her death as a crutch to not get on living life, to not face life on life’s terms.

So, why delay opening the box?

If I opened it, it meant I was acknowledging she was gone, that life continues on, even though she’s not physically there.

I miss Nancy. I miss talking to her. I miss her counsel and her god-awful jokes, and her nutty sense of humor, and her abrupt, direct way of telling me that I could do better with a certain paragraph, or section of Emmett’s story. She got me and I got her. We were friends.

Yesterday, I opened the box.

 

Three things — the first was the Mississippi State University official cowbell that I sent her for her birthday last October. Nancy had come to love my alma mater’s often inconsistent football team. She’d watch the games on Saturday afternoon, and ring the cowbell, surprised and delighted at how loud and deafening it was!

Nancy’s cowbell will hold a special place in my office, next to my own old, beat-up cowbell that I was given during my Freshman year decades ago; both will definitely get used!

The long blue box held a pewter house blessing, that reminded me of another dear friend of mine who died a few years back, Chris.

I meet Chris in the rooms of AA. He was one of the first people who saw the emotionally fragile, spiritually brittle person I was in the early days of recovery. I remember telling Nancy that whenever I saw Chris and asked how he was doing, he’d always say, “I’m blessed.” When I first met him and he said that to me, my first reaction was to take his inventory — to judge him. This guy was a nut, I thought.

And then, I slowly got to know Chris. I realized he truly was blessed, and lived his life like a loose garment. He was sober, serene. Unfettered.

I wanted what he had. And because Chris saw through the facade I put up when attending those early meetings, and extended the hand of friendship, things got better.

Finally, there was this.

Nancy knew well how difficult it has been to conduct Emmett’s research, then find a way to tell his story.

There have been days when I just wanted to (and did) say to hell with Emmett and his story. I questioned both my sanity and the purpose of doing a project on a long-dead, obscure man who drank himself to death. Why bother, I remember asking Nancy a long time ago, when I was going through a particularly frustrating period in Emmett’s research?

“Because his life was relevant. His life had meaning, and a message. And because he picked you to tell his story,” she’d said, in an email message to me. “It’s worth it. I think you know that, too.”

Indeed, one of the most precious gifts I’ve received from doing Emmett’s story is friendship. I’d never have had the privilege of becoming friends with Nancy if it weren’t for Emmett.

Emmett’s story has definitely been worth it so far. And I will see it through.

Rebirth & Eclipse

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I haven’t been much in the mood to write over the past few weeks. It has something to do with it being August and the feeling of things coming to an end, as it always does to me at this time each year. For most folks, the feeling of Auld Lang Syne, and the ritual of reflecting on things accomplished over the past year and planning for the next year takes place on December 31.

My ritual of reflection and rebirth for a New Year always takes place at the start of the new school year. Right about now.  And I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting over the past few weeks.

First, I took a break from Emmett’s book. This was, really, the first true break of any significance from the writing. It was both difficult and necessary to break out of the daily — and I do mean daily — routine of writing about Emmett, because I was resenting it. It wasn’t that I was making a lot of progress, but that I was looking for distractions so that I didn’t have to write at that moment. I was forcing myself to write, and it showed.

Next, I’ve also come to realize that the approach to Emmett’s story wasn’t working out. Fact is, this is a biography with gaps in the data. I’ve invested four years collecting the details about Emmett’s life, which is fine, but the real story here is my relationship with Emmett and the process of researching an obscure man’s life. It’s not as dry as it sounds: You see, I’ve come to understand that the real work of research involves building relationships with other people, which, honestly, is something I’ve not been all that great about in my life. I’m coming through this process richer in friendships; certainly richer in the understanding of what it is that connects people.

And, it turns out I’ve been actively writing this book from day one, via my research journals, my correspondence, my blog posts, and the draft chapters. I’m not starting over by any stretch of the imagination. Rethinking the approach has given me a new energy; the presentation will be unique, something that I find exciting and energizing. This new approach feels absolutely right. I can’t explain it, but it makes sense: Most major writing projects involve starts and stops as the writer ‘tries on’ the story, or the chapter in progress.

I’ll restart writing Emmett’s story on the day my kids head back to school (Tuesday after Labor Day).

I don’t find it ironic at all that this epiphany took place during the month of the eclipse. And speaking of eclipses, we spent ours in Charleston, South Carolina.

The 2017 eclipse, during 100 percent totality, in Charleston, South Carolina, at the South Carolina Aquarium.

I’m looking forward to September, and to a fresh start with Emmett’s chapters.

 

Congressional Baseball Game

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The annual Congressional Baseball Game was played last night at the Washington Nationals stadium.

I know Emmett Wilson loved the game — he played baseball for his college team (West Florida Seminary, now Florida State University), and for his town baseball team (the Red, White and Blues of Chipley).

But did he play during his two terms as a U.S. Congressman between 1913 and 1917?

Congressional baseball games from 1913-1917. Source: Wikipedia and U.S. House of Representatives Archives

It took a little fancy digging to tease out the rosters for three of the games; unfortunately, I haven’t yet located a 1915 roster — but here is what I found:

July 15,1913 article on the Congressional baseball game. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

August 1, 1914 article on the Congressional baseball game. Source: The Washington Times, ChroniclingAmerica.gov

July 28,1916 article on the Congressional baseball team. Source: The Washington Times and ChromiclingAmerica.gov

Emmett’s name did not appear on any of the Democratic team rosters for 1913, 1914, and 1916. Given Emmett’s precarious health in 1915 (he had full-blown cirrhosis, and had nearly died from alcohol poisoning earlier that year), it is questionable that he’d have played, though he might have attended the games at Boundary Field (also known as American League Park II, then National Park); today, the site of Howard University Hospital.

According to Pensacola newspapers and other reports, Emmett was in Florida from late April until September,1915; therefore, he’d not have attended the game that year.

Emmett left office March 4, 1917, and immediately moved back to Pensacola.There is no evidence he ever returned to Washington after his second term as U.S. Congressman was up, even to attend a baseball game.

Double the LL.B.

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Paul Carter, from the 1899 Argo, the yearbook of the West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University). The original valedictorian of the 1904 Stetson University Law Class. He didn’t finish at Stetson; rather, he took classes at Georgetown University while he was private secretary to William Bailey Lamar.

Emmett’s best friend, Paul Carter, was the original valedictorian of the Stetson University Law School Class of 1904.

But fate — a job opportunity as private secretary to U.S. Congressman William Bailey Lamar — intervened. It was the opportunity of a lifetime for a smart, ambitious 23-year-old not even out of college. According to an article in the Stetson Weekly Collegiate, Paul was supposedly to return to Stetson to graduate with his class later that year — perhaps he had an arrangement with the school to finish his last semester via correspondence? Perhaps the school would have granted him credit for his work alongside Lamar in Washington, D.C. for some of the coursework?

The Class of 1904 waited until late April to elect their replacement valedictorian, Emmett Wilson. Interestingly, Emmett was not the original choice for any of the graduation class honors when the choices were made in December,1903; valedictorian and salutatorian were decided by popular vote of the graduating law school class.


Although Paul was busy in Washington, he didn’t let his law degree ambitions fall to the side. With plenty of professional experience, law school credits, and other credentials to his name, he enrolled in Georgetown University’s Law School in 1905 as a third-year student. Even though he possessed most of the credits to graduate (i.e., he needed one more semester of coursework), he was required to finish the entire year. The curriculum was challenging for Paul, and expensive: $100 a year for tuition (books not included) on top of his living expenses in D.C. (Law school tuition at Stetson for a year was $72.60 in 1906.)

The Washington Evening Star, June 8, 1906. Source: Chronicling America.gov

On June 8, 1906, Paul received his bachelor of law degree from Georgetown University.

And —

The Deland Weekly News, June 8, 1906. Source: Chronicling America.gov

Both the Georgetown article and the Stetson article mentioning appeared on the same day. What’s up with that?

Well —

1907 Stetson University Catalog. Source: Stetson University Archives

According to the 1907 Stetson University Catalog, Paul was in Florida in time to receive his degree from Stetson University.

Immediately after the ceremony, Paul and his fellow graduates went to Jacksonville to be sworn in to the Florida Bar. Then, Paul took the train from Jacksonville back to Washington, in plenty of time to attend his second graduation at Georgetown.

So, Paul Carter earned two bachelor of law degrees within two weeks. From what I’ve learned about Paul Carter over the past three years, he was an excellent lawyer and certainly deserving of his credentials. I’m curious about the arrangement he had with Stetson that allowed for him to receive his degree given his absence for over a year (even though he continued his education at another institution).

Hal Lawson Scott

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I’ve been reviewing the documents for Emmett’s will for several days, going over all of the names mentioned in the file. Almost all of them are familiar. After four years of doing this project, I thought I had a complete list of the folks Emmett was closest to in his life, and that I knew who they were.

And then, I found this letter.

A portion of a document from Emmett’s will. Henry Bellinger was a professional colleague of Emmett’s (but not close). Hal Scott, though: A new mystery!

I dug around for several hours trying to find out more about this Hal Scott. I didn’t find much — he died soon after Emmett, in 1923 (causes unknown at this time), but I did find this:

Hal slugged Chipley Jones in defense of Emmett in the refined San Carlos Hotel bar! A real barroom brawl all for Emmett! Source: GenealogyBank.com

Here’s the scoop on Hal Lawson Scott:

He was born February 1884 in Montgomery, Alabama to Thomas Jefferson Scott and Mary Adelaide Taylor Williston, a solid, upper middle-class family. Hal’s family was very well connected with Theodore Roosevelt’s Republican party at the turn of the last century.

Hal was married in December 1908 to Alma McLeod in Florala, Alabama.

In 1910, he was an agent with the IRS in Montgomery; several articles in the Montgomery Advertiser indicate he was adept at busting stills. Hal remained with the IRS most of his career, serving as either an agent, collector, or receiver, in both Montgomery and Pensacola.

In 1911, he set up the Scott Investment Company in Montgomery with two siblings (Mary and John Taylor Scott).

Sometime between 1911 and 1912, Hal met Emmett. Emmett’s twin brother, Julian Wilson, lived in Montgomery at this time, and was an accountant with the L&N Railroad; it is quite likely that Hal knew Julian, and Julian may have introduced Emmett to Hal on one of Emmett’s frequent visits to Montgomery. Hal was still living in Montgomery at this time, but he had plans to move to Pensacola, because he wanted to go into business for himself. Regardless, this was also about the time Hal switched party affiliation from Republican to Democrat, and  he and Emmett built a solid friendship.

On March 4, 1914, Hal was listed in the San Carlos Hotel roster as visiting from Montgomery. This is when Emmett’s reelection campaign was in high-gear. Emmett knew Hal Scott was a go-getter and well connected, and planning a move to Pensacola. He asked Hal to work along with Chipley Jones, on his reelection campaign. Hal and Chipley were an effective team: Emmett received over 95 percent of the vote in the June primary, and was expected to run basically unopposed in the November general election. Several of Emmett’s campaign staffers expected to be rewarded for their diligence and loyalty, especially Chipley Jones, who had his eye on the big prize: The Pensacola postmastership, a sinecure with a hefty salary (about $75,000 in today’s dollars).

On July 5, 1914, two events rocked Emmett’s world — the death of his brother E. Meade Wilson, of rapid onset pulmonary tuberculosis, and the death of  A. Gibson Fell, the Postmaster of Pensacola.

Chipley Jones. Weak-chinned political sneak.

Chipley Jones was ecstatic as a man without a chin could be while trying not to act too excited that his dream job just became available because a colleague died. The man could barely contain himself — he badgered Emmett on the long train ride from Pensacola back to Washington, D.C. the ENTIRE trip. (I kid you not; that is documented.)

Emmett gave Chipley reassurances that he was the man for the job, but Emmett had lost respect for him, after Chipley had pulled an underhanded trick on John Stokes (Emmett’s opponent in the primary) right before the election. Emmett had already decided he wasn’t going to appoint Chipley; instead, he let Chipley wonder about it for three months.

By early October, Chipley was impatient and snarly to everyone who asked him what was going on about the postmastership. Things came to a head on Sunday, October 4, 1914, when, according to reports, Chipley said something derogatory to Hal about Emmett, and Hal defended his friend. I wonder if Hal aimed for Chipley’s weak chin.

There’s a few other items about Hal that I gleaned from the archives:

On Nov 29, 1914 — Hal Scott and one of Emmett’s closest friends, Kirke Monroe, form the Scott Feed & Grain Company in Pensacola.

In 1916, according to the Pensacola City Directory, Hal was working an auto dealership; i.e., Pensacola Overland Automobiles, as the company’s manager.

The Pensacola Journal, October 24, 1915

Overland Automobile. Source: myautoworld.com

Dec 28, 1916 — Hal named receiver for the F. A. & Gulf Railroad (a short railroad that extended from Crestview, Florida to primarily milling towns near the Alabama border, and specialized in moving lumber and naval stores.)

Hal Scott died on June 23, 1923 in Pensacola; his burial location is unknown.

Hal L. Scott’s will, dated 1910. Source: Ancestry.com

Hal’s wife, Alma McLeod Scott, never remarried; they never had children. Alma died in 1981. Unfortunately, there is no one directly related to Hal and Alma Scott who I could ask about the relationship between Emmett and Hal. I doubt any correspondence from Emmett or Hal exists today — but you never know.