Telecommunication

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What’s the first thing most folks would do in an emergency, if you had to let family members know that you were injured in an accident, or seriously ill?

You’d call them. And, more likely than not, you’d probably connect with them almost immediately.

Thanks to the miracle of modern telecommunication — we’re always accessible to other human beings at any time of the day or night. And it’s economical. I don’t give a second thought about the economics of calling my sister (who lives on the other side of the country) during the day: I just pick up the phone. But back in the 70s and 80s, I can remember having to wait until 5 or 6 pm to make a call to a friend who lived in the next county, because the rates would be lower.

(Aside: Here’s an interesting and informative article on the cultural shifts that telephones have brought over the past 100 years. The focus of the article is how the telephones have been depicted in film, but the historical background is well written.)

In Emmett’s day, and especially during his congressional service days (1913-1917) a telephone call (and in particular, a long distance call, as mentioned in the link above) was a big deal:

  • Telephones were still the accessories of the wealthy and upper-middle class by 1913.
  • Many communities, especially rural, were not completely (or consistently) wired for telephones.

Rural folks cutting telegraph and telephone lines for clothes lines. Priorities! Source: The Chipley Banner, February 18, 1899, p. 3 in ChroniclingAmerica.gov

  • Long distance calls were expensive, and you didn’t telephone someone long distance without a reason. [Some businesses charged $5 for three minutes (in 1913 dollars), which is the equivalent of $60 in 2017.]

I started thinking about this yesterday when I came across my notes about this event:

Source: The Pensacola Journal, December 21, 1914, page 1, in ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Here’s the background:

  • Emmett was admitted to Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C. at least a week earlier.
  • He was unconscious and his kidneys had shut down; he also went into delirium tremens, which was (and is today) sometimes fatal.
  • The condition was so serious, both Cephas Love Wilson and Frank C. Wilson Jr. were summoned to his bedside in Washington, D.C. This was neither an inexpensive nor easy trip for either of Emmett’s brothers.

My question is, were they contacted by telephone or telegram?

I am leaning toward telegram, because although Cephas had a telephone in both his home and office, and would have been accessible, the officials at Providence Hospital would probably not have known that — and, likely they would have used the tried-and-true telegram.

The cost associated with making the phone call from Washington to Marianna would also have been time consuming, and quite expensive. It was simply more efficient and economical to get the telegram to Cephas ASAP. 

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Finally, take a look at the story that ran right below the article on Emmett’s brothers being summoned to Washington, D.C.:

Was the article on drinking an unfortunate placement or was the publisher sending a message? Source: The Pensacola Journal, December 21, 1914, page 1, in ChroniclingAmerica.gov

At this point, Frank Mayes’ widow Lois Mayes was the publisher of The Pensacola Journal, and she was not a fan of Emmett’s. (The love-hate relationship between Frank Mayes and Emmett Wilson is an interesting story for another day.)

Lois, and the political movers-and-shakers of Pensacola, knew Emmett had a problem with alcohol. Most of Emmett’s colleagues and friends were now stepping away from him, tired of his behavior and wary of the professional fallout from associating with a known drunk.

Was the placement of this article on drinking an unfortunate coincidence or was it done on purpose?

 

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.

Dissecting the Message, Part IV

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If you’re just now joining us, we’ve been dissecting a letter from Emmett’s brother and law partner, Cephas Love Wilson, addressed to his brother-in-law Emmett Augustus Meade (husband of Katie Wilson Meade), dated January 10, 1910 (here, here, and here). Today, we’re finishing up our analysis of the message itself.

Here’s the last section of Cephas’ letter:

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As mentioned in an earlier post about Katie Wilson Meade, two out of three of her children died in infancy: The first child was only 10 days old; the second, 10 months.

Francis Emmett Meade, age 10 months (left) and Emmett Augustus Meade, age 10 days right). Note the odd third footstone on the bottom right of the photo.

Francis Emmett Meade, age 10 months (left) and Emmett Augustus Meade, age 10 days right). Note the odd third footstone on the bottom right of the photo.

Katie’s granddaughter Elizabeth (who I met last year in Charlottesville) did not give a reason for the early deaths. I had the impression from Elizabeth that these were things never spoken about (much like Emmett Wilson’s alcohol addiction, or, the death of Katie’s mother, Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson): Painful memories were kept quiet, or, best forgotten. However, Elizabeth reminded me that Katie and Emmett Meade were first cousins, and that might have been a factor with at least one of the infant’s deaths.

For all that this was a large family fairly spread out across West Florida, and up the East Coast, they were tightly knit. I have several documented examples where Katie’s father, and the Wilson siblings, would drop anything and everything if one of their own’s lives was despaired of; Cephas’ comment in the letter is not just a pleasantry.

Finally, the handwritten comment in the margin of the original letter is wonderful and poignant:

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‘”Jerisey”(?) sends love & best wishes. She stays in my office more.’

I believe “Jerisey” was a beloved family dog, who stays mostly with Cephas, and in his office (and not in the family home). Maybe Jerisey was not always allowed in the house; sleeping on either the front or back porch most of the time.

This side note gives us a more human or accessible understanding of Cephas.  When I first ‘met’ Cephas in this research, I thought he was a bit of a dog himself, i.e., the way he seemed to glom off of Emmett Wilson’s successful congressional career, and the damning article about him stepping out on Lula while he was attending a conference.

Over the past four years, my impression of Cephas has changed: He wasn’t perfect. He made mistakes. He let his ego get in the way of a lot of things in his life — we all do that, though. It is neither fair nor accurate to expect. And now, I what’s not to like about a man who truly cares about his siblings, who opened his doors (and his wallet) to help his family anytime he was asked?

What’s not to like about a man who allows a beloved pet to hang out with him in his office on a regular basis?

I’d love to find a photo of “Jerisey.”

 

 

Dissecting the Message, Part II

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Picking up where we left off in our last post:

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Cephas’ letter to Emmett Meade (Cephas’ brother-in-law) also mentioned a woman named ‘Jeanet.’ She was not married to Jhon Burton; she never married, in fact.

Jeanet Love McKinnon (1880-1940) was a member of the Wilson family by marriage; she was the sister of Mary Catherine (“May”) McKinnon Wilson, the wife of Francis Childria Wilson, Jr., of Pensacola, Florida. According to the U.S. Census:

  • In 1910, she was a stenographer in a law office — possibly her father Daniel Love McKinnon’s law office.
  • In 1920, she was a stenographer in an ‘office’ — unspecified.
  • In 1930, she was a cashier in a Marianna insurance office.
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Source: The Pensacola Journal, March 1914.

Jeanet went back and forth between Marianna and Pensacola regularly to visit her sister May; there’s several articles in The Pensacola Journal from 1900 through 1922 (the last year in the ChroniclingAmerica.gov database) that mention Jeanet’s comings and goings.

She died at age 60, on October 1, 1940 in Dothan, Alabama. The death report lists Jeanet’s residence as Marianna at the time of her death, and that she was stenographer.  I have not been able to locate her in the U.S. Census for 1940 to confirm, which is a little unusual given the lateness in the year of her death (most census data gathering took place in the first quarter of the year).

It is likely Jeanet was living with siblings in Marianna, and was perhaps visiting friends or other family members in Dothan when she died.


“…to prove how unaccustomed I am to such stuff…”

This is an interesting comment.

Cephas was not an alcoholic, although there were several active alcoholic family members, some of whom lived with Cephas and his family periodically. Cephas kept alcohol in his home (he entertained important people regularly at dinner, for instance, and was known to serve wine at least). Champagne was a special drink for special occasions.

I know from other sources that Cephas was not considered an alcoholic; the point he made in the letter that he kept the bottle for several weeks — just in case — is not something an alcoholic would do.

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Lula Wiselogel Wilson. Source: FloridaMemory.com

Also interesting is how unaccustomed he is to opening the bottle — I can see him struggling to extricate the cork, and as the cork shoots out with a loud POP, the foam of the wine erupts out of the bottle, onto the carpet and onto Dood’s expensive dress —

“Dood.”

That’s the family name for Lula Wiselogel Wilson. Cephas knew Lula from the time he moved to Chipley when he was 17 years old, newly repatriated after living in British Honduras with his family since the early 1870s. Lula’s family was wealthy, prominent, important, Republican. Cephas’ family was just starting over. Lula was smart, attractive. So was Cephas. The younger children in the Wilson household probably couldn’t say “Lula”, so they called her “Dood” and the name stuck.


I’ll finish with the rest of this section in the next post. Stay tuned!

Dissecting the Message, Part I

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In the last post, we took a close look at a letter written by Cephas Love Wilson to his brother-in-law, Emmett Augustus Meade in January, 1910.  Today, we’ll do what I think is the fun part of corresponding research — dissecting the text of the letter! I’ll take a few sections out and examine them with you.

Let’s get started!

 

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I thought the punctuation style was a little unusual — it looks like a half-emoticon through my 20th-century lens, but I’ve seen this style on other letters, too.  Without knowing that this was OK, it would appear to be a typo.

Cephas received a message from Emmett Meade, sent on January 3rd, that Everard Wilson Meade was born on January 2nd. The Meades were not wealthy, and so would not have telephoned this to Cephas. Likely, Emmett Meade (who worked for the railroad at this time) sent a telegram. Cephas was probably not the only one who received a telegram: Likely, Dr. Wilson would have received word in Chipley, as would have Emmett Wilson, in Pensacola, also by telegram. Two of the Wilson siblings (Julian and Walker) were living with Cephas in Marianna at this time; Dora was married and living a few blocks away in Marianna as well.

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The Golden Geese by Everard Meade. Source: AbeBooks.com

The safe delivery of Everard was a big deal: This would the fourth and last child of Emmett and Katie Meade. They had lost three infant sons over the past eight years, none of whom lived to see their second birthday. Everyone was anxious about Katie and the new baby, who would grow up to be an advertising executive and an author.

The comment about the U.S. Supreme Court is interesting, and totally in line with the way Cephas thought: Cephas never had a general goal in his life; he aimed for the top prize, always.

Elizabeth (Katie’s granddaughter) told me that she never thought her father, Everard Meade, was interested in the law, despite the exposure he had from the numerous uncles and cousins who were lawyers and judges.

Cephas, himself, would not have entertained the idea of becoming the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He had thrown his hat into the Florida Governor’s race at least twice, and his political star was definitely on the rise in 1910 — his big lifetime dream was to live in the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee. But it couldn’t hurt to encourage big dreams in his brand new nephew; the Wilsons were all about politics.

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“Jeanet and Jhon Burton.” That’s misleading; these two were not married, and they wouldn’t ever marry each other. They might have been courting at this point; if they were, it didn’t last.

Here, Cephas is talking about Jeanet MacKinnon, a longtime friend of the family who never married, and a man named Jhon Wilton Thomas Burton. (That’s not a typo, by the way: His first name is spelled Jhon; click here to see his tombstone in Marianna. Unusual, isn’t it?)

The story with Jeanet is that many family and friends were keen about matchmaking for her — at least, that is how it appears. I always had a feeling that our Emmett was even put out as a consideration, but of course, Emmett never intended to marry.

I’m sure Emmett knew Jeanet from childhood. Emmett was Jeanet’s escort at Katie and Emmett Meade’s wedding in 1902. If there had been a chance for Emmett and Jeanet to get together, there was always ample opportunity; but, things didn’t work out between Jeanet and our Emmett.

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The County Judge is BA Meginnis, who was a classmate of Emmett Wilson’s, when he attended West Florida Seminary.  I don’t recognize the witness names; the Burtons were married in Tallahassee. Source: Ancestry.com

In 1910, Jhon was living with his brother Massey R. Burton’s family; he was the manager of the telephone exchange.  Knowing this, it is possible that Jhon received a phone call from Emmett Meade all the way from Alexandria, Virginia to Marianna, Florida — but it would have cost about $60 in 1910 dollars — and still would have been prohibitive for the Meades.

He was about 30 when he was married on January 12, 1916 to Mary Florence Willard. In 1920 Census, he and Florence are living with her mother, and brother, in the Burton house, in Marianna. He is a bookkeeper for a store; she is a bookkeeper for a bank — perhaps Cephas’ bank.

In 1930, the U.S. Census reports Jhon to be divorced, but interestingly, still living with his mother- and brother-in-law (Pearl Willard, Stewart Willard). He is listed as a grocer. This makes me wonder who filed for divorce — it seems as if Florence’s mother would not have tolerated living with the son-in-law if he were the one who petitioned for divorce.

In the 1940 Census, Pearl is living with her daughter Florence and her husband, in Pensacola. Florence remarried sometime between the 1920 and the 1940 U.S. Census; Jhon has also remarried to Mary Lena Burton. Jhon appears to be a salesman for a snuff company (the handwriting on the U.S. Census looks like it is “Snuff Co.”), and he had an 11-year-old son named George. Mary Lena is 21 years younger than Jhon; it looks as if they were married around 1928 or 1929.

I honestly didn’t plan to do this much work into the Burton story, but the line in Cephas’ letter that says how Jhon Burton is like a member of the family intrigues me. If Jhon is that close to Cephas, I wonder if Cephas handled his divorce? Did Cephas think of Jhon as a younger brother? He was about Emmett Wilson’s age.


I’ll take a break here, because the analysis on this one little piece is running long for this post. Tomorrow or the next day, I hope to finish with information about Jeanet MacKinnon, and the rest of the highlighted points from this portion of the letter.

I’m always surprised by how much information one can glean from a single document, if you examine it closely!

Medium, Message, Context

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As promised in the last post, I’ll now walk you through the process I use to review artifacts that inform my research on Emmett Wilson.

Here’s a document I received from Emmett’s grand niece, Elizabeth, who is the granddaughter of Katie Wilson Meade.

cephus-letter-original

Elizabeth’s original note with this document said that it wasn’t about Emmett Wilson, and so, she wasn’t sure if I would need or want to have it, but she knew Cephas was important in telling Emmett’s story.

Elizabeth was correct — Cephas was a HUGE influence on Emmett, and of all his siblings, was closest to Emmett, as the relationship weathered several ups and devastating downs all through Emmett’s life. So, this document is valuable for background information. Of all the Wilson family members, Cephas was Emmett’s mentor. He stood by Emmett, guided him, counseled him as long as Emmett would take constructive advice.

Examining the Medium

I examine artifacts through three lenses: Medium, Message, and Context. Today, we’ll examine the medium; i.e., the document itself.

The first thing I notice is that Cephas wrote a personal letter to his brother-in-law, Emmett Augustus Meade of Alexandria, Virginia, on his office letterhead.

letterheadCephas’ information on the letterhead tells us a lot, too, even though it is sparse. There’s not much detail because Cephas Wilson didn’t need that much detail for identification in West Florida back in the day. I imagine my historic research colleague Sue Tindel would agree with me if I said that in 1910, a stranger could cross the city limits of Marianna and say the words, “Cephas Wilson” out loud, and any bystander would immediately know who the stranger was talking about, and where that stranger could find Cephas.

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Not Marianna’s Elvis in 1910, but Ceph did have Elvis’ hair. Source: FloridaMemory.com

It would be akin to saying “Elvis” out loud, anywhere in the United States. Most folks would say, “Elvis? He’s in Memphis.” (I’m not saying that Cephas was Marianna’s “Elvis” in 1910, but you get the idea.)

The personal letter to his brother-in-law, Emmett Augustus Meade, is typewritten. There’s samples of Cephas’ handwriting on the letter. His handwriting is neither illegible nor difficult to read, but more significant to me is that Cephas wrote this personal letter to his brother-in-law in his office. Not at home.

This gives me a clue that Cephas spent, probably, most of his time at work, and perhaps an 80-hour work week was normal for him. I don’t know that Cephas was a workaholic, but it is possible. Consider:

  • In 1910, Cephas was a lawyer, a state senator, a president of a bank, a business owner, and up for consideration to run for Governor of Florida all at the same time.
  • And, in 1910, Cephas’ net worth was close to or equivalent to a self-made millionaire today. Cephas didn’t have a lot of down time, and when he did, it was probably taken in his office.

So, we have Cephas writing personal letters in his office. Truthfully, I can understand why he’d have done that: His house was busy, not large, but full, with children and relatives temporarily living with him and Lula. I doubt seriously if Cephas was able to steal a quiet moment away from the noise and hubbub of his surroundings except for his office.

Another thing about typewriting a letter as opposed to handwriting a letter — I find it easier to type a letter these days because my thoughts move so much faster, and the words flow smoother if I use a keyboard as opposed to a pen and paper. Yeah, I still carry around the old school notebook and pen, and I do write in an old school journal. But my handwriting isn’t very good, because I’m used to writing fast, and it is frustrating trying to capture my thoughts with slow and sloppy penmanship. With all that Cephas had going on in his life, I feel as if that is also why he’d write personal letters on a typewriter.

The typewriter, by the way, was on Cephas’ secretary’s desk, which would also explain a little why Cephas used professional stationery instead of a plain piece of paper, or personal stationery: Cephas’ letterhead was probably the most convenient paper on hand when he sat down at his secretary’s desk to write the letter.

Below is an example of professional correspondence written by Cephas in 1908. It is a short letter in which Cephas wastes no time; he gets right to the point. Note the margins and line spacing, compared to the personal letter at the top of this post.

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I usually examine the back of the document too, but an image of the back was not included in the scan Elizabeth sent.  Also, I like to go over the document in a bright light and with a magnifying glass. I look for things like fingerprints or other subtle marks on the front or back of the document.

This is just a short analysis of what I do in the ‘medium’ analysis of a document. In my next post, I’ll walk through the message of Cephas’ letter to Emmett Meade. That’s a more intense, line-by-line dissection; so, stay tuned!

 

Telephones & History

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This morning, I had a great exchange with several colleagues and friends on the Washington County (Florida) Genealogy Facebook page. I hang out there with several fellow historians who have been extremely helpful with Emmett Wilson’s research over the past four years.

It started with a post I shared (and discussed in this thread) about the telephone exchange when Emmett lived in Chipley, then in Marianna:

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Additions to the Chipley local telephone ‘directory’, as published in the February 28, 1906 issue of The Chipley Banner. Subscribers were advised to add the updated names to their personal directories.

A little more digging around in old copies of The Chipley Banner revealed that their phone number was #3.

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March 10, 1903, The Chipley Banner.

This little finding fired up the detective in me:

  • Was there a phone directory provided to subscribers of the Chipley Telephone Exchange? If so does one exist?

Yes, and it was likely a fluid document (i.e., it was small, and probably with blank pages in it for subscribers to update it as necessary). But, unfortunately, the local historic society does not have a copy of a phone directory going back to 1903 in their holdings.

However, it would be possible to put a draft together. Using contemporary media, stationery/letterhead in the archive, advertisements, and the like, it would be a reasonable and interesting project for, say, a high school or college history class: The students would get great hands-on experience working with primary sources, learning to use citations, collecting data, and constructing the model, not to mention high school or college credit.

Also: The historic society would have a great model of the telephone and communication technology for early-1900’s Florida. What’s more: A little project like this is more than just collecting the phone numbers for a small town; it tells you who was wealthy, and whose business was really central to the town. It is a great indicator of how open the citizens were to new technology.

The Abstract Office Marker

The historic marker outside the Abstract Office in Marianna, Florida, which is where the telephone exchange was located. The text says the Marianna Telephone Exchange was established in 1901. Source: Historical Marker Database

In Marianna, Florida (only an hour away from Chipley back in the day), Emmett’s brother, Cephas Love Wilson had the #1 phone number. Cephas was one of the founders of the Marianna Telephone Exchange. Cephas likely put the most money into it right at the first, and so, it would make sense that he would be given the “phone number of honor.”

Interestingly, the #2 phone in Marianna belonged to Dr. R.S. Pierce. Dr. Pierce was also a shareholder with the Marianna Telephone Exchange — and — one of the town’s physicians.  By the way, the three major shareholders in the Marianna Telephone Exchange were Cephas, J. Walter Kehoe, and Senator W.H. Milton.

So, back to Chipley:

  • Who had the #1 phone number in Chipley?

One of Chipley’s historians told me he believed the #1 phone number belonged to a man named Tom Watts — primarily because Mr. Watts had the telephone equipment in his house, and was the proprietor for several years.

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July, 1911. The Chipley Banner. Watts probably did have the #1 phone number.

The one other telephone-related question I’ve kicked around for almost three years has been this one:

  • Did the Wilson family have a phone in their home?

It’s possible — here’s an article I came across today, from 1899:

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September 16, 1899, The Chipley Banner.

It isn’t clear if Dr. Wilson actually had a telephone, or, if the phone call came into a store, or other business, and someone had to fetch Dr. Wilson. But, it stands to reason that if anyone in town had a phone, it would be Emmett’s father. His practice was extensive throughout Washington County.

Regardless, I’ll keep looking for confirmation that Emmett’s father had a telephone at the turn of the last century. And I’ll plug the idea for the telephone directory project to a few history teachers and colleagues!