Following the Money

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One of the things I’ve always found curious about Emmett Wilson’s life was why he never lived on his own, never owned a house, never had his own apartment in which he was responsible for everything (food, furniture, utilities and the like).

Emmett was a bachelor with an active and upscale social life and a good job. According to an interview in the Sterling (Illinois) Daily Standard in 1905, Emmett said he was always anxious to be on his own, to prove himself in the legal profession, to be his own man as soon as he could, because he was ready for it.

But according to different editions of the Pensacola City Directory, the U.S. Census for 1900 and 1910, and several articles in Florida contemporary newspapers, Emmett never really was on his own in the true sense of the word.

908 N. Spring Street, Pensacola. Source: Google Maps

In the 1900 U.S. Census, Emmett was enumerated at his father’s home in Chipley, then he moved that same year to his brother Cephas’ house in Marianna. Emmett had roommates both in college dorms and boarding houses while a student at Stetson University; when he moved to Pensacola, he lived with friends at a boarding house, then with the Kehoe family from 1911 onward. Obviously, he paid rent at the boarding houses (In 1908, 124 W. Belmont, today an office building, and in 1909, 908 N. Spring Street, still standing).

Was it money? Couldn’t Emmett afford it?

Sure he could.

Source: Who’s Who in America, Volume 4, 1906, p. 1201

It wasn’t that Emmett didn’t make enough money to live on his own. For example, in 1906, when Emmett was a clerk, then temporary Assistant District Attorney (a part-time position while he also worked in his uncle Evelyn Croom Maxwell’s law office). Emmett eventually became Maxwell’s partner in 1908. But in 1907, Emmett’s salary was $1,500 a year (the average salary for a family of four in the U.S. was about $600 in 1907), in addition to whatever he was making as a private attorney.

Emmett was named to the clerkship, then temporary assistant district attorney in 1906, which terminated in 1907. The image is hard to capture, but you can see the original at this link.

Source: Annual Report of the Attorney General of the United States, 1907.

Emmett also lived with the Kehoes from 1911 onward — he may have paid something towards rent or household costs, but it probably wasn’t substantial, and because Jennie and Walter Kehoe considered Emmett a member of their family, I doubt they would have accepted much, if anything from Emmett towards rent. He made good money, and he had plenty of opportunities to save it.

In 1908 Pensacola, the average rent at a good boarding house was $5 a week, which included room, board, electricity and laundry services.

According to the Inflation Calculator, $5 a week in 1908 has the same purchasing power as $124.56 today — about $500 a month in rent. That was a bargain, considering Emmett’s rent included board and laundry services. Try finding that kind of rent package deal today.

I know that Emmett had to spend a lot of his own money on his political campaign in 1912. He complained in a speech after he won the primary in June, 1912, about how expensive it was — campaign spending records for 1912 show that he spent over $2,000 of his own money leading up to the primary — which is the equivalent of $50,074.14 in today’s dollars, according to the Inflation Calculator. Expensive, indeed.

So, although Emmett certainly would have been able to afford a home of his own by 1912, it seems he put his money towards his political ambitions. It was a gamble, but it makes sense.

But it is too bad that Emmett didn’t invest in real estate, or have something to call his own. Real estate ownership was considered a solid, sound investment. Also, owning a home conveyed the appearance of reliability, consistency.

Even sobriety.

And perhaps the last point was the other stickler.

By 1913, we know Emmett was a full-blown alcoholic, and booze was costly: For example, ONE gallon of nine year old Kentucky whiskey cost $9 in 1913. In 2018 dollars, that’s $225. I doubt Emmett limited his drinking to a gallon a week. It was likely SEVERAL gallons.

Emmett was also a member of two prominent men’s clubs in Pensacola: The Osceola Club and the Elks. The Osceola Club was a fancy society club where one could read, meet and socialize with select and prominent Pensacolians, and drink (although that was not publicized). Membership in The Osceola Club was approximately $500 a year, not including your bar tab, if you had one. And Emmett had one, for sure.

Yes, that’s $500 a year.

In 1913 dollars.

Or, $12,518, according to the Inflation Calculator in 2018 dollars.

I don’t have Emmett’s receipts, of course, but it seems obvious to me that spent most of his money on his political campaigns in 1912 and 1914, and booze.

And when Emmett died in 1918, he was in financial trouble. Emmett’s brother and executor of his estate, Cephas Love Wilson, stated in a letter that Emmett didn’t have anything of value in his belongings except a life insurance policy worth about $13,000, and that Emmett had already borrowed $3,000 against it (that he knew of). In the end, there wasn’t much, if anything, left of Emmett’s estate.

 

 

 

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Celebrity Sightings, 1908

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Source: The Pensacola Journal, March 3, 1908. From ChroniclingAmerica.gov

The date?   March 3, 1908, the day after Mardi Gras.
The place?  The private dining room in the The Osceola Club, Pensacola, Florida
The occasion/connection? Good question. This is another oddball jigsaw puzzle in the life of Emmett Wilson that I like to work out.

Not to sound disparaging of anyone sitting around that dinner table at The Osecola Club, but if I had to rank the attendees in terms of celebrity, it would be as follows:

  • Foster
  • Crawford
  • Harris
  • Wilson

The connection between Emmett and William Bloxham (“Billy”) Crawford is immediately obvious. Emmett and Billy were college friends, roommates and classmates at West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University) and at Stetson University’s law school.

You may recall from an earlier post that Billy Crawford was also the business manager at the Stetson University student newspaper, The Stetson Weekly Collegiate. (Undoubtedly, Billy was the one who frequently supplied news bits about his roommate, Emmett, to the student paper during their tenure at Stetson.)

“He failed utterly.” This is something Crawford would have published about Emmett for fun! Source: The Stetson Weekly Collegiate, Dec. 5, 1903.

Because Crawford was in the publishing business, it would make sense that he would meet, wine, and dine other professional and prominent writers who visited Pensacola. Crawford was prominent, not only in local social and professional circles, but also in political circles, as the son of H. Clay Crawford, Florida’s Secretary of State from 1902 to 1929. Young Billy had three things Emmett coveted all his life: Connections, access, and entree. True, Emmett hung out with Billy because it improved his ‘face value’ in Pensacola society, but it was also true that Emmett and Billy were honest-to-God friends.

Maximilian Foster. Passport photo from 1918, via Ancestry.com

Maximillian Foster was a big deal, a ‘get’ as one would say in the journalism world. He was a well-known playwright and author, whose articles appeared regularly in many popular national magazines, including the Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, and Everybody’s magazines. (You can read past copies of these magazines in Google Books, by the way.) One of his most well-known books, “Rich Man, Poor Man”, not to be confused with a different book of the same name, published in 1969 by Irwin Shaw, was eventually made into a (silent) movie. (You can read the book via Google Books at the link above. It’s a quick read; an early 20th Century version of chick lit. But I digress.)

Evelyn Harris. Source: Find-a-grave.com

Evelyn Harris was a son of the author Joel Chandler Harris, of Uncle Remus fame. On March 3, 1908, Evelyn was a marketing and advertising executive with the Southern Bell Telephone company in Atlanta.

Evelyn Harris did not have a distinguished literary career as did his father, although he wrote a booklet titled, “A Little Story about my mother, Esther LaRose Harris” in 1949. (It is in the archive at Georgia State University and Agnes Scott College.) The story behind that 65-page booklet is that Harris wrote it for his grand nieces and nephews — he and his wife Annie Louise Hawkins Harris never had children.

As facilitator of this fancy men’s dinner, I could see Billy Crawford putting Foster and Joel Chandler Harris’ son together; the senior Harris had recently launched a popular magazine, Uncle Remus’ Home Magazine, and perhaps Evelyn Harris shared interesting anecdotes about his father’s career. Alas, it would have been unlikely that Joel Chandler Harris himself would have attended this dinner: He was in poor health due to acute nephritis and complications from cirrhosis — alcoholism. He died exactly four months later, on July 3, 1908.

The date on the article about the dinner is important. The day before, March 2, 1908, Emmett was a gentleman-in-waiting in Pensacola’s Mardi Gras court. This was a huge society coup for the women mostly, but in truth, anyone who was invited to serve in the royal court of, basically, the most important social event of the year had made it, socially and politically. By now, Emmett’s political and social star was on the rise.

But the dinner article doesn’t state when the event took place. Likely it wasn’t on March 2; Emmett would have been too busy in the day-and-night-long social activities to attend a fancy dinner with a famous playwright and author.

Based on other news items about Foster and Harris in The Pensacola Journal, we can guestimate when the men were actually in town, and the date that the fancy dinner probably took place. I’d say it was likely held on March 1:

Foster is in Pensacola as of January 19. The Rev. Whaley was pastor of Christ Episcopal Church, which was Emmett’s church. Foster was on a lengthy visit in Pensacola.

Evelyn Harris is in Pensacola as of March 1 — because he didn’t work for himself, as Foster did per se, likely he wasn’t in Pensacola on a lengthy visit. Perhaps the dinner took place on March 1 or March 2. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov.