Heirlooms United


Here is an absolutely wonderful treasure trove of vintage autograph albums, photo albums, calling cards, journals — everything I would love to have about Emmett Wilson or any other of Emmett’s friends.

I stumbled across it in search of information on one of Emmett’s roommates for his second book — and it has many wonderful personal artifacts.

The search for Emmett’s elusive scrapbooks continues…

On to the Second Draft


The review of the first draft is finished.

Complete with notes to self, on the text, on hot pink Post-Its, and note cards.

It’s a five-chapter mess, not counting the bibliography and notes section.

It is a relief to have gotten through a complete first draft. But, no lie, the real work begins with the second draft.

The good news is that I have enough information, but about a third of it needs to be put somewhere else and massaged into shape.

The bad news is that this is the first rough draft, and frankly, it looks like it.

And sometimes, the problem with the text simply comes down a need for clarification.

I’m not sure when I’ll have a final draft in hand. I wish I knew, but for now, I’m good with not knowing. As my friend Nancy used to tell me, the book is meant to be; it is a matter of time. It will come together when it is the time is right.

I tell my students that writing is both a journey and a process:

  • Much of what and how you write is about self-discovery, and finding out where you need to change. I noticed in the review of the draft that I am uncomfortable talking about Emmett’s alcoholic behavior. The writing feels stiff and awkward; as if I’m trying to save face for him — when the reality is that writing about the discomfort, shame, and embarrassment of his drinking misbehavior closely resembles my drinking behavior. Even though I’m almost 10 years sober, I’m troubled thinking about my past; I know that if I don’t address this, it could lead to trouble.

In AA literature, the third Promise tell us that, as we become sober people, ‘we will not regret the past, nor will we wish to shut the door on it.’  Becoming truly, completely sober doesn’t happen overnight; it requires living the principles of the program every day, and being mindful of them. Emmett’s story has helped me discover my need for a close relationship with my program, and that I can’t ‘wing it,’ as Emmett tried to do (and failed).

  • Your first draft will not be perfect; neither will the second, and maybe not the third. My experience has almost always been that the first draft is the worst, especially if the particular writing project is new. For example: In my writing classes, the first papers almost always reflect the lowest grades of the semester. It isn’t that the assignment is particularly hard; mostly, the issue is that students do not proofread final copy before submitting it for a grade. But almost always, when students do second, even third, drafts, the writing is dramatically improved.

The other issue with drafts is time: Writing can be tedious if you dislike the topic, procrastinate, or simply don’t have enough information/research. With Emmett’s book, I worried constantly over the past four years whether I had enough information to tell the story adequately. There are still information holes but there is enough to do a decent biography for Emmett.

[I am also hopeful that perhaps one day, someone may read this blog (or read the book!) and realize they have one of Emmett’s scrapbooks in an attic somewhere.]

More later!

New Details Emerge as Final Draft Concludes


Paul Carter, from West Florida’s Seminary annual for 1900, The Argo. Source: FSU archive

I’ve always had a feeling new information might emerge just as I was putting the manuscript to bed, and sure enough, that’s what’s happened. I’m not upset or dismayed — quite the contrary. But it does make me anxious for the future as I get close to publication. I want Emmett’s story to be complete and accurate; perhaps those damn scrapbooks will come to light with the publication of the first part of Emmett’s story!

I was checking back on a database yesterday — just something i do regularly, just in case — and I found an important but tiny detail that will make Emmett’s final chapter come together seamlessly.

Here’s the story:


In June, 1906, Emmett was on a self-imposed exile from both Sterling, Illinois and his adopted hometown of Marianna, Florida. If you recall from earlier posts, Emmett burned his bridges with brother and law partner Cephas Love Wilson when he left in December, 1905 to form a law partnership with Nicholas Van Sant in Sterling in January, 1906.

Only one month into his new venture, Emmett discovered that winters in Florida really were a lot better than northwestern Illinois; that he really wasn’t ready to run the prestigious Van Sant & Wilson law firm all by his lonesome. Emmett probably didn’t expect he’d be actually homesick for Marianna, for his nagging but well-meaning family — even big brother Ceph.

By the first week of June, 1906 (only six months into the venture), Emmett left Sterling permanently.  But Emmett didn’t go directly home to Florida; Emmett went to Washington, D.C. to visit his best friend, Paul Carter.


William Bailey Lamar. Source: Find-A-Grave.com

For a long time, I figured this was a consolation visit. It was only about eight months earlier that Emmett stopped over in Washington to talk to Paul about the idea of going into a partnership with Van Sant — and Paul didn’t think it was a great idea. Likely Emmett went back to Paul, certainly more humbled and (now) more willing to follow offered advice.

Emmett arrived in Washington on or about June 10, 1906, and apparently stayed there for several days.

Even though Paul would have been glad to host Emmett, he was going to be busy: Paul was only 21 and private secretary to U.S. Congressman William B. Lamar. Not only that, Paul was attending Georgetown Law School while working for Lamar.

If Paul was attending in law school in 1906, as had been reported in several different sources discovered, I was curious about his progress given the important job he had on Capitol Hill. He had to have been working his tail feathers off.

How was he able to maintain a job like private secretary to a busy U.S. Congressman and go to law school? What was the class schedule like?


The 1906, 1907, and 1908 Georgetown University Law School Bulletins state that the classes were offered at night. That’s how Paul was able to work and finish his law degree simultaneously. Source: Google Books

The GU bulletins are wonderfully comprehensive: They include the lists of students enrolled, classifications, addresses, course schedules. But the search tool is not perfect — I would type in “Paul Carter” or “Carter,” only to have it miss a few Carters. This meant paging through several Georgetown University bulletins, starting with the 1904-05 catalog to be sure I covered everything.

I got to the very last section of the 1906-07 Georgetown University catalog — as in, the last three pages — and I was about to give up when I found this:


Georgetown University Catalog for 1906-1907. Graduate information is for June 11, 1906. Source: Google Books


And, tah-dah, this:


The graduation program for Monday, June 11, 1906! Source: Google Books

One final place to check — the D.C. papers. They were big on reporting graduation ceremonies from the local universities. Sure enough, we find that Paul not only attended the graduation ceremony, but he went out to a celebratory dinner for the law school graduates at the Raleigh Hotel:


The Evening Star, June 12, 1906, p.13. Those in attendance were listed. Paul was there; Emmett was not, though he attended Paul’s graduation. Source: Chronicling America.loc.gov

This latest detail adds so much more depth and context to Emmett’s final chapter. I’m just so thrilled with this last minute find!


What could be


If you haven’t read this story from yesterday’s edition of The Washington Post, please do.

Source: Library of Virginia, as published with the story in The Washington Post, November 5, 2016.

Source: Library of Virginia, as published with the story in The Washington Post, November 5, 2016.

Lucky man, historian James I. Robertson, Jr., surrounded by artifacts. So blessed. So privileged! Out of the 1,600 pieces of information, he used 140 to write his book — all of it precious. What was his criteria in choosing one letter over another, when all of the information is rare and precious?

The State Library of Virginia has the scanned information on their website. Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, was at The Battle of the Crater, and at Petersburg, and his family is from Lunenburg County, Virginia — I’m wondering if letters from him, or his brothers are in that treasure trove.

When I read articles such as this one, I am always hopeful that once the first part of Emmett’s book is published, perhaps someone will come forward with letters, or perhaps, the long-lost elusive scrapbooks.

Crowd Sourcing Research


One of the reasons why I started this blog about Emmett’s book was (is!) to locate his scrapbooks, correspondence, or anything that exists out there that may not be already digitized.

Emmett's will, page two. Emmett Wilson Kehoe was the son of his best friend, J. Walter Kehoe. Emmett lived with the Kehoes starting in the summer of 1910 until his death.

A snippet of Emmett’s will, page two. Emmett Wilson Kehoe was the son of his best friend, J. Walter Kehoe. Emmett lived with the Kehoes starting in the summer of 1910 until his death. I would love to find his scrapbooks, or, pieces of them. Anything.

Crowd sourcing the research has worked fairly well; last year I wrote about Emmett’s sister, Katie Wilson Meade, and a antique dealer contacted me about a photograph he’d found in a box with Katie’s name on it. That was cool.

Katie Wilson Meade, June 23, 1936

This is the photo sent to me by the antique dealer in Virginia. Katie Wilson Meade, June 23, 1936. Love her smile!

I’ve discovered that Emmett was a prolific letter writer. Yesterday, I found a few more references to letters he wrote to Nick Van Sant after he’d moved back to Florida in 1906. Turns out that Emmett and Nick remained friends, even though their business relationship did not work out, and (I’m sure) that it was an uncomfortable ending for Emmett — at least for a little while.

October 4, 1906. Emmett tells Nick about the hurricane that did a million dollars (1906 dollars) damage. Source: Sterling Evening Gazette

October 4, 1906. Emmett tells Nick about the hurricane that did a million dollars (1906 dollars) damage. Source: Sterling Evening Gazette

Here’s another:

September 27, 1907. The only way the Sterling paper would have known this is through Nicholas Van Sant, via a letter from Emmett. Source: Sterling Evening Gazette, page 1.

September 27, 1907. The only way the Sterling paper would have known this is through Nicholas Van Sant, via a letter from Emmett. Source: Sterling Evening Gazette, page 1.

I think Emmett let both Nick Van Sant and the paper know this one. Nick might have felt odd if he’d read about this in the Sterling paper before hearing about it directly from Emmett.

Finally, there’s this one:

The Sterling Evening Gazette, 1908, editorial page.

The Sterling Evening Gazette, 1908, editorial page. Emmett never made it back to Sterling in 1908 for the Fourth of July; he never returned to Sterling.

Any letters out there to or from Emmett Wilson? Anything?

I would love to see them.




Modeste Hargis, Whistling Pharmacist


I’m pleased to report that not only have I located Emmett’s doctors (both in Pensacola and Washington, D.C.), but I’ve also located his pharmacist. Pretty damn good History Detective work, huh?

I’ll have more on the doctors in another post, but I thought I’d introduce you to the pharmacist first, because she’s REMARKABLE.


Meet Modeste Hargis. The first (and youngest) woman pharmacist in Pensacola.

Modeste Hargis, about 1900. Source: womenofhistoricpcola

Modeste Hargis, about 1900. Source: womenofhistoricpcola

Modeste was born August 1875 in Pensacola, the daughter of Dr. Robert Bell Smith Hargis. She had four sisters and two older brothers, Robert and John, who also were physicians.

Modeste decided early that she wanted a medical career, too.  According to a feature about Modeste in a 1909 issue of The Pensacola Journal, she accompanied her father every day on house calls and appointments, and he taught her everything he knew. She couldn’t have had a better teacher, either — Dr. Hargis was not only a yellow fever expert, he, along with Dr. J.C. Whiting, established the Pensacola Hospital in 1868. He was well respected, well known, and considered one of the top physicians in West Florida. It is quite likely that Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis C. Wilson, at least knew of Dr. Hargis, if he didn’t actually practice with him on occasion.

Modeste was interested in pharmacy, and Dr. Hargis encouraged and supported his daughter’s plans, even though it was still highly unusual for a young woman to enter a profession dominated by men.

In the 1909 article, Modeste said:

“I simply loved anything connected with medicine and after my father’s health failed, I commenced the study of pharmacy though I did not know then it would ever be the means of my support.”

Modeste’s turning point came in 1893, at 18, when she passed the state pharmacy examination and was the youngest (and only) female pharmacist in Florida.

Source: American Druggist & Pharmaceutical Record, Vol. 26, September 14, 1893.

Source: American Druggist & Pharmaceutical Record, Vol. 26, September 14, 1893.

And less than three months later, Modeste’s father died. It is unclear what was the cause of Dr. Hargis’ death, but he died at home, at 109 E. Romana Street. Modeste’s quote gives us a clue that he was likely ill for a long time, and so his death was not unexpected.

It is not clear when Modeste opened her first pharmacy. However, records from the Pensacola City Directory for 1898 (the earliest one available for now) indicate that she was on her own:

Pensacola City Directory for 1898. Source: Ancestry.com

Pensacola City Directory for 1898. J. Whiting Hargis was one of Modeste’s older brothers. Source: Ancestry.com

Just for kicks, I looked at Google Earth to see if the original house or buildings are still at 107-109 E. Romana. Alas, no — only a few modern box-shaped offices and an empty lot.

The Hargis Pharmacy moved around a few times: In 1911, it was located at 8 E. Government Street — the location of Emmett’s office — in the American National Bank Building. I can imagine Emmett stepping out of the office, taking the elevator down to the first floor, to pick up a bottle of Bromo-Seltzer, and his brand of pomade (which I have not been able to figure out yet, but give me time). He could also pick up a bottle of beer or wine there too! Did you know the Hargis Pharmacy also made and bottled beer and wine? It’s true. Pharmacies could do that back then.

Source: Mr.Bottles.com

A variety of bottles (contents unknown) bearing the Hargis Pharmacy embossment. Source: Mr.Bottles.com

By 1916, The Hargis Pharmacy had moved down the street from 8 E. Government, to 203-205 S. Palafox. Still, only a few blocks’ stroll for Emmett, should he need to pick up toiletries, or whatnot.

Pensacola City Directory for 1916. Modeste's pharmacy delivered, too! Source: Ancestry.com

Pensacola City Directory for 1916. Modeste’s pharmacy delivered, too! 203 S. Palafox, by the way, is still standing. Source: Ancestry.com

Not surprisingly, Modeste was a friend of Minnie Kehoe’s, and, a supporter of women’s suffrage. Both were successful women business owners, too. I can well imagine those two getting together and having quite interesting conversations.

Modeste’s house at 611 N. Barcelona is still standing, too:

611 North Barcelona, Pensacola, Florida. Source: Trulia.com

611 North Barcelona, Pensacola, Florida. Source: Trulia.com

Modeste spent most of her life as a pharmacist. It is unclear when she sold or retired from business. In 1934, at age 54, she was likely retired at that point, because she is simply listed in the Pensacola City Directory at home.

But she wasn’t idle.

Zora Neale Hurston. Source: Library of Congress

Zora Neale Hurston. Could Modeste have known her? it’s possible! Source: Library of Congress

Modeste signed on with the Federal Writers Project of the Work Projects Administration (WPA) for the state of Florida. She co-wrote a series of articles that appeared in a variety of publications, including the Florida Historical Quarterly. Interesting — she was probably a colleague of Zora Neale Hurston!

Modeste’s most prolific year was 1939, according to Wordcat.org. She had NINE articles on a variety of topics, including Don Francesco Moreno, and an intensive study of Greek culture in Pensacola.

By 1942, Modeste was out of retirement and the director of the WPA Writer's Department in Pensacola. From the 1942 Pensacola City Directory. Source: Ancestry.com

By 1942, Modeste was out of retirement and the director of the WPA Writer’s Department in Pensacola. From the 1942 Pensacola City Directory. Source: Ancestry.com

Modeste lived with her sister Palmire in the 1940s. Palmire died in 1946; Modeste died in 1948.

That’s a pretty decent sketch of Modeste for now; but there’s still a lot I don’t know about her. I wanted to search in the Library of Congress’ database this afternoon, but it is offline for annual maintenance until August 1.

One reason I want to dig around and discover more about Modeste was this interesting comment by the interviewer in the 1909 article: She was described as a violinist, and a ‘genius in the art of whistling.’

She must have been good at it too, because in 1927, Modeste had her own radio program about whistling!

Source: The Greensboro (N.C.) Record; February 21, 1927.

I wonder what was included in her show! Did she do all the whistling? Source: The Greensboro (N.C.) Record; February 21, 1927.

Emmett definitely had some interesting friends in his life, and which says a lot about Emmett. Getting to know his friends and what they were like helps fill in the blanks about his personal life somewhat — at least until I get my hands on his scrapbooks.


The Gift You Need


As promised, an update:

I reached out to Katie Wilson Meade’s granddaughter Tuesday morning.

She responded within a few hours — positively — and is willing to share information and (get this):

Photos! Of! Emmett! Wilson!

Photos that (in all probability) are those I have not seen! Maybe he’s smiling in them! Or, not posed!

I spent the better part of yesterday trying to calm myself enough to write an appropriate response back, without gushing all over the place, without weeping with appreciation and gratitude.

And then, I had to get over feeling intimidated writing to someone I consider a talented writer. Seriously.

I am truly grateful that she wishes to share this information with me. I only hope that I can reciprocate in some way, with information she may not have. (Minimally, she gets a big mention in the acknowledgements section of the book.)

Another point for our program of ‘not giving up before the miracle happens.’

And if any of my students are reading this: Another point for putting time, thought, and effort into your writing product. Katie’s granddaughter and I now have a dialog — you have no idea how thrilled I am to be able to write that. Yes!


Katie Wilson Meade and her husband Emmett Meade, about 1932, Charlottesville, Virginia. Emmett Meade was also Katie and Emmett Wilson's first cousin.

Katie Wilson Meade and her husband Emmett Meade, about 1932, Charlottesville, Virginia. Emmett Meade was also Katie and Emmett Wilson’s first cousin.

For almost three years, I’ve believed that of all Emmett’s siblings, he was closest to his sister, Katie.

One thing I know is that Katie’s granddaughter doesn’t have Emmett’s scrapbooks. I feel certain she’d have told me.

But, because Emmett and Katie were close, I feel that if I study Katie, I’ll still get to know Emmett a little better. Katie might have voiced her concern or frustration about Emmett in her writing, for instance. Hopefully, there’s something in there about Emmett, or, her thoughts and reflections about Emmett. That would be wonderful.

Speaking of reflections, Katie’s granddaughter is an excellent writer. I find her style to be natural, thoughtful, streamlined.

I read one of her stories this weekend, in which discussed clearing out her deceased parents’ belongings. She asked how she could divest her family’s belongings and still honor the memory; still preserve the treasured memories and stories?

I understand that: My own father is downsizing a collection of belongings dating back seven decades; five of which were spent with my mother.

Mom, 1962. This was her engagement photo.

Mom, 1962. This was her engagement photo.

Since the death of my mother, my father has sent me and my sister boxes and boxes of keepsakes my mother treasured — and while I appreciate having them, most of the boxes sit in my basement storeroom, still packed six years later, because I have no idea what to do with the ‘stuff:’ Photograph albums, scrapbooks, my mother’s ruby glass tea set she had as a child, ancient, well worn and loved books that have been on my father’s shelves for decades.

I don’t have a place for most of what is in the boxes at the moment. Honestly, some of the stuff I will likely not keep, but: I don’t want to just get rid of things, because I also want to preserve the memories and stories attached to the ‘stuff.’

The best way I know to preserve the memories and stories is to write about them. So, I started putting together a collection of memories and stories about my mother (and my relationship with her) a few weeks after she died in 2009. I haven’t worked on it much since then. It has been hard not only because I haven’t had much time (my youngest son was born 10 days after my mother died), but also because my mother and I had a fractious relationship. We just did not get along well, even though we both tried to at different times.

It is painful to remember my interactions with her; rarely we had what I’d call a regular conversation. Toward the end of her life, she and I tried to repair things between us, but it felt forced most of the time, and then, in her last year, she was on so many different painkillers that she wasn’t herself anyway. No one could talk to her by then.

I wish it had been different; it just didn’t work out that way.

Remembering this failed relationship is difficult for me. Right after she died, and my dad started sending boxes, I felt that seeing her things around me would just make the mourning process that much more difficult.

Also: My sobriety was also relatively new and fragile at that time — I was in pain. I wanted to escape it. My best thinking at the time was to keep her things in boxes. I’d deal with them later, when I felt stronger, less fragile.

And so, when I think about Emmett’s family and the question of preserving his ‘stuff’ after he died (there wasn’t much, according to his older brother, Cephas, in a letter dated June, 1918), I wonder if family members felt relief; as in, they were just simply glad Emmett’s struggle living his life was over? That because he had an unhappy ending, that it was best just to let his stuff go, too; the idea that his belongings around would recall him and the sad ending of his life?

I empathize with what I think some of his family members and friends probably did with Emmett’s things: Put them in a box somewhere, because seeing them meant reliving painful events.

Time passed, and eventually, people forgot about them. Decades later, someone else might have found Emmett’s letters, scrapbooks, documents, and, not knowing or remembering who Emmett was, simply discarded them.

My mom’s ending was sad, too. But I hold on to her things for now. You see, my mom had a great relationship with my oldest daughter; they were two peas in a pod. My daughter will likely want my mother’s keepsakes. She still speaks of her now and again, with fondness. It has been six years since my mom’s death; my daughter was sad about it for a long time, and it troubled her, remembering my mom.

With the passage of time, she can now remember my mother with less pain, and with some laughter over some joke they shared. My daughter is an artist as was my mother; my daughter likes to look at my mother’s sketchbook now and then, and appreciates it, without sadness. I, too, find that I can look at look at my mother’s things now, with less sadness, less regret.

I don’t ever believe that the sadness and regret will ever completely go away, though; and I’ve come to understand that’s OK. I look at the remnant feelings as important reminders of what could happen in the relationship I have with my daughter.

Not exactly the gift I wanted out of the mess that was my relationship with my mother, but, it turns out this is the gift I need in my life.

And for that, I can honestly say, with deep feelings of gratitude and love, thank you to my mother.