Emmett, Texter

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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.

 

 

 

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Circle of Family: Walker Wilson

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Our last sibling essay in Emmett Wilson’s family story focuses on the youngest son, Walker Wilson.

Walker Wilson, about 6 years old, December 1890.

Walker Wilson, about 6 years old, December 1890.

Walker was born in Chipley, Florida in 1884, six months after his family emigrated back to the U.S. from Belize, when Emmett was two years old.

I have a few clips from the Chipley newspapers from the late 1890s about Emmett and Walker out on camping/fishing trips to St. Andrews during the summers.

Emmett and Walker often spent the first two weeks in August together, accompanied by family and friends, on these outings, every year.

From The Chipley Banner, July 1899. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Some outings probably less traumatic than this one. From The Chipley Banner, July 1899. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Given that there was only two years difference between Emmett and Walker, they were probably close while they were children and teenagers, but after Emmett started college at West Florida Seminary, they spent little time together. In 1899, when Emmett was in-between semesters at WFS, he was working as a telegrapher and railroad station manager and Walker was still in grade school while doing occasional odd jobs around Chipley (clerical work, and railroad depot jobs).

By 1902, Walker was a telegraph operator at the railroad station in Chipley, following in the footsteps of several older brothers, and working his way up to the position, just as Emmett and Julian.

The telegraph operator's job was important -- and dangerous at times. Source: The Chipley Banner, July 1902

The telegraph operator’s job was important — and dangerous at times. Source: The Chipley Banner, July 1902

This was unusual, I thought: Walker, 19, is still in grade school as of January 1903. Source: The Chipley Banner, February 1903.

This was unusual, I thought: Walker, 19, is still in grade school as of January 1903. Source: The Chipley Banner, February 1903.

I’ve been in touch with Walker’s grandson, Jim, who was kind enough to share an extensive family genealogy document with me — it’s wonderful — and it was written by Walker’s son, John Evans Wilson, in 1990.

The genealogy includes this interesting comment:

I wonder if, perhaps, Walker resented having to pay for Emmett's higher education, because Emmett was the only Wilson sibling in school while Walker was still living at home and under his father's authority. Source: John Evans Wilson Genealogy, 1990.

I wonder if Walker resented having to pay for Emmett’s higher education. Emmett was the only Wilson sibling in school while Walker was still living at home and under his father’s authority; Walker never went further than eighth grade. Source: John Evans Wilson Genealogy, 1990.

I get the impression that Emmett and Walker’s communication/visitation was sporadic for a few years; although in 1904, when Emmett moved to Marianna to live and work with Cephas (as the junior law partner of Wilson & Wilson), Walker also moved in with Cephas. In case you haven’t been keeping score, Cephas’ household in 1904 included himself, Lula, Ceph Jr., and daughter Kathleen, as well as three of his brothers (Emmett, Julian and Walker). It almost feels like Cephas’ home was the launching pad for his siblings before they struck out on their own.

Walker was visiting his father in Chipley. Source: The Chipley Banner, 1904.

Walker was visiting his father in Chipley. Source: The Chipley Banner, 1904.

In 1905, Emmett wanted to get away from his family and his try his wings, so he moved to Sterling, Illinois. It only lasted six months.

By 1908, Walker would move on to work for the Seaboard Air Line railroad and relocate to Tampa. Walker would spend several years in Tampa, working his way up the ladder.

Walker and his sister Katie Wilson Meade, in front of the Washington Monument, July 4, 1908. Photo was taken by their first cousin, Lizzie Meade.

Walker, on a visit to Washington D.C. with his sister Katie Wilson Meade. Photo was taken by their first cousin, Lizzie Meade, in front of the Washington Monument, July 4, 1908.

I’ll continue with Walker’s story tomorrow.