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.

 

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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.

 

 

 

Radio Silence; Headed Home

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Apologies for the radio silence. It has been a good trip to Pensacola and I have plenty to report, but frankly, I haven’t slept well the entire week, so I’ve neither heard nor felt the presence of Calliope at all.

Writing advice courtesy of The Worst Muse. This is hilarious. Source:

Writing advice courtesy of The Worst Muse. Source: io9.com

That, plus I was told on Thursday that — surprise — I’m now the lead catechist in a class that starts this Sunday. It’s not difficult, but I never wing it in a classroom, so the only writing I’ve been doing over the past 24 hours is a lesson plan on this week’s Gospel reading and Our Lady of Fatima.

OK. Here’s a brief progress report on the data gathering for Emmett Wilson Research Trip II:

  • The ‘new’ information gathered on this trip confirms Emmett’s whereabouts in his timeline (something I’ve kept since the beginning of this project over two years ago), what he was doing, where he was living, who his associates were.
    Ad from The Chipley Banner, 1894. DJ Jones was a well-established attorney and judge for many years. Source: Chronicling America.com

    Ad from The Chipley Banner, 1894. DJ Jones was a well-established attorney and judge for many years. Source: Chronicling America.com

    For example, in 1901, when Emmett found out he wasn’t going back to West Florida Seminary to finish his degree, he worked for about six months for a judge in Chipley, D.J. Jones.

  • I’ve located one of the descendants of Judge Jones. I can now ask her if there are any papers or journals anywhere. There’s a new avenue to explore.
  • I have made new friends in three county courthouse archives: Escambia, Santa Rosa, Jackson. These are wonderful ladies; all care very much about history and love that someone else is excited about it, too. All of these clerks let me see and handle original documents. (If any students of mine are reading this, note: NONE of this was online, although it might be one day. And yes, research IS hands-on; also, making friends with archivists is one of the best things you can do in investigations.)

I’m getting ready to schlep over to the airport, return my car, and hope that Hurricane Joaquin won’t impact the trip back to D.C. all that much. Maybe I’ll get some sleep, too.

I’ll report back in when I get home. I have a lot to tell you.

A Lesson in History

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This weekend, I’m working on a small part of the second chapter of Emmett’s story, taking place in December, 1899. Emmett is coming home from college (West Florida Seminary) for Christmas.

I want to describe what the town looked like when he hopped off the L&N train at the Chipley depot (which was pretty much in the same place as the current Amtrak depot today).  What businesses lined the streets of downtown Chipley as he walked home the five blocks from the corner of 7th and Railroad Streets to the family home on 6th Street? Where was his father’s office?

I contacted my friends at the Washington County Historical Society (coincidentally located on the grounds of the old depot, a few hundred feet from the current Amtrak depot). The earliest map of Chipley they have is a Sanborn Fire Insurance map.

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

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

So, how do I figure out what was there on the day Emmett got off the train, when there’s no official city map from that year?

I cobble them together myself.

IMG_8891

Rough sketch of 1898 downtown Chipley

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A map of Chipley 2015 from Google Maps on the upper left, and a printout of the 1913 Sanborn map, for comparison.

The rough maps are neither to scale, nor precise. I gleaned the information about what was where from reading all that microfilm of The Chipley Banner over the past two years. Ideally, I’d cross-check this information with tax records, but for my purposes, I only need a general idea of Dr. F.C. Wilson’s office location, and the distance it took to walk from Dr. Wilson’s office, to the depot, to the Wilson home.

When I see my friends in Chipley week after next, I’ll show them what I’ve done, and have one or two of the historical society staff check it out for me. I’ve been in touch with a few of the local history buffs who I’ve consulted about this little side project, and they would like to create a map like this for the museum. The thing is, all of these folks are volunteers. The museum is open only one day a week (Fridays). Who has time to do this?

My suggestion: This would be a great project for a senior high school class. It could be a year-long or semester-long project, and would involve the students exploring original documents in the local archives (not just using Google), using mapping software to chart the businesses, creating a historical resource that folks like myself would love to consult!

Not only that, I’ve learned that many of the families I read about in the 1899 editions of The Chipley Banner are still in Washington County, and in Chipley itself, so this project would appeal to some folks on a personal level. I think this is a great way to get young people involved in history, to learn how one actually conducts research, and to show them how their research efforts have immediate practical application.

And…they’d get academic credit for it, with maybe a mention in the local media. Win-win!

Emmett’s Alma Mater & Grammar Woes

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You’ve seen me rant in earlier posts about the decline in general student performance, both in my own classes and in higher ed in general. Here’s an interesting story about collegiate football fans.

Given the fact that I see — and catch — more instances of plagiarism and poor grammar in student papers today than I did 10 years ago, today’s story from The Orlando Sentinel doesn’t come as a huge surprise:

FSU_fans_orlando

Emmett was a student at FSU — before it was FSU, that is. When Emmett was enrolled there, it was called West Florida Seminary, or, the Seminary West of the Suwannee. It also had a reputation for being notoriously rigid in terms of educational quality. If you wanted to be there, then by damn, you had to show up and suit up.

You couldn’t just take up space in a classroom, and then complain to the dean that your professor didn’t give you any ‘credit’ for just taking up academic real estate. Like you can nowadays.

Basic requirements to pass your Freshman year: Proficiency in BOTH Greek and Latin. Source: FSU Archive

Basic requirements to pass your Freshman year: Proficiency in BOTH Greek and Latin. That’s not the case in 21st century higher ed. Source: FSU Archive

The entrance exams are what separated the folks who knew how to proofread and cite sources properly, and those who did not — among other things. Emmett, unfortunately, was one of the victims of the rigorous entrance exams — he didn’t make it to finish his sophomore year. It was just as well, because WFS didn’t have a law school at the time, and Emmett later decided he wanted to be a lawyer.

Were fans back in Emmett’s day who attended college more likely to proofread and avoid plagiarism? I’m unsure.

I think with all the tech at our fingertips, it certainly is easier to avoid doing the ‘work’ of reading a document for accuracy. Spell check programs will not catch a wrong word if that wrong word is spelled correctly, and most of my students will run their papers through the program, but not actually read the paper for clarity.

And it certainly is easier to attempt plagiarism, anyway — that is, unless you are in my class at the University of Maryland.

Doc Cop, one of the free plagiarism checking programs available (and one that my students use to check their work). Source: www.doccop.com

Doc Cop, one of the free plagiarism checking programs available (and one that my students use to check their work). Source: http://www.doccop.com

I believe that the teachers at WFS had the same problems I do, but on a lesser scale. The enrollments were smaller, compared to the typical classroom size today. Also, I think the students had more respect for education and the effort it took to earn a degree. Less than 1 percent of the population in Emmett’s day could even afford college. Higher ed was a privilege and treated as such, compared to today.

I don’t know. I wish people valued their educational opportunities more, and treasured the chances just to interact with others, in the hopes of expanding their world views. This may be just a matter of maturity, you know.