Emmett, Texter

Standard

Did you know that Emmett got his professional start texting (of sorts) for a living?

True. And if you think about it, telegraph operators were early ‘texters.’ (Here’s a great history of telegraphing — see the first half of the article for details about the importance of the telegraph in our society.

Emmett Wilson’s first “official” job was as a general, all-around assistant at the Chipley, Florida Pensacola & Atlantic train depot, sometime around 1894. Working for the railroad was not just a family tradition among the Wilson men; it was today’s equivalent of a kid interested in space working for NASA.

And Emmett was a kid, starting out at the bottom of the railroad depot job hierarchy, at about the same age as his older brothers Frank Jr. and Meade. Working for the railroad was important; and, if Emmett was willing, he’d rise up the ranks to a professional position, as did Frank Jr. and Meade, who were now conductors. (Emmett once told a reporter that he once dreamed about working for the railroad so that he could run along the tops of the cars while they were in motion, en route to faraway, more interesting places than Chipley. Early on, Emmett probably saw working for the railroad as a means to an end.)

Emmett was more than willing. He was super ambitious from the get-go — his eye was on the telegrapher’s job — a coveted and critical communication position that served not only the messaging for the community, but the telegrapher often conveyed critical transportation data up and down the rails.

After a year or two proving himself capable around the depot, Emmett eventually became expert with Morse code, and was tapped to train as a telegrapher, and by age 17, was managing small depots along the P&A line.

Emmett was 17 when he was dispatched to run small-town train stations on his own, which included the telegraph. Source: The Chipley Banner, December 2, 1899, in ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Emmett’s full-time career with the railroad was over within a year, as he would enroll at West Florida Seminary in 1900, to pursue a college degree. He’d fill in at both the Chipley and Marianna train depots now and again, when home from WFS on vacations or weekend visits to supplement his school funds.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Emmett and Petersburg

Standard

I’m sorry for the radio silence. I’ve had so much information and writing ideas to sift through from the field trip to Richmond and Petersburg that it has been hard to figure out what to tell you about first!

Let me start by saying that I approached this field trip with an outcome in mind: That this was strictly a data-and-fact finding mission, to fill in the gaps about the one day Emmett was in Petersburg for an official event as Florida’s newly minted Congressman-Elect, a stop-over, as Emmett was on his way to Baltimore to attend the 1912 Democratic National Convention as an alternate.

For starters, I arrived in Richmond, Virginia last Wednesday afternoon in the exact same train station Emmett did on June 23, 1912. I was met at the station by my dear friend, colleague, and fellow writer/history mystery enthusiast, Ann.

Main Street Station, 1500 E. Main Street, Richmond, Virginia

The rear of the station is under renovation — a spacious, all-glass atrium structure. Travelers exit the platform and enter a gorgeous, well-preserved historic station built in 1901. Emmett would have taken the Seaboard Air Line, after making an initial connection from the Pensacola & Atlantic Line terminus at River Junction, Florida.

Emmett would have traveled east from River Junction to Jacksonville, where he took the SAL up the East Coast en route to Petersburg, terminating in Baltimore. I doubt Emmett would have had to pay for his ticket, as he had two brothers who were conductors, and family passes were common. At this time, congressmen were being criticized in the press for taking favors such as free or deeply discounted railroad passes while in office. Emmett wasn’t yet in office, but I can imagine he would have been sensitive to this issue, and would have gone out of his way to avoid any impropriety.

The ceiling of the Main Street Station. Lots of gorgeous details.

As noted, Emmett was supposed to be in Baltimore for the opening of the Democratic National Convention, Tuesday, June 25. He had been invited by the Ladies Memorial Association of Petersburg several weeks earlier to dedicate the Florida window in the Old Blandford Church on Monday, June 24. I’m not certain if the LMA worked this date out to accommodate Emmett’s travel schedule, but it seems as if the timing of the event was planned with this in mind.

The Pensacola Evening News for June 22, 1912 reported that Emmett left that evening for Baltimore, and he was traveling with Tom West, and B.S. Williams (also convention alternates). It took at least four hours to travel from Pensacola to Jacksonville, and then almost a full day from Jacksonville to Richmond. So, with that information (and a copy of the timetable from June, 1912) we estimate that Emmett’s train from Jacksonville arrived in Richmond late on Sunday, June 23. There was no indication that West and Williams attended the dedication ceremony with Emmett, and so they likely remained on the SAL until they reached Baltimore.

Timetable from the Petersburg Index-Appeal, June 23, 1912 via microfilm.

Emmett either caught the Richmond & Petersburg Electric Railway for the rest of the trip to Petersburg, or, perhaps his transportation was covered by the LMA.

Old Blandford Church, in the middle of the cemetery. The path to the church winds through fragile and weather-worn tombstones, which were there when Emmett visited in 1912.

Our first stop in Petersburg was the Old Blandford Church. We met Martha Mann Atkinson, the site manager for the Old Blandford Church. We told Martha about Emmett Wilson and his role in the Florida window dedication ceremony, and that I wanted to include that information in Emmett’s biography. Martha was leading another tour that morning, but she graciously included Ann and myself with the group, and said she wanted to hear more about Emmett’s story after the tour was over.

Before we went inside, the group gathered around the entrance of the church, where we were given the history of the parish. Ann and I walked around the perimeter of the Church, and took photos of some of the more striking headstones.

The marker of John Taliaferro, age 27.

Once we were inside the church, Ann and I went straight to the Florida window, and sat down next to it. All of the windows are truly beautiful in Old Blandford Church, but the Florida window — I call it Emmett’s window — is really beautiful. I cannot describe to you how peaceful it is, and soothing to look at.

We were told not to take photos, but I couldn’t help myself.

Sneaky!

Did you know that there are only a handful of churches in the United States with Tiffany windows? Petersburg has a national treasure. I’m surprised more people don’t know about it, or visit this site.

Martha and her staff are interested in the personal stories and details attached to each of the windows. I agreed to share everything I knew about the dedication of Emmett’s window.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a collection of artifacts or a copy of Emmett’s dedication speech in the archive at Old Blandford Church, but one of the ladies who was assisting with the tour told me that she has access to old scrapbooks (!) kept by the LMA, and would gladly check to see if a program, or a photo, or anything related to the June 24, 1912 dedication exists. It is likely there was an official program, because there is a reprint of the program from the dedication of the Georgia window on November 18, 1912. I would LOVE to get my hands on a program.

Before we left, I sheepishly admitted to Martha that I had snuck a photo of myself next to the Florida window, and apologized for it. She just laughed and said she was more than happy to let me take my own photo of Emmett’s window.

St. Matthew, the Florida window. Old Blandford Church, Petersburg, Virginia. Thank you, Martha!

Next, Ann and I visited the Petersburg Public Library, where we looked through the microfilm of the Petersburg Index-Appeal for June, 1912. There wasn’t much about the dedication ceremony; and, none of it was new to me:

The article about the dedication. Notice Emmett’s name is misspelled. So much for popularity! Petersburg Index-Appeal, June 25, 1912.

There’s not much published about this event, which is disappointing, considering that the dedication was made much of in The Pensacola Journal, and the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser in June, 1912. And, now that I know better, I believe that the ‘big deal’ about the dedication was just the Journal‘s Frank Mayes promoting Emmett above and beyond his true abilities. In June 1912, Emmett still had to win the general election in November; and, Emmett still was considered a political novice. Frank Mayes’ protege still had a lot to prove — and a lot of voters to win over — before November.

Ann and I spent the rest of the day touring Petersburg, enjoying the architecture and the history. There is a lot to see, great food and coffee to be had, and some of the nicest folks you’d ever meet in one place. We plan to do another history/writing road trip again in the future.

History detecting and hanging out with friends in graveyards = fun!

Circle of Friends: Paul Hayne Carter

Standard

Today’s post is about unconditional friendship.

I believe that everyone has a friend in their lives who you know that no matter where you are, or how much time has gone by, the relationship is there. This is the person who knows you best, maybe better than your spouse knows you. It doesn’t matter that it has been a year or more that you were in same room together; when you are together, it is as if you saw each other only the day before.

Me and Blanche, graduation, 1981.

Me and Blanche, graduation, 1981.

I’m blessed to have that kind of friend in my life. Her name is Blanche. We were 13 when we met each other during summer basketball practice at St. Joseph High School.

We lived only a block away from each other, so we grew up in each other’s houses. We argued, we held each other up when our hearts were broken, we stood up for each other as Maid/Matron of Honor at each other’s weddings.

We’ve always ‘gotten’ each other. We’ve always been completely comfortable telling each other anything, even the hard stuff neither of us would listen to from another person, such as, “Look at yourself. I think you drink too much.” Or, “That guy you say you are in love with? He doesn’t deserve you. Here’s why.”

We’ve had our share of ups and downs, and awkward moments after a disagreement or three. None of that has ever mattered. Today, we live hundreds of miles away from each other, but that distance doesn’t matter, either. If she asked me, I’d hop on a plane to be there with her today. No questions asked.

Everyone should be this lucky to have a Blanche in their lives.


Unconditional friendship. This was the relationship Emmett had with his best friend, Paul Hayne Carter.

Paul Carter, from the 1899 Argo, the yearbook of the West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University).

Paul Carter, from the 1900 Argo, the yearbook of the West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University).

Emmett and Paul grew up together in Chipley; Emmett lived on 6th Street, and Paul just a block over, on 5th. The houses were close, the properties almost backing up to each other. I like to think that as boys, these two would go back and forth to each others’ houses all day long, plotting and planning fishing trips, or pranks to play on their siblings, or just daydreaming about what they wanted to do once they were free of parental bondage.

Bottom line, it seems both boys wanted something bigger than what Chipley had to offer, and so, they’d eventually need to leave their home town to find out what that was. Paul wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps (Paul Sr. was a successful lawyer and judge); Emmett wanted adventure.

Paul was a year younger than Emmett, but he was a year ahead of him academically. Paul advanced quickly through the Chipley public schools, but because he wasn’t challenged enough academically transferred to Auburn University in Fall of 1898 (when it was known as the Mechanical College of Alabama from 1872-99) while still a junior in high school. Emmett, on the other hand, was still enrolled in Chipley’s high school while working as a railroad telegrapher at the local train depot in between school terms. Emmett had to help support the family, and he wanted to earn his way up the ladder with the Pensacola & Atlantic Railroad. Back then, working for the railroad was a great job for young boys; it was the equivalent of working for NASA today. It offered employment, travel, adventure. It offered Emmett a route out of Chipley.

Paul H. Carter, Sr. in Chipley, Florida.

Paul H. Carter, Sr. in Chipley, Florida.

On about January 3, 1899, after Christmas break, Paul went back to Auburn to start the second semester of his freshman year.  Several days later, on January 8, 1899, Paul’s father, Judge Paul H. Carter, Sr., was shot and killed in downtown Chipley. Paul was called back to Chipley immediately.

The man who shot Judge Carter, R.U. Harrell, was charged with manslaughter and eventually sent to prison to serve approximately five years.

The whole episode devastated Paul, who had been very close to his father.

Inscription on the side of Paul Carter, Sr.'s tombstone.

Inscription on the side of Paul Carter, Sr.’s tombstone.

One difference between Paul’s family and Emmett’s family was money. Paul did not have to stay home to support his widowed mother and siblings; Judge Carter had left the family financially sound. After the funeral and trial had passed, and life settled back down, Paul went back to college in Fall of 1899, this time to the West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University) in Tallahassee. Emmett, on the other hand, had to earn money to help support the Wilson family; also, if he planned to go to college, he had to earn at least part of the money himself.

At this point, Emmett had discovered that that working for the railroad was often more tedious and administrative rather than adventurous. He was not sure what he wanted to do; he did know, however, that he wanted something else besides a railroad career.

Emmett (R) and Paul. Roommates, friends, sometimes debate rivals. Source: FSU archive.

Emmett (L) and Paul. Roommates, friends, sometimes debate rivals. Source: FSU archive.

Paul encouraged Emmett to follow him to WFS. If Emmett had any qualms about the tough curriculum, Paul would be there for Emmett, and they could coach each other as necessary. Emmett saved his money and by spring of 1900, enrolled in WFS, classified as both a third-year high school student and a freshman (the dual classification was because he had to make up academic deficiencies). Emmett managed to catch up academically, and by the end of their freshman year, both Paul and Emmett were classified as sophomores for the 1900-01 academic year.

Platonic Debating Society. 1900-01 Argo. Source: FSU archives

Platonic Debating Society. 1900-01 Argo. Source: FSU archives

Paul and Emmett were roommates. They joined clubs together, including the Platonic Debating Society. Both Paul and Emmett would eventually earn honors in their debates at WFS; the instruction Emmett earned in public speaking at WFS served him well for his entire career. But, before he earned those honors, it was a struggle for Emmett at the beginning:

Emmett's debating skills were still in transition. Source: FSU archive

Emmett’s debating skills were still in transition, as he is lampooned in the student yearbook. Source: FSU archive

As I think about Paul and Emmett’s friendship, I can see how Paul probably ‘mentored’ Emmett, especially in the debate/oratorical work. Paul won several awards for his debating skills; I can easily imagine them practicing together. Paul was definitely the top debater at WFS; Emmett had the best mentor, hands down.

Paul and Emmett stuck it out at WFS through their sophomore year; they did not return for their junior year, either because money ran out or they simply did not pass the mandatory entrance exams, which were held in September, 1901.

I definitely don’t think money was the issue with either Paul or Emmett in this case, because Paul did have the tuition, and Emmett had worked all summer to earn his tuition for the following year. In fact, I lean more toward the idea that it was because neither Paul nor Emmett were able to pass the entrance exams, which were notoriously difficult. They definitely weren’t alone, though: For example, the senior class of 1901 started out with 48 students — but only three actually made it to graduation.

A feature from 1951 about the difficult entrance exams at WFS. Source: Florida Flambeau.

A feature from 1951 about the difficult entrance exams at WFS. Source: Florida Flambeau.

What happened after Emmett and Paul’s sophomore year? Stay tuned. I’ll continue the story tomorrow.