Chapter 35: Thoughts on the Road

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May 18, 2014, about 6 a.m., Leaving Montgomery, Alabama

I have a lot to think about on my way to Pensacola. It’s to be out and about, especially since I don’t have a specific date or time with the person I’m meeting, but I wasn’t been able to sleep much the night before.

The drive is 164 miles, two hours and 39 minutes, according to the car’s GPS:  Down I-65, then to U.S. Route 29. As I near the Alabama-Florida state line, I see the signs for Flomaton and Century. I remember reading about both towns in Emmett’s old hometown paper, The Pensacola Journal; that Emmett visited Century once during his campaign in 1912. I’m not enticed to stop; at least, not unless I uncover some cache of Emmett Wilson memorabilia hidden in future research adventures.

But today is a special adventure, and I want to be keep my focus there. This is something I’ve looked forward to ever since I found Emmett. I don’t want to be distracted from it.

My stomach rumbles — I had breakfast, but more coffee than anything to eat. The result is that I’m wired and edgy. I’m driving safely, but I’ve never been this far away from home by myself, and it is a highway I’m unfamiliar with.

The air conditioner is cranked up — the air outside is already heavy and uncomfortable in the early morning. Steam is rising from the dew on the grass alongside the road as the sun hits it.

I’m trying not to speed, but for months, I’ve felt impatient about the need to be here, today. For so long, it seems, I’ve felt as if I was missing something being so far away from my research subject. It doesn’t matter that I have done a lot of the work thanks to technology.

The sense of impatience is something I know well; it is my main character defect among many defects. I want to get to an answer to a question, a solution to a problem, the final data of longitudinal research yesterday.

I realize: I’m anxious about the need for personal interaction with a dead guy.

I laugh out loud at the idea. I ease my foot off the accelerator.

A little.

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I think back to my meeting with Jule yesterday, and our conversation about Emmett and Julian. Jule wasn’t able to tell me if she thought the twins were close, although certainly several of the other Wilson siblings were.

We talked about the census records from the 1860s and the Wilson family genealogy that said Emmett and Julian’s father’s family were wealthy property owners and slave holders before the Civil War.

The introduction to the genealogy, by John Evans Wilson. Copyright 1990; used with permission of Wilson family descendants.

Still, that was a lot of money in 1860. Content by John Evans Wilson. Copyright 1990; used with permission of Wilson family descendants.

Jule believed that although the Wilsons never regained anything like the pre-Civil War wealth, they seemed to be economically comfortable, at least. But she did think it was odd, the mention in the genealogy that the younger children had to help pay for the older children’s college education — in essence, the entire family would chip in.

I’m not one to criticize, but this seems to be a very weird way of doing things, especially with older children already out of the house with jobs. Jule thought so as well, and thought it also may be one reason Julian didn’t go to college, as his twin Emmett did. Content by John Evans Wilson. Copyright 1990; used with permission of Wilson family descendants.

It was a great visit — some questions were answered, but there were still many left to figure out:

  • Why did Emmett seem to have a lot of opportunities given to him that the other Wilson children did not, and several do-overs, considering he didn’t handle them so well?
  • What was the relationship between Emmett and his family, especially between the twins?
  • Did the Wilsons knowingly cover up Emmett’s alcoholism?

And Jule offered the most thought-provoking question at the end: She’d had the impression from her father that Emmett never was able to find real happiness — but was there ever a point when Emmett might have happy, when he might have been able live his life and not try to escape it through booze?

I remember saying to her, “I wish we knew.”

===

Before I left Jule at her apartment, I promise to make as much progress on the book as I can, and along the way, send copies of clips, articles and other items about the Wilson family when I find them.

She tells me that I’m a blessing to her, and that she has no idea what I mean to her at this point in her life. I feel my face flush; I have no words.

As she walks with me to the elevator in her apartment building as we say goodbye, she turns to me, and takes both of my hands into hers.

She presses my hands. Her sharp blue eyes look directly into mine.

I love you, she says.

I love you too, I say to her.

We embrace.

As I step onto the elevator, she smiles warmly at me; raises her hand in a wave.

“Come see me again.”

===

The gas gauge on my car chimes — 25 miles to empty.

There’s a sign on the road ahead — next stop is Cantonment, Florida — not that far from Pensacola.

Yeah, I’m anxious and impatient. But first things first, as we say in the program.

I pull off Highway 29 onto Old Chemstrand Road — a gas station and a Winn Dixie — fuel and nourishment await before the next stop.

Chapter 12: Clues in the genealogy

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I dug into the Milligan family genealogy right away. With note-taking, it took two days. It’s basically written as a conversation from the author, John Evans Wilson, to his children and descendants.

The introduction to the genealogy, by John Evans Wilson.

 

This is further down in the introduction; John Evans Wilson gives the reader perspective on family anecdotes and sources of information.

 

Emmett’s family story is on the second to last page. Here’s what John Evans Wilson said about him:

 

 

There’s the notation about Emmett’s drinking, and a clue about what might have brought on the uremia. But what’s interesting is the part about the ‘rich northern lumber man.’

I wondered  if that could have something to do with Jim mentioning Emmett might have been gay? I wasn’t interested in pursuing that angle of the research, because honestly, his sexuality didn’t matter to me. Besides, I doubt I’d be able to prove that. Emmett might not have been gay; however, something about that relationship and Emmett’s drinking seemed to be connected — another mystery to study in this ever-growing biography.

There was something else about the genealogy that struck me — namely the earlier Wilson ancestor’s family names  — namely Graves — which I’d seen before, but was trying to place where. It bothered me enough that I made a note on a yellow Post-it, and stuck it on the frame of my computer monitor to check later.

I couldn’t go any further on the Emmett health diagnosis without a medical record of some sort. Emmett died at Pensacola Hospital on May 29, 1918.

The original Pensacola Hospital.

The original hospital, located at 1010 N 12th Avenue in Pensacola had long ago closed (although it is now a historic building with other businesses in it) and the medical facility moved to Sacred Heart Hospital; I crossed my fingers hoping historic records had not been lost over the decades.

Thanks to a recommendation from the excellent Jacki Wilson (no relation to Emmett’s family), archivist of the Pensacola Historical Society, I reached out to the public information offices at Sacred Heart.

After several days, a very nice gentleman named Mike Burke got back to me by phone.

“The good news is that we do have a record on Emmett Wilson’s admission and stay in Pensacola Hospital in our archives.”

Omg, omg, omg — I don’t know if Mike could tell I was freaking out in a good way 800 miles away through a telephone connection —

“I had to check with our general counsel on whether or not we can release this information to you, even thought it is almost 100 years old. Regardless, we’ll need an OK from a family member to see the record.”

I told him the closest relative I’ve contacted was a great-nephew, since Emmett died unmarried, and had not descendants that I knew of — plus everyone closer related was deceased by now — he agreed that an OK from Jim Milligan plus contact info would suffice.

As soon as I was off the phone with Mike, I got in touch with Jim, who said it was fine that I could see the record. I emailed Jim’s information with the verbal approval back to Mike, crossed my fingers that the Sacred Heart Hospital general counsel would approve my seeing Emmett’s hospital record, and waited.

Next: Emmett’s Hospital Record