Chapter 28: Dorothy, Whit, and Elizabeth

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Friday, May 24, 2014, about 11 a.m.

As the officer said, the old train depot in downtown Chipley wasn’t hard to find. Fifteen minutes later, I’m sitting my car, in front of a seafoam-green building that definitely looked like a train station from the early 19th century.

The original train station in Chipley is long gone; this is the current Amtrak station. Source: http://www.trainweb.org

I note that trains still run through Chipley; I had to drive across two sets of raised tracks at an intersection with a barricade that lowers as trains rush by.

The difference between today and Emmett’s day is that passenger trains rarely stop here; trains are primarily freight. Chipley isn’t the train hub it used to be, especially since the advent of automobiles. I get that: Everyone wants to control personal travel. In Emmett’s day, going to and from communities was a novelty; romantic and sweet, special, out-of-the-ordinary. There was something special about planning a trip 100 miles away, or even 25 miles away, for example, where you’d stay with friends or relatives; it didn’t happen every day for regular people.

But in 2014, I know folks who commute 25, even 100 miles round trip a day for their jobs — definitely not a novelty, and certainly not romantic and sweet, particularly in an eight-lane traffic jam on a regular basis.

A side view of the Washington County Historical Society building; a caboose on the grounds. Photo taken by author.

I get out of the car with my computer briefcase and notebook; straighten my skirt and blouse, smooth my hair.

I’m anxious that I’m on time and presentable, and glad that I was able to make it today: The Washington County Historical Society building is only open on Fridays from 10 am to 2 pm. The curator emailed me a week or so ago that she’d open it up for me, even if I arrived on a day it was closed. She has no idea how grateful and humbled I am about that. In all the years I’ve been doing research, no one has ever volunteered to open up an entire museum for me to study artifacts. I want to be sure I’m not any trouble; I know that most curators and the staff in small museums are volunteers.

I notice a number of people going in and out — I didn’t think it was a busy place; I thought it would be me and the curator — but today, the place is hopping!

Taken by the author during a lull in the comings and goings of Chipleyites.

The historical society is definitely a community gathering place — when I opened the door, numerous long-time residents were milling about. I later learned these are folks who stop by weekly when the museum is open. Several are gathered at the long tables with checkerboard tablecloths in the open back room to talk, drink coffee, read scrapbooks. It’s interesting — there are other visitors from out of state here too; one woman in particular from Pennsylvania searching for Florida ancestors. I realize that the local residents here are valuable assets to the historical society: They are keen genealogists and history buffs who can offer useful tips to the visitors on navigating official Florida record holdings, contact names and numbers, as well as excellent seafood restaurants while in the area.

The rooms are full of interesting artifacts on the walls, in old glass display cases from general stores. It’s busy, bustling, cheerful.

The curator, Dorothy Odom, recognizes me right away and greets me as if I was someone well-known to her; indeed, we’ve been exchanging emails for several weeks and I feel right at home. She introduces me to her adult daughter, Chelie, holding a gray kitten, who also greets me warmly.

Wonderful friends in the Washington County Historical Society library, Dorothy Odom and Whit Gainey. Photo by the author.

Dorothy loves that I refer to her collection as artifacts. I don’t think she realizes how important her collection is to me (or really anyone else putting someone’s story together). Dorothy has basically the things that Emmett saw on a daily basis in a house or an office, stuff he took for granted, but the same stuff that made him who he was, in a subtle way.

Take Ivory Soap, for example: It was an everyday thing in Emmett Wilson’s world in the 1890s. Maybe Emmett used it; liked the smell of it, like I like the smell of it. Ivory Soap reminds me of my childhood, or maybe what I wished my childhood was like: Safe, reliable, predictable.

Here’s a photo of an original Ivory Soap package taken on May 20, 2014 in Pensacola while touring 1880-period houses in Old Pensacola. The display features products typically found in a home between 1890-1910. Photo by the author.

A collection of artifacts at the Washington County Historical Society. The red arrow points to a bottle of mucilage. Photo by the author.

Maybe it is that I see these artifacts with new eyes, thinking, Emmett saw this item, or that product in his parent’s kitchen pantry.

Maybe Emmett, on a dare from an older brother, took a swig out of that bottle of mucilage convinced it was an exotic highball, his lips encircling the small neck of the bottle. He tips the bottle back, his eyes grow wide as he tastes the stuff ….

I quickly stop to look up the word on my phone —

— OMG. Well, I hope Emmett didn’t do that. I know absolutely that his brothers were pranksters. It’s possible it happened…

Dorothy touches my elbow to introduce me to retired Judge Perry Wells, a regular at the historical society; a senior gentleman with a kind, intelligent face.

I tell Judge Wells that Emmett’s his older brother Cephas clerked for Judge W.O. Butler before he began a law career, and that I’m staying that night with the descendants of the Butler family while I’m visiting Chipley. Judge Wells nods approvingly, recommends I note the beautiful restorations of the Butler home and the photo gallery there featuring early 1900 views of the home and family friends.

Coincidentally this day, Judge Wells had with him a small flyer for Jerry Williams Carter, essentially an old campaign flyer for Mr. Carter. I recognize Mr. Carter immediately — “Judge Wells, this is wonderful! Jerry Carter was Emmett’s campaign manager both times he ran for Congress!”

“Mr. Democratic Party,” Jerry Williams Carter wedding photo, 1910. Source: FloridaMemory.com

I wanted to hug the judge for showing me the unexpected flyer; primary sources of information about Emmett have been few and far between to say the least. Dorothy says she’s happy to  print a copy for me. While I waited, Judge Wells suggested I take a walk through the downtown area, and points me over to a rack that hold booklets featuring a walking tour of Chipley.

Dorothy hands me the copy of the flyer, then introduces me to Whit Gainey, a quiet and thoughtful gentleman with an expansive interest in Washington County history. Whit asks me if I am going to visit the Wilson house on Sixth Street.

“I’m expected at the house after lunch, but in the meantime, I was going to head out to the cemetery to visit Emmett’s parents’ gravesites.”

“Do you know where the Wilsons are buried? If you don’t, I have a map and I’m happy to show you,” Whit said, “Otherwise, it’s easy to get lost.”

===

A half hour later, I’m riding in Whit’s red pickup truck. A country music station is playing quietly as Whit drives around the main street of Chipley; he’s pointing out a few landmarks. The old First National Bank, which is in sad condition (there have been some efforts to save it, but nothing successful to date); a row of old storefronts that are in good condition. We turn onto more residential streets, and Whit points out a few Victorian homes that are well cared for, places where Emmett and his family would have seen, probably had dinner with friends and the like. Otherwise, we ride mostly in silence to Greenwood Cemetery; he’s not much of a small talk person with a stranger, and that’s fine. I’m not good with small talk either.

We drive through a small neighborhood to get to the cemetery. “The Wilson graves are in the older part of the cemetery,” he said, maneuvering the truck off the pavement onto a grassy drive. He pulls to a stop near a tree; pulls out the cemetery map with the plots outlined, and nods toward a collection of tall, white monuments. “That’s them up ahead,” he said.

We get out of the truck, and as we walk along the grassy drive, Whit tells me that he’s spent a lot of time over here, photographing headstones and uploading the images to Find-A-Grave.com, the cemetery database.

Whit pauses, and turns away politely to look around at a few other stones while I walk towards Dr. Francis Wilson and Elizabeth Wilson’s graves.

I stand in front of them; I don’t know what to do. Finally, I’m here, I think. I’ve been reading about the Wilsons, studying their lives for over a year — but this feels awkward; uncomfortable. I think I should feel something else, because we’re family.

Maybe it is that this has been, pretty much, a one-way relationship for over a year.  An introduction might help.

“Hello,” I say out loud, quietly, to Francis and Elizabeth. “I’m Judy. I’m glad to meet you, and I wish I’d known you in person. This feels weird but it’s true.”

I start to feel better.

But damn, I think to myself, as I look about. I should have brought flowers. I move towards Elizabeth’s stone, and touch the top of it: Lichens. It hasn’t been cleaned in a long time. I look down at both plots: The graves were dry and dusty.

I realize they hadn’t been visited in decades. “I’m sorry about that,” I say to Francis and Elizabeth. “I’ll be sure to visit whenever I’m in Florida.”

Whit is walking towards me; he pauses in front of the Wilsons.

“These are your cousins?”

“Yes,” I say, and I begin to take photos.

Emmett’s mother, Elizabeth V. Wilson. Note the lichens at the top of the stone; the dry, sandy soil around the graves. Photo by the author.

Emmett’s father, Dr. F.C. Wilson. See the second line of text with the missing “PFC”, which has been pried off. Photo by the author.

Both graves have interesting additions at the bottom:

For Dr. Wilson, there’s a Confederate Army plaque — and someone has pried off the rank. I ask Whit about the damage to the plaque. He doesn’t think it was vandalism per se; he’s curious if there was an error on the plaque why a new one wasn’t ordered.

For Elizabeth, this is at the base of her tombstone:

The inscription at the base of Elizabeth’s tombstone. Photo by the author.

“Her death was the turning point in this family,” I tell Whit. “There were 10 children, the youngest was eight years old when she died. And Dr. Wilson,” I said, nodding at the other stone, “coped by burying himself in his work. He was a county doctor, one of three, so he was essentially not around for the two years up until his second marriage to Kate Langley Jordan.”

Whit gazes around the immediate area surrounding the Wilson graves. “The second wife isn’t buried anywhere around here,” he said.

“That may be telling,” I say.

As we walk back to Whit’s truck, he says, “People handle grief differently. Sometimes they don’t handle it at all.”

“I think kids pick up on that,” I say, as I climb into his truck. As he starts the engine, I thank him for taking me to visit my cousins, and we ride back to the historical society building in silence.

Next: Katie’s Story About Elizabeth

 

 

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Portrait of a Father

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Dr. Francis C. Wilson, Emmett’s father, taking it easy in the back yard, @ 1895, Chipley, Florida. Check out that corn cob pipe!

This photograph of Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, was taken on a sunny afternoon — maybe Father’s Day — around 1895.

His eyes are open, and they appear to be focused on the long corn cob pipe. I wonder if he whittled that pipe himself? Or perhaps one of his sons — Emmett? — carved it for him?

I like to think that in this photo, Dr. Wilson is glad to be off his feet and relaxing after a full day seeing of patients. Dr. Wilson had regular office hours — his home office may have been the building behind him, to the left — but he was a full-service physician who spent about a third of his time on Washington County roads.

Imagine what he had to include in his medical bag when he was on the road: Dr. Wilson treated everything from measles to yellow fever; he set broken bones, delivered babies, amputated limbs, counseled the depressed and addicted, embalmed the dead. He even performed emergency dentistry when necessary.

Here, Dr. Wilson is wearing his straw hat (a necessity when traveling for hours on the hot, dusty Florida back roads) and his white lab coat over a white shirt and suspenders, the coat bunched up a little in the back. Interesting that he’s still dressed for this office in this most casual of photos. (I have no information who took the photo, but the photographer is in the lower right hand corner of the shot, was likely one of the Wilson children.)

Of all the photos I have of the stately and serious Dr. Wilson, I like this one the best, because it illustrates something completely different for me — Dr. Wilson taking a break, which is something I don’t believe he did much, as the recently widowed, sole support of 10 children. Maybe that’s why he’s still wearing his hat and lab coat in the photo: Because he wasn’t comfortable relaxing completely.

The background information I have about this period in the Wilson family was that Dr. Wilson was channeling his grief at the loss of his wife Elizabeth into his work during this time — an absentee father who would strive to keep his emotions and feelings in check. Neighbors and friends would comment on how noble and dignified Dr. Wilson was after his devastating loss.

Obviously, Dr. Wilson loved his family, and dealt with his grief in the best way he knew how. Unfortunately, this would not have been something 13-year-old Emmett would have understood or realized at the time, and I believe this affected the relationship he had with his father, for theirs was a distant, formal relationship.

But in the end, Emmett cared about his father, as he made provision for him in his will, even while dying of alcoholism, and even after his father had basically washed his hands of Emmett.

Dr. Wilson was a tough, resilient, practical man who would sacrifice personal comfort and happiness for the good of his family. Perhaps Emmett recognized what was going on with his father toward the end of his life.

A tragic find

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As I continue to organize my collection of articles and files, I came across a tragic story from the September 1, 1912 edition of the Pensacola Evening News.

Source: Pensacola Evening News, September 1, 1912, p.1 (microfilm).

I saved this article because I’m certain Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, would have been on hand to assist Dr. Coleman (there were only three physicians in Chipley in 1912).

I’ve shared this article with a Washington County (Florida) genealogy group; hopefully there are Coleman family descendants who would want this information for their family records.

Reading this article made me seek out and embrace my children. My heart aches for Johnnie’s parents, even 115 years later.

Places to Stand: In Chipley

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I’ve started sending out articles and essays to literary journals and publications all about Emmett Wilson and his family.

My first submission is to Saw Palm: Florida Literature & Art. This is a Florida-themed literary journal with a lot of creative and interesting components.

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The Wilson family home getting a new roof. Source: Kevin Russel

My first shot at the journal is a little 500-word-or-less essay for their section titled “Places to Stand.” I’m writing about Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson and the Wilson family home in Chipley. I’ll let you know what and if I hear back from them!

I swear that these smaller pieces are the hardest damn things to write: One is forced to keep on topic and be clear; direct.

 

Buell Cook

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Buell Cook. Source: Tampa Tribune, 1909 via GenealogyBank.com.

Meet Buell Cook: Lawyer, Insurance salesman, Realtor, Mayor, Statesman. Another man, like Emmett, who died too young, and whose death could have been avoided.

Buell was elected to represent the 25th district in the Florida State Senate in 1909. He was reported to be an excellent lawyer who chose principles over personalities in all of his affairs.

He was born to a farming family of modest means in Holmes County, Florida, August, 1881. Orphaned in the late 1890s, he moved to Chipley, Florida at age 17 to make his own way.

Somehow, Buell hooked up with prominent Chipley lawyer William O. Butler, who must have recognized that Buell was a dedicated, talented, and tenacious worker who had big goals and would stop at nothing to achieve them — so Butler took Buell under his wing.

William O. Butler would play an important role in mentoring Buell. Butler was not only a good lawyer, but an excellent teacher: One of Butler’s other proteges was none other than Emmett’s brother, Cephas Love Wilson, who was considered one of the best attorneys and politicians in Florida.

The 1900 U.S. Census enumerated Buell as a boarder with the Butler family, working as a ‘day laborer.’ Buell probably did work at any job he could in Chipley when he first arrived, but by 1900, Buell was most likely Butler’s law clerk, because on  November 9, 1901, at age 20, he was admitted to the bar.

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Source: The Chipley Banner, August 13, 1903 via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

On February 8, 1902, Buell was involved in a serious accident when he and a colleague were headed to Vernon on legal business. It wasn’t a matter of Buell driving the horse fast on purpose; the horse may have been spooked and started to run.

Buell and McGeachy were injured, but it could have been much worse.

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This event will prove significant later in our story. Source: The Chipley Banner, February 1903 via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Buell knew it was important to build his stature in the community, so, in 1903, he was named secretary and treasurer of the local volunteer fire department.

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And yes, Buell had a speaking role in that play. Source: The Chipley Banner, July 2, 1903, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Lawyer, insurance salesman, businessman, public servant, Mayor.

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Source: The Pensacola Journal, July 28, 1907, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Oh yeah, and State Senator, too.

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Source: The Pensacola Journal, May 6, 1909, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

By the way, Buell achieved all of this before he was 30 years old. Reading about Buell’s accomplishments in such a short time frame makes me feel like a slacker.

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An EMF touring car for 1911; likely the kind Buell owned, as he would drive several friends around with him at a time. Source: The excellent EMFauto.org webpage.

Buell Cook must have been doing well for himself because in 1911, he purchased an EMF automobile — an Everett-Metzger-Flanders — for at least $1,000. This was something only a wealthy person (like Buell’s buddy Cephas) could do. By the way, this equates to slightly more than $24,000 in 2017 dollars.

Buell’s car arrived on February 23, 1911.

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F.B. Callaway was Buell’s roommate and closest friend, by the way. Source: The Chipley Banner, February 23, 1911, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

 


Buell served in the Florida State Senate alongside Cephas Love Wilson. Also, Buell was a busy lawyer in the same circuit as Emmett and Cephas. It is safe to say that Buell would encounter the lawyerly brothers Wilson often in the courthouse, or when the legislature was in session at Tallahassee.

Buell and Emmett also had many friends in common. In 1911, Buell was reportedly invited to a weekend house party in Panama given by J. Walter Kehoe & family when the Kehoes were playing matchmaker between Emmett and a stern young woman from Columbus, Georgia.

The story was that Buell was one of Emmett’s friends (along with Emmett’s bestie Paul Carter, and Emmett’s brother Cephas) invited to vet the young woman for Emmett. It stands to reason that if Buell was one of the fellows invited to give this gal from Columbus the once-over for Emmett, that that Buell and Emmett were friends instead of acquaintances.

I wonder what Buell advised Emmett after meeting the young woman from Columbus? (For the record, the relationship never got off the ground despite the Kehoe’s best matchmaking efforts.)

Life was good for Buell Cook. He was well liked and respected, popular, and probably had his pick of the lovely young ladies of Washington County when the time came for him to settle down and marry.

Buell Cook had a bright future ahead of him, no doubt about it.

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The First National Bank building of Chipley, located on the corner of 5th and Railroad Streets. Buell moved his office from the Wells Building to the second floor of the bank around 1909. Source: Google Maps

Everyone likely thought Buell Cook’s ultimate claim to fame in West Florida history would come via his legal career: For example, service as a state supreme court judge; perhaps as a governor; or, service in the U.S. Congress.

Alas, the fates had something different in store for him:

Buell Cook would go down in history as the first automobile accident fatality in Washington County, Florida.

Late Monday, February 5, 1912, Buell Cook and two other colleagues were headed home from legal business in Vernon.

Note that this accident took place very near Buell’s previous serious accident on February 8, 1902; also note that in this accident Buell was reportedly driving at a high rate of speed, which most likely caused the accident.

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Two articles appeared on February 7 about Buell’s accident in The Pensacola Journal; the next article appeared right below this one. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

 

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This news must have been phoned in from Chipley, as The Chipley Banner was a weekly newspaper publishing only on Thursdays. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

It turns out that Buell’s injuries were similar to the injuries sustained by Princess Diana’s fatal accident in 1997; i.e., severe trauma to the chest and a dislocated heart.

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Source: Montgomery Advertiser, February 7, 1912 via GenealogyBank.com

Incredibly, according to interviews with his doctors, Buell survived about 24 hours with the injury. Doctors desperately wanted to move him to Pensacola, or to a city where there was a well equipped hospital, but Buell would likely have died anyway during the move.

Buell died on February 8, 1912.

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Buell’s funeral. From The Chipley Banner, February 15, 1912, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov