Finite Windows; Precious Artifacts

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Over the next couple of entries, I’d like to talk about the research process involved in gathering information about an obscure historic figure, and explain the process of reviewing artifacts for use in my research.

Most of the time, when I’m visiting an archive to collect documents or artifacts, I have a finite window in which to view the documents. Although I call ahead or visit the archive’s website to check out their holdings lists so that I know what exactly is in their collection, those lists don’t got into a lot of detail. I won’t know exactly what’s in the boxes until I get there — and then, once I are there with the box of documents in front of me, I have to read every piece to make sure I’m getting what i need.

Two tables worth of research materials, when I was at the University of West Florida. About half of the artifacts I handled were in good condition. None of these artifacts are digitized.

Two tables worth of research materials, when I was at the University of West Florida back in 2014. About half of the artifacts I handled were in good condition; the holdings list did not go into detail about what was in each document. Finally, none of these artifacts are digitized, so I had to read everything.

Because I have limited time, I get permission from the archivist to scanning or photographing the documents. So, on most of my archive trips, that’s what I’m doing for six or seven straight hours.

My students ask me if, when doing this, I find I’m collecting artifacts and documents that don’t have any relevance. That may be true; however, in gathering information to tell Emmett’s story, it isn’t just about collecting information about HIM, specifically (although that is important), but it is about collecting information about the context of his life.

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The barber shop in the San Carlos Hotel, about 1920, one of the many amenities offered at this first-class hotel. Emmett probably had many haircuts and shaves here — maybe even a manicure after he was elected to congress. Source: Cottrell Collection, University of West Florida Archives.

For example: Emmett never owned a home of his own, but he lived for a few years at the San Carlos Hotel, as a long-term tenant.

George S. Hervey. Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1909

George S. Hervey. Source: The Pensacola Journal, 1909

Some of the context around this would be Emmett’s relationship with the own, George S. Hervey, the different amenities and services the hotel offered to short-term and long-term tenants, and so forth.

In one of the archival boxes, there may be old bills and correspondence from Hervey to different long-term tenants from the early 1900s, which would give me an idea of how Hervey managed the hotel, and the accommodations given long-term tenants.

This first part, the gathering of data, can seem a little haphazard, but my experience has been to gather as much as I can that I think is relevant, and then to separate the information into three categories:

  • Directly relevant information
  • Supporting information
  • Background information

The information I have collected over the past three years on the San Carlos Hotel for the years 1909-1918 (when Emmett would have been a regular guest) is mostly supporting information and background information. What I’ve learned gives me an important understanding of what it would be like for a bachelor to live in an elite hotel when his fortunes were on a downward trend.

In the next post, I’ll take an artifact that Emmett’s grand niece (i.e., the granddaughter of Emmett’s sister, Katie Wilson Meade) sent me a few months back, and walk you through how I analyze it from three different angles: Medium, message, and context. I want to show you how a piece of paper, which might not look like much on the surface, can tell you a lot about an individual.

Stay tuned!

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Take Me to 1911!

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Guys, fantastic news!

The New York Public Library released 180K historic images to a digital archive, and yes, instead of braving the frigging cold of 16 degrees (as it is outside right now), you and I can peruse in our pajamas!

A 1936 pic of the Mississippi River at Vicksburg by Walker Evans. Source: NPR, via the NYPL

A 1936 pic of the Mississippi River at Vicksburg by Walker Evans. Source: NPR, via the NYPL

One very cool feature of the NYPL is this feature: A comparison of 1911 street photos with 2015 Google Street View images. You click on the button, “Take me to 1911!” This is something like an earlier feature I mentioned on the blog, here.

This is part of a move to get library archival holdings out there, and more accessible, to the general public. It’s all about getting information and educational materials OUT to people (of course, the people still have to actually READ and LOOK AT the materials themselves). The NYPL is moving and grooving with digitizing their holdings — this is a great model for other public libraries to emulate; it so appeals to the researcher-teacher in me.

I wish this were a possibility for all libraries with archives. Not to be a downer, but the reality is that it will take years for other library archives to emulate what the NYPL is doing with their holdings.

The problem: Money and time. Digitizing images and holdings takes a lot of time — and I don’t mean sitting at a scanner and digitizing the artifact.

Library archivists spend their days researching the items themselves for inclusion in their holdings (i.e., they don’t simply accept everything given to them, because they don’t have the space to store them), educating the archive’s users on how to handle materials, preserving fragile source materials from decay, assisting other researchers with searches, learning how to save historic printed artifacts from disintegrating in their hands…there’s more, but you get it.

Stetson University Archives has been moving their holdings to digital format. What's nice is that the holdings are also searchable -- a great resource. Source: Stetson University Archives

Stetson University Archives has been moving their holdings to digital format. What’s nice is that the holdings are also searchable — a great resource. Source: Stetson University Archives

Some university archives, such as Stetson University in DeLand (Emmett’s alma mater) are digitizing collections extensively, and using the opportunities to train up-and-coming archivists. For instance,my colleague Angela the Archivist has told me that this is the type of project given to students who are in archival preservation studies at Stetson.

Case-in-point: Over a year ago, I inquired if they had a specific student catalog available for when Emmett was a student there. Angela told me they did; and, they would use my request as ‘project’ to get the catalog digitized. It was assigned to an archive preservation student, and voila, it was done:  The student received academic credit, the archive got a digitized document, and I could search it to my heart’s content in my pajamas.

Win-win.

Most archives in the libraries I use do not have a large staff, nor do they have this kind of program available at their school. Some libraries barely have enough space to keep their holdings on-site.

Holdings at the Provincial Archive specific to Pensacola Hospital.

Holdings at the Provincial Archive in Emmitsburg, Maryland specific to Pensacola Hospital. These are not digitized, but it would be great if they were! It’s a long schlep from Pensacola to the Maryland-Pennsylvania border!

 

Two tables worth of research materials, when I was at the University of West Florida. About half of the artifacts I handled were in good condition. None of these artifacts are digitized.

Two tables worth of research materials, when I was at the University of West Florida. About half of the artifacts I handled were in good condition. None of these artifacts are digitized. There are boxes on the other tables that I was reading, too — these items were in fragile condition.

When your archive belongs to a small, not-nationally-renown university that does not have a bazillion dollars’ worth of endowments, lots of other things get priority for budget dollars: A new HVAC system, for instance will ace a digital scanner, (especially in Florida in August).

Even my colleagues at the National Archives here in DC can attest to the rows and rows of historic documents in the stacks that are not digitized, in fragile condition. I saw them for myself: Literally thousands of books, documents and other artifacts that are well cared-for, but you need to show up in person to see them.

This is what it looks like in the stacks, folks. I wasn't allowed to take a photo while I was in there, but it does look just like this, many rows, many rooms. Most of this is not digitized. Source: LOC

This is what it looks like in the stacks, folks. I wasn’t allowed to take a photo while I was in there, but it does look just like this, many rows, many rooms. Most of this is not digitized. Source: LOC

I’m not sure about doing all of my research in my pajamas on a regular basis — even when I show up to dig around in a dusty archive, I dress professionally (or, at least try to look the part) — but I admit that the idea is appealing, especially when the weather is frigid.

 

Persistent Digging & Payoff

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Congratulations to colleagues at the University of West Florida:

In the article, Garner said he happened upon the artifact site quite by accident: Driving along, he saw disturbed dirt at a construction site, in an area he’d long thought ‘might’ be the location of the Luna settlement. “Might.” He wasn’t certain, but he had a feeling about it.

Something inside him told him to stop and look. He followed that instinct.

Garner with some of the artifacts. There is a UWF slideshow embedded within the PNJ article. Source: Pensacola News Journal; UWF

Garner with some of the artifacts. There is a UWF slideshow embedded within the PNJ article. Source: Pensacola News Journal; UWF

Professional archaeologists can go for weeks and months at a dig site, and find nothing — and then, one day, quite by happenstance, come across a wonderful source of artifacts!

When I read about others who ‘dig’ for information for a living having this kind of success, I feel encouraged and cheered for days on end! Examples like these reinforce my understanding that we have to be patient and persistent — and willing to follow that inner voice that says, out of nowhere, ‘stop and look here.’

Or, ‘tell my story’.

The Second Research Trip to Pensacola

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Friends I have finally booked the second trip to Pensacola.

I’m looking forward to seeing my friends again, and filling in some of the information holes in Emmett’s story. I’ve met some very nice folks along the research trek, so, that makes doing work enjoyable. I wish everyone liked their job as much I like mine.

Here’s my tentative plan for Pensacola:

  • Escambia County Courthouse Archives. The wild card in the whole trip. I get the feeling that there’s not much about Emmett’s cases in terms of oratory there, but I have to see. I’m in search of three speeches he gave at three different trials. If, perchance, they are there, this will be huge.
  • University of West Florida Archives. The Frank Penton papers. This guy gave Emmett holy hell during most of his tenure as District Attorney, then State’s Attorney. Penton and several family members were charged with murder more than once. Ironically, or, maybe not ironically, Penton later became Escambia County Sheriff. His papers may include commentary on Emmett’s prosecutorial skills.
  • Christ Church. Emmett’s funeral service was held here. Also, the day before his funeral, Emmett’s friends viewed his remains at the Kehoe’s home on Baylen Street. Today, it is a private residence, but it still looks pretty much the same as it did in 1918. I’d love to see the inside of that place; cross your fingers. I’m working on that.
  •  Pensacola Hospital. That’s where Emmett died. There is a lot of this structure that is still intact and original; the first floor is where he was treated (i.e., the hospital had two rooms specifically designated to treat alcoholics. It was ahead of its time).

I have a few other places I want to visit, but it depends on how much I find in the Courthouse Archive. And of course, I plan to pay Emmett a visit, perhaps clean his stone up. It was looking a little frumpy last time I saw it.

I also have two other places to visit: Chipley, where his boyhood home was recently refurbished (and looks great, by the way), and Marianna, where Emmett lived with his older brother Cephas for about four years. He called Marianna home when he was in college. I cannot wait to meet the kind folks there who I’ve been corresponding with on this project!

It’s exciting to think about finding new information about Emmett, and how it will shape his story. I’ll keep you posted as the big day draws near!

Half a Loaf

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For three weeks, I’ve been working through a set of microfilm generously on loan to me from the University of West Florida, specifically, the Pensacola Evening News for 1912. I just finished the last reel this afternoon, and my library will send the film back to UWF tomorrow.

This set of film had the .jpg images that I lost earlier in the year. It wasn’t difficult recapturing the images, because I made a detailed inventory the first time through, complete with specific issue dates and page numbers. But, it didn’t go as quickly as I thought, because I got caught back up in reading the darn issues again. 🙂

Since the first read-through, I’ve gotten to know Pensacola’s key players a lot better. Once again, I have come to the understanding that delays, do-overs, and having Mercury in retrograde is often to one’s benefit. I have more sinister and interesting details to include as I weave the story of Emmett’s life.

CHB Floyd in 1895. Source: UGA Pandora

CHB Floyd in 1895. Source: UGA Pandora

Another bonus: I found two articles specifically about Emmett I did not catch the first time around; the most important one is an editorial, a personal feature about Emmett right after he won his congressional seat written by C.H.B. Floyd.

Floyd was a clever and careful observer of all things political, silly, crappy, and he had a way of shining the light of truth onto his subjects. Floyd told it like it was: He skewered the overinflated egos of the pompous. If a public person had a character defect to make fun of, that is what Floyd did. But Floyd also honored those who tried to make an honest job of Florida politics. Emmett fell into the second category.

Who was CHB Floyd? Source: The American Bar, 1918.

Who was CHB Floyd? Source: The American Bar, 1918.

Finding this editorial was important, because Floyd knew Emmett. Both were lawyers and politicians; they ran in the same circles. Floyd’s observations are candid and honest, and provide a good look at Emmett the man — the young, obscure, earnest candidate, who ran a campaign with significantly less money and experience than his opponents.

A typical Floydism from The Tampa Tribune, June 1, 1914. Source: GenealogyBank.com

A typical Floydism from The Tampa Tribune, June 1, 1914. Source: GenealogyBank.com

Floyd really liked Emmett, and he must have seen something about Emmett that made him lay off teasing Emmett about his inexperience in politics, because Floyd would continue to badger others who had more experience, more pomposity, less integrity; in fact, Floyd had a field day with his editorials against Tom Watson, who for all practical purposes was the Donald Trump of the 1912 presidential campaign.

Whereas Floyd would skewer the pompous and arrogant, he treated others who tried to live the life of integrity, with respect. If Floyd liked you, he would conclude his complimentary editorial essay with the line, “I give (name here) my sprig of laurel.”

In fact, Emmett was the recipient of Floyd’s sprig of laurel in the partial editorial that survives!

The Truth About Floyd, from The Tampa Tribune, July 3 1914. Source: GenealogyBank.com

The Truth About Floyd, from The Tampa Tribune, July 3 1914. Source: GenealogyBank.com

Floyd was popular and well-loved; unfortunately, his career was short-lived. Floyd died of influenza towards the end of the epidemic in 1920.

Oh yes. The half-article.

The reason I missed it the first time around was because the page was torn in half, and that is all that was captured on the microfilm. Also, the original was not in good shape, and difficult to read. Emmett’s name is at the bottom, and it is misspelled.

Still, it is new information. Half a loaf is better than none at all, and I am grateful to have found it in the first place!

I have a message in to the excellent Dean DeBolt, the archivist at the University of West Florida to see if the hard copy holdings of this particular issue are complete. It is possible that the microfilm was shot using the hard copy that is on hand at the UWF archive, and so, all we may have is that half-column.

I’ll keep you posted about the missing half of the editorial!

Leora Sutton & Pensacola Archaeology

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Friends, I am writing a letter to this woman today.

Leora M. Sutton, looking over pottery pieces from an excavation in Pensacola. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/84028

Leora M. Sutton, looking over pottery pieces from an excavation in Pensacola, 1966. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/84028

This is Leora M. Sutton, an amateur archaeologist and a historian who has written several research reports and articles about Pensacola, some of which center on Emmett’s time period. I’d like to get her impressions on Gilded Age Pensacola and some of the personalities she’s discovered in her research — some, hopefully, are identical to folks I’ve found in Emmett’s story. It’s possible.

One of Leora's published research reports. Source: Amazon.com

One of Leora’s published research reports. Source: Amazon.com

I just found out today that she’s 98 years young, and sharp as a tack. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have email — I’m reluctant to call a senior out of the blue about my research without some kind of proper introduction. I’ll write her a great letter, of course.

I’m so thrilled with the idea of talking to her, and discussing (hopefully) her take Emmett and his colleagues.

Leora has donated her personal papers and research to the University of West Florida, and the Pensacola Historical Society. There is quite a lot of scholarship there, rather impressive, given the fact she was listed as an amateur. I’d say her experience and publication record indicate otherwise.

This is a woman who loves history, who would probably like hanging out with me in a dusty old archive and sifting through papers, one-by-one, in search of that elusive, important clue about someone obscure, like Emmett Wilson.

This book is out of print; unfortunately. I wonder if, perhaps, Emmett's friend Minnie Kehoe is mentioned in this? Source: Google Books.

This book is out of print; unfortunately. I wonder if, perhaps, Emmett’s friend Minnie Kehoe is mentioned in this? Source: Google Books.

This is someone I can relate to, people.

Or, who I hope I can connect with, at least.

Anyway. So, what is it I hope to find in Leora’s work? Well…

Yesterday, I was looking through the finding aid on Leora’s research at the University of West Florida’s archive. At the very bottom, I saw this:

 

Restricted, eh? For me, that's like waving a red flag in front of a bull. I'm going after this. Source: www.uwf.edu

“The Bay Hotel and Liberty Street.” Restricted, eh? For me, that’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull. I’m going after this. Source: http://www.uwf.edu

A little more digging around revealed that The Bay Hotel was a well known whorehouse, and “Liberty Street” didn’t exist, but was actually the west end of Zarragossa Street, which was well known for houses of prostitution…

…and the report was probably restricted because it had names in it. Was Emmett’s name in it, I wondered?

So…I contacted the awesome Jacki Wilson at the Pensacola Historical Society, and asked her what she knew about Leora’s research report.

Jacki said that a few graduate students happened to be working with the report yesterday, and she’d ask them to look for Emmett’s name it it. She got back to me later to say his name wasn’t in the report. (Of course, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t ever there, but still. It is nice to know his name isn’t in that document, on file in a historical society, if you know what I mean.)

I’m interested now in knowing what makes it so ‘restricted.’ I wonder what names are included in that report; perhaps well known local political figures and other leaders who were ‘regulars’ at the hotel? Perhaps friends of Emmett’s? Since Leora wrote the original report, I’ll at least be able to ask her about what’s in it.

But more importantly, I hoping she came across Emmett in her research; perhaps she has his long-lost scrapbooks! Wouldn’t that be great?

The odds are slim, but you never know.

I’ll let you know what happens after I get in touch with Leora! Wish me luck!

 


 

By the way, the Pensacola archaeological project is interesting to read about. If you’d like more information, there’s another research report on Pensacola’s red light district by Jackie Rogers, here. There are also a few other sources, here and here. There is also a video from the Florida Public Archaeology Network about an exhibit about Pensacola’s red light district. Click on the image to launch the video.

Florida Public Archaeology Network. Source: FPAN

Florida Public Archaeology Network. Source: FPAN

 

New Impressions From Old Film

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For the past two weeks, the focus has been on reading back issues of The Chipley Banner from 1893-1904, and getting details about the gaps of information during Emmett’s boyhood. I finished the reels and they are on their way back to the University of West Florida.

There wasn’t much there specifically about Emmett, but there was quite a lot about his family, including his father’s remarriage to a local widow with two daughters, as well as major life changes going on around him (mostly his siblings’ marriages, deaths of children, serious illnesses, new jobs in other cities).

It is fortunate to have Emmett’s hometown paper available for research. Chipley was a town of about 400 in 1893, with two newspapers — the Banner and the Verdict — both of which published once a week. The papers reported, in detail, everyone’s comings and goings. The Chipley Banner was into everyone’s business, which, thankfully, has been a great way for me to “get to know” the locals, even more than 100 years later. (Unfortunately, I have not been able to find The Chipley Verdict on microfilm or hard copy to date).

Chipley, Florida, 1906. Image source: www.Cityofchipley.com

Chipley, Florida, 1908. Image source: http://www.Cityofchipley.com

Speaking of getting to know people, The Chipley Banner has been a great source of information on Louis Wiselogel, the father of Emmett’s sister-in-law, Lula Wiselogel Wilson.

Louis was an outsider, a transplant from Illinois who moved to Florida to take advantage of mild weather and good business opportunities. He was a Republican in the midst of Democrats; a successful businessman and farmer in an economically depressed community. But, Louis Wiselogel made it his business to be a loyal, hardworking, dedicated member of the Chipley community, and that is what people noticed — and wrote — about him in the paper.

True, Wiselogel’s politics made him a minority in the community, but he was always portrayed as a decent, hardworking neighbor. He was a ‘can do’ guy, someone you could rely upon, and someone who saw everything as an opportunity. One article in The Chipley Banner praising Wiselogel asked why couldn’t Florida’s own native sons be as successful?

Kate Langley Jordan Wilson

Kate Langley Jordan Wilson

Then, one can also observe the indirect personality profiles in the articles; for example, that of Kate Langley Jordan Wilson, Emmett’s stepmother. I feel certain that the Wilson children liked her and respected her; she was never an ‘evil stepmother.’ But from what I’ve read about her, it seems that she held herself apart from the Wilson children: She neither set out to replace their deceased mother in any way, nor did she go out of her way to become very close to them.

For instance, every time the paper mentioned Emmett or one of his siblings in Chipley for a visit, Kate was never mentioned as part of that visit. On occasion Emmett’s grandfather A.E. Maxwell would visit Chipley, and he was always referred to as Dr. Wilson’s father-in-law (that is, in the present tense, at the time the article was written), and that he was visiting Dr. Wilson, period, with no mention of the current Mrs. Wilson.

We know that death doesn’t end relationships established by marriage; however, the way the news items appeared seemed (to me) almost dismissive of the second Mrs. Wilson — but the second Mrs. Wilson didn’t seemed too bothered by it.

Just an observation from a 111-year distance.

One final impression that has struck me as I read the film, was that Emmett’s progress in school, on the job, and in college, all seemed to be very hard won for him. His progress from high school, to college, then to law school wasn’t as straight of a line or as uneventful as I had originally thought. At one point, it appears that he had to start over completely, as in: Move back home, save up, and try again.

When Emmett moved back home, interestingly, all the other Wilson siblings were already gone (except for the youngest son), and that must have been tough on Emmett, as he was moonlighting to earn money to get on his own once again. Emmett was smart, and he was capable, but I don’t think I’d call him ‘brilliant.’

Hard-working? Yes. Dedicated and persistent? Definitely. But brilliant? No. Sorry, Emmett.

It was hard to write that, by the way.


Today I made contact with the Florida Historic Capitol Museum, and the next time I’m in Tallahassee, it will definitely be on my list of must-see places.

Source: Florida Historic Capitol Museum

Source: Florida Historic Capitol Museum

About four years ago, they had had an extensive exhibit on campaign memorabilia. I contacted the museum; the museum put me in touch with the collector himself!

Unfortunately, he didn’t have anything in his collection about someone as obscure as Emmett Wilson (or, Cephas Wilson), but I enjoyed talking with someone who likes talking about Florida history from that era.

Somewhere out there is an “Emmett Wilson Club” button. Somewhere out there are Emmett’s scrapbooks. The search continues!


I thought I’d share something odd I found in the microfilm this week.

Taken out of context, it would seem that Chipleyites were preparing to wage war on something? Source: The Chipley Banner, 1904

Taken out of context, it would seem that Chipleyites were preparing to wage war on something. Source: The Chipley Banner, 1904

At first glance, I thought: “You can actually purchase a battle axe? This is one fully stocked general store!”

A little more research revealed that the ‘Battle Axe’ was the name brand of a shoe that was made in Virginia, and was so tough, the manufacturer dared you to chop them open per the advertisement: “They stand dissection and inspection!”

An ad for the Battle Axe shoe. Source: theredrivermuseum.org

An ad for the Battle Axe shoe. Source: theredrivermuseum.org

The shoes were made at the Stephen Putney Shoe Company in Richmond, Virginia. I’d love to see a pair of these shoes; surely if they could stand being hacked open, they would have withstood the passage of 111 years?


Finally. Good news!

Hooray! The Escambia Courthouse Archives has reopened!

Hooray! The Escambia Courthouse Archives has reopened!

The Escambia County Courthouse archive is open again, thank goodness! It was closed last April after a major storm swept through Pensacola; I was worried that the records were damaged, but I have been assured everything is fine.

This means I can plan the next research trip to Florida! Too bad I can’t do it this week; we’re having the coldest weather of the winter here in D.C.  Brr!

Stay warm, wherever you are!