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, 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 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, 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
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
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 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.