“It’s Like Christmas”

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I am thrilled to see this. Check this out from the WWOZ (New Orleans) blog:

“Local preservationist Joseph Makkos is the recipient of 30,000 tubes filled with Times-Picayunes (and its predecessors The Daily Picayune and The Times-Democrat) from 1885 to 1930. Originally a part of the British Library’s collection, these papers were rescued from routine destruction of original newsprint and old books as they were transferred to microfilm, a more space-friendly way for libraries to preserve documents.” (emphasis mine)

This truly is pioneering public history project. Image source: http://noladna.com/about/

This truly is pioneering public history project. Image source: http://noladna.com/about/

I know ‘routine destruction’ is one of those things that happens in libraries and archives. It serves a purpose, but it still makes me sad. The documents themselves made it to this point in time; people 100 years ago actually TOUCHED and handled these things. It is a tangible link to the past.

Also, this makes me think about Emmett’s Elusive Scrapbooks — how they, too may simply have been ‘routinely destroyed’ long ago. I hope not. I’m still looking. But I know the reality of what happens when people clean house: They throw away old papers and items of no practical use; items that belonged to loved ones long dead and forgotten. No one could have predicted that someone would come along 100 years later to explore Emmett Wilson’s life.

Anyway, the story of how Makkos came into possession of the tubes is here; I note that this was no overnight acquisition. It took time, just like any good, worthwhile research project.

This is a huge, HUGE find for folks who like to comb through historic papers! Folks like me! The article mentions that the archive will be open to the public in 2015. Thank you!

The NOLADNA archive probably does contain information about Emmett, too, because he was in New Orleans several times for court-related issues (appeals); also, he accompanied Cephas to New Orleans for a serious medical procedure. Ceph was a big enough deal (as was Emmett, who was still a congressman at that point) that he would have been mentioned in the local papers. I’m just so thrilled to see this. I can’t wait to look around in this archive!

More info on the New Orleans Digital Newspaper Archive is at this link. Joy!

 

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Taboo Topics & Thanksgiving Gatherings

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Big family, many dogs, lots of off-topic issues, you can be certain.

Big family, many dogs, lots of off-topic issues, you can be certain.

Do you have any off-limit topics in family gatherings?

Sure you do!

We all do! And when you have a big family (like I do), you know there are several key topics you just don’t discuss, unless you want to have a meltdown on a holiday.

I’ve been a witness to (although, not a participant in) a few Thanksgiving rumbles. I purposely stay out of hot button discussions to ensure my holiday visits never turn into ‘guilt trips.’ Also, I’m not a good fighter: I’m afraid I’ll say something really hurtful, and you can’t take words back once they are out. I don’t like to be uncomfortable around my family.

Yesterday, after everyone was sated post-holiday feast, I found this interesting article from The Onion . Of course, it is a joke, but I think there may be something to this. Check it out.

Family Powerpoint Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner. A worthwhile idea. Source: www.theonion.com

Family Powerpoint Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner. A worthwhile idea. Source: http://www.theonion.com

The taboo topics in our family center around politics, religion, and Ole Miss versus Mississippi State. Of course, you know my leanings, but it would not be gracious to gloat, especially since my MIL (one I love dearly) is an Ole Miss alum. Alas. Snicker.

Imagine what Emmett Wilson’s family Thanksgiving taboo topics list may have included (if they constructed such a list):

  • Cephas’ latest extramarital affair, including any of the names of the women, local or long distance.
  • Lula’s filing for divorce from Cephas (unusual back in the day)
  • Emmett’s latest drinking spree
  • Max’s most recent business failure
  • Dr. Wilson’s illness/heart trouble which forces his retirement

Politics would not have been off-topic, as all of the Wilson men were active in the Florida Democratic Party. But Lula’s family were staunch Republicans (her family was well respected in the community, too). I can imagine her having to endure the Wilson men putting down anyone who was a Republican at the dinner table with a tad bit of resignation.

And then, the wine would start to flow, and I’m sure the talk would become highly charged. Hopefully, vases weren’t often hurled and fistfights were kept to a minimum, but you know how it can be with large families.

I wonder how Emmett — and his family — handled the heated discussion? I sense that everyone was extremely decorous at the table, and either swallowed their resentment (and snappy comebacks) along with the dry corn bread dressing, only to let the bad feelings simmer for days or weeks at a time. I’m only speculating, of course, but from what I’ve learned in the research, it seems that Emmett and his family kept a lot of their true feelings to themselves until it was too late to repair damaged feelings and relationships.

Knowing this about Emmett’s family makes me appreciate being charitable to others whose opinion differs from my own; it makes me appreciate having healthy relationships with others, even if they are Ole Miss fans. 🙂

 

Minnie Kehoe, Femtor Extraordinaire

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Minnie Kehoe, passport photo, 1924. Source: Ancestry.com

Minnie Kehoe, passport photo, 1924. Source: Ancestry.com

Readers, I must admit, I have great admiration for one of the femtors (female mentors) in Emmett Wilson’s life: Minnie Eloise Kehoe.

I’ve mentioned her before in an earlier post. When I think about Minnie, I’m struck and awed by what she was able to achieve during her lifetime — not that I would ever have doubted her abilities or intelligence, mind you. She was all that, and then some.

Minnie Kehoe was a pioneer of women’s suffrage in Florida, as well as a founder of what is now the National Court Reporter’s Association (back in the early 1900s, it was called the National Shorthand Reporter’s Association). Minnie was an officer of the national organization, in addition to authoring the legislation that created official court reporters in Florida.

She got her start working at her brother’s law firm, and then served as a state court reporter for many years. She also opened her own shorthand and reporting school in Pensacola — and if that wasn’t enough, sat for the bar exam in 1912 and passed, becoming the first woman attorney in Pensacola. All of this, “while still retaining her femininity,” according to an article in The Pensacola Journal). Seriously. I wonder if some folks actually thought Minnie might get broad shouldered, grow chest hair and her voice would drop a few octaves because she took the bar exam.

The fact she was the only woman taking the exam actually made this a 'special.' Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1912.

The fact she was the only woman taking the exam actually made this a Page One ‘special.’ Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1912.

The thing about Minnie, according to my sources, is that she lived her life with the view that what other people thought of her was none of her business. Minnie did what she wanted to do because she liked and understood the law, she was experienced and good with the law, and it was her calling. Period. It didn’t matter (in her view) that she happened to be a woman.

Minnie also knew that people would be watching her closely, once she made it to the Florida Bar. You know that must have been hard on her; her closest role model and mentor was probably her brother Walter, and for all his qualities, Walter likely could not empathize with some of the struggles his sister encountered on her way up the legal ladder.

As such, she probably also felt that in carving out her niche this way, she didn’t really completely fit in anywhere. Not that I think she didn’t have support from friends and family — she did — but she was the only woman lawyer in Pensacola for years. She was the sole member of her club. She still would not be allowed into the clubs where other male lawyers would gather, smoke cigars, perhaps sip a glass of brandy or coffee, to discuss cases, make deals, and so forth. She would be on the outside looking in on that for a long time. I wonder if this bothered her? If it did, she’d never let on, at least publicly.

Minnie was all that. Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1912.

Minnie was all that. Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1912.

Minnie may have started out as the Della Street in the Pensacola legal world, but she was really more Perry Mason than Della. I could never see Della empaneling a jury; but Minnie did. In fact, when Minnie empaneled her first jury and won the case, it merited coverage in The Pensacola Journal! The patronizing tone of the article is just cringe-worthy, but the locals at the time had to admit, with that article, Minnie had ‘made it.’

So, this amazing woman attorney, Minnie Kehoe — in reflecting on her, it struck me that she must have had some kind of mentoring — femtoring — effect on Emmett Wilson.

Minnie was in the same law offices with Emmett and her brother Walter, all working together, for years. Obviously, Minnie was not just relegated to pouring coffee and taking dictation for the lawyers in that office. She was contributing to cases. She was voicing her opinion — and a well informed opinion, at that — every day, engaging in animated, heated discussions with Emmett and Walter on their client’s cases.

Minnie had at least 10 years’ experience, plus the official court reporter legislation under her belt  when Emmett showed up, freshly graduated from Stetson, bar admission in hand, ready to practice law. Obviously, Minnie was able to teach him a thing or three. I don’t believe Emmett was ever patronizing towards Minnie, but you can bet your life that if it happened, it happened only once.

The Kehoe family made a strong impression on Emmett. Eighteen months after Emmett had graduated and started working in his brother’s law firm in Marianna, he followed the Kehoes to Pensacola to establish his own law practice. (Minnie, Walter and Walter’s family had moved to Pensacola to set up a law practice.) The first thing Emmett did upon arrival was board with the Kehoe family — Minnie, Fannie and their father, John Kehoe, on West Cervantes Street, and Emmett took Walter’s advice as he learned Pensacola’s local and political ropes. The Kehoes were family to Emmett; and Minnie regarded Emmett as a beloved younger brother.

The relationship Emmett had with the Kehoes was important in shaping his career, but I believe it went much deeper than that for Emmett. That’s why I’m I’ve been on a big quest for the past two weeks to find Minnie or Walter’s papers. I’m checking with historical societies and archives to see if they were donated. I would think that Minnie’s papers, at least, would be held in some law school or university archive. Minnie’s papers certainly have historic value, in my view.

For the record, if anyone out there knows of Emmett Wilson or Minnie Kehoe’s papers, journals, writings, or other documents that may exist out there, somewhere, contact me. Meanwhile, I’ve been working with a lot of great new contacts this past week. I’ll let you know if something turns up.

 

 

The Village People

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So, I’ve counted the number of names on my Acknowledgements Page, which is now up to five pages. I suppose I should call it the ‘Acknowledgements Section’ instead.

Not exactly the Village People I had in mind, but you get the idea. Source: officialvillagepeople.com

Not exactly the Village People I mean, but I’m sure you get the idea. Source: officialvillagepeople.com

I have 97 names listed so far, and many more folks to contact before the real writing begins. Truly, I think I have enough names here to say that we’ve formed an Emmett Wilson village of sorts; the 97 names constitute my own Village People!

Logically, I knew there was no way I could hope to write any kind of historic biography without (minimally) help from research librarians.

One of the hardest things for me to do has been to cold call people; even sending out introductory queries by email has made me uneasy. Why? It isn’t like the phone weighs 3,000 pounds, or that email ‘costs’ anything.

The real issue for me in reaching out to total strangers in doing Emmett’s research is that people could say ‘No, I don’t want to help,’ or, simply be rude in response to your query. If you are new to research, this is the reality of information gathering. It can happen sometime; and often, it has nothing to do with you, your research, or anything else. Sometimes people don’t want to help, and that’s fine.

Incredibly, that has not been the case at all. What has amazed and humbled me is how many others have readily offered assistance, and even reached out to me, unasked, to help. In fact, I’ve had only three instances of what I’d call rudeness; two of the instances were from the same person, and he, unfortunately (and unknown to me) has dementia.

When I started looking into the life of Emmett Wilson, I honestly did not think I would find much, and I prepared myself to give it a few weeks’ worth of looking around, then to let it go. But the research got interesting, and I was hooked. It just goes to show that you never know what you can expect to find until — and unless — you start the research journey.

I’m very glad (and grateful) to have been given the opportunity to study this man’s life, for this whole process has truly changed mine for the better.

Emmett’s Chipley

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One of the best parts about Emmett’s research trip was a visit to Chipley, Florida. This is where Emmett lived from about 1884 to 1900.

The US Census (dated April, 1900) reveals Emmett was enumerated in his father’s household, but that summer, Emmett moved to Marianna, where he studied law under the tutelage of older brother Cephas, before attending law school at Stetson University in 1902. After that, Emmett would refer to Marianna as his ‘hometown,’ but the reality is that he ‘grew up’ in Chipley.

I spent a day with the staff of the Washington County Historical Society (WCHS), who were very helpful pointing out buildings Emmett would have seen and visited.

Washington County Historical Society. Great set of artifacts, even better hospitality!

Washington County Historical Society. Great set of artifacts, even better hospitality!

The WCHS is a replica of a depot of Emmett’s day, about 150 feet away from the original site!

(In fact, Emmett would have disembarked from the train right at this location, then walked the four or five blocks to his father’s house on Sixth Street, which still stands, by the way. I’ll have a separate entry on the Wilson home in a few days.)

I met the curator, Dorothy Odom, and two local historians, retired Judge Perry Wells, and Mr. Whit Gainey. Everyone was gracious and generous with their time;  they spent several hours with me talking about life in Chipley in the early 1900s, and provided excellent (and locally written) references to examine while I was in their archive.

Curator Dorothy Odom with local historian Whit Gainey.  Two of the nicest people I've ever met.

Curator Dorothy Odom with local historian Whit Gainey. Two of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

At one point, I took a break to explore downtown Chipley so as to get an idea of what Emmett might have seen. I was not disappointed.

There are several  buildings in existence — but just barely — that date from Emmett’s time. I say ‘just barely’ because these are beautiful historic structures in desperate need of repair.

A view of the Dunn Building, dating frm 1917, downtown Chipley. The historic bank building at the far right is in desperate need of repair.

One such building from Emmett’s time, The Dunn Building, 1916. The historic First National Bank building, far right, is in desperate need of repair.

Here’s a photo of the First National Bank, organized in 1905, under construction:

First National Bank under construction, about 1905.  Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/1532

First National Bank under construction, about 1905. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/1532

 

Here’s the bank today:

The structure has lovely bones on the inside; it is worth saving. You have to see it in person to appreciate it.

The structure has lovely bones on the inside. You have to see it in person to appreciate it.

 

It wasn’t hard to sense that Emmett had walked along these same sidewalks to get a haircut and shave; to visit the pharmacy; to get a cup of coffee. The heart and the soul of downtown Chipley feels very unchanged from those long-ago days, despite the presence of people talking into cell phones here and there, and other modern developments.

Along the sidewalks in Chipley.

Along the sidewalks in Chipley.

 

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Beautiful building; I wonder what it was in Emmett's day?

Beautiful building; I wonder what it was in Emmett’s day?

 

The railroad runs right down the center of downtown Chipley.

The railroad runs right down the center of downtown Chipley.

The railroad tracks run right down the center of downtown Chipley, just as they did back in Emmett’s day. The main difference: No passenger train service, only freight trains today.

One of my goals was to visit Emmett’s parents at Glenwood Cemetery. Whit found an internment guide, and took me out to the cemetery, where we located the Wilsons — and, I kid you not — a surprise.

Readers, one of the biggest information holes I have in telling Emmett’s story is that I know very little about his mother, and unfortunately, there is almost nothing written her in the genealogies.

However, when I visited her grave, at the bottom of her marker, was this:

Elizabeth Wilson. Truly, she must have been someone you'd want to know.

Elizabeth Wilson. She must have, truly, been someone you’d want to know; I think Emmett was very close to her.

Even though digging around for information on Elizabeth is proving a big challenge, I’m far from giving up at this point. 🙂

I was only able to budget one day of the research trip for Chipley, but I plan to come back to do follow-up later this year, and spend more time with my new friends and colleagues. Everyone I met welcomed me without reservation, and expressed interest in helping with Emmett’s biography.

Before the trip, I made sure to study as many years of the Chipley newspapers as possible, in great detail, to learn as much as I could about the Wilson’s contemporaries. I paid attention to the descriptions of how people interacted with each other, the courtesies they paid each other, the empathy shown for those experiencing loss, the entertaining stories and jokes they told to each other. The newspapers, of course, cannot give you an absolute, perfect idea of what it was like back in Emmett’s day, but you get an idea of the community in general.

What came across to me during this visit was Chipley’s community character from 100 years ago has a lot of similarity to Chipley’s community character today. It was a nice thing to see and experience.

I think Emmett would have liked this, too.

 

Emmett’s Pensacola

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Readers, now that I’m back from the research trip to Pensacola, I can catch up on what I saw.

Pensacola 1910. The ANBB is the tall building on the right.

Pensacola 1910. The ANBB is the tall building on the right. Source: Shorpy.com

I was pleasantly surprised to see that many of the buildings where Emmett lived and worked still exist, and are in good repair.

This photo (right) of downtown Pensacola from 1910 shows Emmett’s office building, then called the American National Bank Building. He had an office on the 7th floor.

Seville Tower, 2014.

Seville Tower, 2014.

Here’s a photo of the same building, today called Seville Tower.

I was a bit surprised to see that it was pink — or do you call it salmon? I’ll have to check with my intrepid tour guide, Jacki Wilson, of the Pensacola Historical Society, to confirm that this is the original color.

I wanted to go in to see the 7th floor, but was a bit hesitant as it is a law firm, and people were working, but Jacki was not to be dissuaded. We were on a history mission! She has a badge, too. (Well, it’s her PHS nametag, but apparently that has clout when walking around this part of town.)

Looking out of Emmett's office on the 7th floor of the original ANBB. He used to work on the third floor of the one across the street.

Looking out of what was Emmett’s office on the 7th floor of the original ANBB. Today it is an art gallery and cultural events are held there.

We rode up in what was an updated but original size elevator (also once was run by a human being) to the 7th floor.

The law firm receptionist was very nice and let us take a look out the windows of the office to see what Emmett may have seen back in the day — namely, his old office building, which was (and is) right across the street. Back in Emmett’s day, this was the Customs House building, which also housed the post office, and several federal offices on the third floor. Emmett was the assistant district attorney for several years; so, his office was on the third floor of the Customs House.

Customs House, about 1910. Source: Pensapedia.com

Customs House, about 1910. Source: Pensapedia.com

We then went across the street to see the Customs House, now an art gallery.

The building itself is in very good condition. When Emmett was a congressman, it had needed a lot of repairs, and he got a $30K appropriation for the improvements. Today, that would be about $630,000. A lot of the improvements needed then were cosmetic (wall repair, painting, light fixtures, sidewalk).

The Customs House today.

The Customs House today.

Regardless, it looks as if the people of Pensacola care a lot about this historic building, because it is in excellent condition today.

We also took a stroll through Plaza Ferdinand VII. There is a lovely fountain that Emmett would have seen every day, that is in excellent condition. It was nice to see it as he would have seen it.

The fountain at Plaza Ferdinand VII.

The fountain at Plaza Ferdinand VII.

The great benefit of walking around a historic town with an archivist is that you get an excellent (and behind-the-scenes) tour of Pensacola, along with great details about the interesting people who lived there.

It was a fantastic experience to hear about the people Emmett would have worked alongside, or dealt with in the courtroom, or who would have hung out with him at The Osceola Club and the Elk’s Lodge, which were the two the private men’s clubs he belonged to back in the day.

Elk's Club (left) and Osceola Club (right). Source:  State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/118376

Elk’s Club (left) and Osceola Club (right), about 1912. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/118376

Unfortunately, both of those buildings, like the San Carlos Hotel (another place he frequented), are gone now. However, we did visit the site of those buildings, and it gave me an idea of Emmett’s ‘commute.’

Emmett didn’t own a car, but he didn’t have to: Pensacola had a trolley, and then, most of the places he frequented were no more than four or five blocks away.

Here are some of the other images we saw that Emmett would have likely seen too:

A courting bicycle. The chaperon would sit on the third seat behind the courting couple, who did all the work/pedaling.

A courting bicycle. The chaperon would sit on the third seat behind the courting couple, who did all the work/pedaling.

A barbershop chair. Emmett likely sat in this once and had a shave.

A barbershop chair. Emmett likely sat in this once and had a shave.

 

One of the actual trolley cars from Emmett's time. Jacki feels quite confident he rode in this car when he lived her.

One of the actual trolley cars from Emmett’s time. Jacki feels quite confident he rode in this car when he lived here.

 

The inside of the trolley car, restored to what it would have looked like in Emmett's day.

The inside of the trolley car, restored to what it would have looked like in Emmett’s day.

 

The Theissen Building. Emmett didn't work here, but he passed by it every day on his way to work. It is in excellent condition.

The Theissen Building. Emmett didn’t work here, but he passed by it every day on his way to work. It is in excellent condition.

 

City Hall back in Emmett's day, but now the T.T. Wentworth Museum.

City Hall back in Emmett’s day, but now the T.T. Wentworth Museum. Part of the Pensacola Historic Society and the University of West Florida.

I’ll have more to share about this great trip tomorrow. But before I go, the intrepid Jacki Wilson and I ended our hike about historic Pensacola with lunch!

The best part of this trip is hanging out with new friends!

The best part of this trip is hanging out with new friends!

Food, friends, and history, people! I highly recommend it!

 

 

 

The Elusive Emmett

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To date, I have 1,285 individual citations for Emmett Wilson, organized in a biographical database. I also have about 300 articles still to be put into the database, and I add a few more every day.

The articles include mention of family members and close colleagues, which I send to Wilson contacts for their own genealogical research.

When I started this project, I was initially dissuaded from doing Emmett’s story because of his obscurity. What has surprised me has been the amount of information I’ve found. It just goes to show that speculation in research is a big no-no. 🙂

But, I’m also stubborn when I think something is worthwhile. Obscure or not, Emmett’s story is worthwhile, and I’m on it.

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One of my first steps with the Emmett Wilson bio was a visit at the Library of Congress. There, I met an archivist, Fred, who talked with me in-depth about the biography.

loc reading room

Contrary to popular belief, the LOC doesn’t have EVERYTHING ever published in the world. Source: http://www.loc.gov

We searched the LOC’s databases. As expected, there wasn’t much about Emmett. Fred gave me some suggestions of where else I might look, then he turned to me, shrugged, and said, “He wasn’t a popular congressman. I doubt you’ll find much. You should try the periodicals.”  This was good advice. However, he warned: “The Library of Congress, contrary to public belief, does not have everything. We may not have what you need.”

I hopped over to the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room at the LOC . I started with the digital newspapers. Score! I found some articles about Emmett, but not much. However, the archivist there told me that what they didn’t have on hand could be ordered from different libraries. I was so excited to know that information probably was out there, somewhere, that I didn’t realize that most of the time, reading microfilm in this way is like looking for a needle in the haystack.

Still. I’m on a mission. I will track down the Elusive Emmett Wilson. And so far, all this wallowing in miles of positive silver duplicate has been worthwhile.

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Emmett_PJ_Jan41910

One of the articles found by reading microfilm, screen by screen.

About six months ago, I’d have thought 1,285 citations would be more than enough on my very obscure Emmett Wilson, and I’d have no problem writing reams of copy! In reality: I’m only about midpoint in data gathering.

The good news is that I’ve been able to find so much information, even if it is just a single sentence mention here and there.

The bad news, of course, is that 90 percent of what I’ve found is not digital, and it is slow going and frustrating. We are talking about, at a minimum, 1,000 images on an individual reel. Still, I am finding information, and that is progress.

On second thought, this is also good news.

All of what I have found so far is unique to this research. Trust me, it’s obscure as hell. Also, it can be addictive: I can go through dozens of issues of the ancient Pensacola Evening News without seeing Emmett’s name. Lot of advertisements for trusses, but nothing on Mr. Elusive.

Suddenly, boom, there it is, a one-liner on the editorial page. This gives me such an adrenaline rush! After such an experience, I can read for hours.

In sum, I’d say that the sheer amount of information I am finding about Emmett makes me rethink his ‘elusive’ label. Granted, I’ve had to do a lot of digging and in oddball places; he’s not easily found. Also, 100 years later, most people with less than spectacular political careers are forgotten.

The questions I often ask myself are as follows:  Once I ‘rescue’ Emmett from his obscurity, what is it that I want people to remember about him? What is the ‘hook’ in all of this?

I have miles to film still ahead to read. I don’t have to answer those questions this minute, thankfully. There is much information yet unfound to ponder.