The Sporting Emmett

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In celebration of Opening Day, we’ll take a look at Emmett Wilson through the lens of his pastimes: Sports.

Emmett appears to have been both athletic and a sports fan. He owned and rode a bicycle to and from classes while attending Stetson University Law School in 1903.

“He failed utterly.” So, Emmett was an average rider. Source: Stetson Weekly Collegiate, Dec. 5, 1903.

He attended a wide variety of sporting events with his friends, including the very first NASCAR race (before NASCAR existed) at Ormond Beach, Florida.

The foursome took the train to Ormond Beach, likely skipping out on their classes Friday. Source: Deland Weekly News

He loved to go fishing (enjoying not only the thrill of the catch, but also the solitude and quiet away from his hectic political life), and went on annual trips without fail, always during the first two weeks in August to St. Andrews Florida.

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

He played both football and baseball while at West Florida Seminary (photo below).

Kicker? Tight End? Wide Receiver? It’s impossible to know his position, but Emmett’s on the far left, first row. West Florida Seminary, now Florida State University. 1899-1900. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/152050

But he seemed to prefer baseball, as he played not only for West Florida Seminary, but also for the local Chipley baseball team, and on occasion in pick-up games at Stetson University (juniors versus seniors, for instance).

Emmett, back row, far left. Source: The Argo, 1900-1901, Florida State University Archives.

It is interesting to compare Emmett with his peers in the group photos. Notice that Emmett sits on the end in both photos. In the football photo, he’s a bit separated from the group. This is a relaxed group; Emmett seems at ease here, sitting cross legged on the bottom step, his hands resting on his knees, but he isn’t sprawled like most of the boys on the bottom step.

Notice also how Emmett poses in the baseball photograph. He stares intently at the camera whereas several of his teammates are bored looking away, at ease. The two fellows in suits were the managers.

Maybe the photo was take right after a game and the boys are tired, as they seem a big disheveled, worn out, but Emmett doesn’t look tired or disheveled. Emmett, and the boy sitting next to him were the team substitutes, not regular players.

Emmett seems to be scowling, maybe smirking, at the camera. Notice Emmett’s body language compared to the other boys: He’s tense, as he sits perched on the edge of the bench, shoulders hunched, hands gripping his knees. I wish there were more details about this picture, and when it was taken. (Unfortunately that information doesn’t exist.)

Although Emmett may not have been the most valuable player on the West Florida Seminary team, he was certainly not a bench warmer on the Chipley town team.

Emmett played on the Chipley team on and off before attending West Florida Seminary, as his work schedule would allow. (In 1899, when Emmett was 15, he was already an expert telegrapher, and managing small railroad depots on the P&A line of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.)

Emmett was likely one of the boys who couldn’t make the game. Source: The Chipley Banner, June 10, 1899.

After graduating from Stetson in 1904, there aren’t any more articles about Emmett playing for either the Chipley team or the Marianna team (he moved to Marianna after graduation to form a law partnership with his brother, Cephas). We know Emmett attended games and exhibitions; he probably also played a few games here and there, as did Cephas, who played the occasional exhibition baseball game in Marianna.

Cephas L. Wilson as baseball player for the Fats vs. Leans game, complaining about Lula. Go figure. Cephas was on the “Fats” team. Source: Marianna Times-Courier, July 18, 1912,

It is likely Emmett attended this game in Marianna. There were several important Florida politicians on both the the Fats team and the Leans team. Emmett had just returned home from the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore, Maryland, and was taking a break in preparation for the general election in November; it is reasonable to believe these heavy hitters in Florida politics, all in one place on a hot, summer day, would want to talk to Emmett after the game.

 

 

 

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Spring Break at Ormond

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The research project about Emmett’s junior-year dorm-mates was not some big distracting side-adventure: I was going somewhere with it. Namely, Ormond Beach.

Two months before the essay about the Earls of East Hall appeared in The Stetson Collegiate, I came across this item:

The foursome took the train to Ormond Beach, likely skipping out on their classes Friday. Source: Deland Weekly News

The foursome took the train to Ormond Beach, likely skipping out on their classes Friday, March 27, 1903. Source: Deland Weekly News

Which of these guys had an automobile at that time? Answer: None of them. DeCottes and Carter came from families that might have provided an auto — maybe. In 1903, privately owned automobiles were around, but they were not common.

For example, an article from The Weekly Tallahassean for November 8, 1900 mentions that much excitement was caused when the first automobile was seen on the streets of Tallahassee. Only three years later, in November, 1903, it was still such a novelty that The Weekly Tallahassean reported a “locomobile” sighting downtown. These were the days that cars were oddities, attention-getters.

Funny. Nowadays, if I see a horse on K Street in downtown D.C. (the National Park Service still has mounted police that patrol downtown), I stop and gawk, whereas Emmett would think nothing of it.

An auto in 1903 was more trouble than a horse: The roads were mostly dirt, rutted, better suited for horses. And, you had to ‘feed’ the auto. In 1903, if you owned one of the two or three cars in Tallahassee, and ran out of gas, you might have to wait for help from a neighbor on a horse.

Also, autos were considered the playthings of the wealthy. In 1903, an $850 car costs about $22,970 in today’s dollars. That’s out of the price range for your typical family of four back then, when their average annual income was approximately $500.

The Fordmobile of 1903, $850. Source: www.adbranch.com

The Fordmobile of 1903, $850. Source: http://www.adbranch.com

The first person to own a car in Emmett's family was -- of course -- Cephas Love Wilson, bank president, judge, mayor of Marianna, and state senator. According to the Florida Secretary of State's archive, Cephas bought one if the first cars in Jackson County, Florida, between 1903-05. Cephas' first car was a Buick. Image Source: www.buick.com.

The first person to own a car in Emmett’s family was — of course — Cephas Love Wilson, bank president, judge, mayor of Marianna, and state senator. According to the Florida Secretary of State’s archive, Cephas bought one if the first cars in Jackson County, Florida, around 1909. Cephas’ first car was a Buick. Image Source: http://www.buick.com.

1903 Winton. An earlier model (1898) cost $1000. The 1904 model pricetag was $1500. Source: earlyamericanautomobiles.com

1903 Winton, only $2600. An earlier model (1898) cost $1000. Source: earlyamericanautomobiles.com

Back to the Ormond Beach race. This was a big deal, because it was considered the first unofficial Automobile Club of America (later, AAA) race — the first NASCAR before it was ever NASCAR!

The reason why it wasn’t official is told, below:

Source: The Auto, Vol. 8, 1903. Google Books

Source: The Auto, Vol. 8, 1903. Google Books

So, what did Emmett and his friends witness?

A land-speed record set by Alexander Winton, in his bright red “Bullet.” Winton set a record for a straightaway run down the beach: One mile in 52.5 seconds. Also, Oscar Hedstrom raced his Indian-brand motorcycle.

Source: The Automotor Journal, May 2, 1903. Google Books

Source: The Automotor Journal, May 2, 1903. Google Books

H.T. Thomas driving the "Pirate" along Ormond Beach at the races, March 26-28, 1903. Emmett and his friends would have seen this. Source: The Automotor Journal. Google Books

H.T. Thomas driving the “Pirate” along Ormond Beach at the races, March 26-28, 1903. Emmett and his friends would have seen this. Source: The Automotor Journal. Google Books

The thing about this race is that it wasn’t promoted very widely (despite the big bucks of Henry Flagler, Winton, and W.J. Morgan backing it). About 3,000 attended the race over three days, but there weren’t many reporters there. Ransom Olds (father of the Oldsmobile, and owner of the ‘Pirate’) wasn’t happy with the low press turnout; when the race was repeated in 1904, he made certain that the national press knew about the races at Ormond Beach.

But the boys of East Hall at Stetson University heard about the race. They had no idea that this was to be a historic event; they likely were thrilled with the idea of speed, riskiness, the adventure, all in a brand new invention that only a few years earlier was the stuff of dreams. Imagine what that must have been like, to be Emmett and his friends, to witness this thing?

Did Emmett and his friends get these guys’ autographs? I hope so, but perhaps the crowds prohibited it — it was reported that about 3,000 were on hand for the races over the three-day weekend in March.

Perhaps they brought their pocket Kodak cameras with them and took photos of the events. Emmett liked photography; perhaps he took snapshots and placed them in his scrapbooks.

A snapshot of the races at the beach, from 1907. Source: The Motor Way magazine, from Google Books.

A snapshot of the races at Ormond Beach, from 1907. The 1903 race might have looked like this, too. Source: The Motor Way magazine, from Google Books.

Emmett’s adventures in Ormond Beach on this historic weekend are featured in the second chapter of the book — which is coming along nicely.