Whoa, Nellie!


Nellie Browning Mills (1876-1964) was never Emmett’s official secretary, but she did work for Emmett as she was the main stenographer and typist at the San Carlos Hotel in Pensacola, Florida from 1910 to at least 1917.

Nellie’s ad that ran in The Pensacola Journal, April 19, 1917. The San Carlos Hotel promoted itself as a ‘home away from home,’ which included top-notch administrative services to its customers. Emmett used her secretarial services when he stayed there between 1914-1916. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Emmett used Nellie’s shorthand and typing services when he stayed at the San Carlos Hotel during the years 1914-1916, while he was was home from Washington, D.C. During this time, his ‘home address’ was actually the J. Walter Kehoe residence. But, Kehoe had decided to run for Emmett’s congressional seat when Emmett ‘decided’ in early 1915 not to run for a third term — so to avoid conflict of interest, Emmett stayed at the San Carlos.

I found three different business letters that Emmett sent to his private secretary in Washington, Jefferson Davis Stephens, with stenographer’s initials “NBM” on the lower left hand side of the page. It wasn’t difficult to track down the person with the initials “NBM”; I confirmed that Nellie was “NBM” by reading several copies of the Pensacola City Directory, and she was, indeed, the only professional stenographer in Pensacola with those initials.

You’ll find this next article really interesting:

Notice who officiated at the wedding — and the witnesses! Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

This became newsworthy — and garnered a story in Colliers!

Source: Colliers Magazine, July 25, 1916, via Google Books.

Isn’t this great?

So, who was Nellie Mills?

Here’s the article I found on Nellie when she moved from Meridian, Mississippi to Pensacola in 1910:

Nellie arrives in Pensacola, and it makes news! Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Nellie was born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama, and attended Massey Business College. She apparently was one of their star students, because she remained after graduation to teach typing and shorthand (eventually running the shorthand department) for about six years.

An historic postcard featuring the typing class at Massey Business College, 1920. Nellie is not in this photo, alas. Source: Digital Archives of Alabama.gov

Apparently, Nellie was not just a popular secretary at the San Carlos; she was liked and well respected enough to have been nominated for Mardi Gras Queen in 1915!

The Pensacola Journal, January 17, 1915. Source: GenealogyBank.com

It was a tight race, according to The Pensacola Journal:

Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Alas, Nellie didn’t win — Gladys Pierce did. But the fact Nellie was nominated and supported by so many locals speaks volumes of the esteem in which she was held.

Also, alas, I have not found much more about Nellie beyond 1917 in the news. According to U.S. Census records, she moved to Miami-Dade County sometime after 1920, and the last official record I have on Nellie is her address at a boarding house in Dade County:

Apparently, she was retired and keeping house at the boarding house in 1945. Source: Florida Census for 1945

The last record I have for her is the Florida Death Index listing, which indicates she died in May, 1964.

I’d love to know more about this interesting person who used to work with Emmett.


Hal Lawson Scott


I’ve been reviewing the documents for Emmett’s will for several days, going over all of the names mentioned in the file. Almost all of them are familiar. After four years of doing this project, I thought I had a complete list of the folks Emmett was closest to in his life, and that I knew who they were.

And then, I found this letter.

A portion of a document from Emmett’s will. Henry Bellinger was a professional colleague of Emmett’s (but not close). Hal Scott, though: A new mystery!

I dug around for several hours trying to find out more about this Hal Scott. I didn’t find much — he died soon after Emmett, in 1923 (causes unknown at this time), but I did find this:

Hal slugged Chipley Jones in defense of Emmett in the refined San Carlos Hotel bar! A real barroom brawl all for Emmett! Source: GenealogyBank.com

Here’s the scoop on Hal Lawson Scott:

He was born February 1884 in Montgomery, Alabama to Thomas Jefferson Scott and Mary Adelaide Taylor Williston, a solid, upper middle-class family. Hal’s family was very well connected with Theodore Roosevelt’s Republican party at the turn of the last century.

Hal was married in December 1908 to Alma McLeod in Florala, Alabama.

In 1910, he was an agent with the IRS in Montgomery; several articles in the Montgomery Advertiser indicate he was adept at busting stills. Hal remained with the IRS most of his career, serving as either an agent, collector, or receiver, in both Montgomery and Pensacola.

In 1911, he set up the Scott Investment Company in Montgomery with two siblings (Mary and John Taylor Scott).

Sometime between 1911 and 1912, Hal met Emmett. Emmett’s twin brother, Julian Wilson, lived in Montgomery at this time, and was an accountant with the L&N Railroad; it is quite likely that Hal knew Julian, and Julian may have introduced Emmett to Hal on one of Emmett’s frequent visits to Montgomery. Hal was still living in Montgomery at this time, but he had plans to move to Pensacola, because he wanted to go into business for himself. Regardless, this was also about the time Hal switched party affiliation from Republican to Democrat, and  he and Emmett built a solid friendship.

On March 4, 1914, Hal was listed in the San Carlos Hotel roster as visiting from Montgomery. This is when Emmett’s reelection campaign was in high-gear. Emmett knew Hal Scott was a go-getter and well connected, and planning a move to Pensacola. He asked Hal to work along with Chipley Jones, on his reelection campaign. Hal and Chipley were an effective team: Emmett received over 95 percent of the vote in the June primary, and was expected to run basically unopposed in the November general election. Several of Emmett’s campaign staffers expected to be rewarded for their diligence and loyalty, especially Chipley Jones, who had his eye on the big prize: The Pensacola postmastership, a sinecure with a hefty salary (about $75,000 in today’s dollars).

On July 5, 1914, two events rocked Emmett’s world — the death of his brother E. Meade Wilson, of rapid onset pulmonary tuberculosis, and the death of  A. Gibson Fell, the Postmaster of Pensacola.

Chipley Jones. Weak-chinned political sneak.

Chipley Jones was ecstatic as a man without a chin could be while trying not to act too excited that his dream job just became available because a colleague died. The man could barely contain himself — he badgered Emmett on the long train ride from Pensacola back to Washington, D.C. the ENTIRE trip. (I kid you not; that is documented.)

Emmett gave Chipley reassurances that he was the man for the job, but Emmett had lost respect for him, after Chipley had pulled an underhanded trick on John Stokes (Emmett’s opponent in the primary) right before the election. Emmett had already decided he wasn’t going to appoint Chipley; instead, he let Chipley wonder about it for three months.

By early October, Chipley was impatient and snarly to everyone who asked him what was going on about the postmastership. Things came to a head on Sunday, October 4, 1914, when, according to reports, Chipley said something derogatory to Hal about Emmett, and Hal defended his friend. I wonder if Hal aimed for Chipley’s weak chin.

There’s a few other items about Hal that I gleaned from the archives:

On Nov 29, 1914 — Hal Scott and one of Emmett’s closest friends, Kirke Monroe, form the Scott Feed & Grain Company in Pensacola.

In 1916, according to the Pensacola City Directory, Hal was working an auto dealership; i.e., Pensacola Overland Automobiles, as the company’s manager.

The Pensacola Journal, October 24, 1915

Overland Automobile. Source: myautoworld.com

Dec 28, 1916 — Hal named receiver for the F. A. & Gulf Railroad (a short railroad that extended from Crestview, Florida to primarily milling towns near the Alabama border, and specialized in moving lumber and naval stores.)

Hal Scott died on June 23, 1923 in Pensacola; his burial location is unknown.

Hal L. Scott’s will, dated 1910. Source: Ancestry.com

Hal’s wife, Alma McLeod Scott, never remarried; they never had children. Alma died in 1981. Unfortunately, there is no one directly related to Hal and Alma Scott who I could ask about the relationship between Emmett and Hal. I doubt any correspondence from Emmett or Hal exists today — but you never know.

Finite Windows; Precious Artifacts


Over the next couple of entries, I’d like to talk about the research process involved in gathering information about an obscure historic figure, and explain the process of reviewing artifacts for use in my research.

Most of the time, when I’m visiting an archive to collect documents or artifacts, I have a finite window in which to view the documents. Although I call ahead or visit the archive’s website to check out their holdings lists so that I know what exactly is in their collection, those lists don’t got into a lot of detail. I won’t know exactly what’s in the boxes until I get there — and then, once I are there with the box of documents in front of me, I have to read every piece to make sure I’m getting what i need.

Two tables worth of research materials, when I was at the University of West Florida. About half of the artifacts I handled were in good condition. None of these artifacts are digitized.

Two tables worth of research materials, when I was at the University of West Florida back in 2014. About half of the artifacts I handled were in good condition; the holdings list did not go into detail about what was in each document. Finally, none of these artifacts are digitized, so I had to read everything.

Because I have limited time, I get permission from the archivist to scanning or photographing the documents. So, on most of my archive trips, that’s what I’m doing for six or seven straight hours.

My students ask me if, when doing this, I find I’m collecting artifacts and documents that don’t have any relevance. That may be true; however, in gathering information to tell Emmett’s story, it isn’t just about collecting information about HIM, specifically (although that is important), but it is about collecting information about the context of his life.


The barber shop in the San Carlos Hotel, about 1920, one of the many amenities offered at this first-class hotel. Emmett probably had many haircuts and shaves here — maybe even a manicure after he was elected to congress. Source: Cottrell Collection, University of West Florida Archives.

For example: Emmett never owned a home of his own, but he lived for a few years at the San Carlos Hotel, as a long-term tenant.

George S. Hervey. Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1909

George S. Hervey. Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1909

Some of the context around this would be Emmett’s relationship with the own, George S. Hervey, the different amenities and services the hotel offered to short-term and long-term tenants, and so forth.

In one of the archival boxes, there may be old bills and correspondence from Hervey to different long-term tenants from the early 1900s, which would give me an idea of how Hervey managed the hotel, and the accommodations given long-term tenants.

This first part, the gathering of data, can seem a little haphazard, but my experience has been to gather as much as I can that I think is relevant, and then to separate the information into three categories:

  • Directly relevant information
  • Supporting information
  • Background information

The information I have collected over the past three years on the San Carlos Hotel for the years 1909-1918 (when Emmett would have been a regular guest) is mostly supporting information and background information. What I’ve learned gives me an important understanding of what it would be like for a bachelor to live in an elite hotel when his fortunes were on a downward trend.

In the next post, I’ll take an artifact that Emmett’s grand niece (i.e., the granddaughter of Emmett’s sister, Katie Wilson Meade) sent me a few months back, and walk you through how I analyze it from three different angles: Medium, message, and context. I want to show you how a piece of paper, which might not look like much on the surface, can tell you a lot about an individual.

Stay tuned!

The Mystery of the Pocket Watch


There’s Wilson family lore about a silver pocket watch that’s I’d love to prove.

A.E. Maxwell, who also went by "Emmett;" our Emmett's role model & hero.

A.E. Maxwell, who also went by “Emmett;” our Emmett’s role model & hero.

I don’t know what it looked like, other than it was smooth, silver, and had Emmett’s grandfather’s initials engraved on it — AEM — for Augustus Emmett Maxwell. It probably had a chain, and maybe a fob. I don’t know how Maxwell obtained it first.

Maxwell died in May, 1903, a year before Emmett’s graduation from Stetson Law School.  It is reasonable to think that family might have saved Maxwell’s watch — an expensive and precious heirloom — to give to Emmett as a graduation gift in 1904.

Maxwell was living with the Wilsons at the time of his death, and our Emmett, who was quite close to his grandfather was there, it would seem a grand gesture to the young man who modeled himself after a man who was truly interested in him. Emmett did not have this close relationship with anyone, other than his older brother, Cephas, and that relationship felt more competitive.

This watch was in Emmett’s possession, at least sometime after 1903. Either Maxwell either gave the watch to Emmett himself, or, family members gave it to Emmett after Maxwell’s death.

Emmett and his grandfather were close, had a lot in common, and were said to be very much alike in behavior and and appearance: Tall, quiet, loner-types, who read often, liked to take long walks, and enjoyed fishing.

They were the only two members of the family who attended law school: Maxwell attended the University of Virginia Law School; Emmett attended Stetson University Law School.

Emmett and Maxwell were also drinkers — I don’t know if Maxwell drank alcoholically, but he was reported to be partial to mint juleps so much that when he traveled, he made certain to bring a supply of sugar, in case there wasn’t enough on hand where he was staying.

Emmett was reported to be partial to any kind of alcoholic beverage (especially at the end of his life), and made certain to have a large personal supply of liquor stored at either the Osceola Club or the San Carlos Hotel, prohibition be damned. (Florida had already elected its first and only Prohibition Party governor; several Florida counties [including Escambia County], were already considered “dry” well before the ratification of the 18th Amendment on January 29, 1919.)

Of course, by 1919, Emmett was dead; what little money and few possessions he had long gone, including the silver watch, which was not listed among his personal effects at the time of death.

He might have hocked it to pay his bills. Or, perhaps, it was stolen during one of Emmett’s drinking adventures (he had alcoholic hepatitis at least from 1913 on; blackout drinking would have been a typical event for him).

Or, perhaps Emmett gave it another family member, knowing that he, himself, was an unstable drinker. Big questions around this small but important artifact in Wilson family history.

If anyone knows about this pocket watch, or, can share information about it, I’d love to hear from you.

Hot Water


Exactly one week ago, at 2 am, I came out of my writing cave after a few hours of solid writing to take a break, and investigate a strange sound coming out of the store room (which is right across the hall from my home office).

I stepped into an inch-deep pool of rusty warm water that was all over the store room floor. That strange sound was coming from our 26-year-old water heater. No groans or wheezing, just an odd, quiet whirring and clicking noise. Then, nothing, as the water heater died a noble appliance death.

Thankfully, everything in the store room is kept up off the ground, and in plastic tubs, so it was a matter of squeegee-ing the water towards the drain in the middle of the room. It could have been a lot worse, had I not been up late into the night working on the book.

In doing the research for the new water heater (arriving later today; to be installed by plumbers arriving at 6 am tomorrow — no lie), I couldn’t find a warranty for more than six years!  WTH?

So, of course, I was compelled to think about water heaters from the turn of the last century. I’ve found some interesting models:

A water heater with a heart! Source: Pinterest.com

A water heater with a heart!  This one dates from 1900. Source: Pinterest.com

And this:

A space-age looking water heater. Source: Pinterest.com

A space-age looking water heater from about 1904. What’s nice to see is that the manufacturer, Ruud, is still in business. Source: Pinterest.com

They had some rugged looking water heaters back in the day. No planned obsolescence here. I don’t know if warranties were offered back in the day for these water heaters, but the information on the Humphrey model, below, said some were still working/in use 80 years later. 

The Humphrey hot water heater. This model is from 1920. Source: waterheaterrescue.com

The Humphrey hot water heater. This model is from 1920. Source: waterheaterrescue.com


133 and Holding


Today is Emmett Wilson’s 133rd birthday!

I’ve been wracking my brain to come up with something clever, that does not feel contrived, to honor this auspicious day.

Most of the reason for the lack of inspiration is the residual mental crispiness of burnout from all the writing this past week. Yesterday, I wrote an 18-page ‘false start.’

Anne Lamott talks about ‘false starts’ as part of the natural development of the story in the writing process. But they can be frustrating. We get an idea, we go with it, and after getting it all down on paper, we realize that out of all of that text, only one, maybe two lines, are ‘gold.’ The rest is crap.

But the little bit of ‘gold’ that came out of my 18 pages of crap is pretty good, if I say so myself.  God, grant me the strength to endure this L-O-N-G this process.

I digress. The topic is, Emmett Wilson, Birthday Boy.

I am in search of way to celebrate this man’s natal day. After all, had he not been born, I would not be sitting here, 133 years later, on a quest to tell his story.

A cake, perhaps? Not with 133 candles, though. I’m sure that would be in violation of some local fire code here in Maryland.

Maybe one with a heartfelt, perhaps humorous message.

Did Emmett's family and friends consider this approach? Source: Sheknows.com

Did Emmett’s family and friends consider this approach?
Source: Sheknows.com

Or this? Source: Buzzfeed.com

Or this? Source: Buzzfeed.com

Probably not. Source: marinerfan.buzznet.com

Emmett wouldn’t get this one. What he missed out on by not living to 133 in the 20th century! Source: marinerfan.buzznet.com

OK. A message cake is a bad idea. What about a card?

Not applicable, is it? He didn't own a car, anyway. Source: someecards.com

Not applicable, is it? He didn’t own a car, anyway. Source: someecards.com

Wonder what he'd think of e-cards anyway? Source: someecards.com

Wonder what he’d think of e-cards? Source: someecards.com

I doubt he'd care about his horoscope. Source: desiglitters.com

I doubt he’d care about his horoscope. Source: desiglitters.com

What about a retrospective? What was he doing 100 years ago today, when he turned 33?

Well…it turns out it might not have been such a great day for him. This is what was going on the week of his birthday:

He was home from Washington, D.C, in between congressional sessions, in Pensacola, but not at home, per se. He had to move into the San Carlos Hotel. Now, you may think that’s not such a bad thing; it was a great place to stay, one of the best on the Gulf Coast. But, it wasn’t home.

Jefferson Davis Stephens' campaign photo. He ran for Emmett's seat while still serving as Emmett's private secretary. I wonder if that was awkward for them in the office. Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1908

Jefferson Davis Stephens’ campaign photo. He ran for Emmett’s seat while still serving as Emmett’s private secretary. I wonder if that was awkward for them in the office. Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1908

Emmett’s ‘home’ had always been with his friends, the Kehoe’s.

And in 1915, J. Walter Kehoe, Emmett’s ‘best friend,’ had decided to run for Emmett’s office. To avoid any conflict of interest, Emmett had to move out of his ‘home’ for the duration of the campaign.

To make it more awkward, Emmett’s own private secretary, Jefferson Davis Stephens, was also running for his office.

The election was eight months away.

That had to be weird. And in moving to the San Carlos away from what was his ‘home,’ Emmett had worked so hard to become a member of the political inner circle — and he made it — only to be ousted in less than three years, and effectively branded an outsider.

Also, he’d almost died several months earlier from kidney failure, related to cirrhosis. The kidney damage was permanent, and his doctors had told him, by now, you have maybe five years tops, if you take care of yourself — which he didn’t. So, you know he wasn’t feeling good at this point in his life.

He might have had a birthday celebration, and his friends may have come together to honor him. I hope so. I hate thinking he had this sad life, but he made some poor choices, and so, had to live with the consequences.

Here’s what I’m going to do to honor his birthday this year.

Blessed Sacrament, Washington, DC

Blessed Sacrament, Washington, DC

At 11 am this morning, at my parish in Washington, DC, there will be a Mass said for the repose of the soul of Emmett Wilson. I know. He wasn’t Catholic, but that doesn’t matter in my faith. We believe we should pray for the souls of everyone.

I have to admit here (and don’t tell Pope Francis or my pastor), but I really don’t believe in Purgatory. My personal thought is that it is mostly a Catholic invention to scare a lot of kids into being good, and not because being good is the right thing to do.

But, like a lot of things in life, I may be wrong. Who knows if there is such a thing? What if there is?

Whatever. It can’t hurt. A Mass is a good gift. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Happy Birthday, Emmett!

Surprised? Pope Frank isn't in town yet, but this is in the vestibule. I have to say that it is rather realistic, especially since the vestibule is a little dark. I jumped when I saw it, thinking it the real thing. Then, I recovered quickly and snapped this for the fun of it.

P.S. Surprised? Pope Frank isn’t in town yet, but this is in the Blessed Sacrament vestibule. It is rather realistic cardboard Pope, especially since the vestibule is a little dark. I jumped when I saw it, thinking this was the Real Deal! LOL. Yeah, I have middle-aged eyes. But, I recovered quickly and snapped this for the fun of it.

Just Call 1088 & Ask for Emmett


According to my research, Emmett lived at the San Carlos Hotel, on and off between 1913 and 1918, although he gave his permanent address as the J. Walter Kehoe home. Because he spent so much time there, I’ve always been curious about what his room might have looked like. (The San Carlos was demolished in 1993; there’s a video of the demolition here.)

Here’s what I have:

The $1-a-day hotel room in the San Carlos, circa 1913. Source: Pensacola Historical Society

The $1-a-day hotel room in the San Carlos, circa 1913-18. Source: Pensacola Historical Society

This was considered the basic hotel room at the San Carlos, which would cost $1 a day. Larger rooms and suites went for $3 a day and up ($1 in 1913 is equal to about $23 today). While Emmett probably stayed in a suite when he was a U.S. congressman, he likely stayed in the basic room (like the one photographed above) when his congressional days were over.

What I thought was interesting was that every room in the San Carlos had its own telephone in 1913!

You might think, well, so what?

Between 1913-1918, not every home had a telephone. If you were lucky enough to have (or afford) a telephone, you shared a party line, unless you were rich enough to have your own line strung to your home or office. (Party lines were common in Florida until around 1948, and into the mid-1950s elsewhere.) What I’ve always thought interesting was that Emmett never had his own telephone, even though he was a hotshot, socially prominent lawyer in Pensacola. Wouldn’t a single man want his own line, separate from the family? He was making enough money at the time to afford it.

He’s listed in the telephone directories, but that phone number actually belongs to the Kehoe family.

Emmett's 'home address' is actually the Kehoe's address. Also, that's the Kehoe's phone number. Emmett didn't have his own, separate line. Source: Ancestry.com

Emmett’s ‘home address’ is actually the Kehoe’s address. Also, that’s the Kehoe’s phone number. Emmett never had his own separate line or number. Source: Ancestry.com

I digress.

Getting back to telephones and the San Carlos:

In 1913 telephone lines were still not strung directly from Pensacola to Jacksonville. Calls across Florida had to be routed up to Atlanta or Charleston and then back down to Florida — all of this with the help of operators. You had to think about it before you made phone call; no one does that anymore.

I mention the logistics of making a call to illustrate that if you wanted to call someone in 1913, it was expensive, even if the call was local. Some businesses in Pensacola that had phones were charging $5 for three minutes (or, $60 in today’s money) if the call was long distance. Local calls could set you back about $1 for three minutes (or, about $23 in today’s money). The San Carlos charged premium rates for phone calls; you could spend a fortune in phone charges alone if you wanted to call Washington, DC (which Emmett did while living there as a congressman).

Anyway. The fact the San Carlos Hotel had phones in every single room in 1913 was a super high-tech innovation for the time.

Still can’t see the phone?

It’s in the mirror reflection.

See it? No rotary dial. You had to speak to an operator. Source: Pensacola Historical Society

See it? No rotary dial. You had to speak to an operator. No texting capabilities, either.

I looked around to see if I could find some color photos. Here’s what I turned up:

Notice the bell on top of this one. I can't see a bell on the one in the PHS image, but it may be located lower on the box. Source: Pinterest.

Notice the bell on top of this one. I can’t see a bell on the one in the PHS image, but it may be located lower on the box. Source: Pinterest.

This one may be closer to what the San Carlos had in the rooms. Notice the bells are more flat on the top of the phone box.  This comes from a great phone information source page, by the way. Source: www.beatriceco.com

This one may be closer to what the San Carlos had in the rooms. Notice the bells are more flat on the top of the phone box. This comes from a great phone information source page, by the way. Source: www.beatriceco.com

Here’s another view of the same room:

Source: Pensacola Historical Society

The phone is directly above a bed. Too bad it couldn’t be placed on the desk. Source: Pensacola Historical Society

You can see the phone located right over the first bed, and not the desk (or the side table), a more logical placement today.

Here’s one more example of a hotel wall phone for 1913. Because some phones would also function as intercoms, this one may be closer to what’s on the wall in the San Carlos:

By the way, the reflection in the mirror shows the open connecting bathroom door (the white door), which is right next to the door to the hallway, with the transom over it.

I have no idea what the little white square is on the dresser; probably a complimentary night mask to cover your eyes so that you could sleep without having to stare at all the crazy patterns on every single available surface in the room.

Because the window on the left is so dark, and this appears to be a corner room, I can tell that this room was about where you see the oval, below:

Source: Pensacola Historical Society

Source: Pensacola Historical Society


It must have been quite a thrill to stay at the San Carlos in 1913. It was cutting-edge in many ways, from amenities to technology. Still, I’d not want to be the one sleeping in the bed with the phone directly over my head.