that which is most familiar

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“We seek out what is familiar and comfortable emotionally, even though what is familiar and comfortable may not be healthy.” — Carolyn Hax, The Washington Post, June 2018

Everyone does this, alcoholic or not.

“Fixing” Emmett’s unhealthy drinking habit would have been possible if he’d had help with a competent therapist, and, if he’d been willing to hear the truth about his disease (and not just what he’d want to hear about it). Physicians and therapists back in Emmett’s day (psychiatrists were called ‘alienists’, which probably didn’t help further the notion that talking to a therapist was socially acceptable — it’s still an uncomfortable notion even in the enlightened 21st century) understood alcoholism about as much as modern physicians and therapists do.

Alcoholics in Emmett’s day were considered outcasts, both mentally and morally deficit. The idea that alcoholism was a disease, like diabetes, was new in the early 20th century. Source: Psychology Today

True, we have more pharmaceuticals available today to address the symptoms, but no one knows the cure to alcohol addiction, other than complete abstinence.

Two questions that keep coming back about Emmett, five years into the research: Did he realize he had a drinking problem? and, Did Emmett want to stop drinking?

Re the first question: He definitely realized there was a problem as of December, 1914. But it wasn’t rheumatism, as his PR posse informed the press:

Rheumatism. Really? Source: Ocala Banner, Dec 22, 1914.

Re the second question: Emmett might have liked drinking, liked the taste of alcohol. Perhaps he didn’t want to stop drinking, but I’m sure he wanted to stop being an alcoholic. Nobody wants that.

The only way I’d really know is to ask Emmett directly, which, of course, can’t happen. There’s his elusive scrapbooks or journals to consult (if I ever find them), but still, even with that information, I’d probably not have the whole understanding about what Emmett.

One thing I do have is a copy of his will, in Emmett’s own words, complete with his typos and edits. From that, we can tell that above all else, Emmett had integrity, and was trying to do the next right thing, and, that Emmett knew he was a hopeless case — well, maybe not hopeless. But by June 1917, I’m sure Emmett knew he didn’t have long.

Emmett’s will, as it appears in the Florida probate documents. Filed June 1, 1918 by his brother, Cephas Love Wilson, executor. He left the bulk of his estate to Jennie Jenkins Kehoe, who was, essentially, a surrogate mother to Emmett. Source: Ancestry.com

“We seek out what is familiar and comfortable emotionally, even though what is familiar and comfortable may not be healthy.”

To Emmett: Booze was comfortable, living with the Kehoes (instead of his own family) was comfortable, being a loner was comfortable, being a workaholic was comfortable, remaining unattached was comfortable. With most people, none of these ‘comforts’ would be considered negatives unless taken to excess, and with Emmett, all of these were taken to excess, particularly the alcohol.

I wish I knew what it was Emmett was trying to soothe with these different kinds of comforts.

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100 Years Ago Today

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The front page of The Pensacola Journal, 100 years ago today. If you click on the link here, you’ll see the entire front page as it was on May 29, 1918.

Here’s a better look at Emmett’s death notice:

The Pensacola Journal, May 29, 1918, page one.

Emmett’s death notice was obviously unexpected and thrown together with few complete details as The Pensacola Journal‘s first (and only edition) of morning newspaper was going to press.

  • “Following a very short illness….” Those who were closest to him knew that what actually killed Emmett had been killing him for years, and Emmett’s “poor health” had been reported in  West Florida papers for several years. In fact, this was one of the reasons reported in earlier versions of The Pensacola Journal and other Florida papers why “he decided” not to run for a third term.
  • “…died at 12:25 o’clock this morning…” Emmett’s death took place right as the paper was going to press. The position of the death notice in the paper is interesting and important: Right above the fold, but not a top headline. The story was important, as Emmett was a recent U.S. Congressman, and his sudden (and mostly unexpected) death definitely newsworthy. There had definitely been last minute reworking of the front page by the composition editors.
  • …aged 36 years.” Emmett was actually 35. The late night copy editor didn’t know Emmett personally.
  • “Of course no funeral arrangements had been perfected….” Because this was unexpected. Although Emmett’s health had been deteriorating for years, it seems likely that he’d experienced several similar scenarios (for lack of a better description) and family or friends had not thought this was anything new. Or life threatening. I believe that only Emmett, and perhaps one or two others, really knew that Emmett was dying of alcoholism in 1918.
  • “It is probable remains will be held pending….” The late night copy editor was scrambling a bit to fill available text box space. What else would Pensacola Hospital do with a former congressman?
  • “Deceased from (sic) born….” The typo is another clue the copy editor was scrambling. But the bigger clues that this caught everyone off guard is that the second paragraph was taken from Emmett’s official U.S. Congressional Directory biography in 1913, and not more recent sources, because the death notice doesn’t include any information about his second term.
  • Emmett’s photo is from his 1912 congressional primary campaign. There had been several high-quality photos of Emmett taken while in Congress and certainly provided to the media free of charge. It’s curious why a more recent photograph was not used — unless it was just overlooked in the haste to put the May 29, 1918 edition to bed.

 

Frank L. Mayes of The Pensacola Journal. Champion grudge holder.

Once upon a time, back in 1912, Emmett was a good friend of Frank Mayes, political kingmaker, and editor and publisher of The Pensacola Journal. Emmett had been Mayes’ prodigy; he was intended to serve as Mayes’ entree into the Woodrow Wilson’s inner circle.

But there had been a major falling out around October, 1914, and Mayes basically washed his hand of his prodigy. After that, Mayes stopped running regular articles in his paper about Emmett — and when news necessitated mentioning Emmett, Mayes never mentioned his name, referring to Emmett instead as the Third District’s Congressman. Mayes knew that indifference was more damaging politically and professionally to Emmett than anything.

I also believe Mayes knew his indifference hurt Emmett personally, too. Frank Mayes was a smart fellow, he was an excellent ‘read’ of people because he got to know them well. Mayes was also the guy who never forgot a slight, and he knew the best way to get folks to do his bidding. Manipulative? Probably. That’s not meant to be a put-down; that character description often comes with the political kingmaker job title.

I mention the angst between Frank Mayes and Emmett Wilson because in 1918, Mayes’ widow Lois was running The Pensacola Journal, and she had no illusions about the relationship between her late husband and Emmett: Emmett wasn’t useful to Frank, and so The Pensacola Journal had no use for Emmett, either.

Source: The Pensacola Journal, May 29, 1918, page 1, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

When Frank died in February 1915, he had been on a mission to separate himself from the mistake of supporting a candidate unprepared to hold national office. That meant breaking away from Emmett’s supporters, like Walter Kehoe, as well. If you look at the front page layout for May 29, 1918, notice the article about a debate between Walter and John Smithwick right under Emmett’s death notice. Kehoe is running for reelection for Emmett’s old congressional seat against Smithwick — and Smithwick declared the winner of the debate — no surprise, since The Pensacola Journal endorsed Smithwick over Kehoe for the primary election.

 

The Pensacola (Fla.) Memorial Association

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In the continuing saga of rechecking all sources that have some connection to Emmett Wilson, I found this interesting article about the dedication of the Florida window in Blandford Church, Petersburg, Virginia. (I blogged about this road trip, here.)

Source: The Confederate Veteran, Volume 20, page 406, via Google Books.com

The article contains interesting history about the association, as well as details about the dedication. Julia Anderson Maxwell and Emmett Wilson were cousins, as both Julia and Emmett’s grandfather was Augustus Emmett Maxwell.

The window is beautiful, as is the Old Blandford Church.

Emmett’s window; also known as the Florida window. Old Blandford Church, Petersburg, Virginia

The Gift of Time

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I hate reporting this, but I’ve made little actual progress on Emmett’s manuscript since January.

My life has been mostly on hold because I’ve had to take several trips to my hometown in Mississippi to get my Dad’s affairs in order. He’s been in rehab after his fall in January, so he hasn’t been able to do beyond his hospital room.

But as of yesterday, Dad is out of the hospital and I completed the move from his home of 32 years into a retirement community. It’s done.

Finally.

Looking back, I’m surprised at how much time this whole project took. What really helped was good, old fashioned research skills.  In January, to keep myself from going crazy with all the details from 850 miles away, I created a set of “Dad spreadsheets” relating to the move. I categorized everything: Utilities, furniture distribution, contributions to charity, packing, social workers, you name it. As we drew closer to the actual move date, it was the most satisfying thing to check off items as they were completed. It made the whole process run like clockwork.

Also: The spreadsheets made the move understandable, more acceptable for my Dad. Whenever he’d get nervous or antsy, I’d just give Dad the move-related file folders and charts, and the logical, ordered information calmed him down. Helped him accept the change that was happening, whether he liked it or not.

These simple charts made our lives a lot easier. In the end, Dad didn’t argue with me about the move anymore. And the day before the move, Dad was (finally) more accepting. He told me: “I’m good with this. You’ve obviously got this in hand.”

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Constructing Emmett’s story has also taken a lot of time — five years, so far. The time involved in collecting the data is one thing; but it takes almost as long (if not longer) to organize seemingly disparate pieces into a logical, detailed timeline of events, and unfortunately, I underestimated that part of the research process. Here again, spreadsheets to the rescue. To keep myself from going insane with the (literally) thousands of pieces of Emmett information, I created something I call “Emmett’s Life Timeline” in spreadsheet.

I use a basic spreadsheet program with my own headings. Information is organized by year.

In addition to Emmett-specific information is context: I’ve added the comings/goings/activities of who I believe are the important people in his life within the same spreadsheets.

Another example from “Emmett’s Life Timeline” spreadsheets.

Now that things have settled down, I’m happy and grateful to return to Emmett’s story.

Both of these transitions (Dad from house to assisted living and Emmett from obscurity to research) have taken more time than I expected. But the extended time has been a benefit — a gift, really, in both instances. I feel pretty good about how Dad’s situation turned out (even though he’s still in adjustment mode). I also feel good about the status of Emmett’s story, even though it isn’t finished. Both projects are coming together — maybe not seamlessly — but they are falling into proper place.

Wise Wiselogels

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Here’s the obituary for Louis Wiselogel, father of Lula Wiselogel Wilson Grether, Emmett’s sister-in-law. I found it while I was looking for something else (naturally)!

Source: St. Andrews Bay News, December 12, 1935, page four, via Florida’s Hidden Treasures.

Lula married Emmett’s older brother, big shot politician and gubernatorial candidate Cephas Love Wilson in 1893.

Lula Wiselogel Wilson. Source: FloridaMemory.com

It was not an easy marriage for Lula; a modest, lovely and unassuming woman, she was in the spotlight as often as her husband Cephas, and suffered the humiliation of his infidelities joked about in the Florida state newspapers.

One Wilson family genealogy mentioned that the gossip about Lula and Cephas was ‘terrible’ during the early 1900s, as she filed for divorce at least once because of Cephas’ caddish ways.

I’m sure Louis Wiselogel took Lula’s side, but I wonder how he counseled her to stick with the marriage, knowing how painful and tough it was on his daughter.

I can also imagine Louis telling Lula, while she had reason to sue for divorce, and no one who knew Lula would have blamed her for leaving, divorce was unheard of for a woman of her social standing. Louis probably told her while this was an untenable situation, she had to make the best decision not just for herself, but also for her family.

Cephas Love Wilson Sr. died on June 25, 1923. About two years later, Lula was remarried to a widower, John D. Grether, of Jacksonville. From all reports, Lula and John Grether were happily married.

What I think is interesting about the obituary is one of the pall bearers — Ira Martin. Ira was Lula’s former son-in-law; her daughter Kathleen’s first husband whom she wed at 15, and divorced by 25.

By 1930, Ira and Kathleen had remarried other people, but Lula and her father apparently remained fond of Ira. Divorce was still considered a big deal in the 1930s, but by this point, it seems Lula and her father wouldn’t have advocated sticking with a no-win situation.

That they understood that some relationships simply don’t work out.

Cephas Love Wilson’s son-in-law, Ira Martin, with Cephas’ grandson, Ira Jr., in 1917. This was taken in front of Cephas’ house, on Jefferson Street. Source: Ancestry.com

And that family isn’t always defined by a marriage license or blood connection.

Wedding Anniversary

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Happy Anniversary!

Frank Maxwell Wilson and Louise Mildred Brown, April 17, 1918. Source: Ancestry.com

I just happened to be checking back into different databases for updated information, and the date on this document jumped out at me!

Frank Maxwell Wilson was the son of Emmett’s older brother, Everard Meade Wilson, who died rather suddenly of pulmonary tuberculosis in 1914. This wedding took place in Fulton County, Georgia; it is unlikely Emmett attended this wedding because he was in poor health.

Dr. Wilson and the U.C.V. Reunion, July 1908

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A scan from a limited production book, A Treasury of Family Heritage, compiled and edited by Martha B. McKnight. Copyright 1992 by Milton Dekle Everette. Copy provided by Joan Chance.

That’s Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, and acquaintances prior to a reunion for Confederate Army veterans in Scottsville, Virginia. Dr. Wilson and his friends boarded the train from Chipley on or about July 19, 1908 to attend the reunion, which was held July 21, 1908.

Family records indicate that Dr. Wilson was, in fact, wearing his original wool uniform on that hot, humid day. Duty and honor to the memory of their fallen comrades over comfort, I suppose.

Panoramic photograph of the rally and reunion of Confederate veterans in Scottsville, Virginia on July 21, 1908. Source: Scottsvile Museum

Here’s a direct quote about the reunion courtesy of the Scottsville Museum website:

An entry in the Minute Book of Henry Gantt Camp No. 75 describes the reunion’s beginning as follows: “The line formed in front of Town Hall and marched to the grounds just outside the village where a large crowd of people of the town and surrounding county had gathered to greet the veterans.  Hon. W.D. Patteson delivered the address of welcome, after which Judge R. T. W. Duke (of Charlottesville) in his usual bright and happy style introduced the Hon. Capt. Micajah Woods (of Charlottesville, formerly a lieutenant in Jackson’s Battery of Horse Artillery), the principal orator of the day.”

Dr. Wilson was a member of the 11th Alabama Infantry. While he would have likely attended reunions in Alabama, his family was originally from Lunenburg County, Virginia. A reunion in nearby Albemarle County would have provided a great opportunity to visit siblings and other relatives.

Emmett’s father, Dr. F.C. Wilson. Officially, Dr. Wilson was a private during his service in the Confederate Army, but family records indicate he earned a brevet promotion on the battlefield. No one is sure who chiseled the “PVT” from the plaque, but we know it wasn’t Emmett.

Dr. Wilson played an active role in the Camp McMillan Chapter of the United Confederate Veterans. He attended several other reunions, notable one in New Orleans, and attended regular meetings. Minutes were often posted in the local paper.

Proceedings from a UCV meeting in Chipley Florida, January 1913. Source: The Chipley Banner