by Gerhard Schmidt-Grillmeier
After lengthy research, I have managed to throw some light on the mystery of the life of Antoinette Flegenheim.
There are many unknowns surrounding her. Some sources described her as a society lady from Philadelphia1, others as the widow of a very rich diamond merchant2 and others as the widow of an American banker.21
We know that she was a very rich widow, who spent her life travelling between New York and Europe.3
The following are established facts:
Berta Antonia Maria Wendt was born 11 May 1863 at 8 a.m. in Himmelpfort near Fürstenberg on the Havel, the child of Wilhelm Karl Ferdinand Wendt, an assistant royal forest keeper , and Pauline Anna Dorothe, née Wagner. She was baptized on 7 June 1863 by Protestant minister Brühl4.
G. Schmidt-Grillmeier collection
Himmelpfort watercolour (1867)
Erich Köhler collection
In the Brandenburg State Archives in Potsdam I found a reference to her father. He had been asked to be a witness for the inauguration oath of a forester.5 His handwriting seems to be that of an educated man. It is remarkable that an assistant forester should have been asked to bear witness at such an important ceremony.
A researcher of Prussian forestry offices told me it was quite possible he had completed an apprenticeship so as to acquire the skills for promotion as a royal forester civil servant. I also learnt that at this time there were two Wendts, who were royal foresters, one was Friedrich Wendt, born 22 December 1825, the other, a head forester. It was often the case that the occupation of forester was handed on within a family, so the first one could have been the father of W. K. F. Wendt.6
Antonia's siblings born in Himmelpfort were Juliane Johanna Wendt, born 12 April 1866, baptized 27 May 1866 and Alexander Otto Wendt, born 7 July 1867, baptized 25 August, 1867.4 Two more siblings were alive in 1864, but were not born in Himmelpfort. A further child, Auguste Ottilie Therese Wendt, was born about 1860 in Himmelpfort, but died through drowning in 1864.7
A sister, Anna Elisabeth Hermine Wendt, was born on 24 February 1871 in Berlin and was baptized in the Luisenstädtische Kirche on 2 July 1871. The mother gave birth to the child in Annenstraße 10 in Berlin-Mitte. The father was the royal forester in Heydemühle.8 One can assume that the father was sent as a civil servant to Heydemühle. In former Prussia, there were several forestry offices with similar names. Most likely, Heydemühle in East Prussia near Allenstein was meant.9 Prussian civil servants were subject to instruction and had to go where ever they were sent. Probably his wife gave birth in Berlin, either with a relative or a midwife.
Some time was taken to clarify the assertion in Encyclopedia Titanica1 that her maiden name was Liche, which was the incorrect conclusion of some American searchers. A 14-year old niece, named Elsie Liche, it could also be read as Liebe, lived with Antoinette and her husband in New York. So they assumed she must have been born Liche. But the girl could also have been a relative of the husband. In 1897, Tony Flegenheimer had travelled on board the Fürst Bismarck to New York with the 8 year old Curt Liebe.10
There was also a Toni Wendt from Penzlin, who was born 18 May 1875. I contacted the mayor of Penzlin, but they do not carry out research at their archives. Anyway, she cannot be the one in question, because she would have been 15 years old, too young to marry Alfred Flegenheimer.11
The New York immigration office mentions a Toni Wendt (written Joni!) arriving on 20 December 1890 with the ship Suevia. It was stated she came from Berlin, Prussia. She gave her age as 22 years (surely a mistake like her first name it could also be 27). The departure was from Hamburg on 5 October 1890.12
The uncertainty about the year of her birth is reflected in other existing documents. She changed it as she wished as she did with her name. It seems this was possible in the U.S.A. at this time, as, while there were censuses, there was no obligatory registration of domiciles.13
It seems she lived in Berlin and must have met her future husband Alfred Flegenheimer there. Alfred Flegenheimer, born on 28 December 1869, came from a Jewish family from Frankfurt on Main.14 Alfreds brother, Helmut, was one of Germanys movie pioneers (15). Helmut travelled in 1898 to the U.S.A., probably to visit his brother Alfred. At immigration Helmut gave his Frankfurt address. His wifes first name was Berta. She later emigrated with him to Great Britain and became naturalized in June 1938. Her address then was 6 Dorset Court, Dorset St., London W1.16 Helmut too changed his name, from Flegenheimer to Flegheim and then to Fellner.
The mother-in-law of Antoinette Bertha Flegenheimer came to Berlin with her sons and lived in a wealthy area in Regentenstraße 2. This street does not exist anymore. It was situated on the edge of the large Tiergarten park area, where the Museum of Decorative Arts on Tiergartenstraße is now located.
How Antonia/Tony/Toni/Antoinette Wendt met her husband is not known, but we do know Alfred arrived in New York on 4 August 1890 on the Servia. Antoinette travelled, as already mentioned, on 20 October 1890 to New York and they married on 1 November 1890 in Manhattan.19 Their address at this time was in Manhattan 170 W 71. His profession was given as publisher. In 1900, he was registered at The Dorilton, 110 Wooster, Manhattan, a luxurious mansion building and his profession was given as vice president. In1907, his address was the hotel St. Regis, 2 E 55th in Manhattan. Both buildings still exist and can be described as pompous.18
On 27 February, 1902 he participated at a splendid reception for the Imperial German Prince Heinrich at the Arion Club in Manhattan. Several hundred successful businessmen of German descent were invited by the German-American Society. Some thousand citizens came to applause the prince in front of the club.17
Alfred received American citizenship on 13 September 1904.18 He gave as his occupation, at this time, vice-president of a company, Frank V. Strauss Co. This was a publishing house, which printed theatre programmes. The owner was also director of the European Feature Film Corp. and changed his name during WW I into Storrs.20
Tony Flegenheimer travelled several times to and from Europe. She is known to have arrived in New York on 3 October 1905 with the steamer Kaiser Wilhelm II. from Cherbourg, with the La Savoie from Le Havre on 24 March 1906 and with the Kronprinz Wilhelm from Cherbourg on 24 October 1906.21
On 23 November 1907, Alfred died. He was relatively young and left a very rich widow behind. Her address was, according to the obituary, 241 E 23rd Street. She had his corpse embalmed and stored at the Salem Fields Cemetery until he was transferred to the family grave in the Jewish cemetery in Frankfurt on 21 January 1908.22
Tony Flegenheimer had for some time called herself Antoinette Flegenheim. She lived only in luxurious apartments or hotels in New York, for example the St. Regis, or in 1910 at Broadway 345818 She also had an apartment at Windscheidstraße 41in Charlottenburg, which was at this time not a part of the city of Berlin.23
Berlin-Charlottenburg, Windscheidstr. 41
In the Berlin address books of 1912, she is to be found under Antoinette Flegenheim with this address (second floor, which means third floor for Americans). Her mother-in-law Bertha Flegenheimer lived until 1915 at Regentenstraße.23
Berlin address book 1912
Bibliothek Stiftung Stadtmuseum, Berlin
She probably booked her passages during her visits to Berlin at the travel agent, located in the ground floor of the former Hotel Bristol, Unter den Linden 5-6, where there is now the huge Russian embassy.24
Hotel Bristol, Unter den Linden
Her first-class ticket for the Titanic was number 17598 and she had to pay 31 pounds sterling, 13s, 8d for it. She went on board in Cherbourg and reported later that on board the tender (she called it funny small tender) the Nomadic, a young girl was already sea-sick. It was probably Miss Fröhlicher.3
On board, she had stateroom 8 on Deck D. In a later report she described how her friends, Mrs Blanche Greenfield and her son William, were in staterooms 10 and 12, which were opposite hers.26 As passenger Clyde Long had his accommodation in D6, she could only have been in D 8. This has not been taken into consideration by research until now. An acquaintance of Antoinette stated that Antoinettes late husband and the husband of Blanche Greenfield/Grünfeld had known each other from their time as university students in Berlin.25
Antoinette later reported on her complaints to the ships management, as, for example, the electricity failed and, with it, the heating in her first class cabin.
On the last night on board, she retired early and went asleep at about 10 p.m. She stated there was no dancing or partying that night, and she had not seen, contrary to some rumours, any intoxicated passengers or crew. At 11.45 p.m., she was awakened by a loud thump followed by a grinding noise. She stayed some ten minutes in bed, but after she noticed that the engine had stopped, she put on a heavier night-gown and slippers and rang for the steward, who never came. In the corridor, two stewardesses asked people to close the portholes. She went to Blanche Greenfields cabin, and saw she was fully dressed and putting on a life-jacket. Her son had told her the ship had struck ice. He had witnessed this when playing cards with an acquaintance in the smoker saloon.26
It is interesting that she stated that William Greenfield arrived with another young man from Cologne (it was probably Alfred Nourney, his card-playing partner) and they urged her to get dressed as soon as possible and to come on deck. She did so and also took some money from the cabin. She wanted to collect her valuables from the head pursers office, but it was closed. Because she had not put on a life jacket, another passenger gave her one and an acquaintance, Henry Blank, who had just joined her, told her to put it on so as to keep warm, as it was freezing outside on deck.
In another report, the situation after the collision was described as follows:25
When the collision happened, she was aroused and had dressed quickly. When she was on deck she wanted to return to her cabin to dress fully with warmer clothes, but an officer had stopped her and sent her, together with other female and male passengers to get into the life boat, which was the first one to leave the ship. At this time the deck was nearly empty and quite quiet, so she never would have thought there was an emergency situation. As she had left the ship so early, she said that she could not confirm from personal experience the statements from other passengers on the scenes on board as the ship went down, as she knew these only from conversation with others after they were rescued. There was no food and worse no water in the boat.25
After the landing of the Carpathia on 18 April 1912 Antoinette appeared to be exhausted and shocked. She preferred to stay in New York and recuperate with friends, the Franks, rather than with the Walkers, who had collected her. Since she had lost all her clothing, she had to buy new things. In addition, she was still too weak after eight hours in the life boat on the open sea.25
According to Mrs Walker, Antoinette said that the prime responsibility for the disaster rested with J. Bruce Ismay, the managing director of the White Star Line. He should never have allowed Captain Smith to crown his career by putting him in charge of the Titanic, the most modern and largest ship in the world. The captain had tried to do something to excite the admiration of the marine world. This was the reason why he had piloted the ship at the highest possible speed through dangerous seas.25
Antoinette had survived. The New York Herald reported on 19 April 1912 that she did not want to make any comment after her arrival in New York, as, in her boat, a sheet of paper was handed around asking them not to say anything about the disaster after their arrival in New York and she felt bound by this.
But in a later statement she reported:26
A steward had called all ladies to the port side, but as a door opened to the starboard they all went to this side of the ship and officer Murdoch, who was present there, had prepared the first boats.
She spoke about the noise of the escaping steam and said that she nearly lost her hat, which was given back to her graciously by Murdoch. Without any haste they about 30 people, women and men had got into the boat (it was boat no 7 which was the first one to leave the ship) and were provided with rugs. She expressed the opinion that the crew in charge of the boat were inexperienced and had difficulties in loosening the ropes, when they touched the calm sea surface.
It was only when they saw the fully illuminated ship with her bow already underwater that they realised how dangerous the situation was. It was a surreal spectacle.
In the lifeboat there was no food and, even worse, no water.25
After the sinking, the screams of the victims were heart-rending and unbearable. Mrs Greenfield had to cover her ears. The young man from Cologne had the foolish idea to shoot off all his revolver cartridges (God knows why).
After more than four hours the Carpathia had appeared, and they were hoisted up in sling chairs. The crew had treated them with the utmost care.26
She said that while she had suffered from the cold, the scars that cannot be seen or treated were deeper.26
The Berliner Lokalanzeiger27 of 19 April 1912 had a short note about an Antoinette Flegenheim, who supposedly had first told a reporter that her sister Dingckhoff-Haack was on board Titanic, but now had sent a cable saying she had survived. She had toured Europe (Paris, London) with the Grünfelds and had spent several weeks in Berlin. This was clearly confusion about names. In fact, the widow Hanny (Henny?) Dieckhof-Haack was registered as living in Windscheidstraße 12, 3rd floor (for Americans 4th floor), that is, in the very near vicinity of Antoinette Flegenheims apartment. Probably this was Juliane Johanna Wendt, born 12 August, 1866 in Himmelpfort. Her husband was the actor and director Hermann Haack, who had died, probably in 1911. (Different spellings have been found in the Berlin directory). They had previously lived at Windscheidstraße 17.23 and 28
In the same newspaper I found a photo of Antoinette Flegenheim. The title says Mrs Flegenheim, a Berliner, who was the wife of the late American banker and had lived a long time in America, is amongst the passengers rescued from the Titanic'.27
The only known picture of Antoinette Flegenheim
On 20 June 1912, she married Paul Elliot White-Hurst in Buffalo, NY. 29
Certificate of marriage to P.E. Whitehurst
The great-niece of P.E. Whitehurst, Jane Lowe from England, informed me that Paul Elliot had travelled as a tourist with the Minnetonka from England to New York and landed on 29 May 1912. He gave Toronto as his destination. The Ellis Island records confirm this. One can be sure he must have known Antoinette Flegenheim previously.30
In his marriage certificate P.E. Whitehurst gave his profession as director and his domicile as Toronto, Canada. It was his first marriage and he was 35 years of age. Jane Lowe informed me that he had studied in an English university and also at the Sorbonne in Paris and in Berlin. She said he was fluent in French and German. He was, before the first world war, director of a company and had to travel frequently professionally.30
Antoinettes age on the marriage certificate was 42 years. As profession, none was noted. She did not have to work; she was, after all, a rich widow!
However, this document raises some questions:
The birth-place indicated is Germany followed by an unclear word in brackets (Himmelfort)31.
Her father was given as Wilhelm Windt (sic).
Her mother as Pauline Wagner.
On 24 December 1912, Antoinette from her address in Charlottenburg, Windscheidstraße 41, filed a claim for lost items. She stated she had twice tried to collect her valuables from the ships safe in the Head Pursers office, but found nobody on duty at the desk after the collision. Her claim filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, gives her name as Antoinette White-Hurst (formerly Flegenheim). She herself signed the claim as Mrs P.E. White-Hurst formerly Mrs Antoinette Flegenheim. The loss she claimed was $3.682,00 for wearing apparel, etc. and $14.707,00 for jewellery (mostly diamonds) and cash.
To explain the situation, it must be pointed out that Antoinette had married before WW I had started and had automatically acquired British citizenship and lost her American and/or German status. This is the reason why she had do leave Berlin. Her last registration at Windscheidstraße in the Charlottenburg and Berlin directories was under her name Whitehurst and not Flegenheimer and was in 1913.
There is a military record from WW I about Lieutenant P.E. Whitehurst. It looks as if he wanted to protect himself or his German wife. He gave, as his next of kin, Antoinette Whitehurst, living in Harriseahead, Staffordshire, England (his parents address). He stated he had married the spinster (?)(!) Antoinette Wendt (sic) on June 6, 1912 in Buffalo, USA. The matrimonial document gives another date and records that his wife was a widow! Great-niece Jane Lowe had always assumed that he had married for the first time when he was 55 years old, but the document from Buffalo proves the contrary.30
During WW I, Whitehurst worked with the British war office as a translator in the intelligence department. In his war record from 1915 it says there is nothing known to the detriment of the officer except he has a German wife.30 In the document it is also mentioned that his wife, Antoinette Whitehurst, had since 1914 lived in The Hague, the Netherlands, was associating with suspects (times of war!) and was a friend of Count Bylandt.
Otherwise, the personal record gave the husband of Antoinette a good character reference.
P.E. gave his address as Piccadilly 211, which was a gentlemens club, but does not exist anymore. From there it was not far to his office.30
Originally I had assumed she was Jewish because of her first husband. This is not correct. The Jewish community in Berlin had no trace of her, nor even of her first husband, who could have been a secular Jew. He might have been a convert, but a search of the Protestant church archives was also fruitless.
A search of the internet for links between Harriseahead and Stafford and the family name Whitehurst brought a number of results. Usually they were of mine-workers, belonging to the, in the locality, majority Wesleyan confession. But Jane Lowe told me the parents of Paul Elliot were strict Methodists and that his father worked in an insurance company.
In the certificate of marriage with Antoinette29, Paul Elliot indicated that his father was Paul Whitehurst and his mother Mary Holdcroft. And indeed the internet shows that in 1867 there was a civil marriage, in the community of Wolstanton in Stoke-on-Trent, between Paul Whitehurst and Mary Holdcroft. An occupation is not mentioned. As his father was not a mineworker (Jane Lowe told me that he was climbing up the professional ladder from clerk in a mining company to a leading post in an insurance company), it is not so surprising that Paul Elliot could study in England and abroad. The 1881 census in Staffordshire lists the son as a 13 year old schoolboy.29 and 30
Jane Lowe collection
Antoinette lived during WWI in the Netherlands, in The Hague. First she dwelt in the wealthy Statenkwartier neighbourhood at Anthonij Duijckstraat 88 and later in the less well-to-do Regentessekwartier at Weimarstraat 33. Further research showed that, in 1920/2, she had, without deregistering, left the city, possibly for Germany.32
Den Haag Registration card
J.W. Kooistra collection
According to Jane Lowe, Paul Elliot married in 1932 for a second time. Probably the first marriage was annulled, but when and where is not known at present. Jane Lowe found, at ancestry.com, that Antoinette Whitehurst lived between 1929 and 1938 at Nibelungenstraße 90 in Munich, Bavaria.33
Munich address book 1930
G. Schmidt-Grillmeier collection
A note from the City archive of Munich was a pleasant surprise for me. The director informed me that Antoinette Whitehurst, born on 11 May 1863 in Himmelpfort, had lived until 1938 at Nibelungenstraße 90 and had left the city without deregistering, possibly in 1939. I was also informed that Nibelungenstraße 90 today is Arnulfstraße 300 and due to the bombings during WW II is not recognisable any more. She was registered as living at Nibelungenstraße on 24 March 1923, at Menzinger Straße 17 (today 71) on 20 September 1938 and finally on 10 June 1939 at Kaulbachstraße. She did not de-reregister and it is possible that, as she was a British citizen, she left the city and country at the beginning of WW II.35 I have enquired if she might have died in Munich and was buried there, but this is not the case.
There, I have again lost track of her. I tried to find out if she went to England to her brother-in-law Fellner36 or to the U.S.A., but failed to find any evidence. In 1939, she was already 76 years old.
As far as her age is concerned, the following questions and facts have arisen during my research:
My conclusion is that it is interesting to see that twice her birthday is given as 11 May and in the Manhattan census as May.
The parents in Himmelpfort were Wilhelm Wendt and Pauline, née Wagner also mentioned in the marriage certificate of Buffalo.
Since in both marriage certificates and in the census, the year 1871 is given, it is quite possible she has made herself younger. Due to the lack of personnel for registration in the U.S.A., this was not too difficult to do.
It is quite certain that it is the same person.
I am also fairly certain that it will be possible to find out when and where she died.