Chapter 40: Awesomeness and Context (Walking in Emmett’s Footsteps, part 2 )


May 18, 2014, 11:40 a.m. Pensacola Historic District

Clearly, I am in the presence of awesomeness.

I can’t describe it, but  as I walk around historic downtown Pensacola with Jacki Wilson, retracing Emmett Wilson’s everyday steps, I am aware and humbled by her true awesomeness.

The awesome Jacki Wilson showing me the old houses in historic Pensacola. Photo by the author.

For the record, my relationship with Jacki grew mostly from lengthy email messages on a variety of Emmett and Pensacola topics; messages that were back and forth for several months. That can be an awkward way to start friendships, but as I walk with her, I feel accepted and totally at ease, just as one would a friend I’d known for years. What comes out in our hanging-out together is an appreciation for history and mystery, and a love of obscure facts that tell the deep story of people long gone.

And in fact, she’s introducing me as her friend and a fellow researcher as we walk about in Pensacola.

It’s humbling. In this moment I realize how precious this dual gift of acceptance and friendship really is — and I receive it thanks to the man who was pretty much shunned the last year of his life. How ironic. Yet how gratifying.

The other thing you have to really admire about Jacki is her access. EVERYONE knows here in this, downtown and historic Pensacola. She knows where to go.

Plus, she has a BADGE. That badge is power. But the lady wearing it is graceful and easy with such access. I tell this to Jacki, who beams at me.

“Yeah, well,” Jacki says with a laugh. “I enjoy my work.”

Jacki inviting me into historic Seville Tower, once known as the American Bank Building. Emmett’s office was on the top floor. Photo by the author.

Before I know it, we are in front of a tall pink building. Seville Tower, once known as the American National Bank Building, constructed in 1909. This is where Emmett had a law office with his partner, J. Walter Kehoe, on the 7th floor.

As you walk through the doors, there is a giant antique bookcase on the left hand wall. I wonder if Emmett ever saw this. Photo by the author.

Jacki says the building is on the National Historic Register, so it is mostly unchanged — and that goes also for the claustraphobically small elevator. Once upon a time, there was an elevator operator for this thing, Jacki says. Imagine how tight it was back in the day!

As we ascend to the 7th floor, I’m a bit hesitant as it is a law firm, we weren’t really coming with any advance  notice, and people were working, but Jacki is not a woman to be dissuaded for any historical fact-finding mission! That badge, you know, lends lost of authority.

(O.K. To be clear, her ‘badge’ is her Pensacola Historical Society nametag, but it has clout in this town. I digress.)

Looking out of Emmett's office on the 7th floor of the original ANBB. He used to work on the third floor of the one across the street.

Looking out of what may have been Emmett’s office on the 7th floor of the original ANBB to the old Customs House, where Emmett’s office was on the third floor. Today it is an art gallery and cultural events are held there. Photo by the author.

The doors to the elevator open to a law firm. The receptionist did not seem at all inconvenienced when Jacki explained out mission — she was very nice and let us take a look out of different windows of the office to see what Emmett may have seen back in the day — namely, his other old office building, which was (and is) right across the street.

Back in Emmett’s day, the building across the street was called the Customs House. It housed the post office, and several federal offices, which were located on the third floor. Emmett was the assistant district attorney for several years; so, his office was on the third floor of the Customs House.

The background about Emmett as the assistant D.A., I tell Jacki, was that he was the youngest D.A. in the country at the time. Also, when Emmett was named to the position, a lot of people were surprised because a) Emmett didn’t seek the job outright and b) he had little experience.

Emmett appointed acting U.S. District Attorney, until Fred Cubberly would come along in 1908. The photo is Emmett’s law school graduation photo. Source: PEN, September 7, 1907.

As we walked across the street to the Customs House, Jacki nodded her understanding, adding that not much seems to have changed in 100 years in political partisanship.

The Customs House is now an art museum. But when Emmett was a congressman in 1913, it had needed a lot of repairs. He lobbied for (and got) a $30K appropriation for the improvements. Today, that would be about $630,000. The improvements needed then were cosmetic (wall repair, painting, light fixtures, sidewalk). Unfortunately, something happened before the repairs were finished: The appropriations, somehow, never materialized, and the local party bosses (and community) blamed it on Emmett’s incompetency and/or ineffectiveness.

Editor Frank Mayes (and other political bosses) came to believe Emmett didn’t care enough about this project to see it through. Source: The Pensacola Journal, Oct 1914.

The Customs House today.

The Customs House today. Photo by the author.

Regardless, it looks as if the people of Pensacola care a lot about this historic building, because it is in excellent condition today.

One of the things I talked with Jacki about was the fact that there WAS a chance for Emmett to turn his image of incompetency around re the Customs House appropriation mess. In fact, Emmett did follow up on the issue. A mistake was definitely made somewhere in the bureaucratic document shuffling that is Washington, D.C. But in Pensacola, the only thing people understood was that Emmett said one thing, but something else happened:

The Montgomery Advertiser, October 27, 1914. Source:


“But he didn’t. Or, he couldn’t,” Jacki said.

I think the political machinery was too much; that Emmett might have sold his soul, so to speak, for quick gain, to make something of himself so that he would be independent, or to feel good about himself, to feel fulfilled — and of course, I’m just guessing here at this point, I tell Jacki, as we walk along the sidewalks toward a diner for lunch.  “There’s a scrapbook that he willed to a friend, that somebody got, kept, treasured for a little while anyway. I just wish I could find it.”

Maybe you will, Jacki said. I hope so, anyway.

Lunch with the most awesome Jacki Wilson after the grand tour of historic Pensacola!


I hope so too.

But for now, I treasure one of the best gifts of Emmett’s research, and that is of friendship.


I Know Where You Were


I do periodic revisits of different databases, since they are updated from time-to-time. For example, Chronicling America (one of my favorites), which updated their electronic holdings of The Pensacola Journal back in June.

Sometimes I just don’t catch everything on the first run-through. Database revisits are akin to editing drafts. You have to take some time away so that fresh eyes can see the treasure!

Yesterday, I took a look at, a wonderful database of historic photos, and saw this:

The Blount Building, 1908. Source:

The Blount Building, 1908. Source:

Zoom in on the fourth floor, corner office, and you see this:

The law offices of Evelyn Croom Maxwell, Emmett's uncle, and, law partner at this time. Maxwell and Wilson formed a partnership January 2, 1907.

The law offices of Evelyn Croom Maxwell, Emmett’s uncle, and, law partner at this time. Maxwell and Wilson formed a partnership January 2, 1907.

This was where Emmett was working from January 2, 1907 until about 1909. As soon as the American National Bank Building  (nowadays, Seville Tower) was built, Emmett hung out his shingle there with Walter Kehoe, on the 7th floor.

American National Bank Building, the tallest structure in Pensacola for many years, on the right. Emmett's office was on the 7th floor, facing Palafox and the Customs House, which was right across the street. Source:

American National Bank Building, the tallest structure in Pensacola for many years, on the right. Emmett’s office was on the 7th floor, facing Palafox and the Customs House, which was right across the street. Source:

The ANBB, now Seville Tower, today. Source:

The ANBB, now Seville Tower. Source:

OK. So, Evelyn Croom Maxwell. He was Emmett’s mother’s half-brother. (Emmett’s grandfather, A.E. Maxwell, became a widower when Emmett’s mother Elizabeth was three years old. He remarried when Elizabeth was about eight years old; Evelyn was one of several children from A.E. Maxwell’s second marriage.)

Justice Evelyn Croom Maxwell. VIP in bar and bench circles. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

Justice Evelyn Croom Maxwell. VIP in bar and bench circles. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

Maxwell did a lot of ‘paving the way’ for Emmett when he first moved to Pensacola in September, 1906, after the humbling experience he had working for Nicholas Van Sant in Sterling, Illinois. Emmett came home to Florida with a fresh new look at what it really means to be a lawyer on your own (i.e., he lost a lot of the cocky attitude he had prior to the move). Maxwell was important in legal circles. It was through his influence that Emmett, a green lawyer with little depth of experience, was made temporary Assistant District Attorney for his circuit just weeks after relocating to Florida. Emmett had a lot to prove; others with more experience were going after that job, too, and were surprised the plum went to Emmett. Politics works that way, you know, boys and girls.

I’m sure Maxwell got wind of the opportunity and presented it to Emmett, because in an interview, Emmett had told the reporter (a bit naively in my view) that he was surprised he got the position, because he hadn’t even applied for it in the first place.

Anyway. I can see Maxwell saying, you know, nephew of mine, I am going to bat for you here and I can probably get this for you. But, if you screw up, it reflects on me. It’s a good opportunity for you to establish yourself in politics, since you need some public service under your belt. It’s part-time. You can build up experience with me in the practice here, as well. Win-win.

But don’t screw it up.

Emmett strapped on the big boy suspenders, got to work, and did not disappoint. By all reports, Emmett distinguished himself. He was the youngest DA in the United States at the time. People were watching him, expecting him to screw up, which I’m sure he did from time-to-time, but overall, did a great job and title went from temporary to permanent ADA a year or so later.

I can tell you that that corner office in the Blount Building was Maxwell’s. The office extended along the left side of the building for a few windows’ worth of space.

Emmett probably worked, sat, gazed out of one of those windows every day, contemplating his future, thanking his lucky stars that he had a fresh start and an uncle who was willing to give him a chance.