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.

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Why Everything is Not Digitized

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Of course, I’d love to have had everything available about Emmett Wilson to be accessible via the Internet. It would have certainly made my life easier as I dug around for primary sources in a variety of libraries and archives, both near and far, over the past five years!

Two tables worth of research materials, when I was at the University of West Florida. About half of the artifacts I handled were in good condition. None of these artifacts are digitized.

But even if Emmett’s primary sources were available or extant in a library archive, here is an excellent discussion about why everything in an archive is not always or necessarily digitized.

Great Source: Sanborn Fire Maps for Pensacola, 1907

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Here’s something that finally answered one of my big Emmett Wilson puzzles over the past five years of research:

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Pensacola Florida, 1907. Source: University of Florida

Check this out: The line drawing (above) is a screen shot of the duplex 211 West Cervantes, as it appeared in 1907. Note that this one structure had TWO numbers (211 on our left, 209 on our right).

This tells us that Emmett and the Kehoe family lived on the left side of the duplex!

The number two in the bay window tells us that it was a two-story structure. The number two immediately to the left tells us that there were porches on both levels. The “x” indicates a door.

If you look at the current photos from the Zillow site in yesterday’s post, it looks like the bay windows are long gone. The porches are still there; the entrances appear to be the same.

It’s nice to be able to compare the original footprint of the house to the current building.

 

 

 

 

Update: New Article on Emmett’s Twin Brother Julian

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I’ve been spending the last few days of 2017 checking in with old databases and past sources, to tie up any loose ends, or to check on any updates.

Surprise! A ‘new-to-me’ publication found on Google Books, The Train Dispatcher (1950, Vols 32-33, p. 674), has a retirement article on Emmett’s twin brother, Julian Anderson Wilson!

Source: The Train Dispatcher, Vols. 32-33, 1950, via Google Books

There’s good information in this brief bio about Julian’s retirement in 1950. One thing that stood out was that Julian spent almost a half-century working for the railroad.

Another interesting fact is that he started out as a clerk-operator on the P&A (Pensacola & Atlantic) division of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad in December 1900 — this means he started working for the railroad AFTER Emmett did. I’d had the impression they started working for the railroad at the same time, but Emmett began first, when he was about 15 or 16, about 1897.

Emmett also started out as a clerk-operator, eventually working his way up as a telegrapher/manager of smaller train stations along the P&A line.  Likely it was big brother Meade or Frank Jr. who helped Emmett get the position. By1899, Emmett was no longer with the railroad, as he was enrolled at West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University) as of December of that same year.

The retirement article also mentions a three-year period when Julian wasn’t working for the railroad; this is confirmed by Julian’s family members who told me he became a Morse code expert (a telegrapher) on a steamship during this time. In fact, Julian’s steamship was the Gertrude, which plied the Chattahoochie River.

A side view of the steamboat “Gertrude,” taking on a supply of wood, about 1905. Source: Florida Memory

A GPS Adventure in Boligee, Alabama

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Today, I visited Boligee, Alabama, population 328, in search of Mt. Hebron Cemetery, in a quest to locate Emmett’s grandparents, Cephas Love Wilson Sr. and Emily B. Wilson.

Using the information posted on Find-A-Grave, and typing the address into Waze, I set out with my husband on Interstate 20/59 West, to Alabama State Road 20.

Source: Google Maps

There’s cotton in huge bales wrapped, ready to be taken to a nearby gin.

There’s rutted roads with logging here and there.

There’s houses with dozens of junked cars in the yard; this is a poor part of Greene County. Little signage along the way; SR 20 winds a bit. According to the information on Find-A-Grade, the cemetery is only about 15 minutes north of I-20/59. My husband reassures me it isn’t too far off our scheduled trip to the in-laws — hell, we’ve been driving for hours anyway. It’s fine.

Fifteen minutes after taking the exit, the Waze voice chirps, “you’ve reached your destination.”

This is the church I was looking for near Boligee, Alabama. Source: Stephen McBride for Find-A-Grave

My husband pulls over to the side of the road. It’s a deeply rutted mud road. No signage anywhere, no primitive white church building on the property.

“I don’t think this is it,” I said.

“Let’s go on a bit further,” he said.

We crossed Highway 39 and continued another 10 minutes.

“What exactly is the address, again?” my husband asked.

“There isn’t one; only the location is given — Mt. Hebron Cemetery. According to Waze, this is where it is, but Find-a-Grave says it’s near the intersection of Highway 39 and State Road 128.”

“Aha,” he said. “Waze doesn’t have the right GPS coordinates for Mt. Hebron. So, let’s find 128.”

Alas, I could not. The dreaded “No Service” in my cell phone status bar.

“Wait. I have a map of Alabama from the last rest stop. Let’s check it.”

Unfortunately, State Road 128 wasn’t even listed. And unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of time to explore the back roads of Greene County: The kids were starting to complain about wanting lunch. And, neither of us knew enough about Greene County to feel confident exploring without a map or a technology assist.

“Tell you what,” my husband said. “Let’s track it down when we get to the house. We can try to stop by on the way back out.”

We did find Mt Hebron Cemetery — and S.R. 128 — on a map when we got home. It is in the middle of nowhere — there may be a dirt road off of S.R. 128. I hope. Source: Google Maps

We have a better idea how to find it now. And, I’ll pay Emmett’s grandparents a visit when we do.


Meanwhile — I promised to post information about Emmett’s secretaries in the last post. I’ll do that this week. Good news: I found one of the clerk/secretaries who worked for Emmett’s brother, Cephas L. Wilson, in Marianna! Progress!

Secretarial Musings

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I often wonder what kind of employee or boss Emmett was?

Was he considerate and competent? Quiet and hardworking?

A lunch-stealing backstabbing jerk, perhaps?

An excellent source of information on Emmett-as-colleague would be the office records — a desk calendar, case files, or even an office journal. I don’t doubt that Emmett kept records such as these himself. Unfortunately, Emmett’s office records do not exist anymore.

But what if one of his secretaries kept those records?

And what if they exist?

Tracking down office secretaries were with not much to go on was a real challenge — but guess what? I’ve identified five secretaries who either worked with Emmett directly, or as part of Emmett’s law practice!

Here’s the list of secretaries who worked with Emmett while he was a lawyer, district attorney, state’s attorney, and U.S. Congressman:

Bertha A (Bert) Murphy — 1905-08 — Maxwell & Wilson, Clerk for Asst. U.S. Attorney

Minnie Kehoe — 1906-1908 — Kehoe & Smithwick

Nellie Mills — 1914-1915 — Stenographer at the San Carlos Hotel (Emmett lived there on and off between 1914-1915 when Congress was out of session, et cetera)

Jefferson Davis Stephens — 1913-1917 — U.S. Congress

Hilda Dahlstrom Beall — 1910-1914 — Kehoe & Wilson; U.S. Congress (temporary)

Alas, this is not yet a complete list: I haven’t yet identified the secretary for Judge Daniel J. Jones (Emmett was Jones’ clerk in 1902), the secretary for Cephas’ office (Emmett was a junior partner at Wilson & Wilson between 1904 and 1905), or the secretary for Van Sant and Wilson (1905-1906).

It is possible that Emmett might have been the secretary for Jones’ or Cephas’ law offices while he was just starting out, but I don’t think so.

Nicholas Van Sant. Source: Ancestry.com

I know Emmett did clerical work for Judge Jones, but it wasn’t consistent, and Emmett didn’t know shorthand.  He had little experience as a law clerk, and Judge Jones has a busy and thriving practice in Washington County, Florida. In fact, it was after a six-month stint at Jones’ office that Emmett was sent to Pensacola to take stenography courses at Meux’s Business College.

And while Cephas loved and supported his brother, he was not fool enough to trust his established law firm records to a younger sibling with an inconsistent work and academic record, who was just starting out.

I’ll introduce the secretaries over the next several posts.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to dig around for information on who may have been the secretaries for Judge Jones and Cephas Wilson between 1900 and 1905. I have a few leads on the Van Sant & Wilson secretary that I want to explore. (Spoiler Alert: One of the secretaries DID keep a journal! And yeah — I have a copy of it!)

A Galaxy of Stars

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Who Was Who in Florida, by Henry S. Marks, 1973, published by The Strode Publishers, Huntsville, Alabama.

I found this book on Alibris, a book reseller website. I like to check back for obscure Florida texts and anything that has Emmett’s name listed. This one’s been out of print for awhile.

Poor unloved thing. Who trashes books?

It was purged from the Dickinson Memorial Library in Orange City, Florida. It was cheap. Oh well. Some one else’s trash, as the old saying goes….

Charlton W. Tebeau, author of A History of Florida who wrote the foreword for this book, asked:

“Who are Florida’s notables who have left their marks on the state’s history? What did they do to earn a place in such a galaxy of stars?” (Foreword)

Tebeau admitted that there were countless others who probably should have been included in the book, and Marks’ book was not intended to be a complete work. The biographies are brief, mostly no more than six or seven lines. (Some biographies are longer; for example, Henry Flagler’s covers an entire page). References such as Marks’ book are often, at best, snapshots of those deserving of recognition at that particular place and time.

But it is interested to see who is listed and who is not, through the lens of Emmett Wilson’s research.

Who’s In:

  • Robert Anderson (he delivered Emmett’s Elk Club eulogy) p. 20
  • William Henry Brockenbrough, p. 46 (Emmett’s great-grandfather)
  • N.P. Broward, p. 47
  • N.P. Bryan, p. 50 (Bryan’s secretary helped Emmett in D.C. after his first medical crisis)
  • Frank Clark, p. 66 (Advised Emmett when he was in D.C., and after his first medical crisis)
  • Duncan Fletcher, p. 102 (A friend of Emmett’s father)
  • Albert Gilchrist, p.111 (Emmett and Cephas were on friendly terms with him)
  • Walter Kehoe, p. 147
  • William Bailey Lamar, p. 152 (Emmett’s best friend, Paul Carter, was his private secretary)
  • B.S. Liddon, p. 163 (Cephas’ law partner)
  • Scott Loftin, p. 164 (A law colleague of Emmett’s)
  • Augustus E. Maxwell and Evelyn Croom Maxwell, p. 175 (Emmett’s grandfather and uncle)
  • Dannite Mays, p. 176 (Emmett defeated Mays in 1912 for the Third Congressional seat)
  • John and W.H. Milton, p. 186
  • John H. Smithwick, p. 230
  • John Stokes, p. 235 (unsuccessfully challenged Emmett for his second congressional term in 1914)

And, of course, Emmett, on page 264:

One error stands out: “….failed of reelection.” No. The state Democratic party told Emmett he was no longer useful, and forced his resignation. His name was not on the ballot for a third term.

What’s interesting are the names of men and women I’ve discovered via Emmett’s research, who were important in state politics and journalism during the early 1900s, who were not included in the book:

I think it is ironic given the animus that Frank Mayes, Chipley Jones, and certainly Cephas had for Emmett, especially towards the end of his life, that their names were not selected for inclusion in this reference.

I don’t doubt for a minute this would eat at Frank Mayes and Chipley Jones, if they had any way of knowing Emmett got in, and they didn’t.

Heh, heh.