The Sporting Emmett

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In celebration of Opening Day, we’ll take a look at Emmett Wilson through the lens of his pastimes: Sports.

Emmett appears to have been both athletic and a sports fan. He owned and rode a bicycle to and from classes while attending Stetson University Law School in 1903.

“He failed utterly.” So, Emmett was an average rider. Source: Stetson Weekly Collegiate, Dec. 5, 1903.

He attended a wide variety of sporting events with his friends, including the very first NASCAR race (before NASCAR existed) at Ormond Beach, Florida.

The foursome took the train to Ormond Beach, likely skipping out on their classes Friday. Source: Deland Weekly News

He loved to go fishing (enjoying not only the thrill of the catch, but also the solitude and quiet away from his hectic political life), and went on annual trips without fail, always during the first two weeks in August to St. Andrews Florida.

Emmett on the steamer Manteo, August 1908. Source: The Pensacola Journal

He played both football and baseball while at West Florida Seminary (photo below).

Kicker? Tight End? Wide Receiver? It’s impossible to know his position, but Emmett’s on the far left, first row. West Florida Seminary, now Florida State University. 1899-1900. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/152050

But he seemed to prefer baseball, as he played not only for West Florida Seminary, but also for the local Chipley baseball team, and on occasion in pick-up games at Stetson University (juniors versus seniors, for instance).

Emmett, back row, far left. Source: The Argo, 1900-1901, Florida State University Archives.

It is interesting to compare Emmett with his peers in the group photos. Notice that Emmett sits on the end in both photos. In the football photo, he’s a bit separated from the group. This is a relaxed group; Emmett seems at ease here, sitting cross legged on the bottom step, his hands resting on his knees, but he isn’t sprawled like most of the boys on the bottom step.

Notice also how Emmett poses in the baseball photograph. He stares intently at the camera whereas several of his teammates are bored looking away, at ease. The two fellows in suits were the managers.

Maybe the photo was take right after a game and the boys are tired, as they seem a big disheveled, worn out, but Emmett doesn’t look tired or disheveled. Emmett, and the boy sitting next to him were the team substitutes, not regular players.

Emmett seems to be scowling, maybe smirking, at the camera. Notice Emmett’s body language compared to the other boys: He’s tense, as he sits perched on the edge of the bench, shoulders hunched, hands gripping his knees. I wish there were more details about this picture, and when it was taken. (Unfortunately that information doesn’t exist.)

Although Emmett may not have been the most valuable player on the West Florida Seminary team, he was certainly not a bench warmer on the Chipley town team.

Emmett played on the Chipley team on and off before attending West Florida Seminary, as his work schedule would allow. (In 1899, when Emmett was 15, he was already an expert telegrapher, and managing small railroad depots on the P&A line of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.)

Emmett was likely one of the boys who couldn’t make the game. Source: The Chipley Banner, June 10, 1899.

After graduating from Stetson in 1904, there aren’t any more articles about Emmett playing for either the Chipley team or the Marianna team (he moved to Marianna after graduation to form a law partnership with his brother, Cephas). We know Emmett attended games and exhibitions; he probably also played a few games here and there, as did Cephas, who played the occasional exhibition baseball game in Marianna.

Cephas L. Wilson as baseball player for the Fats vs. Leans game, complaining about Lula. Go figure. Cephas was on the “Fats” team. Source: Marianna Times-Courier, July 18, 1912,

It is likely Emmett attended this game in Marianna. There were several important Florida politicians on both the the Fats team and the Leans team. Emmett had just returned home from the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore, Maryland, and was taking a break in preparation for the general election in November; it is reasonable to believe these heavy hitters in Florida politics, all in one place on a hot, summer day, would want to talk to Emmett after the game.

 

 

 

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Groundhog prescient

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That’s my neighbor’s forsythia bush this morning, the first full day of Spring.

That groundhog knew what he or she was doing on February 2. The snow is predicted to fall all day today in Emmett Wilson land.

It is a good day to write about another snowy day, about 118 years ago, when Emmett was a college Freshman, who looked out his dorm window at West Florida Seminary in Tallahassee and saw a rare snowfall!

Snowball fight on the steps of the Florida capital building, February 13, 1899. Source: Florida Memory

No one is identified in this photograph, but we can imagine Emmett and his best friend, Paul Carter, engaging in this snowball fight!

Update: New Article on Emmett’s Twin Brother Julian

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I’ve been spending the last few days of 2017 checking in with old databases and past sources, to tie up any loose ends, or to check on any updates.

Surprise! A ‘new-to-me’ publication found on Google Books, The Train Dispatcher (1950, Vols 32-33, p. 674), has a retirement article on Emmett’s twin brother, Julian Anderson Wilson!

Source: The Train Dispatcher, Vols. 32-33, 1950, via Google Books

There’s good information in this brief bio about Julian’s retirement in 1950. One thing that stood out was that Julian spent almost a half-century working for the railroad.

Another interesting fact is that he started out as a clerk-operator on the P&A (Pensacola & Atlantic) division of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad in December 1900 — this means he started working for the railroad AFTER Emmett did. I’d had the impression they started working for the railroad at the same time, but Emmett began first, when he was about 15 or 16, about 1897.

Emmett also started out as a clerk-operator, eventually working his way up as a telegrapher/manager of smaller train stations along the P&A line.  Likely it was big brother Meade or Frank Jr. who helped Emmett get the position. By1899, Emmett was no longer with the railroad, as he was enrolled at West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University) as of December of that same year.

The retirement article also mentions a three-year period when Julian wasn’t working for the railroad; this is confirmed by Julian’s family members who told me he became a Morse code expert (a telegrapher) on a steamship during this time. In fact, Julian’s steamship was the Gertrude, which plied the Chattahoochie River.

A side view of the steamboat “Gertrude,” taking on a supply of wood, about 1905. Source: Florida Memory

Celebrity Sightings, 1908

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

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

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

  • Foster
  • Crawford
  • Harris
  • Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Emmett, Texter

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Did you know that Emmett got his professional start texting (of sorts) for a living?

True. And if you think about it, telegraph operators were early ‘texters.’ (Here’s a great history of telegraphing — see the first half of the article for details about the importance of the telegraph in our society.

Emmett Wilson’s first “official” job was as a general, all-around assistant at the Chipley, Florida Pensacola & Atlantic train depot, sometime around 1894. Working for the railroad was not just a family tradition among the Wilson men; it was today’s equivalent of a kid interested in space working for NASA.

And Emmett was a kid, starting out at the bottom of the railroad depot job hierarchy, at about the same age as his older brothers Frank Jr. and Meade. Working for the railroad was important; and, if Emmett was willing, he’d rise up the ranks to a professional position, as did Frank Jr. and Meade, who were now conductors. (Emmett once told a reporter that he once dreamed about working for the railroad so that he could run along the tops of the cars while they were in motion, en route to faraway, more interesting places than Chipley. Early on, Emmett probably saw working for the railroad as a means to an end.)

Emmett was more than willing. He was super ambitious from the get-go — his eye was on the telegrapher’s job — a coveted and critical communication position that served not only the messaging for the community, but the telegrapher often conveyed critical transportation data up and down the rails.

After a year or two proving himself capable around the depot, Emmett eventually became expert with Morse code, and was tapped to train as a telegrapher, and by age 17, was managing small depots along the P&A line.

Emmett was 17 when he was dispatched to run small-town train stations on his own, which included the telegraph. Source: The Chipley Banner, December 2, 1899, in ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Emmett’s full-time career with the railroad was over within a year, as he would enroll at West Florida Seminary in 1900, to pursue a college degree. He’d fill in at both the Chipley and Marianna train depots now and again, when home from WFS on vacations or weekend visits to supplement his school funds.

 

 

 

Cold Facts

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All together, we have about 30 inches of snow on the ground at my house. My husband has dug a path down the driveway to the street … which probably won’t be shoveled by the county until Wednesday.

The view of my driveway to the street -- as if we could drive anywhere. That's 30 inches of snow at the end of my driveway.

The view of my driveway to the street — as if we could drive anywhere. That’s 30 inches of snow at the end of my driveway. No plows through the subdivision yet. We’re usually last because our street isn’t near a major route.

Looking back at my house.

Looking back at my house.

My neighbor's house is behind that big pile of snow, which is over my head.

My neighbor’s house is behind that big pile of snow, which is over my head.

I’m not going anywhere for a few days. Thankfully, we have plenty of provisions and firewood, and PEPCO has been on its toes — no lack of power.

The kids will be out of school until (most likely) Thursday. I can work from here except for actual writing on the book; unfortunately, with the young kids in and out all day, it is too distracting. So, I decided to spend time checking back with archives, checking in with sources, revisiting outlines, organizing information. And just out of curiosity, I checked, and yes, Mercury is in retrograde. Ironic?

Checking back in with sources is often the step that gets overlooked or forgotten, so I don’t consider this negative, or as if I’m spinning my wheels.

It’s been productive over the last few days, too.

  • On Friday, I checked into Florida State University’s Heritage Protocol & University Archives, and discovered they’ve added the Platonic Debating Society Book, 1897-1904. The book includes meeting minutes, debates, assignment of officers and debate contestants. According to the collection note:
    Platonic Debating Society, 1900. Emmett is in the back row, fifth from left. Source: FSU archives

    Platonic Debating Society, 1900. Emmett is in the back row, fifth from left. Source: FSU archives

    “The order of business for regular meetings included such proceedings as regular debate, decision of judges, irregular debate, decision by the house, and the appointment of debaters, officers and committees. During regular debates, each speaker was given fifteen minutes to make his argument and five minutes for a rejoinder.”  This is where Emmett would have practiced his early debates, and gained debating skills and feedback! Imagine — finding text of some of his early speeches! I’ve asked for a copy of anything relating to him from this book. I can’t wait to hear back from the archivist!

  • And heeerrreeee's Bryan! Third row, third from the right. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

    Wynter Elijah Bryan Smith. Source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

    The excellent Sue Tindel over at the Jackson (Florida) County Clerk’s office found contact information for the grandson of Eudora (‘Dora’) Neely Wilson Smith. Dora was the oldest daughter of Dr. FC and Elizabeth Wilson; she was about four years older than Katie Wilson Meade. I have no photos of Dora, or anything else other than a few clippings from various newspapers about her life. Her husband was Wynter Elijah Bryan Smith, a lawyer and state representative. They had one child, a daughter. That daughter had one child, a son. I have written a letter to the gentleman, and I hope to hear back from him.

  • Yesterday, I spent most of the day tracking down Meade Wilson’s descendants. He had two sons, Meade Jr. and Francis M. Wilson. Both are deceased; Meade Jr. did not have children. Unfortunately, I’ve found out that Francis M. Wilson and his son, Francis Jr., are also now deceased. The last known address of the family was Lakeland, Florida.

The challenge: Once you get into the third generation (great-grandchildren) and beyond, the likelihood that memorabilia, letters, and so forth about any of the original Wilson siblings is greatly reduced.

However, it would seem to me that if a member of a family held national- or state-elected office, that information would be worth keeping, or, donating to a library or historical society.

My next task will be to check in with state and local libraries and historical societies, for new additions.

 

 

 

What’s it worth?

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I’m sitting at the desk, the office is perfectly quiet, I have a draft in front of me to start hacking away at…

…and I manage, once again, to get distracted from the writing, and to track down the minutiae of the little thing that piqued my interest!

Here’s what it was:

$10 a month room, board, including sanitary plumbing! Source: Florida State University, Argo, 1902

$10 a month room, board, including sanitary plumbing! Source: Florida State University, Argo, 1902

This little snippet comes from the 1902 Argo, which was the yearbook of the West Florida Seminary, now Florida State College in 1902 (later, to become FSU). It was in the back of the book, with the advertisements; a little promotional piece on the merits of a degree from FSC.

Notice that this doesn’t include the cost of tuition, incidentals, transportation — which, all together, would mean about $30 a month for a student attending FSC in 1902.

Emmett and his family were certainly what I’d consider upper middle class; but never ‘wealthy’ by any stretch (as everyone was expected to pitch into the family expenditures when old enough to work). Everyone chipped in to help out; Emmett earned some of the money to attend college, but he definitely couldn’t have done it on his own.

How much of a financial stretch on the family was it for Emmett to attend college?

Here’s an interesting application called Inflation Calculator 2015. I typed in $30 to see what it really cost back in 1899 (when Emmett was enrolled as a sophomore at West Florida Seminary (now FSU):

Do the math: $30 times eight months = Expensive education in 1899.

Do the math: $30 times eight months = Expensive education in 1899.

$857.14 x 8 = $6,857.12 for an entire sophomore year at WFS in 1899.

The average family income in the United States in 1899 (according to a publication from the National Bureau of Economic Research) was $1,004. Average income for families in Florida may have been less than that (an average family was defined as two adults, two children; the Wilsons has 10 children, but according to the 1900 census, there were five children enumerated in the Wilson household).

For the record, Emmett only attended half of his sophomore year; there were a combination of reasons why he didn’t return to Florida State College (which I save for the book, because they are pretty interesting); but, if he had, then he wouldn’t have become a lawyer, then a U.S. Congressman.

All right.

Back to regularly scheduled work.