A structure worth saving

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As far as I know, most of my friends in the Florida panhandle survived Hurricane Michael. I’ve heard from almost everyone — thank goodness, all seem to have fared pretty well, given the severity of the storm.

Friends in Pensacola tell me they were lucky; Hurricane Michael didn’t affect them much. Others in Chipley report many trees down and some property damage, along with inconveniences related to interrupted utilities, blocked roads, and so forth. As one colleague said to me via email last night, “It wasn’t pretty, but all in all, it will be OK. We’re all fine. Things can be replaced, but people cannot.”

Marianna, unfortunately, was hit badly. Many buildings were destroyed; one news report said it looked as if a bomb had gone off in Jackson County, Florida, it was that bad.

And, unfortunately, Cephas’s old office, the building in Marianna still standing with a true Emmett Wilson connection, was significantly damaged.

Cephas’ old office, on the right. The front wall to the top floor is missing, and it’s hard to tell the extent of the damage to the structure. Source: https://postimg.cc/jWW1JwNx

Here’s what Cephas’ office looked like in October 2015, when I took the photo below:

Cephas’ old office has the bright blue awning.

I hope the current owner will be able to save it. Cephas built the red brick structure around 1909. When I visited the office with the awesome Sue Tindel, I took several photos from that second floor, which was unfinished, but had a great view of the courthouse across the street.

Obviously, not the original courthouse where Emmett and Cephas worked; but the current courthouse is on the original site.

A lot of damage especially to the ancient oaks. Source: Jeffrey Burlew, Tallahasee Democrat

I hope Cephas’ old office can be saved.

 

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Confirmation

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The original Pensacola Hospital.

Piled high with boxes, the floor thick with dust and recently scraped paint chips, this room, like much of the building, is a work-in-progress. Aaron Ritz, one of the owners, has been hard at work all morning; he’s determined to bring his patient, Pensacola’s landmark 1915 Gothic Revival hospital built by the Daughters of Charity, back to life.

I’m here to find the room where my ancestor, Emmett Wilson, was a patient in 1918. I have Emmett’s admission records, but I dread finding his room, because it absolutely confirms my research.

Aaron bends over in paint-splattered coveralls to open a drawer in a low cabinet; he gingerly sifts the brittle original blueprints — water and rust have not damaged the clarity of the drawings. He pauses, peers closely at one page — “Here,” he says, with satisfaction. “There’s two patient rooms on the basement level, next to the electric therapy room.”  He notes that these patient rooms had a separate vestibule, which was unusual.

The vestibule in between the patient rooms in the alcoholic ward.

“It was for security purposes, as some patients would likely have been restrained,” I said.

After reviewing the blueprints, Aarons escorts me downstairs. The original terrazzo floors echo our footsteps as Aaron points out faded Tudor arches, and radiant tiger oak window frames. To lighten the mood, I ask if he thought the arches were to accommodate the Sister’s tall, winged cornettes, which were often as wide as the Sister’s shoulders.

As we reach the basement, Aaron points out the rooms from the blueprint. I thank him; he heads upstairs back to work, leaving me to explore.

The basement’s cool calmness quells my anxiety — it was probably a good place for patients like Emmett, who were desperately seeking peace and tranquility from their demons. It isn’t lost on me that patients in this ward — the alcoholic ward — were sequestered from the rest of the hospital on purpose. The quarantine is poignant: I know that Emmett’s final months were also spent in isolation, as his family and friends had given up on him, unable to convince Emmett to heal himself, to achieve sobriety.

Emmett’s room was down this hallway.

But Emmett knew he was dying of alcoholism almost a year to the date of his death. I saw it in the words of his last will and testament: A terse, pathetic document that dispensed with his worldly goods in less than two pages. He didn’t have much in his life; he didn’t have much at the end. Not even family, really. He was brought unconscious to Pensacola Hospital by strangers on May 25, 1918.

Hesitantly, apprehensively, I touch the door of what was Emmett’s room. I close my eyes, and try to image what he was feeling, or thinking.

When Emmett came to, God only knows what he thought, as he was in the throes of delirium tremens: Irrational, raving, and likely strapped down to his iron bed. He was probably shocked to see a dove-like cornette hovering over him, as the Sister-nurse ministered to him. 

Was it possible that in the throes of his delirium, Emmett, like King David, prayed for the wings of a dove, so that he could fly away and be at rest? Did he know that the end was near, and that the Sisters were there to ease his passing?

Perhaps, as he closed his eyes for the final time, Emmett realized his prayers were answered.

Dual Classification

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One of the more curious (to me) stories about Emmett Wilson’s education centers around his attendance at West Florida Seminary in Tallahassee, Florida.

Sometime around 1899 (when he was about 17 years old), Emmett applied for admission to West Florida Seminary, minus a high school diploma. It wasn’t unheard of for a student to do this, if he or she was well prepared, but it was significantly more difficult minus that last year of secondary education. Emmett didn’t skip his senior year at Chipley High School because he was a prodigy (sorry, Emmett), but because there weren’t enough teachers at the school for that senior class.

On average, the public high schools in Washington County, Florida were in session for four months. The county wasn’t wealthy, and had neither the mandate nor the tax base to support public schools at that time. (This wasn’t always the situation in Washington County, Florida schools, but it happened during what was supposed to be Emmett’s last year in high school.)

Paul Carter, about 1900, from the WFS yearbook, The Argo. Source: FSU Archive

Emmett could have waited to graduate high school the following year, but he was impatient and ready to get on with his life, preferably in an urban area, to do something ‘big’ and important with himself. Emmett’s best friend, Paul Carter, would head off to Alabama Polytechnic (later Auburn University) in 1899. Paul was a year younger than Emmett, and there seems to have always been a bit of good-natured competitiveness between them — maybe also a bit of jealousy on Emmett’s part towards his best friend.

Without a high school diploma in hand, Emmett would have had to have passed an entrance exam, in addition to his application for admission to West Florida Seminary. Tuition was free to Florida residents, but students had to pay other fees, and the entrance (and final) exams were notoriously tough. Emmett may not have been ‘brilliant’ (as he was occasionally lauded in contemporary press), but he was smart, and made it past the testing gauntlet.

Although tuition was free, students still had to pay for expenses, $10 a month room, board, including sanitary plumbing! Source: Florida State University, Argo, 1902

Once in, Emmett had to doubly prove himself, as he was classified both as a high school senior and a Freshman:

From the 1899-1900 catalog of The Seminary West of the Suwannee (better known as West Florida Seminary). Source: FSU Digital Repository

Emmett’s dual classification continued into his second year at WFS:

“F.C.” stood for “Freshman Class — Classical Studies” and “S.C.” stood for “Sophomore Class — Classical Studies.” The end result after four years with this curriculum at WFS was the Bachelor of Arts degree. Source: FSU Digital Repository

Emmett’s name never appeared on the honor roll while at WFS; nor did he earn any awards for perfect attendance, or academic proficiency. He was most likely an average student, and he probably struggled mightily with some of the required courses (Latin AND Greek, for example). Emmett did not return to WFS after only half completing his Sophomore year.

What I think is interesting about this example of dual classification in Emmett’s early college career is that, on reflection, Emmett’s life always seemed to be pulled in two or more directions. For instance, in the research, I’ve noticed a sort-of tug-of-war between the Lawyer Emmett and the Politician Emmett. He loved the law, but hated the political part of it. He would have been content, I think, to hole up in a judge’s chambers and do research all day long, or write, even. Emmett was a loner most of his life, and it seems uncomfortable dealing with people outside of his immediate, tight, trusted circle of friends and family. Kind of odd for a man who chose to embrace a vocation that involved dealing with the public, and/or being a public servant for a large part of his career.

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

Jerry Williams Carter, Serving Punch

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Jerry Williams Carter, also known as the “Old Campaigner,” was Emmett Wilson’s campaign manager in 1912.

Source: St. Petersburg Times, March 12, 1966, via Google Newspapers

Emmett and Carter had something in common: The 1912 Third District Congressional race was the first political campaign for both men. I’m curious how Emmett and Carter met, but I’m not surprised. Emmett was considered a rising star in early 20th century West Florida politics. Carter, a Singer sewing machine salesman who connected well with the general public, wanted to switch careers. Both young men were well known, motivated, ambitious. I can see why the Florida Democratic party leadership probably put Emmett and Carter together.

No one expected Emmett to do as well as he did against the incumbent Dannite Mays in the first primary (there were supposed to be two primary elections in 1912, with the two Democratic party winners facing off in June), but Mays withdrew from second primary only 48 hours after Emmett’s strong showing. Both Emmett and Carter’s hard work and ambition paid off.

Mays Withdraws. Source: The Pensacola Journal via Chronicling America.gov

Ambition and hard work did wonders for Carter, as he eventually ran for U.S. Senate and Governor, but successfully became a Public Service Commissioner, serving several terms.

Carter for Senator, 1926. Source: Florida Memory.com

Carter for Governor, 1932. Source: Florida Memory.com

Although Carter had a long and successful career as a public service commissioner, Carter’s family was his true pride and joy.

Jerry and Mary Frances Hope Holifield, on their wedding day, 1907. Source: Florida Memory.com

Jerry and Mary Frances Carter, 1925. Source: Florida Memory.com

The Carter family at home; Jerry and Mary Frances had seven boys! Source: Florida Memory.com

The Carter’s 50th wedding anniversary. Source: Florida Memory.com

Jerry enjoyed an active role in Florida politics throughout his busy, successful life.

Jerry, far right, in 1964. Source: Florida Memory.com

The best find about Jerry: He was a feisty, outspoken guy — someone you’d definitely want on your side, or running your campaign.

Jerry, age 74, serving punch. I wish I could have met him in person. Source: Find-a-grave.com

Carter’s descendants donated his papers to the Florida State University archive in Tallahassee. I’m dying to take a look at Carter’s letters and memorabilia. Perhaps there’s postcards from Emmett; maybe photos of the two men together after the Emmett was elected in November, 1912; perhaps there’s punchy dialog in the correspondence between Emmett and Jerry!

I can’t wait to look through the papers on my next visit to Florida!

 

 

Hathitrust Digital Library

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Another ‘new to me’ excellent source worth sharing:

Just testing it out, here’s what was returned when I typed “Emmett Wilson” into the search bar:

Congressional Directory for the 63rd Congress, 1st Session. Source: HathiTrust Digital Library

I’ve seen this resource before in Archive.org, but this document search/reading tool is outstanding. On the left hand menu screen (not shown in this image) you also are given options to find the book in a library, or to purchase it (from third-party sources), or download the whole book from the site.

Something else interesting from the search results:

Emmett’s committee met on January 10, 1917. But Emmett wasn’t present. Source: HathiTrust Digital Library

At the end of Emmett’s congressional tenure, he’d been appointed to the dreaded Committee on the District of Columbia, which was considered one of the least prestigious committees upon which to serve. [Although Emmett was still on the Banking and Currency Committee, he was mostly a no-show at this committee (and on the Hill) because of his health emergency in December 1914.]