Chapter 1: Dissection Homework From the WFGS

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Before I contacted the Pensacola Historical Society to find out more about Emmett Wilson, I made copious pots of coffee and immediately dissected the three articles sent to me from Peg Vignolo of the West Florida Genealogical Society.

Newspaper articles are rich with information — it’s not only the details IN the piece itself, but it’s the context to pay attention to when you read the articles: that is, what is said (subtly), what is not said (subtly), how the article is positioned in the paper, the language used about deceased, and so forth.

First, the obituary:

The Pensacola Journal, May 29, 1918, page one. Courtesy of the West Florida Genealogical Society.

Note the cause of death. Nothing in the obituary text gave a clue to his death — the writing didn’t focus on the cause of death, but seemed (to me) to deflect. A ‘very short’ illness could be anything: Appendicitis, for example. On the surface, ‘very short illness’ sounded innocent enough, so why not give the reader that detail? 

[Aside: I wouldn’t realize until several months later, after I’d collected more information on Emmett and talked to Wilson family descendants that the photo in the obituary was almost 10 years old — it was the one he’d scraped money together to have taken professionally when he first ran for office in 1912.  The newspaper morgue at The Pensacola Journal would certainly have had one of the professional shots taken by Harris & Ewing when Emmett was U.S. Congressman.]

Note the time of death. Emmett died right after midnight, meaning the editor and the layout team likely had to stop the press, strip the first page of the newspaper and create a new layout at the last minute to make the first edition.

Note these nitpicky details. The article announcing Emmett’s death was placed just slightly over the fold, indicating this was a prominent person, even though Emmett’s congressional career was not distinguished. Anyone of less importance would have had a death announcement on another page, or the editor may have held the news for the next day.  Also: Whoever wrote the bare bones obituary had only the basic details about Emmett’s death at Pensacola Hospital. He or she wasn’t able to confirm anything else about Emmett or funeral plans in the middle of the night, and the details about Emmett’s life came directly from his congressional biography — obviously, the writer didn’t contact or interview local family members or friends to round out this last minute addition to the paper.

Finally, note the typos, which indicate that this death notice was very last minute. The other articles around Emmett’s death notice appear well edited. This is what reinforces my belief the editor stopped the presses for the May 29, 1918 paper for this last minute addition.

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Second, the funeral notice:

From the May 30, 1918 issue of The Pensacola Journal, page two. I think it is interesting to see the placement of Emmett’s funeral story the following day; I also wonder why (if he was so important to have three articles about his death in the paper) this item is moved off the front page.

Here is a close-up:

 

There was a lot of good background information to unpack (which I did in earlier posts, here and here).

As I reflected on this article, what stood out to me was mention of the surprise and shock of Emmett’s sudden death, and that few knew he was ill. But, at the same time, why no mention of the illness that brought about the surprise demise?

Since Emmett’s death was a surprise, that WAS news — so why not tell the reader the reason BEHIND Emmett’s death –unless the reason was embarrassing to the family and friends who knew him best?

Also, wasn’t it ironic that he was ‘popular’ and yet no one knew he was sick? I have several articles from The Pensacola Journal  during this time period of ‘popular’ friends of Emmett who were reported home sick or in the hospital. (I checked the West Florida newspapers for several weeks leading up to the day of Emmett’s death, and there is no mention of him being ill or hospitalized.) Previously, when Emmett was ill, it was mentioned in the paper, by the way. One example is provided below.  (He’d supposedly had rheumatism at one point — which was often the euphemism for something else.)

Rheumatism. Really? Source: Ocala Banner, Dec 22, 1914.

Another interesting item: Emmett was buried from the home of what appeared to be (at the time) a political frenemy — J. Walter Kehoe, and not from Emmett’s own home, or his brother Frank’s home in Pensacola.

As I was collecting any and all information about Emmett and his pals in those early days into Emmett’s research, I’d discovered that Kehoe had long coveted the office of U.S. Congressman. In fact, it was reported from Kehoe’s speeches and other news coverage that he considered the office his dream job. (The Florida Democratic party leadership didn’t agree; they liked him fine, but they always considered Kehoe as the runner-up to someone else whenever it came time to select the candidate for the office.) Emmett and Kehoe had an unusual relationship, and this was going to definitely be an interesting part of Emmett’s story to unwind.

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Third, the post-funeral article:

The Pensacola Journal, May 31, 1918.

This was the post I wrote about this item a while back; also, this post included details pertaining to Emmett’s funeral, including the info featuring Emmett’s mortician (who sported a creepy mustache to boot).

The shorter third article ran on the third page, although in a good layout position (right hand page, under the number). The details are a bit general — which makes it hard to tell if the writer was actually present at the funeral. The subject is that a lot of people attended Emmett’s funeral.

The last sentence of the article made me believe the writer may have been there (noting several people weeping at the service), but with the feeling of ‘thank God this poor guy’s life is over and I can go on to my next assignment.’

I mean, look at the ‘article,’ folks. It is only three sentences long. 

I’m curious about the Rev. Johnson, who gave a ‘touching tribute’ memorializing Emmett — I wonder who actually briefed Johnson about Emmett’s life, because although he was an Episcopalian, Emmett was not a regular churchgoer, and probably had few conversations with Johnson.

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All this information was great, but it left me with many more questions than answers — and critically — I still didn’t know how Emmett died.

I knew I’d have to work backwards with this information in order to tell Emmett’s story — but I would need more details about himself, and his family. I reasoned that if this guy was important enough to garner three articles just about his death, there was more to this story.

The hard work was just getting started — I knew I’d have a long slog ahead to uncover Emmett’s story.  But I didn’t care. I was on a mission. I was possessed by Emmettism!

Next: Strategy

 

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Circle of Friends: J. Walter Kehoe

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We all have that one friend who we know we can turn to, no matter what, no matter the time of day. The friend who knows us better than our spouses (sometimes). The friend who loves us for who we are, who accepts us, unconditionally.

There aren’t many people in our lives who fit that bill. If we are lucky, we’ve had this kind of friendship at least once.

This was Emmett’s closest friend. J. Walter Kehoe.  Although Emmett’s childhood friend, Paul Carter, remained close to Emmett, they drifted apart after Emmett moved to Pensacola in 1906, and his law/political career took off.

J. Walter Kehoe in 1917. Kehoe, Emmett’s law partner, also succeeded him in Congress. Source: Wikipedia.com

Paul and Emmett were always friends, whereas Walter started out as a mentor to Emmett, and remained close to Emmett until Emmett’s death (although the relationship with Walter became estranged at the end).

But this was more than a mentoring relationship. Emmett lived with the Kehoe family between 1906-1918, except for a two-year period, when Emmett was ‘baching it’ in a boarding house with friends (1909-1910). It was more like Emmett was a member of the Kehoe family. Indeed, Kehoe’s great-grandson Mike once told me in a telephone interview that his grandparents, Walter and Jennie Jenkins Kehoe, “thought the world of Emmett. That’s why they named their youngest son and my favorite uncle, for him.”

Walter and Emmett’s older brother, Cephas, were law partners in Marianna for several years before Walter was named States’ Attorney around 1902, and moved to Pensacola. (As luck would have it with Emmett, Cephas’ law practice now had an opening — and in two years, when Emmett graduated from Stetson University, he became Cephas’ junior law partner.) Walter, therefore, knew Emmett since boyhood; knew his character, his intelligence, his potential — Walter knew and saw the REAL Emmett Wilson — the Emmett Wilson pre-alcoholic disaster.

Emmett’s ‘home address’ is actually the Kehoe’s address. Also, that’s the Kehoe’s phone number. Emmett didn’t have his own, separate line. Source: Ancestry.com

As with any ‘family’ relationship, it was loving, frustrating,  agonizing, painful — but it was honest — and the relationship between Emmett and Walter was one of the few consistencies in Emmett’s life.

Even though I know Walter and Jennie Kehoe were good to Emmett — Emmett was always treated as if he was a member of the Kehoe family — Walter had political aspirations too, and knew that a partnership with the Wilsons (Cephas primarily, but if not with Cephas, then Emmett) would likely propel him into the United States Congress, which was Walter’s ultimate goal. Walter’s continued partnership with Cephas was preferred for obvious reasons: Emmett was a neophyte in 1906, when he moved to Pensacola, an alcoholic, and immature on several levels. But the idea then (as now, sometimes) was that with a consistent home, and maybe a good woman to make it happen, Emmett would straighten up, stop drinking (or at least curtail it), settle down, and everyone’s political/power dreams would be realized.

Walter and Jennie did their best to help Emmett settle down — they even went so far as to introduce Emmett to ‘suitable’ women, and at one point, pushed, er, encouraged him strongly, to ask one young woman from Columbus, Georgia they deemed suitable to marry him. This was no grand passion or true love story between Emmett and Miss Georgia. Perhaps if it was, Emmett may have capitulated. But Emmett was inconsistent. And Miss Georgia was canny enough to realize that Emmett was too much of a project, and not her type. Besides, her Anti-Saloon League President father would certainly not welcome Emmett into the family.

But Walter and Jennie went too far — almost sabotaging their project in the works. It gets interesting — so stay tuned for the second installment on Emmett’s closest friend, J. Walter Kehoe.

 

100 Years Ago Today

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The front page of The Pensacola Journal, 100 years ago today. If you click on the link here, you’ll see the entire front page as it was on May 29, 1918.

Here’s a better look at Emmett’s death notice:

The Pensacola Journal, May 29, 1918, page one.

Emmett’s death notice was obviously unexpected and thrown together with few complete details as The Pensacola Journal‘s first (and only edition) of morning newspaper was going to press.

  • “Following a very short illness….” Those who were closest to him knew that what actually killed Emmett had been killing him for years, and Emmett’s “poor health” had been reported in  West Florida papers for several years. In fact, this was one of the reasons reported in earlier versions of The Pensacola Journal and other Florida papers why “he decided” not to run for a third term.
  • “…died at 12:25 o’clock this morning…” Emmett’s death took place right as the paper was going to press. The position of the death notice in the paper is interesting and important: Right above the fold, but not a top headline. The story was important, as Emmett was a recent U.S. Congressman, and his sudden (and mostly unexpected) death definitely newsworthy. There had definitely been last minute reworking of the front page by the composition editors.
  • …aged 36 years.” Emmett was actually 35. The late night copy editor didn’t know Emmett personally.
  • “Of course no funeral arrangements had been perfected….” Because this was unexpected. Although Emmett’s health had been deteriorating for years, it seems likely that he’d experienced several similar scenarios (for lack of a better description) and family or friends had not thought this was anything new. Or life threatening. I believe that only Emmett, and perhaps one or two others, really knew that Emmett was dying of alcoholism in 1918.
  • “It is probable remains will be held pending….” The late night copy editor was scrambling a bit to fill available text box space. What else would Pensacola Hospital do with a former congressman?
  • “Deceased from (sic) born….” The typo is another clue the copy editor was scrambling. But the bigger clues that this caught everyone off guard is that the second paragraph was taken from Emmett’s official U.S. Congressional Directory biography in 1913, and not more recent sources, because the death notice doesn’t include any information about his second term.
  • Emmett’s photo is from his 1912 congressional primary campaign. There had been several high-quality photos of Emmett taken while in Congress and certainly provided to the media free of charge. It’s curious why a more recent photograph was not used — unless it was just overlooked in the haste to put the May 29, 1918 edition to bed.

 

Frank L. Mayes of The Pensacola Journal. Champion grudge holder.

Once upon a time, back in 1912, Emmett was a good friend of Frank Mayes, political kingmaker, and editor and publisher of The Pensacola Journal. Emmett had been Mayes’ prodigy; he was intended to serve as Mayes’ entree into the Woodrow Wilson’s inner circle.

But there had been a major falling out around October, 1914, and Mayes basically washed his hand of his prodigy. After that, Mayes stopped running regular articles in his paper about Emmett — and when news necessitated mentioning Emmett, Mayes never mentioned his name, referring to Emmett instead as the Third District’s Congressman. Mayes knew that indifference was more damaging politically and professionally to Emmett than anything.

I also believe Mayes knew his indifference hurt Emmett personally, too. Frank Mayes was a smart fellow, he was an excellent ‘read’ of people because he got to know them well. Mayes was also the guy who never forgot a slight, and he knew the best way to get folks to do his bidding. Manipulative? Probably. That’s not meant to be a put-down; that character description often comes with the political kingmaker job title.

I mention the angst between Frank Mayes and Emmett Wilson because in 1918, Mayes’ widow Lois was running The Pensacola Journal, and she had no illusions about the relationship between her late husband and Emmett: Emmett wasn’t useful to Frank, and so The Pensacola Journal had no use for Emmett, either.

Source: The Pensacola Journal, May 29, 1918, page 1, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

When Frank died in February 1915, he had been on a mission to separate himself from the mistake of supporting a candidate unprepared to hold national office. That meant breaking away from Emmett’s supporters, like Walter Kehoe, as well. If you look at the front page layout for May 29, 1918, notice the article about a debate between Walter and John Smithwick right under Emmett’s death notice. Kehoe is running for reelection for Emmett’s old congressional seat against Smithwick — and Smithwick declared the winner of the debate — no surprise, since The Pensacola Journal endorsed Smithwick over Kehoe for the primary election.

 

Emmett’s Regular Getaway

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Although the life and behavior of an alcoholic can be unpredictable, Emmett Wilson appears to have been a man of regular habits, especially when it came to his annual vacation.

The Gulf View Inn, 1910. Source: The Panama City Pilot, July 28, 1910, p.1

Every year, on or about the first week of August, Emmett would go to St. Andrews or Panama City for two weeks. When there was room available, he would stay with either the J. Walter Kehoe family, who would rent a cottage in Panama City for several weeks, or he would stay at the Gulf View Inn.

Advertisement of the Gulf View Inn’s room rates, from the March 17, 1910 issue of the Panama City Pilot, page 4.

Two weeks was pretty much the upper limit of Emmett’s vacation time, as he was a busy lawyer. Emmett would take a steamer, primarily The Manteo, from Pensacola to Panama City.

Emmett on the steamer Manteo, August 1908. Source: The Pensacola Journal

What’s interesting about Emmett is that while he was considered a well-connected lawyer and politician who’s job it was to see and be seen, to be out and about in circulation, I get the feeling that he really wasn’t comfortable in all that circulation, that he had to force himself to be social, to interact, to make public speeches.

It wasn’t that Emmett was unable; but it seems that he was uncomfortable being in the public eye so much. He had to have known that the legal profession would necessitate social/public circulation, and he had to have known that would certainly be the case if he got into politics — but Emmett was an accidental politician — a last-minute substitution by the Florida Democratic Party when Judge Charles Parkhill suddenly withdrew from the race for the third congressional district on January 6, 1912.

The Pensacola Journal, January 6, 1912

Emmett on vacation, again during the first week of August, in 1912. Source: The Pensacola Journal

So of course, by the time August rolled around, Emmett would relish his time by himself, with just his fishing gear, a camp stool (and maybe a bottle of Scotch), deep in appreciation for the quite moments away from the crazy reality of his life.

 

Namesake Coincidence?

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I often check back on several databases, to keep up with new additions from archives or new-to-me sources that may have been added. This past week, I came across two interesting names in the year 1913:

Emmett Wilson Harrison (born January 31, 1913, in Okaloosa County Florida) and Emmett Wilson Strickland (born August 23, 1913 in Florida).

Is it possible that Emmett impressed these parents enough for them to name their children after him? Although these are the only two, there may be more out there.

I think this was the case. You see, 1913 was Emmett Wilson’s big year — the high point of his meteoric career. Consider:

  • In 1913, Emmett was the youngest U.S. Congressman in history at the time. He won his very first-ever political campaign by an overwhelming margin, beating two older, more politically experienced (and certainly wealthier) candidates.
  • And just a few years earlier, Emmett was the youngest District Attorney in the United States.

Although considered inexperienced by many older political leaders in Florida, Emmett was achieving tremendous goals for his youth.

Emmett Wilson Kehoe, son of Jennie and Walter Kehoe. 1930, University of Florida. Source: Ancestry.com

West Florida papers were depicting Emmett as the personification of a middle-class good boy, who was a go-getter, who worked hard, and succeeded against all odds. And indeed, this was one of the reasons why Emmett’s closest friends, Jennie and Walter Kehoe, named their youngest son Emmett Wilson Kehoe.

“It was easy to see why at the time. They (Jennie and Walter) thought the WORLD of Emmett,” Mike Weenick told me, when I asked why his grandparents named his uncle, born in 1909 after Emmett.

Why wouldn’t West Florida parents consider naming their sons after Emmett Wilson, in his honor?

I’ll reach out to the descendants this week to see if they know the story behind their ancestor’s names. I’ll let you know what I discover, if anything.

 

Papist or Protestant?

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The big question I’m exploring with one of J. Walter Kehoe’s descendants is this:

Was he once Catholic or wasn’t he?

A few days ago, I found Walter’s obituary, which mentions a Presbyterian funeral. I reached out to his grandson and asked about it. Walter’s grandson replied that he wasn’t aware of any Catholics in the family, which was a surprise — I’ve always thought Walter was Catholic, because Walter’s father John Kehoe was Catholic.

Chipley Jones. Emmett’s campaign manager, and somewhat jackass.

This is an important detail in telling Emmett’s story — and in case you’re wondering why I’m focused on this, it’s because of something Emmett — or, rather, Emmett’s jackass campaign manager — did during the 1914 reelection.

Briefly:

  • Emmett’s lack of experience and alcoholism were huge indicators that he was in over his head as a U.S. Congressman, and,
  • Woodrow Wilson’s popularity was slipping, as was the Democratic party’s popularity. Every Democratic seat in the Senate and Congress was precious.

In 1914, Emmett was being primaried by John P. Stokes, lawyer, statesman and Roman Catholic. This was a political handicap in Florida — 22nd governor, Sidney Catts, who ran on the Prohibition ticket and won in 1922, largely campaigned as an anti-Catholic.

Days before the primary election in Florida, on May 31, 1914, the word got out:

Stokes claims Emmett’s campaign using religious prejudice. Source: The Pensacola Journal, May 31, 1914, in ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Here’s the problem:

Stokes and his wife were married by a Catholic priest. That was the problem. Source: The Pensacola Journal, in ChroniclingAmerica.gov

This was Emmett’s campaign; ergo, the behavior of Emmett’s campaign staff reflects on him.

Here’s Emmett’s response to Stoke’s charges in the next day’s paper:

Emmett doesn’t say so directly, but his ad states *he* didn’t do anything wrong. This was written by Chipley Jones, by the way. Source: The Pensacola Journal, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Emmett was probably telling the truth — he, himself, didn’t actually do anything — but you can bet someone in his campaign (*cough* Jones *cough*) did. The damning thing about the whole situation is that Stokes wasn’t favored to win. Stokes wasn’t even close! Emmett was hugely popular at this point, and his ineptness in office, and alcoholism, were not visible to the general public.

Emmett may not have actually been the one to ‘ok’ this campaign tactic, but the fact it happened indicates Emmett was hands-off with the management of his campaign. That’s not good; essentially, Emmett gave tacit agreement to do whatever it took to win, even when the nearest competitor wasn’t close; saying his campaign was run on a ‘high and dignified plane’ rings hollow.

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Meanwhile, I think the issue of Walter Kehoe’s Catholicism is important, because the Kehoes considered Emmett family. Emmett lived with the Kehoes for several years; he was much loved, and trusted.  The idea that Emmett’s campaign went after Stokes because he was Catholic might not have sat well with the Kehoes. I wonder what Walter said to Emmett about all of this when it finally played out, if he said anything at all.

Maybe, by this point, Walter had joined the Presbyterian Church.

In the end, Stokes conceded gracefully.

Stokes concedes gracefully. Source: The Pensacola Journal, June 7, 1914, p4, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Stokes would go on to have a long, successful career in law and Florida politics. He was well respected; well remembered.

John Stokes died April, 1939. Source: The Miami Herald, via GenealogyBank.com

 

And we know what happened to Emmett.

Death Came As He Slept

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Here’s another fantastic find whilst conducting the every-other-month database sweep:

Source: Miami Herald, August 21, 1938, via GenealogyBank.com

Great details in this article — first, based on some other clips that I’ve found around this date, Walter was working and politically active up until the end, so there may not have been any clue anything was amiss. (I’m still looking for the actual cause of death.)

Second, the residence, 928 Bird Road, still exists. It’s an apartment four-plex, built in 1926. It may have been converted to apartments later.

Third, great details about the funeral and service. Most interesting: Walter, who was born and raised Catholic, had a Presbyterian service.

Finally, in the list of honorary pall bearers, there’s John P. Stokes, Sr., an old political/legal frenemy, and Judge Worth Trammell.

Source: The Pensacola Journal, February 27, 1910 from ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Walter was a man who made and kept friends, despite political and professional differences — a great quality, one which seems to be missing in the political scene these days.