Sinister underpinning

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This is a passage from the Big Book that makes me think about what it was that fueled Emmett’s alcoholism (italics mine):

“I looked around me at people who seemed happy and tried to analyze their happiness and it seemed to me that without exception these people had something or somebody they loved very much. I didn’t have the courage to love; I was not even sure I had the capacity. Fear of rejection and its ensuing pain were not to be risked, and I turned away from myself once more for the answer, this time to the drinks I had always refused before, and in alcohol I found a false courage.”

Alcoholics Anonymous (3rd Edition), “Freedom From Bondage,” pages 546-547.

Emmett drank because he was an alcoholic, certainly. But he was drinking to hide from the world, and from himself.

But underneath the “-ism” of his disease was a demon of sorts; something sinister that ate away at him inside. It was fear, certainly, of having that demon forced out into the daylight, and that fear is what fueled his life; i.e., his single-minded ambition, his well-known isolation from others, even in a room full of people, his Constantinople-like resistance to any significant relationship other than to a trusted few family members.

 

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Platonically Yours

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Here’s something new that turned up in Emmett Wilson research:

Florida State Debate Team’s historic webpage. Emmett’s best friend, Paul Carter, was an all-star. And we’ve seen the photo on the right in an earlier Emmett Wilson post, here. Source: floridastatedebate.com

A page honoring The Platonic Debating Society, which was the founding body of today’s Florida State University Debate Team.

Emmett (L) and Paul. Roommates, friends, sometimes debate rivals. Source: FSU archive.

The photos come from the first yearbook published by the Florida Seminary West of the Suwannee River (which was FSU when Emmett attended in 1900-1901), The Argo.  In the center back row are Emmett and Paul, roommates and debate team members, looking in opposite directions. (Emmett was not a great debater in college, by the way; he was picked on in the yearbook for his lack of debate skills.)

The FSU page honoring the roots of the debate team has a lot of deep information, including articles from contemporary newspapers featuring Emmett, Paul, and other members of the Platonic Debating Society. There’s nothing new-to-me, which is a bit of a relief, because I hope by now (five-plus years into tracking down information on Emmett), I’ve been thorough.

I’ve got the minutes! Here’s a snippet from the minutes book of the Platonic Debating Society for 1901. Good old Emmett is right at the top!

What IS missing is a copy of the Platonic Debating Society’s minutes — lucky me, though — a copy of the pages featuring Emmett’s tenure in the Debating Society was kindly send to me by the Florida State University archivist a year or so ago. The minutes book is only a small volume; I believe I have everything I need from it relating to Emmett, but I still would like to read the entire book for complete perspective.

Perhaps it will be posted online one of these days!

E. Meade the Second

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Here’s a new-to-me article about E. Meade Wilson II, nephew of Emmett, on his wedding day.

Meade’s grave, at St. John’s, Pensacola. Source: findagrave.com

(I was going back to check on articles about Emmett and siblings that may have been uploaded since my last database check, and came across a wedding announcement — which made me do a double-take. Emmett’s brother Meade died of TB in 1914 — and this announcement has him, listed as the son of Dr. F.C. Wilson, getting married in 1920.)

Of course, this is an error — this is actually the son of Emmett’s brother, Meade. Regardless, I love finding anything new about my family.

Here’s the wedding announcement:

Source: The Pensacola Journal, August 29, 1920.

There’s good information in the obituary. And, our Emmett is mentioned in the last paragraph, and correctly, as E. Meade the Second’s uncle.

His Death Came “As a Great Shock”

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Here’s another new-to-me clipping discovered through routine checking of updated databases:

Pensacola_Journal_1920-08-05_9

Obituary of Emmett’s father in The Pensacola Journal, August 9, 1920

Emmett’s father’s obituary contains interesting information.

For example, even though Dr. Wilson had been ill for several days, his death may have been unexpected, as it was a ‘great shock.’ Dr. Wilson’s death information (from a second source) mentioned he had blood poisoning, but it didn’t indicate the source of the infection. My colleague, Donna the Nephrologist, told me that blood poisoning (also called sepsis), can turn deadly rather quickly if not treated immediately, and perhaps those treating Dr. Wilson didn’t realize what it was he had at the time.

FYI — Dr. Wilson wasn’t “officially” practicing medicine anymore in 1920; he’d retired several years earlier (before Emmett’s death in 1918) because of poor health related to a heart condition.

There’s an error in the obit:

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He was related to the Maxwells by marriage.

This part is rather confusing — actually, Dr. Wilson was married to Elizabeth Virginia Maxwell, the daughter of Judge Augustus Emmett Maxwell (Emmett was named for his grandfather). Elizabeth died in 1891, when Emmett was eight years old. (I’m not sure where the obituary writer got the idea that Dr. Wilson was a son of Maxwell’s half-sister, but it just goes to show that one has to read the old clips carefully, and check the facts.)

Kate Langley Jordan Wilson

The surviving wife (as mentioned in earlier posts) was Kate Langley Jordan Wilson, whom Dr. Wilson married about 18 months after Elizabeth’s death.

By this point, Dr. Wilson had lost three of his sons: Meade Wilson, Dr. Percy Wilson, and Emmett. Percy and Emmett died in 1918.

The last item about the sugar plantation in British Honduras has been also mentioned in earlier post, and it does cause some confusion, because at the time the Wilsons were living in Central America, the British government did not allow foreigners to own their property — and so, Dr. Wilson would have had to take an oath of allegiance to the Crown (thus revoking his American citizenship, which meant Emmett [born after the family moved to British Honduras] was a British subject, and therefore should have been disqualified from serving in Congress).

But I have seen family records stating Dr. Wilson never gave up his American citizenship, and Emmett once stated in an interview that his father only owned ‘a share’ in the plantation — not full ownership.

Still, the issue has always made me wonder. In fact, one reporter once shared in an interview that if you really wanted to piss off Emmett, ask him about whether or not he thought he was truly an American citizen or not, given his birth in British Honduras. Emmett would routinely fly off the handle and give a reporter hell about the question.

Emmett doth protest too much?

 

Circle of Friends: J. Walter Kehoe

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We all have that one friend who we know we can turn to, no matter what, no matter the time of day. The friend who knows us better than our spouses (sometimes). The friend who loves us for who we are, who accepts us, unconditionally.

There aren’t many people in our lives who fit that bill. If we are lucky, we’ve had this kind of friendship at least once.

This was Emmett’s closest friend. J. Walter Kehoe.  Although Emmett’s childhood friend, Paul Carter, remained close to Emmett, they drifted apart after Emmett moved to Pensacola in 1906, and his law/political career took off.

J. Walter Kehoe in 1917. Kehoe, Emmett’s law partner, also succeeded him in Congress. Source: Wikipedia.com

Paul and Emmett were always friends, whereas Walter started out as a mentor to Emmett, and remained close to Emmett until Emmett’s death (although the relationship with Walter became estranged at the end).

But this was more than a mentoring relationship. Emmett lived with the Kehoe family between 1906-1918, except for a two-year period, when Emmett was ‘baching it’ in a boarding house with friends (1909-1910). It was more like Emmett was a member of the Kehoe family. Indeed, Kehoe’s great-grandson Mike once told me in a telephone interview that his grandparents, Walter and Jennie Jenkins Kehoe, “thought the world of Emmett. That’s why they named their youngest son and my favorite uncle, for him.”

Walter and Emmett’s older brother, Cephas, were law partners in Marianna for several years before Walter was named States’ Attorney around 1902, and moved to Pensacola. (As luck would have it with Emmett, Cephas’ law practice now had an opening — and in two years, when Emmett graduated from Stetson University, he became Cephas’ junior law partner.) Walter, therefore, knew Emmett since boyhood; knew his character, his intelligence, his potential — Walter knew and saw the REAL Emmett Wilson — the Emmett Wilson pre-alcoholic disaster.

Emmett’s ‘home address’ is actually the Kehoe’s address. Also, that’s the Kehoe’s phone number. Emmett didn’t have his own, separate line. Source: Ancestry.com

As with any ‘family’ relationship, it was loving, frustrating,  agonizing, painful — but it was honest — and the relationship between Emmett and Walter was one of the few consistencies in Emmett’s life.

Even though I know Walter and Jennie Kehoe were good to Emmett — Emmett was always treated as if he was a member of the Kehoe family — Walter had political aspirations too, and knew that a partnership with the Wilsons (Cephas primarily, but if not with Cephas, then Emmett) would likely propel him into the United States Congress, which was Walter’s ultimate goal. Walter’s continued partnership with Cephas was preferred for obvious reasons: Emmett was a neophyte in 1906, when he moved to Pensacola, an alcoholic, and immature on several levels. But the idea then (as now, sometimes) was that with a consistent home, and maybe a good woman to make it happen, Emmett would straighten up, stop drinking (or at least curtail it), settle down, and everyone’s political/power dreams would be realized.

Walter and Jennie did their best to help Emmett settle down — they even went so far as to introduce Emmett to ‘suitable’ women, and at one point, pushed, er, encouraged him strongly, to ask one young woman from Columbus, Georgia they deemed suitable to marry him. This was no grand passion or true love story between Emmett and Miss Georgia. Perhaps if it was, Emmett may have capitulated. But Emmett was inconsistent. And Miss Georgia was canny enough to realize that Emmett was too much of a project, and not her type. Besides, her Anti-Saloon League President father would certainly not welcome Emmett into the family.

But Walter and Jennie went too far — almost sabotaging their project in the works. It gets interesting — so stay tuned for the second installment on Emmett’s closest friend, J. Walter Kehoe.

 

The Gold Medal

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Source: The Stetson Collegiate, January 30, 1904.

The thin gold medal, looped with a blue silk ribbon laying across my palm was inscribed: “1st place, Interdepartmental Speech Competition.” The obverse: “Stetson University, 1904.”

I coveted this medal because last year I was the runner up to my best friend Paul Carter. I never placed first in any competition with Paul —  be it academic, athletic, romantic — I was always second.

It’s a beautiful medal. I strove to win this medal. It was my own holy Grail. If I won, I reasoned, it might fill the hole in my soul that constantly nags at me to be beat Paul. To be number one.

Only now, as I hold the medal in my hand, I realize:

The hole in my soul is still there.

This holy medal isn’t enough.

And,

Nothing may ever be enough.

I close my hand over the medal for a moment; I drop it in the wastebasket.

I Wonder

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When I first started blogging about the Emmett Wilson research project, my goal was to put his name back out into the public discussion forum, in the hopes that distant relatives or descendants (who were also doing genealogical research) would find me/him, and exchange information.

I knew that by itself, the blog wasn’t going to be as effective — if you want research to produce results, you have to be proactive — so I simultaneously launched an outreach project to descendants of both Emmett’s family and friends, as well as to archivists and historians in West Florida. This combined effort has worked well. I’ve met in person and online many wonderful people — and new family members — in this effort. Everyone I’ve met has been generous and helpful sharing information, photographs, clips, and the like.

I enjoy — and prefer — writing as my main means of communication. It isn’t that I don’t like to ‘talk’ to folks (I do!), but when I write, I have a chance to reflect before I hit ‘send’.  Writing the blog gives me a chance to try out new ideas and perspectives about my research.

For example, when I first ‘met’ Emmett, I felt sorry for him, and angry for him! I remember thinking (while reading his obituaries on microfilm for the first time): Poor, misunderstood young man. I even wrote those words in my notes that afternoon at the American University library, as I scrolled through the film. This was, of course, before I learned that he died pretty much by his own hand — drinking himself to death. I didn’t know him at all in those days.

I thought I could get to know Emmett this way, through reading about him, hopefully some of it in his own words, too. But alas, there’s very little of him, in his own words (save for the elusive scrapbook of his that may be floating around out there, somewhere).

And while I feel as if I know something about him, there’s so much I don’t know, and that is intimidating me, 100 years after his death. I know a lot of details about him, but there’s so much I still don’t know. I wonder:

  • why he persisted in a career that he was fundamentally unready to embark upon;
  • why he always seemed alone even in a crowd of admirers, both male and female;
  • why he seemed to always have an ‘escape’ from personal commitment when people got too close;
  • why he ultimately drank himself to death.

I’m not sure I’ll ever find the answers to these questions. Whether or not I do, the discovery of this long-lost cousin, and the journey to understand him — and myself — has been a worthwhile project.