Chapter 46: What we call fortuitous

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December 28, 1900, 7:30 pm
Chipley, Florida

“About done in there, Emmett?”

Wade Hampton Blake. Source: findagrave.com

Blake stuck his head around the door of the depot’s back office, where I sat at the telegraph, finishing the report for today’s telegraph messages. The key had been silent for the past 15 minutes or so, a blessing at the end of a busy, 12-hour long shift.

“Yes. Ticket receipts are in the safe, and the mail sorted for delivery. The only issue of note is that several parcels that were due to Mr. Wiselogel are delayed out of Jacksonville,” I said, nodding at the schedule on the clipboard hanging near the station manager’s window. “Mr. Wiselogel knows to expect delivery tomorrow on the Fast Mail.”

Blake nodded, as he scanned the various reports I’d finished and stacked neatly on the edge of the desk. “Well,” he said, as he looked over the papers, then back at me. “I’m going to miss having you around to run the office. No one is more attentive to detail and thorough on the job as you are. Your kid brother’s good — but not the professional you are. Don’t tell him I said that, though.”

Walker and his sister Katie Wilson Meade, in front of the Washington Monument, July 4, 1908. Photo was taken by their first cousin, Lizzie Meade.

I shrugged. My younger brother, Walker, was taking over for me after I left tomorrow with Paul to head back to West Florida Seminary. Walker was also accurate and a good worker — I ought to know, because I trained him. “I’m sure he’ll do a good job, Blake. Besides, I have other plans for the future. Not that I don’t appreciate working here.”

Blake smiled at me. “If I had the opportunity to go to college, I’d have taken it, too.”

I stood up, stretched, and rubbed my eyes. I had been at work since 6 am. I was tired and hungry; I really didn’t want to go home, because the house was still in upheaval since Frank’s arrival three days ago.

I wanted to stay busy and out of the house, away from the drama and tension. I can’t stand either; I wanted to be at work for as long as possible, and to return home only to sleep until the next shift. If I stayed out of the way, appearing only for meals and sleep, I could ease my way through the rest of the Christmas break before I headed back to Tallahassee. Besides: Managing the depot for the past three days meant I had earned a small amount towards my room and board at school for this next semester. Small, but better than nothing.

Blake, sensing my discomfort with the tension at home, had tactfully asked if I wouldn’t mind taking a few more shifts at the telegraph key while I was staying in Chipley, claiming he hadn’t had a break since the holidays.

He was only one of three people in town who knew about Frank; and I knew he would not talk about it to anyone. The only thing Blake had said to me about the incident with Frank was to ask if everything was OK. He didn’t pry. I said it was, nothing more. Blake knew to leave it alone.

I went over to the coat rack to get my jacket. Blake looked over at the paperwork on the desk while I pulled on my coat on and took my hat from the peg on the wall.

“See you tomorrow,” Blake said, as I opened the office door to the waiting room to leave the depot.

“Yeah. See you tomorrow.”

===

It was a clear, cold night. Chipley doesn’t have street lights in the way that larger cities like Tallahassee do, but it isn’t a dark walk home from the depot. Businesses across from the depot and along Railroad Street, are well lit, and people still at work even at this hour, the lamp lights from inside the second floor law firms and other business offices casting illumination onto the downtown streets.

As I walked along 6th Street towards home, I looked up at the sky. The stars were out. A first quarter Moon hung crisply in the darkness.

A 1998 photo of comet Giacobini-Zinner, which was reported to have been seen in the skies over North American in the last week of December, 1900. Source: Gary W. Cronk’s Cometography; photo copyright 1998 by Michael Jager

Suddenly, I saw a star — a meteor!— shoot quickly across the sky — it was so bright, so quick, and — so suddenly gone. 

My sister Katie — if she was here with me to witness it — would have said it was fortuitous, and an omen. How lucky we were to see it — the luck of witnessing such a phenomenon held deep meaning, she’d say — that the universe was trying to send me an important message.

I studied the sky again. What message would the universe be trying to send me? I knew there would be no trail of the burned-out meteor; no clue that whatever it was that sped through the sky that night even existed.

The moment made me feel a sense of dread, which I tried to dismiss. I’m not superstitious; it was chilly that evening, and so I quickened my pace towards the house.

===

I walked up the path to the front porch of Father’s house. There was only a small parlor light on, which did not cast much illumination onto the broad, wide porch. I knew my stepmother was home, as was Frank; Frank was being cared for in the rear of the house, in Father’s old infirmary.

As I mounted the steps, I didn’t notice that someone else was on the porch, waiting.

“Emmett,” the voice said, from the shadows.

Dr. Francis C. Wilson, Emmett’s father, smoking a pipe, taking it easy in the back yard, @ 1895, Chipley, Florida. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Meade Howard.

It was my Father, sitting by himself, in the easy chair next to the window, smoking his pipe, alone.

“Father,” I said, as I turned to him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t expect to see you out here.”

“Quite all right,” Father said, puffing his pipe in the shadows. I could smell the smoke of the tobacco he used: Tangy, a hint of cloves. It had a comforting scent.

I knew that my father liked to sit by himself to think, at the end of a long day with patients in his office, and at house calls, and I turned to go into the house. “I’ll see you at dinner, Father,” I said.

“Emmett, just a moment. I’d like to talk to you.”

“Yes, Father,” I said.  I sat down in the chair opposite him; there was a table in between the two chairs. On the table was an ashtray with a pipe rest, an unlit oil lamp, a book, and a letter.

He puffed his pipe and put it on the pipe rest. He sat there for a few moments, not looking at me, not saying anything. He didn’t seem angry or upset; just tired. My father and I rarely had one-on-one private conversations. When we did, it was usually about something significant; ominous. I couldn’t help but have a sense of unease.

“How was your day?” Father asked.

“All right. Busy up until the last hour.”

“You’ve been on duty at the depot since early this morning. You were out before the rest of the house was up.”

“Yes,” I said.  I was never one for a lot of small talk; even this little bit of an exchange made me uncomfortable. I shifted about in my seat giving away my feelings of unease, but Father didn’t seem to notice, there in the shadows where we sat. He seemed distracted.

“Emmett, I’ve spoken to everyone else in the family about the situation with Frank and what lies ahead for our family, and of course, you need to know. The situation is critical. Frank’s not in good health, and yet, it is up to him to decide for himself what he will do.”

“I don’t understand. You’re his doctor.”

Father nodded. There was a fumbling about as he reached for his pipe, and placed it in his mouth again, settling back into the chair.

“His liver seems seriously damaged. But I don’t know the extent of the damage. Earlier today, Dr. McKinnon came in over from Marianna to examine him, at my request …” Father took a deep drag from the long pipe; the tobacco in the pipe bowl glowing bright orange, fading back and forth with his puffing.

“It’s not good, Emmett. McKinnon thinks the damage to Frank’s liver could be fatal without proper treatment. He needs to go to a hospital.”

I looked out at the front yard at that moment. A neighbor walked by at that moment and said hello to Father and me. “Nice evening,” he called to us. I looked over at Father, who projected nothing about this crisis in his body language or expression — so like Father. Even when Mother died…I wondered how Father was able to do that, convey tranquility, steadiness, when facing stress and calamity.  Father hid everything so well.…

“This is going to be tough on the family, but it is tougher on Frank. I’m not just talking about the surgery and the recovery. The real struggle has to do with his addiction. Frank has to stop drinking, absolutely, or he will certainly die within the next five or 10 years.”

“Five or 10 years? I asked. “But any sane man facing that kind of outcome would surely stop….”

“The drink habit affects every organ of a man’s body, including the brain, which makes the drunkard desire liquor above all things. They are, essentially, insane, Emmett. The only cure for survival is to stop, completely.” Father shook his head sadly. “We’ve tried sedating Frank some of the time, hoping that he would give up drinking, ease out of it.  But the only one who can get Frank to stop is himself. That, or die,” Father said, quietly.

“You said he would have to go to the hospital,” I said. “That means taking Frank to Mobile or New Orleans….”

Tuoro Hospital in New Orleans is the best option. The doctors there know how to treat him. In fact, tomorrow, when you go to the depot, I will give you a message to send by telegraph to New Orleans, to a doctor there, alerting him that I will be bringing Frank in a few days, as soon as he can stand the trip.”

“Yes, Father,” I said.

New Orleans — this was a three-day trip by train, and an expensive, lengthy stay away from Chipley for Father. He would not see patients during that time, nor would he run his pharmacy.  Someone would have to be hired to help out, run his pharmacy. This was going to be very expensive; a definite setback, after all the problems Father had had in the past two years, building his office, only to lose it in the Great Fire, then to rebuild it just this past September. And I leave in two days for Tallahassee….

The main WFS building, constructed in 1891; it was then replaced by Westcott Hall in 1909. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/11572

…at that moment I knew, with a sick dread, that I was not going back to Tallahassee.

I looked up at my Father, who had been watching me carefully, in the low light of the porch. I swallowed, and turned away.

“I’m sorry, Emmett. We cannot afford to pay your tuition another year,” Father said. “But it is just as well, since you have a good head on your shoulders. The pharmacy is going well, and we’ll have some money coming in there. I’ve long had you in mind as running the store, ideally as an eventual partner or owner.” 

NO! I thought to myself. Not that. Anything but that….

Father continued: ” I hadn’t though of you taking over quite so soon, but there is no time like the present — so, all you’d need to do is step in, learn on the job.”

No. No more. I couldn’t stand it. I took a deep breath.

“Father. I appreciate your offer, but I don’t want to run the pharmacy. I don’t want to go into business.”

Father tapped the bowl of his pipe into the ashtray on the table.  He sat back and regarded me, in the darkness. I couldn’t read his expression; however, I couldn’t tell as if he was angry, or disappointed.

“But Emmett. We’ve talked about this before; you’ve never said anything to the contrary. And in fact, that was part of our agreement with your going to college, that the formal instruction would be helpful for you in setting up a business…”

Albert Murphree, president of WFS; one of Emmett’s professors. Source: https://president.fsu.edu/president/past-presidents/albert-murphree/

“Yes,” I interrupted Father, “but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I realize that my real interest is in law. It’s all I’ve been thinking about; I’ve even talked to Professor Murphree about the subjects I’ve been taking, which he tells me will be a fine foundation for law studies one day…”

Father watched me in silence, evaluating me, it seemed, as I spoke. “I see,” he said after awhile. “And how long have you known this?”

“ I think — I think I’ve always known,” I said. “It’s just something I’ve been feeling for a long time, just simmering away deep down. Even in Tallahassee, I was always thinking about the law — that’s why I joined the debate club. Just the ideas,” I said, sitting forward, “I can’t explain it, but I wasn’t happy at school. I was glad, grateful, but it all felt wrong to me.”

“And you want to be a lawyer?”

“Eventually, I want to be a judge, like Grandfather,” I said, breathlessly. “Honestly, Father, it’s all I’ve really ever wanted to do,” I ended.  I was scared, but relieved — it was out there, finally.

“Your grandfather would feel complimented, to be sure,” Father said. “But you don’t have to go to law school. You can do as Cephas did, working as a law clerk for several years, then sit for the bar….”

“I don’t want to do it the way Cephas has. I want to be better. I’m going to be better than him,” I said, in an excited, emphatic rush, that I know my father has never seen about me; he drew back and looked at me with a surprised expression.

“All right,” Father said after several minutes in silence.

“What? All right? You’re all right with this?” I could not believe what I was hearing.

Father nodded, cupping the bowl of his pipe in his hand, watching me carefully.

“Yes, son. But I want it clear: If you want this, you have to get it completely on your own. We will not finance another term at college for you. You’ll be on your own.”

He saw my downcast expression. “No help at all?”

“Let me finish, son. I’m not being hard on you here; but you have to understand that we gave you tuition to study at the university for the purpose of going into our family business, and you’ve decided you don’t want to do it. That was our agreement. And you aren’t upholding your end of the agreement. We are not wealthy, and we cannot be wasteful with resources. If you wish to attend law school, you’ll have to find your own way.”

I continued to sit in silence. 

“Therefore, son, you will need to get out in the world and work a while in an actual business. We will need your help around here, and I can use you at the pharmacy.”

“But Father…I don’t want.…”

“Then you can work at the depot. Or maybe ask around, see if one of the local lawyers needs a clerk. But if you cannot contribute to the expenses in some way, you’ll have to leave.”

“I have no other choices,” I said, tightly.

“That’s where you’re wrong, Emmett. You have many choices before you. But have to plan for both the long and the short term. Long term, you know that you want to go to law school. Short term, you have to find a way to finance that, plan for whatever it takes to get in. I know you, Emmett. I also know you’ve been given a lot of opportunities. These things that are happening — it seems like they are bad, but you have to remember that events are not simply ‘good’ or ‘bad’; it is what we make of them.

“You’re a lot like Frank in this regard, you know,” Father said, looking at me as he puffed his pipe.”

“What do you mean?” I said, angrily — fearfully. Had Father found my hidden bottle of booze in the boy’s bedroom?

“Only that, like Frank, only you can decide what you want to do with this new opportunity that has come your way. Frank can choose to work hard to change his life. And you can too.”

I excused myself, and left my father sitting on the front porch.

===

When the realization of what happened came to me, as I went into the house and paused in the foyer — I felt as if I were dying inside. I took a deep breath.  At least I did not lose my composure in front of my father.

I was not going to lose my composure in front of my family.

I was not going to lose composure.

I was not going to lose composure.

I took another deep breath.

At that moment, my stepmother came out of the kitchen.

“Oh, good, Emmett. You’re here. Supper will be ready in a few minutes.”

I nodded at her, as she passed by me, and into the dining room.

I could hear the muffled sounds of my family in the dining room, next to the foyer; my stepsisters moving about, dishes and silverware clinking, murmuring of conversation, Mother Kate, my stepsisters in conversation. Frank would not be at the table, of course….

I could feel…Oh God. What I was feeling? It was overwhelming me, the shame, the sorrow, the anger, the frustration, the tightness in my chest. My face felt hot…

Stop it.

Calm down. I don’t know how to deal with these things that I feel so strongly, when they come over me… Stop it. But I cannot stop it. Alien, illogical, disordered things that are Feelings. They have no organization to them; best to ignore them.

But they will not be ignored tonight.

I think, drown them. I thought of my flask, now empty, hidden behind the books in my room. Dammit. Even if I could get to it, what would be the use?

I stood for only a moment on that porch, not knowing what to do.

And then, all I knew was that I had to get out of there.

Chapter 25: We began a new life

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Page six of Katie Wilson Meade’s narrative continues from the trip out of the jungle back to civilization. This section picks up from the last sentence of page five in the previous post.

The men walked along side of the wagon, so when the oxen got stubborn the men yelled and lashed them with long raw-hide whips — But nothing doing! They wouldn’t move!

At last, a native worker made great balls of mud and pushed it up their noses and they struggles so hard they pulled us out!

We went from Punta Gorda to Belize that way. We boarded a ship in Belize, going up a rickety ladder hung over the side. It was a sailing vessel going to New Orleans.

The trip took about a week. It was here that I saw my first train, as it huffed and puffed into the station, the steam coming out from both sides and black smoke out of the smoke-stack. It was a fearsome sight to a child raised up to this time in a jungle.

==

My mother’s father gave her about 60 acres of land about half-way between Pensacola and Tallahassee, and we built a new house on it and began a new life. Father practiced medicine in the little town and for forty or fifty miles in the surrounding country. He was available day and night, from a baby case to small-pox to yellow fever. He would off a man’s leg one day and pull his tooth the next!!

A much beloved “family doctor,” whose chief interest in his life were his patients and his family of ten children — eight boys and two girls. A brave man and a Christian gentleman.

P.S.

Occasional reference to the ‘Big’ boys in this story means the five older boys who were born before either of the girls. My sister, Eudora, was four years older than I; then came a pair of twin boys, and last, my youngest brother, Walker. All these married in due course of time, except Emmett Wilson, the Congressman.

There are so many nieces and nephews scattered around in Florida I cannot tell the names, nor where they live.

When I was born the natives working on the Plantation came in to see the ‘picayune bambino’ and from that day to this I was called “Pic;” all the folks in Florida still use that nick-name — in Miami, where I visit each year the friends of Eloise (my niece) call me “Aunt “Pic”. I don’t mind; it reminds me of the old days of long ago.

In the Spring our parents took us all on a little trip to the Sapodilla Keys (Islands), not many miles from the coast of British Honduras where only natives lived. We ran around half clothed and played with the natives and loved every minute of it.

The steamer “City of Dallas,” a ship of the Macheca Line, which ran between the US from 1868 to 1900. This is the ship that carried Emmett and his family back to the U.S. in 1884. Source: http://onewal.com/jpmacheca/mships.html

The “City of Dallas” was a 915 ton steamer that ran regularly between the Port of New Orleans, Belize, and other Carribbean destination, according to the website. The ship’s master at the time the Wilsons boarded for their trip back to the United States was Reed.

Information about the “City of Dallas” from Macheca Fleet.

Katie mentions climbing aboard the steamer by way of a ‘rickety ladder,’ perhaps a rope ladder tossed over the side. Katie and Emmett’s mother, Elizabeth Wilson, was about three months pregnant with Walker Wilson in June, 1884, the date of their departure [Walker Wilson was born December, 1884 in Chipley, Florida]. Poor Elizabeth — I hope she didn’t suffer seasickness in addition to morning sickness simultaneously during the week-long voyage between Belize and New Orleans.

Manifest of the passengers on the City of Dallas, June 1884. The Wilsons only had a few trunks of possessions and clothing to take back to the United States, not much more than they had brought with them on the original trip to British Honduras back in 1875. Source: NARA, via Ancestry.com

From New Orleans, Katie said the family took the train to Chipley — it is possible they would not have had to pay for the fare, because Elizabeth’s father, Augustus Emmett Maxwell, in addition to his important political connections, had railroad connections — he was once president of the Pensacola & Montgomery Railroad, and family members could travel free or at a significantly reduced rate. But, it is more likely Maxwell paid for the railroad trip because there are several family sources that state the Wilsons’ sugar plantation investment was not successful (despite Katie’s description of a box of gold British coins in an earlier post).

Even though he was not president of the railroad in 1884, it is likely Maxwell paid the fare for the family because of the financial problems reported at this point in other Wilson family genealogies. Source: Herringshaw’s Encyclopedia, page 626

Here’s another clue that the Wilson family’s finances were in bad shape: Katie said that Augustus Emmett Maxwell gave his daughter, Elizabeth, 60 acres between Pensacola and Tallahassee. We now know that property was in Chipley, Washington County, Florida, and today it is located outside the city limits, on Orange Hill Highway. I wrote about it in an earlier post, here, which explains why I thought Maxwell gave the property to his daughter (and not Dr. Wilson).

Dr. Frank and Elizabeth Wilson’s original home on Orange Hill Road, about 1890. The property was given to Elizabeth by her father, Judge Augustus Emmett Maxwell, around 1884-1885, and not Dr. Wilson. Source: Elizabeth Meade Howard.

The mystery of who “Aunt Pic” was was finally solved with this page of Katie’s narrative. I’d seen the reference to ‘Pic’ here and there in the genealogies, but I wasn’t sure if that was a reference to Katie, Dora, or even Lula Wiselogel Wilson (Cephas’ wife, and Katie’s sister-in-law), or if it referred to another Wilson relative.

“Eloise”, mentioned in the narrative, was Eloise Smith, the daughter of Dora and W.E.B Smith.

===

There’s one more page of Katie’s narrative; stay tuned.

 

 

Chapter 23: More Anecdotes of Wilson Family in British Honduras

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What I love about Katie’s narrative about her family’s years in British Honduras are the anecdotes. She’s a wonderful storyteller, sharing family experiences in detail. I wish she were still alive — I would love to interview her.

Here’s the fourth page of Katie Wilson Meade’s story:

Katie Wilson Meade’s narrative of the Wilson family in British Honduras. Source: Elizabeth Wilson Howard. Used with permission.

We had a plague of locusts one time while in Honduras; the ‘big” boys and a young uncle visiting from the “States” went out with their machetes and had fun trying to kill them but it was impossible because the things rained down too thick. They stayed only about an hour and disappeared, leaving a few stray ones lying around dead.

Great mahogany trees grew in the forest, and once a native (in the spirit of gratitude to Father for some kindness shown him) carved a beautiful walking cane out of a solid piece of mahogany and presented it to Father. It had a round knob on top and the man shined it up, and it was used in the family for many years. It is now in the possession of my youngest Brother’s son, who is a doctor in Rochester, N.Y.

Another native carved a huge shallow bowl from a mahogany log and presented it to Father, and it was used every day to make bread and biscuits.

Father was commissioned by the English Government to vaccinate the natives against yellow fever. He did this by getting a boat and traveling up and down the coast, the only way to reach them. Some of these people had worked on his place and once he noticed some of Mother’s big silver spoons. He picked them up and said his wife had been wondering where they had gone. There was no protest. They had sense enough to know he was right. They had Mother’s monogram on them.

For this work the Government paid in gold. So when he got home he called us all in to see this gold — large tin box full. I put in both hands and played in it. A child of today would  have to go to Fort Knox to do that!

One interesting occurence was when we moved from our first house to “Big Hill.” Sister had a parrot that could talk. She used to stand and call my brother in a voice exactly like mother’s. Well, the parrot got away and flew into the jungle while the family was busy with their moving. No-one noticed she was gone till they arrived at the new home. Then every one was distressed because Ada (the parrot’s name) was missing. This lasted a week. Then one morning, we were sitting in the house with Mother and we heard the voice calling, “Maxwell, Maxwell” on the same high note that Mother used — but there sat Mother right in the room with us! We hurried out side and there was old Ada on the roof looking down on us with a twinkle in her eye!

Ooooh, lots of background in this page!

This is a page from Dr. Wilson’s father’s will, which was written while several of Emmett’s family had emigrated to British Honduras. Several Wilson brothers are still in the U.S., namely Cephas Jr. (not Emmett’s brother, but yet one of many Cephases in this family) who ultimately moved to Virginia), William, and Walter or Walker. Source: Ancestry.com

The Simeon Maxwell family sailed out of Belize on the E.B. Ward, Jr., into the port of New Orleans on October 22, 1879. Emmett’s grandfather left about this time as well; Emmett’s parents would stick it out until 1884, when they pretty much had lost everything in the failed sugar plantation venture. Source: Ancestry.com

  • I contacted Walker Wilson’s grandson about the walking cane anecdote, and copied Katie’s memoir to him as well. He knows the story, and said as far as he knows, the cane still exists. It was given to Dr. John (Jack) Wilson of Rochester, New York. I have not been in contact with the John Wilsons of Rochester yet; I haven’t been able to locate any descendants.
  • “Big Hill”, the second Wilson home, is a bit of a mystery. I found this reference to Big Hill, but no reference to the Wilsons. Interestingly, there is a “Wilson Road” leading to Big Hill, but because there were many Wilsons in Belize, it isn’t clear which Wilson family is attached to the name of the road:

Big Hill is a resort in Belize today. But since the family story is that Dr. Francis Wilson only had a part ownership, was this perhaps a Wilson family compound? Another mystery unfolds in Emmett Wilson land….

Hang in there; page five is next.

 

(N.B.: Katie’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Meade Howard, graciously shared the typed narrative, and has given me permission to share the information. Please note that the original contents and information belongs to Elizabeth Meade Howard.)

Chapter 11: First Contact

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I remember Saturday, June 8, 2013, as one of those glorious late Spring days in Maryland — the sky was clear blue without a cloud in sight, the temperature around 72, the trees were (finally!) all full with fresh green leaves. The plants I’d set out a few weeks earlier after a long hiatus inside were full and lush on the patio. My kids were on a scouting trip in St. Mary’s County with my husband — so I was in my home office, grading final exams so as to meet the 72 hour grade posting deadline at the University of Maryland.

My cell phone rang — an unrecognizable number on caller i.d. — I was deep into work and loathe to interrupt progress, but something told me to answer it anyway.

“Is this Judy Smith? I’m Jim Milligan in Florida. You wrote to me on Ancestry about my uncle, Emmett Wilson.”

Uncle. Emmett Wilson.

I remember my adrenaline shot up — Omg. Omg. Omg.

I shoved the gradebook out of the way, pulled the research notebook in front of me and started scribbling madly, to capture everything Emmett’s blood relative was saying.

First contact with an actual Wilson family member.

This was gold! This was better than gold!!!!

Jim said he was interested in my research, and was glad to help out in any way.

“I have a document to send you by email — a family genealogy. It’s rather large, though. It will take a little while to upload. ”

I told Jim that was fine — to go ahead — and while I was waiting for the file to appear on my end, he filled me in on Wilson family facts:

Emmett’s siblings, Walker Wilson and his sister Katie Wilson Meade, in front of the Washington Monument, July 4, 1908. Photo was taken by their first cousin, Lizzie Meade.

  • Jim is the grandson of Walker Wilson, Emmett’s youngest brother. Jim never knew Emmett personally.
  • Jim was not certain how Walker died exactly; family members would not talk about it, which always led him to believe something curious or unusual about Walker’s death.
  • Drinking was reported to be a real problem in Emmett and Walker’s generation of the Wilson family.

And then, Jim said,

Emmett  “was an alcoholic, you know. He drank himself to death.”

I felt an internal jolt — I stopped writing.

“I didn’t know,” I said. “The death certificate I received says kidney disease was the cause of death, but I’ve also learned that the symptoms of kidney disease looked an awful lot like end-stage alcoholism in those days.”

As Jim talked about the genealogy, something came over me — clarity, actually — as if a piece of this strange puzzle materialized before me.

I told Jim that if Emmett was an alcoholic, that shed a new light on the information from the Christ Church burial record. But still, what we have at present is anecdotal, and Emmett was an alcoholic, we needed a medical record.

Jim was positive the story was that Emmett drank. “And he might have been gay,” he added.

I doubted seriously I’d ever find a confirmation about Emmett and homosexuality — not that it mattered — but Jim’s comment gave me the idea that perhaps if Emmett was, indeed, alcoholic, there was an underlying ‘thing’ he was trying to escape, since drinking to excess is a means of escape….

As he and I continued to talk, Jim’s file appeared in my email. I asked if I could follow up with other questions later after reading the genealogy, and that I would send him clips he might want to add to his own research. He said that was fine, contact him anytime.

I settled down with the document; it took three days to read the entire thing.

===

Next: The family genealogy reveals tantalizing clues

 

 

Application for Membership

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Source: Train Dispatcher’s Bulletin, 1913, Vols 18-19, p 216, via Google Docs.

Here’s information that Emmett’s youngest brother, Walker Wilson, was applying for membership in the Train Dispatcher’s Association of America (via Google docs).

Deciphering the item — S.A.L. was the Seaboard Air Lines railroad.

University of South Florida map of Seaboard Air Lines routes in and around Tampa, 1917.

Walker’s employment with the railroad was not simply a family tradition, but an important employer in the early 1900s — in contemporary terms, it is compared to working at NASA.

According to various city directory records, Walker remained with the railroad for the rest of his life, working his way up the management ladder starting as a clerk. Like his brothers Emmett and Julian, he became expert at the telegraph starting in the Chipley depot, then he was assigned to different stations and posts as his career developed over the decades.

Walker Wilson, Part Two

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Continuing the story of Emmett’s youngest brother, Walker (no middle name) Wilson:

Walker started a career with the Seaboard Air Lines Railroad around 1908, and moved to Tampa.

Two years later, in 1910, Walker married Jesse Evans, of Gainesville. The family genealogy reports that Walker met Jesse in Gainesville while on a job assignment.

From The Pensacola Journal, June 22, 1910.

Note how Emmett gets top billing over the names of both the bride and the groom in their own wedding announcement. From The Pensacola Journal, June 22, 1910.

Emmett may not have been present at the wedding in Gainesville, else he would have been listed here, too. Source: The Pensacola Journal, June 22, 1910

Emmett may not have been present at the wedding in Gainesville, else he would have been listed here, too. Source: The Pensacola Journal, June 22, 1910

After the wedding, Walker and Jesse moved to Tampa where he worked for the SAL in different capacities — as a clerk, then later, as a train dispatcher.

The U.S. Census was taken on April 28, 1910, a few months before their wedding. Walker does not show up in the 1910 U.S. Census; however, Jesse appears as Jesse N. Evans, still residing with her family. According to the census, she was an office stenographer before her marriage.

In 1912, Dr. F.C. Wilson visited his son in Tampa. And, once again, The Pensacola Journal takes this time to remind everyone that Walker and Dr. Wilson are related to Emmett:

From The Pensacola Journal, May 17, 1912.

From The Pensacola Journal, May 17, 1912.

A curious find was that Walker, a clerk with the SAL in 1913, was boarding at the Hotel Oliver instead of living with his family. That same year, Jesse gave birth to their first child, John Evans Wilson.

From the 1913 R.L. Polk City Directory for Tampa, Florida.

From the 1913 R.L. Polk City Directory for Tampa, Florida. Walker appears to be living apart from Jesse.

In 1914, Walker and Jesse are listed together in the Tampa city directory; their address given as Central Avenue, in Seminole Heights. Walker is listed as a train dispatcher with the SAL.

Their second child, Margaret, was born in Tampa in 1917.

There isn’t a lot about Walker in the media or in genealogy files — the next item found was his WWI registration card, dated September 12, 1918. What’s new here is that we have a specific address — 5606 Central Ave. Also, a physical description: Medium height and build, with brown eyes and dark brown hair, which was characteristic of most Wilson siblings.

September 12, 1918. Source: Ancestry.com

September 12, 1918. Source: Ancestry.com

Walker and his family remained in Tampa until about 1930.

The 1929 Tampa city directory.

The 1929 Tampa city directory.

The 1930 Jacksonville city directory.

The 1930 Jacksonville city directory.

Walker spent most of his professional life with the SAL, and had a satisfactory career.

From the October 31, 1924 issue of the Tampa Tribune. Source: genealogybank.com

From the October 31, 1924 issue of the Tampa Tribune. Source: genealogybank.com

In the 1940 U.S. Census, the Wilsons have moved to 1st Street in Jacksonville. Walker is still with the SAL; both John and Margaret are out of the family home.

U.S. Census for 1940. Source: Ancestry.com

U.S. Census for 1940. Source: Ancestry.com

Walker died June 22, 1943. He was buried in Tampa.

Circle of Family: Walker Wilson

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Our last sibling essay in Emmett Wilson’s family story focuses on the youngest son, Walker Wilson.

Walker Wilson, about 6 years old, December 1890.

Walker Wilson, about 6 years old, December 1890.

Walker was born in Chipley, Florida in 1884, six months after his family emigrated back to the U.S. from Belize, when Emmett was two years old.

I have a few clips from the Chipley newspapers from the late 1890s about Emmett and Walker out on camping/fishing trips to St. Andrews during the summers.

Emmett and Walker often spent the first two weeks in August together, accompanied by family and friends, on these outings, every year.

From The Chipley Banner, July 1899. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Some outings probably less traumatic than this one. From The Chipley Banner, July 1899. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Given that there was only two years difference between Emmett and Walker, they were probably close while they were children and teenagers, but after Emmett started college at West Florida Seminary, they spent little time together. In 1899, when Emmett was in-between semesters at WFS, he was working as a telegrapher and railroad station manager and Walker was still in grade school while doing occasional odd jobs around Chipley (clerical work, and railroad depot jobs).

By 1902, Walker was a telegraph operator at the railroad station in Chipley, following in the footsteps of several older brothers, and working his way up to the position, just as Emmett and Julian.

The telegraph operator's job was important -- and dangerous at times. Source: The Chipley Banner, July 1902

The telegraph operator’s job was important — and dangerous at times. Source: The Chipley Banner, July 1902

This was unusual, I thought: Walker, 19, is still in grade school as of January 1903. Source: The Chipley Banner, February 1903.

This was unusual, I thought: Walker, 19, is still in grade school as of January 1903. Source: The Chipley Banner, February 1903.

I’ve been in touch with Walker’s grandson, Jim, who was kind enough to share an extensive family genealogy document with me — it’s wonderful — and it was written by Walker’s son, John Evans Wilson, in 1990.

The genealogy includes this interesting comment:

I wonder if, perhaps, Walker resented having to pay for Emmett's higher education, because Emmett was the only Wilson sibling in school while Walker was still living at home and under his father's authority. Source: John Evans Wilson Genealogy, 1990.

I wonder if Walker resented having to pay for Emmett’s higher education. Emmett was the only Wilson sibling in school while Walker was still living at home and under his father’s authority; Walker never went further than eighth grade. Source: John Evans Wilson Genealogy, 1990.

I get the impression that Emmett and Walker’s communication/visitation was sporadic for a few years; although in 1904, when Emmett moved to Marianna to live and work with Cephas (as the junior law partner of Wilson & Wilson), Walker also moved in with Cephas. In case you haven’t been keeping score, Cephas’ household in 1904 included himself, Lula, Ceph Jr., and daughter Kathleen, as well as three of his brothers (Emmett, Julian and Walker). It almost feels like Cephas’ home was the launching pad for his siblings before they struck out on their own.

Walker was visiting his father in Chipley. Source: The Chipley Banner, 1904.

Walker was visiting his father in Chipley. Source: The Chipley Banner, 1904.

In 1905, Emmett wanted to get away from his family and his try his wings, so he moved to Sterling, Illinois. It only lasted six months.

By 1908, Walker would move on to work for the Seaboard Air Line railroad and relocate to Tampa. Walker would spend several years in Tampa, working his way up the ladder.

Walker and his sister Katie Wilson Meade, in front of the Washington Monument, July 4, 1908. Photo was taken by their first cousin, Lizzie Meade.

Walker, on a visit to Washington D.C. with his sister Katie Wilson Meade. Photo was taken by their first cousin, Lizzie Meade, in front of the Washington Monument, July 4, 1908.

I’ll continue with Walker’s story tomorrow.