Emmett’s Will

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One hundred years ago today, almost exactly a year to his death, Emmett wrote his will.

Emmett’s will, as it appears in the Florida probate documents. Filed June 1, 1918 by his brother, Cephas Love Wilson, executor. Source: Ancestry.com

I have a copy of Emmett’s original will; the document was typewritten by Emmett himself, on old Banking and Currency Committee stationery that he had saved from his tenure as a U.S. Congressman. Emmett edited and corrected the errors in the single-spaced document document himself, in pen.

Emmett’s original will wasn’t dictated to a secretary, nor was it signed by witnesses, nor was it notarized.

I believe he simply went into Walter’s office in downtown Pensacola (he wasn’t practicing anymore, but I’m sure Walter let him use the office, as they shared it once as partners), and borrowed a typewriter. I think it is particularly touching that he used his own paper — stationery from when he was at the top of his professional life — and wrote his will in solitude.

For a man who was, by now, dying of alcoholism, and likely in and out of clarity, Emmett appears to have thought out carefully how he wanted his few possessions dispersed. Emmett was solvent June 1, 1917 — the date he wrote the will — and he wanted to distribute his money and property (about $7,000) to Dr. F.C. Wilson, Jennie Kehoe, and Emmett Wilson Kehoe. According to the inflation calculator, $7,000 in Emmett’s time is about $133,400 today.

Unfortunately, by the day Emmett died, on May 29, 1918, he had run out of money and was borrowing against his life insurance policy to pay everyday bills — that’s according to a letter from Cephas, which was included in Emmett’s file in Pensacola. Somehow, Emmett went through all of his money (and then some) in a year.

It is amazing to me, during what must have been a terrible, emotional and psychological time for Emmett, that he got his affairs in order knowing for certain:

He wasn’t getting married.

He wasn’t going to have his own home.

There wasn’t going to be a new political career.

There wasn’t going to be a new law practice.

And, that the end was probably coming sooner rather than later.

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“God Knows I Am Sorry.”

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Continuing the study of A. Max Wilson’s children, we now meet the second son, James Fannin Wilson.

And confidentially, I’ve sat on the story of Fannin for several days because I wasn’t sure how to present it.

In straight journalism, one presents the data, without editorializing or embroidering the piece further. One doesn’t make excuses for the subject of the story, or speculate what he or she might have done leading up to the moment. As Sergeant Joe Friday would say, “just give me the facts, ma’am.” So, I’ll just start with the first thing I found about him, and you’ll see what I mean:

J. Fannin Wilson, 23, of Lexington, Ky., late of New Orleans, late of Calhoun County, Florida. As reported in the Lexington (Ky) Herald for December 6, 1926. Source: Genealogybank.com

J. Fannin Wilson, 23, of Lexington, Ky., late of New Orleans, late of Calhoun County, Florida. As reported in the Lexington (Ky) Herald for December 6, 1926. Source: Genealogybank.com

Dec 13, 1926 edition of the Lexington Herald. Fannin spent Christmas at the big house instead of Belle's house. Source: Genealogybank.com

Dec 13, 1926 edition of the Lexington Herald. Fannin spent Christmas at the big house instead of Belle’s house. Source: Genealogybank.com

Other documents revealed that Fannin got caught up in gambling, and could not pay the debts. So, he turned to embezzling — and cooking the books — to cover himself. It wasn’t a paltry sum that he embezzled, either:

The Lexington Leader for January 19, 1927. At the hearing, Fannin plead guilty for embezzling 10Gs. Source: Genealogybank.com

The Lexington Leader for January 19, 1927. At the hearing, Fannin plead guilty for embezzling 10Gs. Source: Genealogybank.com

Fannin’s gambling debts were not insignificant; $10,000 back in 1927 was the equivalent of over $135,000 in today’s money. This was a big-time debt. Maybe Fannin also had big-time collection agents hounding him, too.

So, Fannin goes before the judge for sentencing:

 

January 20, 1927, page 1, The Lexington Herald. Source: Genealogy Bank.com

January 20, 1927, page 1, The Lexington Herald. Source: Genealogy Bank.com

The second part of the story. January 20, 1927, page 11, The Lexington Herald. Source: Genealogybank.com

The second part of the story. January 20, 1927, page 11, The Lexington Herald. Source: Genealogybank.com

Here’s more of the story here, from the January 19, 1927 edition of The Lexington Leader. Fannin is quoted in this article:

The Lexington Leader, p2, January 19, 1927. Source: Genealogybank.com

The Lexington Leader, p2, January 19, 1927. The reference to the gambling problem is in the second column. Source: Genealogybank.com

The rest of the first column of the sentencing article, above, from The Lexington Herald. Source: Genealogybank.com

The rest of the first column of the sentencing article, above, from The Lexington Herald. Source: Genealogybank.com

“God knows I am sorry,” Fannin said.

I’m sure he was. This would be the equivalent of hitting bottom; he wanted a chance to start over. But the judge wanted to be sure of it, and Fannin would have a chance to start over after serving his time.

Fannin served his sentence at the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta. (Records on prisoners are available online via the National Archives in Atlanta, but, only up through 1921.)


In 1940, we catch up with Fannin again in the U.S. Census. He is living in New Orleans, living on Gayoso Street. He’s listed as “James F”, and employed as a “Hand Book,” which is further described as related to ‘horse racing.’ (Here’s an interesting article about hand book operators in New Orleans.)

We find James Fannin again in 1945, living in Blountstown with his mother and brother, Warren. James is in the Army.

Florida State Census for 1945. Source: Ancestry.com

Florida State Census for 1945. Source: Ancestry.com

The next information I have on James Fannin is from his mother Belle’s obituary from the Panama City News Herald for April 14 1967, stating he is a resident of New Orleans. Belle was living in Blountstown when she died.

I don’t think James Fannin ever married. I have not yet located any marriage record. However, we do learn that he served his country.

Fannin is buried in Biloxi National Cemetery.

Fannin's grave. He's in Biloxi National Cemetery. Source: Find-a-grave.com

Fannin’s grave. He’s in Biloxi National Cemetery. Source: Find-a-grave.com

I think James Fannin turned around his life the best he could, given that he might have struggled with a gambling addiction all of his life. I don’t know that he also had a problem with alcohol and I’m not presuming that is the case, but I do know from my own experience (and from hearing the experience, strength and hope from my fellows in AA) that many folks in recovery often struggle with more than addiction, and it doesn’t have to be a substance (i.e., shopping, work, running, chocolate).

Because I don’t know if Fannin ever married, I don’t know if he left descendants. I doubt that Fannin would have been entrusted with the Wilson family Bible, though, if one of Max’s children was, indeed, the recipient of this still-lost relic.

I still have a few more of Max’s descendants to explore. More will be revealed late in the week.

Rm w/a View & Then Some

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Have you seen this?

Lawmakers sleeping on the job? Staying up all night for their constituents? As if! Source: NPR via MCT via Getty Images.

Lawmakers sleeping on the job? Staying up all night for their constituents? As if! Source: NPR via MCT via Getty Images.

Yep, that’s a lawmaker getting ready to go nighty-night right there in the office. The NPR story, which can be found here, says it is a matter of circumstances for many of our elected officials: It is expensive to live in D.C., to plunk down an average of $2,000 a month rent (not counting everything else), and maintain a household back in one’s district.

I get that. I lived on Capitol Hill for 17 years BK (before kids). The neighborhood was a little dicey; there was no off-street parking (so my car was dinged and broken into more than once); and, for the privilege of living a decent commuting distance downtown to my work, it was about $1200 a month back then.

I don’t blame these folks for camping out in the office; but, it isn’t ideal.

Personally, I like being able to step away from the workplace. I find that it is too easy for the job to become your life if you let it. You can’t do that if you cuddle up with the Congressional Record as a coverlet each night.

So, I was wondering how this all might have applied to our boy, Emmett Wilson. Emmett was a thrifty guy. Do I think that if the option to sleep in the office had been offered him, would he have taken it up?

Nah. The reason is because I don’t think it would have worked out. Take a look at some of the photos of the office he would have had in the Cannon House Office Building:

The office averaged 15x23 feet. Check out the sink right there in the office, which is right next to your phone. Source: history.house.gov

The office size averaged 15×23 feet. Check out the sink right there in the office, which is right next to your phone (Emmett’s phone number was #743), which was right next to the door. That large object on the right is your sole filing cabinet. Closet? Ha. You’d likely score a coat rack. Source: history.house.gov

Right in the center of the sink, which is conveniently located by your office door, is an ice water spigot. Source: www.loc.gov

Right in the center of the sink, which is conveniently located by your office door, is an ice water spigot. Source: http://www.loc.gov

Here’s what the House of Representative’s historic page says about Emmett’s office space:

“…each (office) came equipped with identical oak and mahogany furniture. Modern conveniences included lavatories with hot and cold water, telephone lines, steam heat, and forced-air ventilation.” (Source: history.house.gov) Note: Not every office came equipped with a lavatory. And, these were one-room offices.

There were (and are) larger offices in Cannon, but a Freshman congressman like our Emmett would have scored the small office, sporting the furniture, above. The Speaker of the House scored an office with more than one room, where one could escape and close the door. Emmett wasn’t senior enough to have a multi-room office.

Curious, I decided to track down the exact rooms in which Emmett served his constituents.

Emmett’s office during both of his terms was in one of these smaller spaces. In 1913, he was in Cannon 480 (Cannon 432 in 2015); and, in 1915, Cannon 529 (Cannon 511 in 2015). These were, during Emmett’s tenure, on the smaller side, perhaps a little less than 15 x 23, according to the Clerk of Arts & Archives of the House of Representatives. The Clerk, by the way also sent me a nice email message inviting me to come on by sometime and see the rooms the next time I’m on the Hill.

Another view of the office space in the Cannon House Office Building, taken around 1908. Notice that it was a pretty tight fit: It would have had to accommodate both Emmett and his executive secretary, Jeff Davis Stephens, and visitors, too. Source: www.loc.gov

Another view of the office space in the Cannon House Office Building, taken around 1908. All of the offices had the same furniture, but could have a slightly different configuration. Notice that it was a pretty tight fit: It would have had to accommodate both Emmett and his executive secretary, Jeff Davis Stephens, and visitors, too. Source: http://www.loc.gov

In theory, Emmett could have lived in his office if he were so inclined, perhaps sleeping in the roll-top space of his desk, but he didn’t. Or, he wouldn’t have been able to, as he was over six feet tall, but I digress.

By the way, the first reported camping-out of a congressman-in-his-office was back in 1980, and the Congressman was House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, in Cannon 514, just a few doors down from Emmett’s old office. Armey’s office was probably larger than 15 x 23 feet in the 1980s, and likely had storage space for a cot, or pillows and so forth. There is very little storage space noted in the offices of Emmett’s time.

Of course, we know that Emmett lived across the street at the Congress Hall Hotel (now the site of the Longworth House Office Building). Emmett’s salary as a congressman in 1913 was $125 a month. Given the average salary of a family of four was about $600 a year, Emmett was making good money, if, he was still practicing law on the side when he came home during breaks (he was, but not often).

According to the handy-dandy Inflation Calculator for 2015, $1 in 1913 is the equivalent of $24.39 today.

If Emmett was making $125 a month in 1913, today, that’s about $3,048.78 today.

The cost of a room at the Congress Hall Hotel for Emmett in 1913 ran him $2.50 a day, or about $60 a day in 2015 money (that’s the price for a room with its own bathroom. You could get a less expensive room, but have to use a community john with everyone else on the same floor). I feel comfortable saying Emmett would not share a bathroom. I cannot see him standing in the hallway, unshaven, in a bathrobe, with his kit, waiting his turn in line with the hoi polloi. Nope. I digress.

Let’s say Emmett had the room at the Congress Hall Hotel for 30 days. In 1913 bucks, that’s $75. In 2015, that’s $1,829.27.

Emmett could afford the hotel room. But notice, I’m not including the meals or incidentals (taxis, train tickets, social events, trips to the doctor or the drugstore, or the liquor store). DC was an expensive place to live in 1913, and it is still expensive in 2015.

So, did he sleep in his office? No. Did he entertain the idea? Probably not; it would be considered undignified, and image was important to Emmett.

What’s it worth?

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I’m sitting at the desk, the office is perfectly quiet, I have a draft in front of me to start hacking away at…

…and I manage, once again, to get distracted from the writing, and to track down the minutiae of the little thing that piqued my interest!

Here’s what it was:

$10 a month room, board, including sanitary plumbing! Source: Florida State University, Argo, 1902

$10 a month room, board, including sanitary plumbing! Source: Florida State University, Argo, 1902

This little snippet comes from the 1902 Argo, which was the yearbook of the West Florida Seminary, now Florida State College in 1902 (later, to become FSU). It was in the back of the book, with the advertisements; a little promotional piece on the merits of a degree from FSC.

Notice that this doesn’t include the cost of tuition, incidentals, transportation — which, all together, would mean about $30 a month for a student attending FSC in 1902.

Emmett and his family were certainly what I’d consider upper middle class; but never ‘wealthy’ by any stretch (as everyone was expected to pitch into the family expenditures when old enough to work). Everyone chipped in to help out; Emmett earned some of the money to attend college, but he definitely couldn’t have done it on his own.

How much of a financial stretch on the family was it for Emmett to attend college?

Here’s an interesting application called Inflation Calculator 2015. I typed in $30 to see what it really cost back in 1899 (when Emmett was enrolled as a sophomore at West Florida Seminary (now FSU):

Do the math: $30 times eight months = Expensive education in 1899.

Do the math: $30 times eight months = Expensive education in 1899.

$857.14 x 8 = $6,857.12 for an entire sophomore year at WFS in 1899.

The average family income in the United States in 1899 (according to a publication from the National Bureau of Economic Research) was $1,004. Average income for families in Florida may have been less than that (an average family was defined as two adults, two children; the Wilsons has 10 children, but according to the 1900 census, there were five children enumerated in the Wilson household).

For the record, Emmett only attended half of his sophomore year; there were a combination of reasons why he didn’t return to Florida State College (which I save for the book, because they are pretty interesting); but, if he had, then he wouldn’t have become a lawyer, then a U.S. Congressman.

All right.

Back to regularly scheduled work.