Chapter 53: Emmett’s fortune turns

Standard

January 9, 1901
Tallahassee, Florida
The Leon Hotel

I woke alone in the hotel room — panicked, I sat up and looked at Cephas’ pocket watch on the table — almost 8:30 in the morning.

I felt like hell. I didn’t sleep well last night; Cephas came in around 3 am, smelling of cigars and something else, I think it was perfume. He tumbled into bed and commenced to snoring loudly the entire rest of the night.

But I had also been restless because I decided to see Paul Carter over in the dormitory anyway, a last minute decision. I closed my eyes as I sat up in bed, remembering our conversation….

Paul H. Carter, from the 1899-1900 WFS yearbook, The Argo. Source: FSU Archives.

I had to tell my best friend I wasn’t coming back to school — and Paul told me he guessed it because some of our friends had reported back to him seeing me prowling around in front of College Hall. So much for my success in remaining invisible.

He told me he understood; family comes first, and besides, he knew I wasn’t really happy at WFS. But Paul still seemed uneasy talking with me.

“Something else is going on,” I said. “Tell me.”

Paul said his mother is moving his family away from Chipley to Appling, Georgia, and will probably stay there for good.

I was floored by the news. Irritated. 

“How long have you known?” Paul says since New Years.

“When were going to tell me?” Paul shrugged helplessly. “Emmett. I felt bad for all you were going through with Francis. I just didn’t think I ought to make it worse for you. I’m sorry…there hasn’t been any good time to tell you this.”

I turned away from him; damn him. I knew it wasn’t his fault, but it seemed like everything in my life was coming apart, or leaving me behind. 

“Look. I plan on coming to Chipley and Marianna often. And you can visit me here, too, if you like.”

I shook my head. “No. I don’t think I’ll be back at the Seminary again.”

===

When I went downstairs to the hotel lobby, l saw Walter and Cephas in the dining room, having breakfast. I went over to their table; they wished me good morning, and Walter pulled out a chair next to him.

As I sat down, a waiter came over to the table and poured a cup of coffee for me. “Hungry?” Walter asked.

“No,” I said, as I poured milk into the steaming cup.

“You sure you’re OK, little brother?” Cephas asked as he peered at me over the top of The Weekly Tallahaseean.

“Fine.”

We head back in a few hours ourselves. Going back to Marianna, I didn’t know what the future would hold. I didn’t know what I was going to be doing. God, I would be so bored…

Walter was watching me out of the corner of his eye.

Ceph stood up, drank the last of his coffee, and put the cup down. I’m going to settle up the bill, then head back up to the room and pack. Come up when you get done, OK?

I nodded.

Walter watched Cephas leave. He turned to me. Are you all right, Emmett?  You’re awfully quiet; you seem a little down today.

I sighed.

Want to talk about it?

I shook my head. No, I said, quietly.

All right son, he said kindly, pushing a small dish of toast towards me. I think Walter probably knew something about what was going on, but he didn’t pry.

Well, he said, you should know that I was talking with some friends from legal circles up here, and you’ve made quite an impression on Judge D.J. Jones. Do you know him? 

I looked at Walter questioningly. “Yes, for years. He’s been friends with the family as long as I can remember.” 

“Judge Jones thinks a lot of you, and your father, of course. Busy man, you know. He’s a successful lawyer, a lot of cases going on.”

“Yes,” I said. I ate a few bites of toast.

“Judge Jones needs a law clerk. Someone who is precise, smart, detail oriented to help him out, and in turn, someone he could teach the ropes of running a law office. Interested?”

I paused, the toast midway to my mouth. I looked at Walter, astonished.

“Me?”

Walter smiled. “Who else? It’s a great opportunity, son.  Your brother started out with in Chipley with Judge W.O. Butler, you know, much the same way you will, and look at where it took him.”

“Yeah,” I said, still surprised. “But wait, Walter — me? I don’t have any experience.”

“That’s OK. Jones wants to work with someone new, someone he can train to take care of his office for him. You’d be back home with your Father, of course, but at the firm all the time, and probably traveling with Jones to different courts. He needs someone smart, trustworthy, and with integrity. You’ll hear a lot of information that can go nowhere else, you understand?”

“I do.”

“So, I take it this is something you’d want to do?”

“Yes. Yes!”  My future was looking up at that moment….

“All right, then. Congratulations, Emmett. You start on Monday, January 14. That should give you plenty of time to get settled back in Chipley.”

From the February 23, 1901 issue of The Chipley Banner. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Chapter 29: Searching for Dr. Wilson’s Downtown Office

Standard

Friday, May 24, 2014, Noon

After Whit dropped me off at the Washington County Historical Society, I notice that I have about a half hour before I was to meet the current owners of the Dr. F.C. Wilson home.

I took Judge Wells’ advice to do a self-walking tour around Chipley, to see buildings that Emmett would have seen, the businesses he would have patronized. I especially want to see the old First National Bank building. Perhaps Emmett used to cash checks there; more likely, I sense he visited the second floor of that bank, where fellow lawyers and friends had their offices.

A view of the Dunn Building, 1916, downtown Chipley. The historic bank building at the far right is in desperate need of repair.

Here’s a shot of First National Bank, about 1905, as it was under construction. Note the ladder on the edge of the roof. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/1532

The First National Bank, today. Emmett would have seen this building, conducted business here. His friends, notably W.O. Butler, had a law office on the second floor.

But the other place I hope to find is the location of Dr. Wilson’s office.

Once upon a time, Dr. Wilson’s practice was out of his home. But as it grew (along with his family, and his needs for full-time nursing assistance for patients), necessity dictated a surgery in a separate office downtown.

Chipley, 1913. Sanborn Fire Insurance map. Source: UFDC

I knew Dr. Wilson had two offices downtown once upon a time. No, Dr. Wilson wasn’t a ‘chain,’ but the May 14, 1898 Chipley fire destroyed his first office, which was located next to S.A. Cook’s store. A second fire wiped out his store in August, 1901. A clue in The Chipley Banner, dated September 7, 1901, tells me that the second fire was too much to overcome, at least as a retailer — because he sold what remained of his stock.

If you zoom into the Sanborn map, you can see two possible locations where Dr. Wilson may have had his office. According to The Chipley Banner, he had a drugstore and an office, with the office above the store. The Banner said that he sold his stock completely after the fire. I’m not sure if S.A. Cook’s store was on N. Railroad or around the corner on the bank side.

By 1913, Dr. Wilson had officially retired from regular practice. Papers from his Confederate pension indicate that he was no longer able to work, due to a heart condition. There were no other specifics other than a note that he had a “heart condition.”

This row of stores is called The Watts Building (and Dunn Building), and has a date of 1916 over the archway. They are next to the old bank building — the bank was there in 1913, but these stores were not. Photo taken by the author.

This is across the street from The Watts building. Photo taken by the author.

This is the Sanford Fire Insurance map of the block across the street from the current Watts Building. Notice that there is a drugstore on this corner. This might have been the original location of Dr. Wilson’s store and office as well, if the S.A. Cook store was, in fact, right next door. But, it isn’t clear that the building on the site today is the same as it was in 1913 or earlier.

I wish I knew the location of Dr. Wilson’s office, even if the building itself is gone today. According to the maps, any one of those drug stores may have been next to S.A. Cook’s store, but I’m not sure about Cook’s store location either.

I want to at least stand where Dr. Wilson did; and maybe where Emmett stood as well.

I’m sure Emmett visited his father at his office. I’m also sure that Dr. Wilson advised Emmett, not only as his doctor but as his father, that his drinking would eventually kill him, and he had to stop.

I wonder where they had that conversation.

I wonder what Emmett said to his father in return —

“I know what I’m doing, leave me alone,” or perhaps,

“I know it will too, but I can’t stop.”

As I reflect on those facts, and walk along the street, I realize that perhaps Dr. Wilson’s heart condition may have come about because his heart was actually broken. It’s possible, you know. People can die of broken hearts.

After all, Dr. Wilson’s beloved cause that he had almost given his life for was lost; his beloved wife died practically in his arms; his beloved practice seemed cursed by circumstance with the loss by fires.

And Emmett, one of his beloved sons, was destroying himself before his very eyes, and Dr. Wilson was powerless to do anything about it….

===

I glance at my cell phone — it was almost time to meet the current owners of the Wilson-Myers house for lunch.

Next: In Emmett’s words