Emmett and Petersburg

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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!

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Walker Wilson, Part Two

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Continuing the story of Emmett’s youngest brother, Walker (no middle name) Wilson:

Walker started a career with the Seaboard Air Lines Railroad around 1908, and moved to Tampa.

Two years later, in 1910, Walker married Jesse Evans, of Gainesville. The family genealogy reports that Walker met Jesse in Gainesville while on a job assignment.

From The Pensacola Journal, June 22, 1910.

Note how Emmett gets top billing over the names of both the bride and the groom in their own wedding announcement. From The Pensacola Journal, June 22, 1910.

Emmett may not have been present at the wedding in Gainesville, else he would have been listed here, too. Source: The Pensacola Journal, June 22, 1910

Emmett may not have been present at the wedding in Gainesville, else he would have been listed here, too. Source: The Pensacola Journal, June 22, 1910

After the wedding, Walker and Jesse moved to Tampa where he worked for the SAL in different capacities — as a clerk, then later, as a train dispatcher.

The U.S. Census was taken on April 28, 1910, a few months before their wedding. Walker does not show up in the 1910 U.S. Census; however, Jesse appears as Jesse N. Evans, still residing with her family. According to the census, she was an office stenographer before her marriage.

In 1912, Dr. F.C. Wilson visited his son in Tampa. And, once again, The Pensacola Journal takes this time to remind everyone that Walker and Dr. Wilson are related to Emmett:

From The Pensacola Journal, May 17, 1912.

From The Pensacola Journal, May 17, 1912.

A curious find was that Walker, a clerk with the SAL in 1913, was boarding at the Hotel Oliver instead of living with his family. That same year, Jesse gave birth to their first child, John Evans Wilson.

From the 1913 R.L. Polk City Directory for Tampa, Florida.

From the 1913 R.L. Polk City Directory for Tampa, Florida. Walker appears to be living apart from Jesse.

In 1914, Walker and Jesse are listed together in the Tampa city directory; their address given as Central Avenue, in Seminole Heights. Walker is listed as a train dispatcher with the SAL.

Their second child, Margaret, was born in Tampa in 1917.

There isn’t a lot about Walker in the media or in genealogy files — the next item found was his WWI registration card, dated September 12, 1918. What’s new here is that we have a specific address — 5606 Central Ave. Also, a physical description: Medium height and build, with brown eyes and dark brown hair, which was characteristic of most Wilson siblings.

September 12, 1918. Source: Ancestry.com

September 12, 1918. Source: Ancestry.com

Walker and his family remained in Tampa until about 1930.

The 1929 Tampa city directory.

The 1929 Tampa city directory.

The 1930 Jacksonville city directory.

The 1930 Jacksonville city directory.

Walker spent most of his professional life with the SAL, and had a satisfactory career.

From the October 31, 1924 issue of the Tampa Tribune. Source: genealogybank.com

From the October 31, 1924 issue of the Tampa Tribune. Source: genealogybank.com

In the 1940 U.S. Census, the Wilsons have moved to 1st Street in Jacksonville. Walker is still with the SAL; both John and Margaret are out of the family home.

U.S. Census for 1940. Source: Ancestry.com

U.S. Census for 1940. Source: Ancestry.com

Walker died June 22, 1943. He was buried in Tampa.

Circle of Family: Walker Wilson

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Our last sibling essay in Emmett Wilson’s family story focuses on the youngest son, Walker Wilson.

Walker Wilson, about 6 years old, December 1890.

Walker Wilson, about 6 years old, December 1890.

Walker was born in Chipley, Florida in 1884, six months after his family emigrated back to the U.S. from Belize, when Emmett was two years old.

I have a few clips from the Chipley newspapers from the late 1890s about Emmett and Walker out on camping/fishing trips to St. Andrews during the summers.

Emmett and Walker often spent the first two weeks in August together, accompanied by family and friends, on these outings, every year.

From The Chipley Banner, July 1899. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Some outings probably less traumatic than this one. From The Chipley Banner, July 1899. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Given that there was only two years difference between Emmett and Walker, they were probably close while they were children and teenagers, but after Emmett started college at West Florida Seminary, they spent little time together. In 1899, when Emmett was in-between semesters at WFS, he was working as a telegrapher and railroad station manager and Walker was still in grade school while doing occasional odd jobs around Chipley (clerical work, and railroad depot jobs).

By 1902, Walker was a telegraph operator at the railroad station in Chipley, following in the footsteps of several older brothers, and working his way up to the position, just as Emmett and Julian.

The telegraph operator's job was important -- and dangerous at times. Source: The Chipley Banner, July 1902

The telegraph operator’s job was important — and dangerous at times. Source: The Chipley Banner, July 1902

This was unusual, I thought: Walker, 19, is still in grade school as of January 1903. Source: The Chipley Banner, February 1903.

This was unusual, I thought: Walker, 19, is still in grade school as of January 1903. Source: The Chipley Banner, February 1903.

I’ve been in touch with Walker’s grandson, Jim, who was kind enough to share an extensive family genealogy document with me — it’s wonderful — and it was written by Walker’s son, John Evans Wilson, in 1990.

The genealogy includes this interesting comment:

I wonder if, perhaps, Walker resented having to pay for Emmett's higher education, because Emmett was the only Wilson sibling in school while Walker was still living at home and under his father's authority. Source: John Evans Wilson Genealogy, 1990.

I wonder if Walker resented having to pay for Emmett’s higher education. Emmett was the only Wilson sibling in school while Walker was still living at home and under his father’s authority; Walker never went further than eighth grade. Source: John Evans Wilson Genealogy, 1990.

I get the impression that Emmett and Walker’s communication/visitation was sporadic for a few years; although in 1904, when Emmett moved to Marianna to live and work with Cephas (as the junior law partner of Wilson & Wilson), Walker also moved in with Cephas. In case you haven’t been keeping score, Cephas’ household in 1904 included himself, Lula, Ceph Jr., and daughter Kathleen, as well as three of his brothers (Emmett, Julian and Walker). It almost feels like Cephas’ home was the launching pad for his siblings before they struck out on their own.

Walker was visiting his father in Chipley. Source: The Chipley Banner, 1904.

Walker was visiting his father in Chipley. Source: The Chipley Banner, 1904.

In 1905, Emmett wanted to get away from his family and his try his wings, so he moved to Sterling, Illinois. It only lasted six months.

By 1908, Walker would move on to work for the Seaboard Air Line railroad and relocate to Tampa. Walker would spend several years in Tampa, working his way up the ladder.

Walker and his sister Katie Wilson Meade, in front of the Washington Monument, July 4, 1908. Photo was taken by their first cousin, Lizzie Meade.

Walker, on a visit to Washington D.C. with his sister Katie Wilson Meade. Photo was taken by their first cousin, Lizzie Meade, in front of the Washington Monument, July 4, 1908.

I’ll continue with Walker’s story tomorrow.