Celebrity Sightings, 1908


Source: The Pensacola Journal, March 3, 1908. From ChroniclingAmerica.gov

The date?   March 3, 1908, the day after Mardi Gras.
The place?  The private dining room in the The Osceola Club, Pensacola, Florida
The occasion/connection? Good question. This is another oddball jigsaw puzzle in the life of Emmett Wilson that I like to work out.

Not to sound disparaging of anyone sitting around that dinner table at The Osecola Club, but if I had to rank the attendees in terms of celebrity, it would be as follows:

  • Foster
  • Crawford
  • Harris
  • Wilson

The connection between Emmett and William Bloxham (“Billy”) Crawford is immediately obvious. Emmett and Billy were college friends, roommates and classmates at West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University) and at Stetson University’s law school.

You may recall from an earlier post that Billy Crawford was also the business manager at the Stetson University student newspaper, The Stetson Weekly Collegiate. (Undoubtedly, Billy was the one who frequently supplied news bits about his roommate, Emmett, to the student paper during their tenure at Stetson.)

“He failed utterly.” This is something Crawford would have published about Emmett for fun! Source: The Stetson Weekly Collegiate, Dec. 5, 1903.

Because Crawford was in the publishing business, it would make sense that he would meet, wine, and dine other professional and prominent writers who visited Pensacola. Crawford was prominent, not only in local social and professional circles, but also in political circles, as the son of H. Clay Crawford, Florida’s Secretary of State from 1902 to 1929. Young Billy had three things Emmett coveted all his life: Connections, access, and entree. True, Emmett hung out with Billy because it improved his ‘face value’ in Pensacola society, but it was also true that Emmett and Billy were honest-to-God friends.

Maximilian Foster. Passport photo from 1918, via Ancestry.com

Maximillian Foster was a big deal, a ‘get’ as one would say in the journalism world. He was a well-known playwright and author, whose articles appeared regularly in many popular national magazines, including the Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, and Everybody’s magazines. (You can read past copies of these magazines in Google Books, by the way.) One of his most well-known books, “Rich Man, Poor Man”, not to be confused with a different book of the same name, published in 1969 by Irwin Shaw, was eventually made into a (silent) movie. (You can read the book via Google Books at the link above. It’s a quick read; an early 20th Century version of chick lit. But I digress.)

Evelyn Harris. Source: Find-a-grave.com

Evelyn Harris was a son of the author Joel Chandler Harris, of Uncle Remus fame. On March 3, 1908, Evelyn was a marketing and advertising executive with the Southern Bell Telephone company in Atlanta.

Evelyn Harris did not have a distinguished literary career as did his father, although he wrote a booklet titled, “A Little Story about my mother, Esther LaRose Harris” in 1949. (It is in the archive at Georgia State University and Agnes Scott College.) The story behind that 65-page booklet is that Harris wrote it for his grand nieces and nephews — he and his wife Annie Louise Hawkins Harris never had children.

As facilitator of this fancy men’s dinner, I could see Billy Crawford putting Foster and Joel Chandler Harris’ son together; the senior Harris had recently launched a popular magazine, Uncle Remus’ Home Magazine, and perhaps Evelyn Harris shared interesting anecdotes about his father’s career. Alas, it would have been unlikely that Joel Chandler Harris himself would have attended this dinner: He was in poor health due to acute nephritis and complications from cirrhosis — alcoholism. He died exactly four months later, on July 3, 1908.

The date on the article about the dinner is important. The day before, March 2, 1908, Emmett was a gentleman-in-waiting in Pensacola’s Mardi Gras court. This was a huge society coup for the women mostly, but in truth, anyone who was invited to serve in the royal court of, basically, the most important social event of the year had made it, socially and politically. By now, Emmett’s political and social star was on the rise.

But the dinner article doesn’t state when the event took place. Likely it wasn’t on March 2; Emmett would have been too busy in the day-and-night-long social activities to attend a fancy dinner with a famous playwright and author.

Based on other news items about Foster and Harris in The Pensacola Journal, we can guestimate when the men were actually in town, and the date that the fancy dinner probably took place. I’d say it was likely held on March 1:

Foster is in Pensacola as of January 19. The Rev. Whaley was pastor of Christ Episcopal Church, which was Emmett’s church. Foster was on a lengthy visit in Pensacola.

Evelyn Harris is in Pensacola as of March 1 — because he didn’t work for himself, as Foster did per se, likely he wasn’t in Pensacola on a lengthy visit. Perhaps the dinner took place on March 1 or March 2. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov.



Without a Star


Worth thinking about:

‘The word disaster comes from the Latin compound of dis-, or away, without, and astro, star or planet; literally, without a star’ (Brain Pickings).


Emmett, Texter


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.




The Puzzler


The next information I have about Emmett’s nephew, Cephas Love Wilson Jr., is dated 1905 — he’s 10 years old — and back in the day, having one’s name printed in newspaper (especially The Pensacola Journal, a paper with a much larger circulation than the Marianna Times-Courier) was a big deal.

CLW Jr. was into puzzles — something I can definitely relate to. For several weeks during 1905, The Pensacola Journal offered a silver dollar to the first person (determined by postmark) who could solve the puzzle each week (a dollar in 1905 is about $27 in 2017).

Ceph Jr.’s first try at the puzzler contests found in The Pensacola Journal. June 4, 1905. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Alas, Ceph Jr. didn’t win the prize. Here were the results of the June 4 contest:

The results of the June 4 puzzler, as reported in The Pensacola Journal, June 11, 1905. Ceph Jr. was a runner-up. (Apologies for the blurry image; you can see the original here.  From ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Ceph Jr. was persistent. I have clips from several of the 1905 edition of The Pensacola Journal where he was listed as a runner-up, and always with the correct answers; always a participant, but never the winner.

Still, I admire and respect the fact he took the time to solve these brain-teasers, all without the benefit of technology, probably always on his own. I can picture Ceph Jr. energetically jumping on the puzzle as soon as his father was finished reading the paper — methodically tracking down the right answers, then rushing off to the Post Office with his sealed envelope, hoping his was the first, hoping to win the silver dollar!

Another ‘also ran’ for Ceph Jr., in the September 17, 1905 edition of The Pensacola Journal. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov


Pleas the Photographer


Charles Earl Pleas’ advertisement in the June 23, 1904 issue of The Chipley Banner.

Charles E. Pleas was a Quaker and a professional photographer who relocated to Chipley in the 1890s. He was of several professional photographers who opened studios in Chipley in the early 1900s.

Pleas was born in Indiana in 1867, the son of Elwood and Sarah Griffin Pleas. Elwood was a lumber dealer, according to the 1880 U.S. Census. An interesting biography of the Pleas family is found here.

Charles Pleas married Lillie Conley in Richmond, Indiana on February 4, 1891; according to the marriage license, he was living in Clinton, Arkansas at the time. The Pleases moved to Washington County in the mid-1890s.

Pleas maintained a professional photography business up until around 1920, when he switched to farming full time. You see, Pleas’ big claim to fame was introducing kudzu to Washington County. He developed his interest in horticulture studies into a full-time kudzu farming.

Although the invasive plant was introduced to the United States during the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, it wasn’t yet well known in the Southeast. But in 1905, Pleas, who had an extensive side interest in horticulture, thought the dense, fast-growing and inexpensive fine would provide an excellent solution to local soil erosion problems, especially since kudzu was drought-resistant. Pleas recommended it to other local farmers and landowners, since it also proved to be an inexpensive forage product for livestock. (An interesting story about kudzu, Charles Pleas, and the invasiveness of the plant can be found here).

Horticulturists report that kudzu can grow up to a foot a day. Image source: HGTV.com

Little did Pleas realize that kudzu farming would prove to be a prolific and fast-growing business, becoming the focus for the remainder of his career.

Charles remained in farming until his death in 1955.


Some of the photographs and negatives belonging to Charles Earl Pleas are located at the University of West Florida Archives. Some of the images that have been scanned in can be found at this link.

Man and woman in black, photographed by Charles E. Pleas during the 1890s. I wish there were more information available on the subjects in this photo! Source: University of West Florida Archives



Chipley’s Telephone Girl


The last time I actually spoke with a bona-fide telephone operator was about 15 years ago, and that was only after working my way through a robotic menu of options, and waiting on hold for about five minutes while listening to classic rock converted to elevator music.

It must have been interesting to be a telephone operator, also known as a “telephone girl” or “hello girl”, in the early 1900s.

A portion of an editorial about telephone girls. Source: The Pensacola Journal, February 1, 1912. http://www.chroniclingamerica.gov

There weren’t many jobs in technology for women in the early 1900s; most of the ‘socially acceptable’ jobs were teaching, nursing, stenography, or housewifery. There were women telegraphers (Emmett was a telegrapher with the Louisville & Nashville Railroad in high school, and when he was home from college during breaks), but they were a rarity, especially in rural depots. Not everyone had a telephone, and the service was haphazardLegislation was introduced in 1903 to erect telephone poles and string wires. Phones were in Chipley prior to 1903, but it took a few years for the communities to organize the utility; make things ‘official.’

A switchboard operator in Richardson, Texas, around 1900. The switchboard and operator probably looked similar in Chipley, Florida. Source: Vintage Everyday

Also, while there were telephones in Emmett’s hometown at the turn of the century, they were mostly owned by businesses and the wealthy.

But Chipley had telephone girls! One of them was Lucile Cook McGeachy.

According to The Chipley Banner, Lucile was one of the local ‘telephone girls’ before she married Stephen E. McGeachy, a pharmacist.

Stephen McGeachy, pharmacist. Did Stephen and Lucile “court” on the telephone exchange party lines? Source: The Chipley Banner, January 4, 1912; http://www.chroniclingamerica.gov

The October 13, 1904 issue of The Chipley Banner states that “Miss Lucile Cook is the voice of the telephone exchange in Chipley.” There is no other mention of her service to the telephone exchange in later issues of the paper; Lucile and Stephen were married December 27, 1904, and she may have stopped working after that date.

Marriage license of Stephen McGeachy and Lucile Cook. Source: Ancestry.com

Unfortunately, the marriage was short-lived. Lucile Cook McGeachy died in 1908.

Lucile Cook McGeachy. Source: Find-a-grave.





The Brent-Warren Wedding


Bonnie Burnham, society editor of The Pensacola Journal predicted that the wedding of Emily Brent and Alba Warren would be one of ‘the most elaborate of all the weddings’, and it was one of the first weddings held after Lent — on Easter Monday.

The Brent-Warren wedding was one of the society events of 1911. The gerund “queening” isn’t considered complimentary; I’m sure Bonnie Burnham didn’t mean it that way — or did she?  Source: The Pensacola Journal, http://www.chroniclingamerical.gov

The article mentioning the Brent-Warren wedding indicated that a Catholic wedding ceremony had to delayed until after Easter — and so it was fitting that Cora’s wedding had an Easter theme!

Source: The Pensacola Journal, http://www.chroniclingamerica.gov

Source: The Pensacola Journal; http://www.chroniclingamerica.gov

What is really great is that I found photographs of the Brent home, all decorated for the wedding!

One of the Brent-Warren descendants, Anne Field, has a web page dedicated to the Brent home, complete with wonderful photographs of the house, the room where the wedding took place, the wedding gifts (!!), and even a photograph of the cake that is described in the article above! (Thanks to Anne for permission to link to her page!)

The second photograph on the web page shows the library where the wedding took place. Our Emmett was definitely in attendance, standing in support of his friend Alba Houghton Warren. We can imagine Emmett standing on the right side, somewhere next to the bookcases, casting an occasional glance at the tomes on the shelves, avoiding the glances of some of the unmarried women in the room, who fancied him a bridegroom for themselves.