June 23, 1891

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Emmett’s mother, Elizabeth V. Wilson.

On June 22, 1891, Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, returned to Chipley, and his family, after a four-month separation. Dr. Wilson had been in Kentucky, attending medical school for one semester, to obtain a now-required medical credential so that he could continue to practice medicine in Florida.

The separation was a hardship for the family. The family was dependent on Dr. Wilson’s salary, and his absence meant money would be tight for awhile. Also, it meant Elizabeth would single-parent 10 children, manage Dr. Wilson’s medical practice (maintaining records, paying bills, providing nursing services when necessary, and so forth), and run the household. But Elizabeth was resilient and strong. She was not a stranger to difficult situations; I’m sure she told Dr. Wilson that she would manage just fine, everyone would pitch in, and not to worry. Things would be back to normal in only a few months.

And indeed, on June 23, 1891, things seemed back to normal for the family. That morning, Dr. Wilson immediately resumed his medical practice.  He hitched his horse to his buggy, packed his medical bag, and invited Elizabeth to come along with him as he made his rounds in Chipley.

Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson, about 1865.

I imagine Dr. Wilson wanted to spend some quality time with Elizabeth, as they rode out together in the buggy along the dirt roads of Washington County, on that warm, sunny day in June.

We can imagine Elizabeth catching Dr. Wilson up on all the family activities and news. Theirs was definitely a love match — I imagine them talking about how much they missed each other. It is easy to imagine Dr. Wilson telling his beloved Elizabeth that would make it up to her for keeping everything together so well all by herself, especially now that he was home for good.

Midday, Dr. Wilson and Elizabeth rode into downtown Chipley, and stopped at a drugstore, to get a cool drink. One of the storekeepers brought the drink out to Elizabeth — she drank it — then collapsed, unconscious.

Dr. Wilson took Elizabeth immediately to the nearest house, where the neighbors put Elizabeth in bed right away.

Despite all his best efforts, Elizabeth never regained consciousness; she died several hours later.

It is not known what Elizabeth drank at the drugstore. Some family members believe she died of an aneurysm, but because an autopsy was not performed, the cause of death was not conclusive.

Medical History

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Yesterday’s essay about Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, spurred me to pay a visit to one of the best-kept museum secrets here in metro Washington, D.C.: The National Museum of Health and Medicine.

National Museum of Health and Medicine. Photo source: http://www.go4travelblog.com

Just so you know — this is not a museum for the faint of heart or the weak-stomached. But this is a great place to visit if you are interested in how medicine was practiced during The Civil War, and how one learned to practice medicine via an apprenticeship (as was the case with Dr. Wilson).

This post is quite picture heavy; I think the photos best tell the story of what you can learn from this museum.

 

 

Photographs that accompanied case studies.

 

 

 

The box of slides containing tissue of the tumor that was in Ulysses S. Grant’s throat. Grant was a heavy smoker and was diagnosed with throat cancer in February, 1885; despite the removal of the tumor, the cancer had advanced and he died in July, 1885.

 

A type of microscope that Dr. Wilson might have used in his medical practice.

There are several displays of battlefield injuries from The Civil War, complete with the original bullet intact. This part of the museum is disquieting when you realize the artifacts were, once, human beings.

 

 

Several of the displays identify the actual battle where the injuries were received. For the record, Dr. Wilson was at Spotsylvania, as well as the Battle of the Crater.

Also on display is the bullet that killed Abraham Lincoln.

 

Pocket surgical kit belonging to Dr. Mary Walker.

Yikes.

Portable dental and autopsy kits.

No wonder most of the casualties of The Civil War were due to infection.

An X-ray tube. Dr. Wilson might have used something like this in his practice.

There are several other displays in the museum dedicated to Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (or MASH units), military nursing (truly excellent), and a presentation on how recent flu epidemics are actual variations (‘descendants’) of the original 1918 pandemic.

Aside from coming away from the museum with a greater appreciation for modern medicine (and good health!), the visit made me curious about how Dr. Wilson got interested in medicine in the first place. Dr. Wilson was a private with the infantry during The Civil War; neither connected to a medical unit nor assigned to a hospital.

What I know from the family records is that a) Dr. Wilson did not talk about his experiences as a soldier and b) when he did, it was only about when he was with Robert E. Lee at the surrender at Appomattox.

I wish I could ask him about his experiences.

Portrait of a Father

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Dr. Francis C. Wilson, Emmett’s father, taking it easy in the back yard, @ 1895, Chipley, Florida. Check out that corn cob pipe!

This photograph of Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, was taken on a sunny afternoon — maybe Father’s Day — around 1895.

His eyes are open, and they appear to be focused on the long corn cob pipe. I wonder if he whittled that pipe himself? Or perhaps one of his sons — Emmett? — carved it for him?

I like to think that in this photo, Dr. Wilson is glad to be off his feet and relaxing after a full day seeing of patients. Dr. Wilson had regular office hours — his home office may have been the building behind him, to the left — but he was a full-service physician who spent about a third of his time on Washington County roads.

Imagine what he had to include in his medical bag when he was on the road: Dr. Wilson treated everything from measles to yellow fever; he set broken bones, delivered babies, amputated limbs, counseled the depressed and addicted, embalmed the dead. He even performed emergency dentistry when necessary.

Here, Dr. Wilson is wearing his straw hat (a necessity when traveling for hours on the hot, dusty Florida back roads) and his white lab coat over a white shirt and suspenders, the coat bunched up a little in the back. Interesting that he’s still dressed for this office in this most casual of photos. (I have no information who took the photo, but the photographer is in the lower right hand corner of the shot, was likely one of the Wilson children.)

Of all the photos I have of the stately and serious Dr. Wilson, I like this one the best, because it illustrates something completely different for me — Dr. Wilson taking a break, which is something I don’t believe he did much, as the recently widowed, sole support of 10 children. Maybe that’s why he’s still wearing his hat and lab coat in the photo: Because he wasn’t comfortable relaxing completely.

The background information I have about this period in the Wilson family was that Dr. Wilson was channeling his grief at the loss of his wife Elizabeth into his work during this time — an absentee father who would strive to keep his emotions and feelings in check. Neighbors and friends would comment on how noble and dignified Dr. Wilson was after his devastating loss.

Obviously, Dr. Wilson loved his family, and dealt with his grief in the best way he knew how. Unfortunately, this would not have been something 13-year-old Emmett would have understood or realized at the time, and I believe this affected the relationship he had with his father, for theirs was a distant, formal relationship.

But in the end, Emmett cared about his father, as he made provision for him in his will, even while dying of alcoholism, and even after his father had basically washed his hands of Emmett.

Dr. Wilson was a tough, resilient, practical man who would sacrifice personal comfort and happiness for the good of his family. Perhaps Emmett recognized what was going on with his father toward the end of his life.

“Mega-talented, but self-destructive”

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My friend, the wonderful Sue Tindel, of the Jackson County (Florida) Circuit Clerk’s Office, used the title of today’s post to describe someone she knew once, who ironically, was also an alcoholic (but in recovery).

The person she was describing was also, ironically, the same age as Emmett when he died of said disease.

I like this description, as I think it really sums up Emmett’s character. Emmett was an extremely talented, blessed, fortunate individual. Some newspapers (specifically, The Pensacola Journal), called him “brilliant.” Emmett had everything going for him.

And yet, his tragic character flaw was that he was self-destructive.

He had opportunities literally given to him; opportunities attached to money, prestige, fame, fortune, all of the things he wanted desperately while he was slogging away at the telegraph key as a teenager, and in law school, working his way through.

It is frustrating, sometimes, as I look back over the notes and the outline of the book. You can see the train wreck before it happens with Emmett!  Of course, it is easy to recognize problems 100 years after they’ve happened, but I have to believe that his close friends and advisors saw (at least) some of the warning signs with Emmett before they became full-blown crises. Emmett had some good advisors; he had some crummy ones, as well; maybe that was part of his self-destructive nature, in that he chose badly.

See, here’s the thing I’ve come to understand about Emmett:

He was an entirely logical thinker when it came to his work and his career. He wouldn’t let anything or anyone distract him from his main goal in life: The Florida Supreme Court bench. If it (a personal connection, a law case, a social event) would further his career, he would go for it.

Once he set a goal for himself, he threw himself into that goal, mastered the project or case, and then — and this is the odd part about Emmett — got bored with it. Next, he’d detach himself from it — mentally if not physically.

True, he understood that everything he was doing along he way was simply a set of milestones on the way to the Florida Supreme Court bench. But it seems like he couldn’t tap into the psychological stamina and patience to bear it (even when the going got boring), to find a way to enjoy it, make it his own without an external stimulant.

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Was Emmett Wilson ‘brilliant’?

No. (Sorry, Emmett.)

If Emmett were truly brilliant, he’d have had more emotional/psychological maturity. Some of this wasn’t exactly Emmett’s fault: He was, according to several sources, being pushed up the political ladder faster and at a younger age than anyone before (for example, he was the youngest District Attorney in the United States in 1907), and, it was also reported, before he was ready. Emmett wasn’t quite ready, but he was listening to the crummy advisors, and doing their bidding.

If Emmett were truly brilliant, he’d have seen this, too. He’d have seen that he was being pushed beyond his experience and education.

I think Emmett did see this, now and then; that he had moments of clarity with regard to the heights he’d climbed politically, socially, professionally, with not much of a safety net beneath him, other than whoever it was manipulating the puppet strings of his life. Those moments of clarity scared the hell out him.

If he screwed up, there would be definitely be hell to pay, and his dream of occupying the same bench as his revered grandfather, would be dashed.

Emmett had the talent, definitely; he could do the work he was given. But he was mostly acting the part he was assigned.

Emmett was also, most definitely, mega-talented. He could play the role he was given; he was a good lawyer.

He wasn’t brilliant.

But he was definitely self-destructive.

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).

Emmett’s Will

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One hundred years ago today, almost exactly a year to his death, Emmett wrote his will.

Emmett’s will, as it appears in the Florida probate documents. Filed June 1, 1918 by his brother, Cephas Love Wilson, executor. Source: Ancestry.com

I have a copy of Emmett’s original will; the document was typewritten by Emmett himself, on old Banking and Currency Committee stationery that he had saved from his tenure as a U.S. Congressman. Emmett edited and corrected the errors in the single-spaced document document himself, in pen.

Emmett’s original will wasn’t dictated to a secretary, nor was it signed by witnesses, nor was it notarized.

I believe he simply went into Walter’s office in downtown Pensacola (he wasn’t practicing anymore, but I’m sure Walter let him use the office, as they shared it once as partners), and borrowed a typewriter. I think it is particularly touching that he used his own paper — stationery from when he was at the top of his professional life — and wrote his will in solitude.

For a man who was, by now, dying of alcoholism, and likely in and out of clarity, Emmett appears to have thought out carefully how he wanted his few possessions dispersed. Emmett was solvent June 1, 1917 — the date he wrote the will — and he wanted to distribute his money and property (about $7,000) to Dr. F.C. Wilson, Jennie Kehoe, and Emmett Wilson Kehoe. According to the inflation calculator, $7,000 in Emmett’s time is about $133,400 today.

Unfortunately, by the day Emmett died, on May 29, 1918, he had run out of money and was borrowing against his life insurance policy to pay everyday bills — that’s according to a letter from Cephas, which was included in Emmett’s file in Pensacola. Somehow, Emmett went through all of his money (and then some) in a year.

It is amazing to me, during what must have been a terrible, emotional and psychological time for Emmett, that he got his affairs in order knowing for certain:

He wasn’t getting married.

He wasn’t going to have his own home.

There wasn’t going to be a new political career.

There wasn’t going to be a new law practice.

And, that the end was probably coming sooner rather than later.