I Know Where You Were

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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 Shorpy.com, a wonderful database of historic photos, and saw this:

The Blount Building, 1908. Source: Shorpy.com

The Blount Building, 1908. Source: Shorpy.com

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: Shorpy.com

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: Shorpy.com

The ANBB, now Seville Tower, today. Source: Pensapedia.com

The ANBB, now Seville Tower. Source: Pensapedia.com

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, https://floridamemory.com/items/show/47155

Justice Evelyn Croom Maxwell. VIP in bar and bench circles. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, https://floridamemory.com/items/show/47155

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.

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21st Century Lens Syndrome

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Here’s the latest conumdrum from this week’s research:

I find myself immediately reacting to what I read rather than remembering that life in 1914 did not include things I take for granted in 2014, such as:

Er, yeah, to say Emmett lived during the Dark Ages would be a bit of a stretch. Image source: www.education-portal.com

Er, yeah, to say Emmett lived during the Dark Ages would be a bit of a stretch. Image source: http://www.education-portal.com

I also admit to making the following statement after reading about everyday life in Emmett’s time, to wit: “Those poor slobs; they were living in the Dark Ages.”

That’s neither fair nor objective for a researcher; however, I am of the school where one admits failings as a means to conquer them. So, I admit this:

I have 21st Century Lens Syndrome.

I’m sure this is common among other researchers; I suppose this is normal. What concerns me is that I don’t want this attitude creeping into the writing of Emmett’s bio, which is underway (and very much a rough draft). I’ve seen it happen in other history texts and bios, and frankly, its obnoxious. We, of the 21st Century, have seen and experienced progress with life’s issues, but we for sure have not eradicated all of them.

Writers of history and biography, we must watch our reactions to our research material. Otherwise, we come off looking like a bunch of asses.

Let me give you an example. Look at this photo which was taken on a street in New York City, in 1905:

A shot from real life in 1905. Not exactly pretty. Image source: http://www.shorpy.com/node/7521

A view of life in 1905. Image source: http://www.shorpy.com/node/7521

When I first saw this photograph, I thought, “Why aren’t those children in school? Where are the parents? That poor animal, why didn’t someone call the ASPCA?” and so on.

See? A full-blown case of 21st Century Lens Syndrome.

This is not a pleasant photograph, but if any of us were to step through and talk to the people in that picture, they may not have thought anything was wrong or strange; and in fact, one child is actually pointing at photographer. (It was unusual and perhaps strange to see a camera and photographer in 1905 — maybe not so unusual to see a dead horse lying in the street.)

Service horses, especially those in cities, had hard lives. They may have been well cared for, but when they died, they could be placed in the street for removal by animal control (work in the busy livery stable nearby had to go on), and this was a common procedure.

A sanitized look at life in 1904. Image source: IMDB.com

A sanitized look at life in 1904. Image source: IMDB.com

The children in the photo are barefoot, playing in the dirty street near the dead animal, with no apparent adult supervision. As a mom, I admit this made me cringe. We know that nowadays, at a minimum, social services would have been called in, and parents cited for neglect.

I don’t particularly like what I see in the photo, but it is a fairly accurate window into what life was like back in Emmett’s day. Nothing here was necessarily ‘broken,’ in other words. It is hard to look at that photo, though.

Finally, a common idea I used to have about the early 1900s came from images depicted in the Judy Garland movie, “Meet Me in St. Louis.” Of course, this wasn’t reality for most people living during those times, either.

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It has been quiet here in Tell My Story land, but that’s because I’m writing and editing like a madwoman. Classes resume mid-January (I’m teaching nine hours this term), and the children will be home for Christmas break for two weeks. Thankfully, the muse is cooperating while things have slowed down in the office, and I’ve been productive.

I’ll have more updates on the writing process and progress later this week.