Julian Wilson & The Steamer “Gertrude”

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Yesterday afternoon, I was going through my notes (looking for something else, naturally) when I found an article from the July 26, 1906 issue of The Chipley Banner, which reported Emmett’s twin brother Julian, “… a purser on the steamer ‘Gertrude’ was in town visiting his father at home, and left on Sunday to take his run on the ship.”

Of course, I had to stop what I was doing and track this down. Was it possible that there was information about the Gertrude out there?

Sure enough, the wonderful Florida Memory (run by the State Archives of Florida) came through. I found two photographs of the steamboat “Gertrude,” which ran up and down the Chattahoochie River.

The steamboat “Gertrude”, between Apalachicola and River Junction. Source: Florida Memory

I spoke with Julian’s daughter, Jule, several months ago, who told me that Julian and Emmett had become experts with the telegraph while they were teenagers working for the P&A division of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad around 1900.

Emmett did not feel a calling to the life of telegraphy, and set his sights on higher education and the law in 1900. Julian, however, liked telegraphy and Morse code, but he took a break from the railroad around 1903, and joined the crew of the Gertrude, just to mix things up.

Another view of the steamboat “Gertrude,” taking on a supply of wood. Source: Florida Memory

The job of purser was a natural fit for Julian; he was only with the steamship company for about two years (Jule thinks he didn’t care for life on the river), then returned to the L&N. He eventually became an accountant, and spent the rest of his career with the L&N. “My father loved working for the railroad,” Jule said. “He enjoyed going to work every day.”

By the way, the date of the original article that got my attention is interesting: Only a month earlier, Emmett came home permanently from Sterling, Illinois. Either The Chipley Banner was just now making note that Emmett was taking a long ‘vacation’ from his job back in Illinois, or Emmett’s family decided to say something, since it was obvious Emmett wasn’t headed back up North anytime soon.

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Circle of Family: Julian Anderson Wilson

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Jule and Julian Wilson in the 1940s. Jule still has that lovely smile.

Jule and Julian Wilson in the 1940s.

In the quest to find intimate details about Emmett, I’d always thought that the person who would have known him best, the person who would have been closest to Emmett was his twin brother, Julian Anderson Wilson.

Julian was named for Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson’s stepmother, Julia Anderson Hawkes Maxwell. He was born at Hope, Toledo Settlement, British Honduras on September 17, 1882. Julian and Emmett were fraternal twins; where Emmett has dark hair and brown eyes, Julian had blond hair and blue eyes.

Both Emmett and Julian attended Chipley public schools up until about age 16; they both started working at the Chipley railroad depot (their older brothers Frank and Meade put in good words for the twins); they worked their way up the ranks, both eventually becoming telegraphers. Emmett headed off to college in 1899; Julian stayed with the railroad, then went to work as a telegrapher for a shipping company on the Chattahoochee, then back with the L&N railroad, eventually becoming an auditor based out of Montgomery, Alabama.

“He had a good life,” Jule has told me. “He was happy, content.”

Did he talk about his family?

“No. He never did. And when he was asked, there was always a kind-of sadness about it. But he never talked about any of his brothers or sisters, not even about his own father.”

Did Jule think that was unusual?

“Perhaps. But then, he was a quiet man. I think people of that time just didn’t talk about their families.” Jule said she knew Emmett was once a U.S. Congressman, but that was all. Nothing was said about Emmett personally. No anecdotes.

Julian never described his childhood; because he was so quiet about his family, I certainly don’t think he would have ever voluntarily talked about Emmett’s (or anyone else’s) alcoholism.

That makes sense. Emmett had a sad ending related to addiction; something that, even today, with all that we have learned about alcoholism and how to deal with it, people have trouble talking about.

I remember when I talked to Jule about Emmett’s alcoholism, she wasn’t shocked or uncomfortable about it; she felt sorry for Emmett and what he must have gone through. And then she said, ‘You know, now that I think about it, my father rarely took a drink. I wonder if that was the reason why; that he saw what Emmett’s drinking did to him, and to the family.”


Despite the fact that Jule didn’t know anything about Emmett, or, his relationship to Julian, I don’t think the twins were estranged — at least, not until around toward the end of Emmett’s life.

I have different clips from several different newspapers, between the years 1900 and 1912, where it is mentioned that Emmett and Julian were visiting their father in Chipley for a weekend, or a few days; I have another clip that specifically mentions Emmett and Julian spending a weekend with their father that coincided with their birthdays.

Source: The Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, Wisconsin. May 29, 1914

Source: The Daily Northwestern, Oshkosh, Wisconsin. May 29, 1914

I also have an article in which Emmett tells a reporter about a joke he and Julian played on a local barber when they were both living in Chipley. Clearly, the brothers got along. They had fun together. There was a regular rapport between them; at least, before Emmett became a U.S. Congressman.

I don’t think this was a case of jealousy on the part of Julian over his twins’ success: I believe Julian was happy that his brother was achieving his professional goals. But, Emmett was moving in different circles; Julian was spending most of his time in Montgomery, Alabama, as he was becoming more senior with the L&N management offices there. As of 1912, when Emmett was running for office while trying to serve as State’s Attorney, he on the road constantly. It may have been as simple as the twins weren’t seeing each other much.

Then, there was the alcohol issue. By 1912, Emmett was a full-blown alcoholic. Whereas Emmett could ‘hide’ the heavy drinking and its after effects easier in years before, his excesses were becoming noticeable; friends and colleagues who had a vested interest in Emmett’s becoming a Congressman were helping to cover it up. Did Julian said something to Emmett about it, to help him? Perhaps. But Julian may not have noticed how bad things were with his twin until it was too late.

We do know is that Emmett’s ambition and alcoholism became the center of his life. Julian, on the other hand, fell in love with a lovely young widow with two daughters in Montgomery; he married and settled down.

A year later, in December, 1917, Jule was born.

Did Jule ever meet Emmett?  She isn’t certain; she could have, if her parents took her to meet her grandfather in Chipley, and perhaps Emmett was there. Jule said she would have been too young to remember it if she had met him, as she was only six months old when Emmett died in 1918.

 

In Appreciation of Patience

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If I had to name the personality defect that is the bane of my existence, it is impatience.

I am absolutely terrible at playing the waiting game. I think I have gotten better at it as I’ve gotten older (i.e., matured, and sobered up), but I clearly have a long way to go when it comes to patience.

I will say that Emmett’s research project has been a great help in terms of improving my patience tolerance levels. I can’t believe I am coming up on the third anniversary of ‘meeting’ Emmett, and the book is still not finished!

It is creeping along — slowly — and I can tell you that I understand and see why that is. If I had rushed this project at any point, I’d likely have written something based on incomplete information, or inaccurate perception of data, or (probably) have offended someone by being impatient.

I’ve had wonderful results so far with the research — and I chalk it up to being patient. It’s not easy for me; but, I’ve come to the understanding (thanks to Emmett and his story), that if I’m careful, tolerant, and patient, the information will surface and the story will be told.

 

And sure enough, thing are happening!

This morning, I had a phone call from Emmett’s 98-year-old niece, Jule, in Alabama. (If you recall, I had sent her information about her 98-year-old first cousin, daughter of A. Maxwell Wilson.)

Yesterday, I heard back from Edith’s pastor, who was kind enough to pass my information, and Jule’s information, to Edith and her family. The only thing I could do next was wait.

I didn’t have to wait long, though!

Jule and Julian Wilson in the 1940s. Jule still has that lovely smile.

Jule and Julian Wilson in the 1940s. Jule still has that lovely smile.

“Guess what?” Jule said. “I found Edith. She’s in nursing home, but I got her room number, and told the folks over there I’m coming to see her! I’m going to drive over there myself!”

That made me laugh out loud!

“Did you know about her, or that she even lived close by?”

“No!” Jule said. “I had no idea! But I can’t wait to see her! We have a lot to talk about!”

Jule said she’d let me know how it went after the visit.

I can’t wait to hear about it!

 

Odds and Ends and Ironies

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So, I’ve reached a brick wall in my exploration of A. Maxwell Wilson’s descendants and the elusive Wilson family Bible. It isn’t insurmountable, but I’m hesitant to push further without help from other family members. Here’s the story:

The three-out-of-eleven remaining children of A. Maxwell Wilson in our study are: Warren, Harry, and Edith.

There’s not much information about Warren and Harry; this is not to say that they didn’t live exceptional lives. But, there’s just not a lot of information out there to tell their stories completely at this point.

Here’s what we know so far:

It seems that Warren was blind. He’s enumerated in two of the 1930 U.S. Census documents: In the first, he is in the Wilson family home headed by his mother, Belle, in Blountstown. In the second, he is enrolled as a student in St. Augustine at the Florida State School for the Deaf and Blind. Max Wilson’s family was already familiar with the FSSDB — oldest daughter Lalla attended this school also, and eventually became a teacher there.

Warren eventually moved to Pueblo, Colorado; he died in 1988.

There’s less information on Harry Wilson: He worked as a clerk in a hardware store (according to the U.S. Census), he served in the military in World War II. He married, had children, lived in Alabama, and died in 2010.

But Edith…

…Edith, bless her heart, is still with us! She is the same age as Julian’s daughter, Jule, who is ALSO still with us.

And, get this: They both live in the same town!

Here is why I’m hesitant to press forward:

I’ve already sent Edith a snail mail letter, and it has been a few weeks. I haven’t heard back from her. I understand she may be hesitant to reply to a message from someone out of the blue; she’s a senior lady and doesn’t know me yet. But, I’d love to contact her, if nothing else, to let her know that, hey, she has a first cousin exactly her age, who (probably) lives close by, who (maybe) attends the same church as she does — and she may never have realized it all these years.

The least path of resistance, I feel, is for Jule and her daughter to let me know if they already know her, and perhaps initiate contact. I reached out to Jule and her daughter yesterday. And if they don’t and/or they are hesitant, then, my plan B is to contact her through her church.

I hope I hear back from Edith. I get a little anxious and antsy dealing with 98-year-olds. I don’t want to miss a chance to talk with them, to hear their stories directly from them.

I always figured that the odds of finding any of Emmett’s nieces or nephews still around, given the fact that most of the Wilson children were born in the 1870s and 1880s, would be small.

But finding two of Emmett’s nieces still with us?

Way cool.