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 to be an ‘alcoholic’.

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 understand Emmett completely.

One important thing I have is a copy of Emmett’s will, in his own words, complete with typos and edits. From that, we can tell that above all else, Emmett had integrity, 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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He Drank “to cover up the sadness”

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When I read this article in today’s edition of The Washington Post, I couldn’t help but think of Emmett. There’s so many similarities:

From pinup…..Source: Rolling Stone/Getty Images

Both were smart, talented, in the prime of their lives — but — both addicted to success and alcohol.

I suppose it’s part of knowing what it is like to be an alcoholic, and to love fellow alcoholic family members. You don’t want to believe that your pain and suffering is common. You want to think your loved one can have a different outcome than some unfortunate fellow or woman. But in recovery, one of the first things we learn is that none of us are terminally unique. And other than abstinence, there is no cure.

It makes me sad thinking David Cassidy and Emmett Wilson  had similar struggles, both drinking ‘to cover up the sadness’; both ultimately drinking themselves to death.

…to police mugshot. I wonder if Emmett was ever arrested for public drunkenness. Source: The Straits Times

I never knew either Cassidy or Emmett personally, but surely I’m not the only one who thinks both of their early deaths a damn shame.

Cassidy, like Emmett, tried to beat his disease more than once. But then, I also know that statistically, sobriety is harder to maintain, long term. The average length of an AA’s sobriety is less than 10 years. I know Emmett was unable to string together more than a few days of sobriety at a time; this was probably also the case with Cassidy, despite what we’ve learned about alcoholism since Emmett’s death in 1918.

Even though I count my lucky stars for my own sobriety, I know it’s only a daily reprieve. There’s many other addictions available to ‘cover up the sadness’ in my life besides alcohol (social media, shopping, chocolate), and they are an everyday struggle. What I’ve learned during my time away from booze is to, somehow, get OK with the struggle part of sobering up. The only way to do it is to learn the new behavior. Honestly, it sucks most of the time. Most of us AA’s would rather drink like ‘normal’ people, but we’ve had to learn to accept we can’t ever do that. What we can do, is try, one day at a time, to learn to be OK in our own skins for who we are. Mostly of the time, it’s only halfway, but that’s better than no way at all.

In closing, it’s a little ironic that David Cassidy kind-of sums up the sentiment in an old Partridge Family song, “I’ll Meet You Halfway.” I know he was singing about a love relationship, but I think it applies here, because we have to find a way to love ourselves so that we can save ourselves.

I’ll meet you halfway, that’s better than no way
There must be some way to get it together
And if there’s some way, I know that some day
We just might work it out forever

I wish Cassidy, and Emmett, had been able to work things out for themselves differently.

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

Congressional Directory, 63rd Congress, 2nd Session

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This arrived in yesterday’s mail, fresh from Ebay:

It’s the second in my collection of books Emmett would have owned. I wish it was the actual copy that Emmett owned, held in his hands, perused often.

Great details of staff members.

These old Congressional Directories are treasure troves of interesting details. For example, see the first entry — the Doorkeeper of the House of Representatives’ home address is listed! And bonus:

3527 13th St. NW, Joseph J. Sinnott’s house, is still standing!

Emmett is listed several times in the directory; his biography, his committee memberships, and his residential address while in Washington (Congress Hall Hotel, in case you were wondering). And in case you wanted to visit or call Emmett, here’s how you could find him in the Cannon House Office Building:

I’m still building my collection of books that Emmett likely (or, hopefully one day, actually) owned. Although I’m still looking for a copy of the directory for the 1st Session of the 63rd Congress, as well as editions for the 64th Congress, I’m off to a good start.

 

 

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.]