Celebrity Sightings, 1908


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.


Not So Unexceptional Sources


Last time I checked, I realized that I’ve collected over 500 individual newspaper articles about Emmett Wilson. That’s pretty good, considering that when I started this project, I didn’t expect to find more than a few dozen, given his obscurity in Florida politics.

Granted, most of these newspaper articles aren’t anything more than a one- or two-sentence gossip column blurb about Emmett’s comings and goings. In the grand scheme of things, these would be considered unexceptional information sources.

But that’s not always the case. After four years of ‘hanging out’ with Emmett, I’ve learned that these seemingly unexceptional articles hold more information than I realized when I first discovered them. One has to look beyond the words in these little clips to understand the event, even something as simple as a report on Emmett’s comings and goings.

For example: Here’s an article I initially considered unexceptional in the first few months of Emmett’s research.

An item on the society page about a private party for select members of the Pensacola Bar. Notice that Emmett’s name is misspelled. Source: The Pensacola Journal, February 20, 1907.

Three years after finding this seemingly unimportant clip, I’ve noticed several important things about this news item.

Let’s pick this article apart for research tidbits, shall we?


I didn’t notice it when I first found the article (because I was only a few months into Emmett’s research), but everyone attending this dinner party had a close personal connection to the other.

First, an overview of the dinner party attendees:

Emmett and the Crawford brothers (John Thomas Gavin Crawford — or ‘John’, and William Bloxham Crawford — or ‘Billy’) attended West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University) together; Emmett and Billy Crawford were roommates and classmates at Stetson University Law School. According to the 1907 Pensacola City Directory, Billy and John Crawford were law partners.

The Crawford brothers practicing law. The partnership didn’t last but a few years. John Crawford had only been admitted to the bar in 1906. Their office was located at 300 Thiesen Building. Source: 1907 Pensacola City Directory, Ancestry.com

The Crawford’s father was none other than Henry Clay Crawford, Florida’s secretary of state, from 1902 to 1929 — an important political muckety-muck who would have absolutely known J. Walter Kehoe, who was the state attorney for Florida at this moment.

And, it stands to reason that the Crawfords would have been known well to the host of the luncheon, John Harris Smithwick, who was J. Walter Kehoe’s law partner.

Kehoe & Smithwick, located at 306 Brent Building, Pensacola. Source: 1907 Pensacola City Directory, from Ancestry.com. Notice that they are getting ready to move their office location eight days from the publication of the news article. Emmett would stay with K&S until he joined his uncle’s law partnership on January 1, 1908.

Kehoe, as you may recall from an earlier post, was Emmett’s brother Cephas L. Wilson’s law partner in Marianna. Walter and Cephas were still close friends; their wives Jennie Kehoe and Lula Wilson were best friends. Walter Kehoe also considered Emmett another son; Emmett considered Walter his mentor.

A 1905 rendering of the Brent Building. Kehoe & Smithwick were on the third floor. Source: Pensapedia.com

My photo of the Brent Building — in great shape for 112! — from my last trip to Pensacola.

Judge Francis B. Carter, of Marianna, a former Florida supreme court judge, had just joined the law firm of Blount & Blount in 1907, which then became Blount, Blount & Carter. And, yes, their office was located in the Blount Building, which was right next door to the Brent Building.

Emmett (L) and Paul Carter. Roommates, long-time friends. Paul was (supposedly) related to Judge Francis B. Carter of Marianna. Source: FSU archive.

Everyone at the luncheon obviously knew Judge Carter; but what’s really interesting is that I believe he was related distantly to Emmett’s best friend, Paul Hayne Carter.

Emmett, who had just moved to Pensacola to re-start his law practice, was temporarily sharing office space in the Kehoe-Smithwick law practice.

Recall six months earlier, Emmett returned home from the failed law partnership with Nicholas Van Sant. And then, there was the rumor that Emmett enjoyed his liquor a bit too much, which might have had something to do with his sudden, but not openly discussed return to Florida without professional prospects. Emmett relocated to Pensacola because he’d be able to heal his wounded pride away from the reproving looks of family and friends in Marianna.

Emmett’s appointment as acting U.S. District Attorney in February becomes permanent in September. Source: PEN, September 7, 1907.

Emmett was the most obscure member of this luncheon party, but things were looking up for him. On February 1, 1907, Emmett was named acting assistant district attorney for the Northern District of Florida (it would become official in September, 1907). There were several local Pensacola attorneys up for the post because it was prominent and paid $1,500 a year — approximately $39,186 in 2017 dollars. Emmett didn’t get this appointment on his own; and in fact, had told the media he hadn’t even pursued it.

It is important to note that at least three of the men attending this luncheon helped persuade Department of Justice officials to select Emmett over the other, more experienced Pensacola lawyers. Given the right guidance and opportunities, Emmett would become a man of consequence in his own right.

Emmett himself may not have realized it, but it appears that he was being looked over, scrutinized for his usefulness in Florida politics by party leaders. It was too soon for anyone to get the idea that Emmett would be ideal material to shape into a future U.S. Congressional candidate, but this is when it started.

And isn’t it interesting how these guys were all so interconnected?


Over the next several posts, I’ll do a closer look at the luncheon attendees, and their relationships to Emmett and each other in Florida politics.


I Love You, George A. Smathers Libraries


Friends, today I made a random check of historic newspaper databases, and I found a set that has been recently added to the University of Florida George A. Smathers Library Archive.

This one:

The Daily News. Pensacola's -other- daily newspaper not published by Frank Mayes. Source: University of Florida Smathers Library

The Daily News. Pensacola’s -other- daily newspaper not published by Frank Mayes. Source: University of Florida Smathers Library

A totally new-to-me source that I haven’t seen either in microfilm or in hard copy to date. I knew this publication existed, but I figured known copies were non-existent! You have no idea how thrilling this is to find it!

There’s a few things that are important about this publication:

  • Frank Mayes was not the editor/publisher. Mayes ran The Pensacola Journal, the morning paper, which was considered the stronger of the two newspapers. Whatever Mayes thought was wonderful, the editor of The Daily News took a more objective, critical view of the issue.
  • The Daily News would eventually become the Pensacola Daily News, which would be run by Emmett’s college roommate (from Stetson University) and close friend, William Bloxham Crawford.
  • The limited editions of this paper fill in an information hole. The Smathers Archive only has the years 1899 through 1903 of this paper — but that’s fine. Emmett went to visit his grandfather and family members during this period (so, perhaps he is mentioned in the paper). More importantly, Emmett lived in Pensacola for six months from September 1901 to February 1902, when he was enrolled in shorthand courses at Meax’s Business College.
Source: The Chipley Banner, February 15, 1902

Source: The Chipley Banner, February 15, 1902

Emmett’s prominent Pensacola family —  he was the grandson of Augustus Emmett Maxwell, and the nephew of Judge Evelyn C. Maxwell — meant it was likely his activities would be mentioned somewhere in the paper.

Let’s hope for interesting and/or boring clips! Anything will be most welcome!



Emmett’s PR Posse


Readers, one thing I’ve always wondered about as I dig through Emmett’s life is the people he chose as advisers; then, the people he chose as managers as his campaign took off.

Who were these people, and why did Emmett think he could trust his career to their advice? After all, once Emmett was elected to Congress, his key advisers turned their backs on him, because Emmett chose to follow his own thinking, which he felt was more in tune with what West Florida’s constituents preferred.

One key thing from the research that has always got my attention was Emmett’s obscurity, and how quickly he was able to rise to a seat in Congress. Emmett was talented and smart, but so were a lot of lawyers in his circle;  those lawyers also had more experience and money to make the run for Congress than Emmett.

Clearly, this PR posse wanted to create a candidate for their own purposes, someone they could shape in their own image, and they selected Emmett.

I hope Emmett wasn't made to wear a beanie to court his first years as a lawyer.  Source: http://www.univdistcol.com/eggfight.html

I hope the local bar association didn’t make Emmett wear a beanie to court during his tenure as a Freshman lawyer. Source: http://www.univdistcol.com/eggfight.html

For a very young, obscure, assistant district attorney, Emmett got a lot of press. To me, this was unusual, because Emmett’s boss, Fred Cubberly was the District Attorney; yet, Fred, an accomplished historian, experienced attorney and politician, had probably less than HALF as much press as Emmett. And Emmett was the beanie-wearing Freshman of the law community in his career at this time. I find myself asking, “Fred. What’s up with that?”

Prior to 1912 (the year Emmett first ran for office), there were many instances where Emmett has news blurbs in both Pensacola papers (the morning paper was The Pensacola Journal; the afternoon paper was the Pensacola Evening News). In addition to stories about the cases Emmett was prosecuting, you could find brief news items about him in the society or personal columns.

Example of a Tersely Told column from The Pensacola Journal, June 24, 1908. Source: LOC.

Example of a Tersely Told column from The Pensacola Journal, June 24, 1908. Source: LOC.

For example, the personal column in The Pensacola Journal was called “Tersely Told,” and was mostly three- or four-line reports on what important people in Pensacola were doing. This column appeared on the business page of The Pensacola Journal.

Emmett had most of his PR blurbs in the Tersely Told column. However, whenever he was at a local country club dance, or participating in a society event, his name was in the event article on the society page along with all the pretentious of Pensacola. It is interesting that he didn’t seem to attend country club dances or similar society events once he began his run for office in earnest.

These items were called in or reported to the the Society column editor.

Would or did Emmett call in his own PR this way? The idea of Emmett ‘boasting’ his whereabouts and doings is not likely; by all reports, Emmett wasn’t a boastful, bragging kind of guy. He kept things about himself to himself. So, I doubt Emmett would call his own PR in to the papers.

However, I can see Emmett telling his clerk to let the editor of the papers know he’s off to prosecute a big case in Santa Rosa County. Emmett was probably told by his boss (and others who had a personal interest in Emmett’s career), that the more the public sees him in the press doing his job, the more likely he will have a smooth reelection when that time rolls around. So, Emmett knew to play the PR game.

Frank L. Mayes of The Pensacola Journal

One of the most important members of Emmett’s PR posse was Frank L. Mayes, editor of The Pensacola Journal.

Once Emmett became more well known, a select group of people in Emmett’s circle worked hard behind the scenes to get Emmett elected. It wasn’t obvious to me when I first looked at Emmett’s career, but a deeper study reveals these individuals had a significant vested interest in seeing Emmett do well, because they hitched their careers to his rising star.

Emmett’s posse worked hard to promote him as a candidate for Congress. Several contemporary newspapers in 1912 mention how Emmett, when he was running for office, came out of nowhere, and was mostly the ‘creation’ of Frank Mayes, editor of The Pensacola Journal. Mayes endorsed Emmett wholeheartedly, and used every opportunity to mention him in a positive light as often as possible in the paper’s editorials.

The incumbent congressman, Dannitte Mays, did not take Emmett seriously for the first two months of 1912. By the time Mays realized Emmett was a serious contender for his office, Mays looked like he had been asleep at the wheel of his own campaign. Emmett’s campaign management organized an “Emmett Wilson Club,” similar to that of the “Woodrow Wilson Club” that was in existence. The posse had clubs in every county, and they were run like a well-oiled machine. Setting up these clubs took a lot of time and preparation.

I doubt Emmett's idea to run for Congress was so instantaneous or life-changing.

I doubt Emmett’s idea to run for Congress was so instantaneous.

This is why I believe that Emmett’s decision to run wasn’t made by himself overnight. A few articles in the Pensacola papers read as if this was the ‘Road to Damascus’ event in Emmett’s life. No.

Emmett had been planning a run for office for at least a year before the opportunity presented itself, and the groundwork was laid by Emmett’s close friend, Frank Mayes.

Frank Mayes was one of the three key players in the Florida’s Progressive Democratic party. The party needed someone new to replace Dannitte Mays, whose philosophies were not Progressive enough for the state party machine. Emmett was ambitious, had credentials, was smart, had a good image, was young and energetic — and, so the party thought — could be ‘properly guided’ once he was in Congress. Emmett and the progressives thought they would be unstoppable.

The voting turnout for Emmett’s election was the highest in West Florida’s history at the time. Emmett swept the polls; Mays came in second, and instead of going through a second primary, withdrew based on the election results. There was a large enough gap between Emmett and Mays to indicate Mays was on his way out.

From the beginning of his career, Emmett appeared to lead a charmed public relations life.  But one year after Emmett made it to Congress, the PR team would, out of necessity, turn into a crisis management team.

Because the team couldn’t salvage Emmett’s image after October, 1914, they bailed out on him.

Emmett’s near-death in December 1914 meant the PR posse had to rethink their strategy until a replacement candidate was chosen. The Progressive Democratic party members were upset with Emmett. All along, Emmett’s opponents said he was too young, too inexperienced, and drank too much. Emmett’s PR posse had worked hard to stifle all of those claims, and they felt let down by him.

Those remaining who still supported Emmett as his congressional career folded, those who had tied their careers to Emmett’s success were left shaking their heads, saying, ‘what happened?’

I wonder if any of Emmett’s handlers, the people who helped Emmett get elected, ever considered “Emmett the man”, or, “Emmett their friend,” instead of “Emmett the federal job provider,” and what he may have been going through personally during the second half of 1914, when his health and career were on the wane?

I wonder if any one of his handlers reached out to Emmett at all during this time?  I think that someone could have stepped in and stopped (or at least delayed) Emmett’s downward spiral.


I’ll be able to explore some of these questions in detail over the next few weeks. A few days ago, a new box of film came in from the University of West Florida to read, and it is The Pensacola Journal for for 1915. I am anxious to get started to see what happened.

I’ll keep you posted.