100 Years Ago Today


The front page of The Pensacola Journal, 100 years ago today. If you click on the link here, you’ll see the entire front page as it was on May 29, 1918.

Here’s a better look at Emmett’s death notice:

The Pensacola Journal, May 29, 1918, page one.

Emmett’s death notice was obviously unexpected and thrown together with few complete details as The Pensacola Journal‘s first (and only edition) of morning newspaper was going to press.

  • “Following a very short illness….” Those who were closest to him knew that what actually killed Emmett had been killing him for years, and Emmett’s “poor health” had been reported in  West Florida papers for several years. In fact, this was one of the reasons reported in earlier versions of The Pensacola Journal and other Florida papers why “he decided” not to run for a third term.
  • “…died at 12:25 o’clock this morning…” Emmett’s death took place right as the paper was going to press. The position of the death notice in the paper is interesting and important: Right above the fold, but not a top headline. The story was important, as Emmett was a recent U.S. Congressman, and his sudden (and mostly unexpected) death definitely newsworthy. There had definitely been last minute reworking of the front page by the composition editors.
  • …aged 36 years.” Emmett was actually 35. The late night copy editor didn’t know Emmett personally.
  • “Of course no funeral arrangements had been perfected….” Because this was unexpected. Although Emmett’s health had been deteriorating for years, it seems likely that he’d experienced several similar scenarios (for lack of a better description) and family or friends had not thought this was anything new. Or life threatening. I believe that only Emmett, and perhaps one or two others, really knew that Emmett was dying of alcoholism in 1918.
  • “It is probable remains will be held pending….” The late night copy editor was scrambling a bit to fill available text box space. What else would Pensacola Hospital do with a former congressman?
  • “Deceased from (sic) born….” The typo is another clue the copy editor was scrambling. But the bigger clues that this caught everyone off guard is that the second paragraph was taken from Emmett’s official U.S. Congressional Directory biography in 1913, and not more recent sources, because the death notice doesn’t include any information about his second term.
  • Emmett’s photo is from his 1912 congressional primary campaign. There had been several high-quality photos of Emmett taken while in Congress and certainly provided to the media free of charge. It’s curious why a more recent photograph was not used — unless it was just overlooked in the haste to put the May 29, 1918 edition to bed.


Frank L. Mayes of The Pensacola Journal. Champion grudge holder.

Once upon a time, back in 1912, Emmett was a good friend of Frank Mayes, political kingmaker, and editor and publisher of The Pensacola Journal. Emmett had been Mayes’ prodigy; he was intended to serve as Mayes’ entree into the Woodrow Wilson’s inner circle.

But there had been a major falling out around October, 1914, and Mayes basically washed his hand of his prodigy. After that, Mayes stopped running regular articles in his paper about Emmett — and when news necessitated mentioning Emmett, Mayes never mentioned his name, referring to Emmett instead as the Third District’s Congressman. Mayes knew that indifference was more damaging politically and professionally to Emmett than anything.

I also believe Mayes knew his indifference hurt Emmett personally, too. Frank Mayes was a smart fellow, he was an excellent ‘read’ of people because he got to know them well. Mayes was also the guy who never forgot a slight, and he knew the best way to get folks to do his bidding. Manipulative? Probably. That’s not meant to be a put-down; that character description often comes with the political kingmaker job title.

I mention the angst between Frank Mayes and Emmett Wilson because in 1918, Mayes’ widow Lois was running The Pensacola Journal, and she had no illusions about the relationship between her late husband and Emmett: Emmett wasn’t useful to Frank, and so The Pensacola Journal had no use for Emmett, either.

Source: The Pensacola Journal, May 29, 1918, page 1, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

When Frank died in February 1915, he had been on a mission to separate himself from the mistake of supporting a candidate unprepared to hold national office. That meant breaking away from Emmett’s supporters, like Walter Kehoe, as well. If you look at the front page layout for May 29, 1918, notice the article about a debate between Walter and John Smithwick right under Emmett’s death notice. Kehoe is running for reelection for Emmett’s old congressional seat against Smithwick — and Smithwick declared the winner of the debate — no surprise, since The Pensacola Journal endorsed Smithwick over Kehoe for the primary election.



Percy’s Funeral


On March 10, 1918, Emmett’s older brother Percy Brockenbrough Wilson died of tuberculosis.

Percy’s death, as reported in The Chipley Banner, March 1918.


Percy’s death, as reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 1918, Vol 70, No. 14, page 1025. Source: Google Books

Percy was only 46 years old, a well-respected and admired community physician.


The quote on the headstone says: “We knew no sorrow, knew no grief, till that bright face was missed.” Source: Findagrave.com

Percy’s funeral was held one hundred years ago today, March 12, 1918, in Sneads, Florida. It was likely well attended by most of Percy’s family, although I wonder about Emmett’s attendance. If I could find a copy of the obituary from any of the Jackson County, Florida archives, it would tell us who was at the funeral. But according to the holdings records of the Library of Congress, and the holdings records for institutions that have archived Jackson County, Florida newspapers, a copy for this particular date doesn’t exist. (Percy’s descendants apparently don’t have a copy of the local obituary either — at least, not one known to them at this point. At least we have two obituary sources that provide some information — that’s better than nothing!)

Emmett was in end-stage alcoholism only weeks away from death, and mostly shunned by his siblings. Several articles from The Pensacola Journal mention Emmett’s presence at different local activities, so we know he was ambulatory and getting around, but may not have been in any condition to attend the funeral.

I tend to think family members may have simply asked Emmett to stay away.

And Emmett, who himself shunned family dramatics, who himself probably didn’t want to face his family members anymore, would have complied.

The Puzzler


The next information I have about Emmett’s nephew, Cephas Love Wilson Jr., is dated 1905 — he’s 10 years old — and back in the day, having one’s name printed in newspaper (especially The Pensacola Journal, a paper with a much larger circulation than the Marianna Times-Courier) was a big deal.

CLW Jr. was into puzzles — something I can definitely relate to. For several weeks during 1905, The Pensacola Journal offered a silver dollar to the first person (determined by postmark) who could solve the puzzle each week (a dollar in 1905 is about $27 in 2017).

Ceph Jr.’s first try at the puzzler contests found in The Pensacola Journal. June 4, 1905. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Alas, Ceph Jr. didn’t win the prize. Here were the results of the June 4 contest:

The results of the June 4 puzzler, as reported in The Pensacola Journal, June 11, 1905. Ceph Jr. was a runner-up. (Apologies for the blurry image; you can see the original here.  From ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Ceph Jr. was persistent. I have clips from several of the 1905 edition of The Pensacola Journal where he was listed as a runner-up, and always with the correct answers; always a participant, but never the winner.

Still, I admire and respect the fact he took the time to solve these brain-teasers, all without the benefit of technology, probably always on his own. I can picture Ceph Jr. energetically jumping on the puzzle as soon as his father was finished reading the paper — methodically tracking down the right answers, then rushing off to the Post Office with his sealed envelope, hoping his was the first, hoping to win the silver dollar!

Another ‘also ran’ for Ceph Jr., in the September 17, 1905 edition of The Pensacola Journal. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov


Break Up


I like to check on my favorite databases every six or eight weeks, so as not to miss any updates. And — SCORE! — the excellent Chronicling America newspaper database (of the Library of Congress) had added several years of The Pensacola Journal since my last visit!

And what an interesting find!


Check out the “Letter to Santa Claus,” almost in the center of the paper. It was written 101 years ago today!


A breakup in progress! Or was it? Lots of little digs at Emmett in here, too.

The editors who wrote this snippy little piece had had it with Emmett by this point. If you recall from an earlier post, Emmett damn near died almost exactly one year ago — he was found unconscious in his room at the Congress Hall Hotel, where he lived right across the street from his office in the House Office Building (today known as Cannon House Office Building).

This was the nadir of Editor Frank Mayes‘ patience with Emmett — whom he had brought out of obscurity to national prominence as  a U.S. Congressman. All Emmett had to do was follow Mayes’ bidding in Washington, D.C.; follow the party’s directives without question, and Emmett would likely be given a nice, cushy job on the Florida State Supreme Court (which Mayes & Co. KNEW was Emmett’s lifelong goal).


Frank L. Mayes of The Pensacola Journal. Champion grudge holder. Poor judge of character too, I think.

What Mayes & Co. didn’t realize was that despite Emmett’s terrible addiction, he had a good heart, and integrity. Emmett was also a people-pleaser of sorts: The  outcry and negative publicity that good old Frank Mayes put out in his own paper, about his personally selected man to represent the party’s ideas in Washington, got to Emmett. He was already a full-blown alcoholic when he took the oath of office on March 4, 1913; Mayes knew that, too. He figured Emmett would spend a lot of his time soused, a little out of his mind, and he’d probably just do as he was told.

Mayes underestimated Emmett’s character, which makes me feel good (because I am not Team Frank), but it also points out the poignancy of someone trying to do what’s best, only to get tripped up by politics, and someone else’ plain old ambition. Emmett wanted to do a good job for his constituency. Mayes didn’t care; as long as his ambitions were satisfied.

Long story short: Emmett followed his heart/good sense with a postmaster appointment because it was the right thing to do, and it cost him his career.

Back to the breakup item: In April 1915, Emmett had already announced he wasn’t running for a third term. In the article about his decision to retire from Congress, he said that it was all his decision, but you can bet your sweet bippy (or the 1915 equivalent) that the Florida State Democratic Party forced it.

Whatta guy.

I Love You, George A. Smathers Libraries


Friends, today I made a random check of historic newspaper databases, and I found a set that has been recently added to the University of Florida George A. Smathers Library Archive.

This one:

The Daily News. Pensacola's -other- daily newspaper not published by Frank Mayes. Source: University of Florida Smathers Library

The Daily News. Pensacola’s -other- daily newspaper not published by Frank Mayes. Source: University of Florida Smathers Library

A totally new-to-me source that I haven’t seen either in microfilm or in hard copy to date. I knew this publication existed, but I figured known copies were non-existent! You have no idea how thrilling this is to find it!

There’s a few things that are important about this publication:

  • Frank Mayes was not the editor/publisher. Mayes ran The Pensacola Journal, the morning paper, which was considered the stronger of the two newspapers. Whatever Mayes thought was wonderful, the editor of The Daily News took a more objective, critical view of the issue.
  • The Daily News would eventually become the Pensacola Daily News, which would be run by Emmett’s college roommate (from Stetson University) and close friend, William Bloxham Crawford.
  • The limited editions of this paper fill in an information hole. The Smathers Archive only has the years 1899 through 1903 of this paper — but that’s fine. Emmett went to visit his grandfather and family members during this period (so, perhaps he is mentioned in the paper). More importantly, Emmett lived in Pensacola for six months from September 1901 to February 1902, when he was enrolled in shorthand courses at Meax’s Business College.
Source: The Chipley Banner, February 15, 1902

Source: The Chipley Banner, February 15, 1902

Emmett’s prominent Pensacola family —  he was the grandson of Augustus Emmett Maxwell, and the nephew of Judge Evelyn C. Maxwell — meant it was likely his activities would be mentioned somewhere in the paper.

Let’s hope for interesting and/or boring clips! Anything will be most welcome!



A Study of Notoriety

An example of the Tersely Told column, April 26, 1914. Source: The Pensacola Journal, in Chronicling America.com

An example of the Tersely Told column, April 26, 1914. Source: The Pensacola Journal, in Chronicling America.com

In the early 1900s, if you got your name in the newspaper, it was a big deal. It indicated prominence in your community. If you think about it, the community news blurb columns were a sort-of equivalent to our Facebook.

In Pensacola, these columns were mostly found in the Society section of the paper, with little headings over each news blurb; if you were a businessman or the items were often filed under a column titled, “Tersely Told.’ Mostly, these were about prominent individuals’ comings and goings, and what they were doing that day, much like what you see on Facebook, when friends post where they are at a certain moment, who they are with, what they are doing, and the like.

How it worked at The Pensacola Journal (morning paper) and The Pensacola News (evening paper) was that you (or your secretary) would call the item in to the editor’s desk. These columns often were filler, so there never was a guarantee that whatever you called in to include would get selected. But, if you were considered a hot property among the locals, you could be sure that your item would run in the paper.

F.C. Brent. Source: Pensapedia.com

F.C. Brent. Source: Pensapedia.com

Who were the key people of Pensacola in the early 1900s? If you were a member of the families Blount, Knowles, Brent, Avery, Maxwell, you would be certain of automatic coverage, at least in the society pages. No need to have to call up the society page editor to sell yourself for the treasured copy space.

But if you aspired to prominence, as did Emmett when he first moved to Pensacola in 1906, and were unknown, it was all about contacting the editors on your own; selling yourself, making yourself into prominence, using whatever connections you could to get your name in print.

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

In 1906, Emmett had already had two big start-overs in his life to overcome; the pressure was on him now to make good, not screw up royally. People who could make a difference for Emmett, such as Frank Mayes (the editor, publisher, and Democratic party kingmaker) were watching.

Oh, he didn’t have to try as hard as, say someone who was completely new to Pensacola; after all, Emmett was the grandson and nephew of two of the Maxwell family members. But he was still an unknown. Emmett would have to contact the papers, tell the editors what he was doing, and hope that information about his doings would be included in the news.

I wonder if Emmett felt uncomfortable doing this; that he felt this was akin to prostituting himself in some way, to selling his soul a little bit at a time?

In reviewing the statistics on Emmett’s press coverage in the Pensacola papers, there were less than 20 during the years 1906-07.

In 1908, Emmett’s name appeared more often in the society section of the paper; he was now attending important events, and his comings and goings were now being reported regularly. There were 42 society-news mentions in the papers; still, his name was spelled correctly only nine times during that period.

As Emmett’s popularity (and prominence) increased, his name was mentioned several times a week — and now, more often than not spelled correctly, especially leading up to and during his campaign years (1911- 1912). Rest assured, editor Frank Mayes had a lot to do with this — Mayes wanted a close association with President Woodrow Wilson, and he knew he could do this if he got Emmett into Wilson’s administration.

Frank L. Mayes of The Pensacola Journal. Champion grudge holder.

Frank L. Mayes of The Pensacola Journal. Champion grudge holder.

Emmett was elected by a landslide — an amazing thing in 1912, given the fact he had little political experience (every job he held that was public service was given to him via connections — he’d never run for office before), and his age. It was all Frank Mayes’ doing, everyone knew. Despite the fact that Emmett was a good public speaker, and a fairly good lawyer, he was unknown and new to the profession. If Emmett had been incompetent, Mayes wouldn’t have been able to cover that up so well.

Emmett was finally prominent. His family was proud of him; his friends knew how hard Emmett worked to get there — and, they knew how stressful it was on him, as he was drinking more than ever to cope. I wonder if this was related to the fact that he had to compromise his beliefs and political views to get what he wanted — that he was still selling himself, so to speak, to Mayes as well as the Democratic party officials?

In September 1914, when Emmett was in his second term as a U.S. Congressman, Emmett stood up for himself against Mayes — it was only once — and that would prove to be Emmett’s undoing. He failed to nominate a close associate and political friend of Frank Mayes to the coveted postmaster position in Pensacola. Mayes felt slighted by Emmett, and Mayes was the kind of guy who took slights personally.

The next day, a front-page article about Emmett and his disloyalty to his friends appeared, written by the postmaster runner-up Chipley Jones.

October 14, 1914. The Pensacola Journal. Source: Chronicling America.gov

October 14, 1914. The Pensacola Journal. Much of the letter Jones wrote for The Pensacola Journal appears to have been a collaboration with Mayes. It would not do for Mayes to blast Emmett in an editorial, since Mayes was the one who had to sell Emmett as a candidate to the Democratic state party in the first place. Source: Chronicling America.gov

Emmett had two more years left in his term, but Frank Mayes was done with him. In fact, Emmett’s name rarely appears in the paper anymore, except for articles that are negative about his service. He’s simply referred to as ‘the Congressman from the Third District.’ No name.

Mayes must have known the appearance of indifference would bother Emmett more than anything else. And it did. For the two years remaining of Emmett’s term in office, there’s less than 25 mentions of his name in The Pensacola Journal — and Emmett’s name isn’t always spelled correctly, just as when Emmett was fighting his way out of obscurity.

The More Things Stay the Same


In Sunday’s online edition of The Washington Post, we find this interesting item:

Emmett would probably say, 'well, duh.' Source: The Washington Post

Emmett would probably say, ‘well, duh.’ Source: The Washington Post

The survey doesn’t go back to Emmett’s time, but from what I’ve observed in the contemporary literature and media from his day, social drinking among those in his profession was ‘normal’, expected, typical. A man had a few drinks in his club, or at dinner, with his friends and fellows. A ‘few’ was subjective.

I’ve found several articles from Emmett’s time that were quite honest about the importance of social drinking: If you didn’t drink among your fellows, at your clubs, or at your parties, or at any social gathering where alcohol was served, it stuck out, and not in a good way.

This could be a problem, if you were a freshly minted lawyer wanting to make friends, impress higher-ups, and get accepted into the important social and political circles of the time, and you couldn’t handle the booze safely.

Like Emmett.

Emmett could not drink safely at all, at any time.

From McClure's Magazine, August, 1915. Back then, even without AA (which didn't exist until 1935), the man in this article understood that stopping drinking was the easy part. The hard part was staying sober. Source: Google Books; McClure's Magazine.

From McClure’s Magazine, August, 1915. The man in this article understood that stopping drinking was the easy part. The hard part was staying sober. Source: Google Books; McClure’s Magazine.

But, Emmett knew it was important to be a member of the Pensacola elite, the social select. He knew that was the route to professional success. I don’t know if he liked playing social games all that much; he wasn’t what you’d call ‘the life of the party.’ Emmett was more of a background kind-of guy.

But you can’t stay in the background if you want a career with political prominence.

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. Source: Florida Memory

I am convinced that most of the underlying reasons why he drank had to do with ambition. It was very important for Emmett to make it to the Florida Supreme Court bench; to make his father proud; to best his successful judge-senator-gubernatorial-hopeful big brother (who was always one-up on him); to follow in his beloved Grandfather Maxwell’s footsteps.

But to get there, he had to withstand enormous pressure to succeed. Failure wasn’t something he was comfortable with; so, he threw himself into his ambition. He had poor coping skills when it came to stress and pressure, according to an interview given one of Emmett’s frenemies, who was also a prominent lawyer. So, to deal with the incredible pressures to reach his goals, Emmett drank.

Finally, what I think is interesting in The Washington Post article are the findings that lawyers appear to be mostly pessimists (sometimes by training), tend to be more depressed than the average worker, and, more frequently have ‘pervasive fears surrounding their reputation’ that may stand in the way of getting help with mental health and/or substance abuse issues.

In Emmett’s day (just as today), drunkenness or instability, whether factual or rumor, could derail a promising career.

The Washington Post article has given me a lot to think about with regard to Emmett and how he tried to handle the stressors in his life.

Mostly, though, it makes me realize that things have not changed much in 100 years.