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?

 

He Just Went to Sleep

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Notice the date.

May 29, 1918.

May 29, 1918.

In sum, here’s what happened, 97 years ago.

Emmett was hospitalized at Pensacola Hospital for almost a week prior to his death; he went through a few days of harrowing delirium tremens (and was likely strapped down during the time). It wasn’t a regular hospital room; Pensacola Hospital put alcoholics in the psych ward, which was basement level.

That was the typical way hospitals handled alcoholic cases like Emmett’s. Pensacola Hospital was a brand-new facility, too; state-of-the art equipment and trained staff for 1918. Emmett wasn’t being mistreated or mishandled; there just simply wasn’t anything else to do for patients presenting in his condition.

Emmett had cirrhosis, and was in end-stage kidney and other multiple organ failure. When he showed up at the hospital, it was the end, according to my friend, Donna the Nephrologist (a colleague and physician who has been vetting my research along the way), and the staff knew it.

According to Donna, sometimes patients in end-stage (like Emmett) are or were given booze at the hospital at the end. It was considered merciful. The purpose is to stave off the DTs. It is horrible to go through; horrible to witness, she said.

But, Emmett wasn’t given any alcohol while in the hospital at the end. We know this because we have a statement indicating Emmett went through the DTs. Donna said that when alcoholics (such as Emmett) have gone three days without booze in the system, the body’s chemistry tries to correct itself, to switch back to normal. If it has been many years since the alcoholic has had a normal body chemistry, the patient’s extremely compromised system cannot handle it. Generally, the patient goes into a coma as a result.

Emmett’s body could not handle it; he went into a coma.

And, she added, that’s how Emmett likely died. He simply went to sleep and didn’t wake up.


 

 

Emmett's candle, in St. Therese's corner at church.

Emmett’s candle, in St. Therese’s corner at church.

The seven-day candle lit for him this week has just about burned out.

Today, I’m remembering Emmett, and feeling thankful for the gift of his story in my life.