Diana Preston's book


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Omar Khokhar

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I was given the Diana Preston book "Wilful Murder: The Sinking of the Lusitania" for Christmas. And I would like to know what other people thought of this book.

Have you read it Eric? If, so what do think about it?

Although I have not had the chance to read it yet, my impression is that it seems a good book (despite it being a very long book). Unlike other authors Diana Preston should be praised for not having made the mistake of relying on Colin Simpson`s historical nonsense of a book. And also I think it is the only book along with the Baily and Ryan book which has detailed foot notes and the end.

So is this book a hit or a miss?
 

Jim Kalafus

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Hit or miss? Well, in baseball terms it is more like a 'walk.' Not terrible, but not particulary good either. The pros and cons have already been discussed here on an earlier thread. What bugged me was that sections of it seemed to have been lifted, almost intact from other works. For instance, if you have Hoehling's book, read the section on Inez Vernon's suicide, and then read the corresponding section in Preston's book. The wording is different but the two are nevertheless exactly the same- except, of course, that Preston inserted the word "black" before "evening gown," that being the one piece of "original" research in the whole section. Likewise, a piece from Phoebe Amory's 1917 booklet has been recast with Charlotte Pye in the lead role..... and so on. That said, it still ranks #3 on the list of Lusitania books, after Hickey and Smith, and Hoehling, which says more about the merits of the other books than it does of this one.
 
G

Gavin Murphy

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Jim,

These are interesting comments. But I think debate on the merits of L books should also be focussed on Lusitania by David Ramsay. It came out in North America (earlier in UK) at about the same time as Preston's book and is quite good, particuarly if you are a Capt. Turner fan.

Forgive me if I have missed the plot here, but I have not seen any comments or critique of this book on this board. Why so? Comments?

G
 

Jim Kalafus

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Well, from my perspective it suffered from the same flaws as most of the 1915/16 "Memorial Books" in that it had more to do with the war and less to do with the disaster itself than a book with "Lusitania" in the title should. Plus there are a host of admittedly minor but still annoying mistakes- for instance Frances Stephens' body was aboard the Hesperian, not the Arabic, when she (Mrs Stephens)was torpedoed for the second time, and Dwight Harris was not travelling with a wife- which could have been corrected with more dilligent researching. What frustrates are that there are a host of really great stories waiting to be told about the Lusitania (for instance, the tragic details of the life of Mary Anita Pells; the passenger under a legal cloud who had bilked a woman out of a large sum of money; the tale of Dr. Foss's later murderous rampage; the formerly married man and his male companion leaving the U.S. for Paris; the prominent Jewish Theatre Circuit actor; the successful songwriter; the man with a wife at home travelling with a different 'wife;' the first class passenger-lost-with a pregnant wife at home who would later blame the child's "feeblemindedness" to use the contemporary term on her being widowed while carrying a child; the female passenger who lost a brother at sea in the days before the Lusitania was destroyed- her mother was notified of the son's loss on the morning of the 7th and of her daughter's loss on the same evening; the successful dress designer) and none of them are being told - instead nearly all of the new books rehash the same easily located survivor accounts, then move on to putting the Lusitania into the larger framework of WW1. Which is, historically, fine, but from a Lusitania buff's point of view irritating. Within the category of "same old accounts," for those authors who like to stay with the obvious, there is room for improvement. For instance there are more Rita Jolivet accounts than the one used by Hoehling, and recycled by every author who has mentioned Miss Jolivet since then, which supply considerably more details and which are not difficult to locate- why not use them? Likewise, her brother in law, George Vernon is always mentioned in passing as being with her at the end, and of course in the context of his wife's suicide- but with a little digging one can find a reliable account which details the exact circumstances of his death- why not use it? Minor digging at Ellis Island reveals that the Loney's had an earlier "near miss" as they arrived in NYC aboard the Olympic on April 10, 1912- had they remained in England one additional week they most likely would have featured prominently in another well known disaster. Likewise, by odd coincidence, William Sterling Hodges and the Misses Hoy who died aboard the Laconia and whose deaths were instrumental in bringing the US into the war, were sequentially listed in the passenger list of the Orduna at Christmas 1914- not of any great historical significance but at least a new detail to add color to the oft-told tale of the Hodges family.....these are just things I found at random in a 10 minute search at Ellis Island, so there is no reason why the authors who choose to reuse old material can't find anything new and original to liven it.
 

Jim Kalafus

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One other detail I should have added to the list, was is that a prominent pair of Titanic survivors, by coincidence, ended up closely involved with many of the American Lusitania survivors. Again, no great historic stuff, but at least it would make an interesting "I didn't know that" detail in the mosaic of regurgitated information contained in most of the books.
 

George Behe

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Hi, Jim!

The information you've outlined above is truly fascinating.

Have you ever considered writing a series of articles for the ADB or the Commutator in which each installment contains a thorough outline of the experiences undergone by a specific Lusitania passenger? It sounds like you've done more than enough research to undertake such a project, and I assure you that your articles would be an invaluable resource for future Lusitania researchers.

Please give the idea some serious consideration, old chap.

All my best,

George
 

Jim Kalafus

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A bit of shameless self-promotion: I just this morning put the finishing touches on the rough draft of an article which, as it stands now, contains just under 50 previously unpublished survivor accounts, which I am running in their entirety plus about a dozen obscure published accounts from which I have drawn excerpts, and a bunch of photos. I'll post on it more next summer when I have it ready to go. After having been so hyper-critical of other's research it is important that I leave no obvious error, so every word is being triple checked before it sees the light of day, that I not have my own words come back and bite me.
 

Jim Kalafus

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I am going to offer it to T.I.'s "Voyages" first.

One of the stories which will NOT be in it, but which I hope at some point to expand upon is the story of passenger J.N. Fulton which altogether is probably the sleaziest tale of the whole affair. He died in the sinking and his wife brouht suit against Germany fo $80,750.00. A settlement of $30,000.00 was ALMOST finalised when an angry Mrs. Olympe Eugenie Chanteloup Geradin surfaced. It seems that Mr. Fulton had drained the estate of her late uncle of $300,000.00 and converted it into property while acting as liquidator. "The estate worth $300,000.00 was solvent when her uncle died and after Fulton got through with it her was not a cent left for her, the sole devisee." There was, of course a court case which lasted from ca. 1894 onward, during the course of which Mr. Fulton served 3 1/2 years in the penitentiary (commencing Sept 1900) for doing the same thing to a Mrs. Coristine to the sum of $12,541.75. Judgement was passed in 1922 that Mrs. Geradin was owed $120,143.02 (the paperwork to prove the other $180,000.00 having been lost in 2 years since the outset of the case) by the estate of John Napier Fulton. During the course of the trial things got ugly, with Mrs Geradin's lawyers revealing in court, with witnesses, that Fulton's daughter was not legitimate but in fact had been fathered by him with a local girl in order to (hopefully) expedite a peronal inheritance which was conditional upon the production of an heir. In the end, Mrs. Geradin lost big because A) there was nothing specific the claims court could do for her and B) the property which her money had bought was placed in Mrs. Fulton's name and with John Fulton dead, and no evidence present that Mrs. Fulton was party to the fraud, was untouchable. The Court, however DID believe the story about the daughter being illegitimate and made it a point to say that they did not believe Mrs. Fulton on THAT detail.

The final score: Mrs Geradin: $0
Mrs. Fulton: $3750.00 (plus the income from Mrs.
Geradin's money, so she did
alright in the end)
Christian Fulton Fraser (the daughter): $6,000:
"....whether he was her father or
not she was dependent on him
and had much to expect from him
by way of bringing up and
education. With everything
discredible that happened
in his business he was an
educated man of many good
qualities, devoted to his
family, who had the regard
of influential friends to the
last."
Although I am sure that the legal wranglings continued beyond this point.
 
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After these postings, the phone is now ringing off the hook for your Newport Convention Lusy Lecture Jim! Have added another hotel! No kidding.
 

Jim Kalafus

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There was another nifty case in which a woman sued for, I beleive, in excess of $100,000.00 because after her husband died on the Lusitania her dumb-as-a-post son ran the family business into the ground, and, had her more intelligent husband lived it would not have happened. I am currently contacting the relatives of, and petitioning for the divorce records pertaining to, a first class passenger who apparently left his wife for another man. There was a rich tapestry of unusual stories left in the wake of this disaster.

One correction- in my previous post there is a line concerning the Geradin case which reads smething like "...in the previous 2 years" which should, of course read "28 years." I am on a keyboard which is considerably less sensitive to the one I usually use and I find that I am dropping letters like crazy.

Good to hear that our lecture is well anticipated. We still have a few kinks to work out in the choreography of the interpretive dance, and then it will be all set.
 

Jim Kalafus

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Ah yes. One final "promo" for the article. Mike Poirier uncovered an unpublished survivor account which he is allowing me to use, in which one survivor discusses the mental collapse of another in terms which can only be desribed as "Hyancinth Bucket." It is one of the better examples of unintentional Gallows Humor I have read and- for me- the highlight of the whole collection.
 

Jim Kalafus

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LUSITANIA PROFILE: Here is another interesting story which could be looked into further. Caroline Hickson Kennedy (53) and Catherine Hickson (57) were sisters travelling aboard, and lost on, the Lusitania. In 1902, Mrs Kennedy had advanced her brother, Richard Hickson, a sum of $800 to establish himself in the women's garment industry. She began working for the company at an approximate salary of $50 per week plus expenses, which by 1915 had increased to the sum of $5000.00 per year. Miss Hickson had subsequently been brought into the company at the same initial rate as Mrs. Kennedy. Mrs Kennedy apparently designed the apparel sold by Hickson and Co, but the bulk of the money went to her brother who had a yearly income from the business of $30,000.00. The profits of Mrs Kennedy's designs in the last completed work year of her life were, according to the paperwork provided at the subsequent court case, $125,587.56. For 1915, the year in which she died (stating the obvious) the profits were $179,078.98 ("exclusive of goodwill") but after that things fell apart and by 1920 the business had failed. Her brother claimed it was her "genius as a designer of women's apparel and her peculiar and exceptional business abilities" which had kept the company afloat. The court pointed out the odd disparity between what she brought in by her labors and what she was paid by her brother, and also pointed out that released from her "exceptional business abilities" Richard Hickson had withddrawn $50,000.00 from the company to establish a fashion industry magazine for his son which was "a complete failure and the investment a total loss" and had also spent about $100,000.00 on furniture and fixtures in 1915/16.

The sisters were embarking on an extended Parisian buying trip for their business when they were lost. Lost with them was a wardrobe and jewelry collection valued at $14,000.00. This was all the money Richard Hickson would be awarded for his somewhat specious claim. Caroline Hickson's body was recovered (#160) and returned to NY aboard the Cymric on June 2 1915.
 

Jim Kalafus

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A correction: the figure of $179,078.98 referred to the company's net ASSETS at the close of the 1915 fiscal year. The $125,000.00+ figure was properly described by me as the 1915 profit.
 

Jim Kalafus

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LUSITANIA PROFILE 2. Here are a pair of bizarre legal decisions pertaining to lives lost in the disaster. I understand, although do not agreed with the interpretation of law in case #1 and am totally puzzled by the decision in #2 considering the evidence leading up to it.

Case #1 pertained to the death of Annie Williams. She was lost along with four of her children, leaving only daughter Edith and son John Edward. Their case was initially heard in England but rejected on the grounds that the British Government took the stance that Mrs Williams had not made any financial contributions to her children. The American verdict contains this rather surprising, by contemporary standards paragraph:
"....the record is barren of any statement of fact which would enable this commission to measure the damages, if any, sustained by the two surviving children of Mrs. Williams resulting from her death. There is not a scintilla of evidence in the record throwing any light on Mrs. William's character, pursuits, habits, relations to and influence over her children, or any fact on which the commission could base a funding that the children had suffered any pecuniary damages resulting from her death.....at all events the claimants have wholly failed to discharge the burden resting on them to prove their case."

John and Edith William - $0.

Now, Case 2: the bizarre case of David Samoilescu.

David Samoilescu was a successful music hall "jack of all trades" who, under the stage name of David Samuels had garnered some good reviews in NY papers, and who had toured in both Europe and Australia. He was en route to a series of show dates in England when he died aboard the Lusitania. His body was recovered (99) and buried in Cork, with his property being returned to his wife via the Orduna on July 8th 1915.

His wife, Lizzie Samoilescu, who had also been a music hall performer, brought suit against Germany on behalf of herself and her three children. The abstact of the case borders on farce:

Mrs Samoilescue claimed damages of $520,000.00, of which $20,000.00 was for lost personal property, including $15,000.00 in lost English gold currency. After the case was filed she appended an additional claim of $10,050.00 for her OWN jewelry lost aboard the ship. "among her jewels.....was a platinum brooch set with diamonds ($3500.00) a platinum afternoon ring ($1500.00) a solitaire ring ($1000) a pair of earrings ($2500.00) and as the court put it "et cetera."

Their decision on this aspect: "The Cunard Steamship Company returned to the widow personal property found on the body of the decendent, including all of his personal jewelry, some of which he was not wearing at the time of his death. If any inference may be drawn from this circumstance, it is that had the decendent taken with him the valuable jewels of his wife, whom he left behind in NY they would have been found on hs person with his own jewelry. There is no evidence that he deposited any valuables with the purser, and it is highly improbable that he would have placed in his baggage valuable(s) of small compass and weight.....although required to do so, claimant has failed to state from whom any one of these items was purchased or how she arrived at the stated valuations.....calls no one, not even her children, to corroborate her statement that she ever possessed them....or that the decendent took any of them with him....."

And the Samoilescu's lifestyle? Well, Lizzie testified that he earned upwards of $500.00 per week, of which $300 was allowed to her for personal expenses. She also claimed he sent the family on a $2000.00 two months vacation each summer. The Court? "On his death we find his family living in a New York 'apartment' the rent for which , the widow testifies, was either $25 or $35 PER MONTH and it is fair to assume in absense to the contrary that their other expenditures were in proportion to the rental paid."

David's personal effects?
Lizzie: "....there was lost with him a deluxe wardrobe, includng a fur coat, lined with sable and trimmed with beaver collar and cuffs, which he had bought a short time before sailing and for which he had paid $3000.00."

Court: "She does not know from whom it was purchased, and produces no witnesses who ever saw the decedent in posession of such an article either on board the Lusitania or elsewhere."

And the lost gold?

"the claimant testified....before the decedent left England for America he took from the safety deposit vault where he kept his valuables a large quantity of English Sovereigns and brought them to NY with him; that 'he did not change any American money into British money- he brought the British money over here;' that the decendent had on his person at the time of his death $4,729.00 in American paper currency which was subsequently returned by the Cunard Steamship Company; that this American currency was the proceeds of the English gold exchanged by the decedent on the claimant's suggestion for American currency, but that the PARTICULAR sovereigns claimed to have been lost WERE BROUGHT BY THE DECEDENT FROM ENGLAND TO AMERICA AND NOT EXCHANGED FOR AMERICAN CURRENCY and he was taking them back with him. She claims that these 2,500 British gold sovereigns were in a little sack which, according to her best judgment she estimates as weighing three pounds.....the testimony of Lizzie Samoilescue is uncorroborated, conflicting and unconvincing....."

So, in view of the hard line taken with the children of Annie Williams, what does one suppose Lizzie Samoilescu was awarded? A prison sentence for attempted fraud? An embarassing Judge Judy-esque public tongue lashing? Well.....

Lizzie Samoilescu: $25,000.00
Samoilescu children: $25,000.00
Lizzie's fee as administratrix of estate: $2000
 

Jim Kalafus

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I neglected to mention that in an initial 1915 motion Lizzie stated David's total worth at no more than $1000.00.

Also, probably due to the late hour when I typed that account out, I neglected to mention the detail that Lizzie was unable to furnish ANY financial records pertaining to David's earnings, 'though she did provide specifics as to where he had performed. That is why I found it bizarre that a court which could not find any evidence that the Williams children (whose father had deserted them) were financally dependent on their mother, could find so generously in favor of someone who had not only failed to provide a single piece of evidence in ANY aspect of her claim but also perjured herself repeatedly.

I am assuming that the claim that $4000.00+ was recovered with his body was true, and backed up by Cunard records, because it was the only point raised in the whole hearing not rejected outright by the court.
 

Jim Kalafus

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From the Cunard Confidential report (1916) comes the detail that the Samoilescu's parenthetical apartment was on East 149th Street in the Bronx, which at that time was a neighborhood of "second generation" families, predominantly German (the Samoilescus were first generation Americans, having immigrated from Romania around the turn of the century) and comfortably established, so the parenthesis used in the court summary around apartment was probably unwarranted- the neighorhood was far from slum at that point.

From Ellis Island I have determined that David's prior European tour had been in late 1914/early 1915, as he returned aboard the Transylvania, out of Liverpool (name spelled "Samuelesco") on April 6 1915- unfortunately the passenger record, usually a great source for details such as height hair and eye color, physical characteristics, is in this case devoid of information other than address, marital status, and age- 36. Lizzie, as Lizzie "Samoilesco" travelled to England after David's death and returned in December aboard the St.Louis. Whether she was travelling in a professional capacity as an entertainer, or for personal reasons is not known. Her age was listed- 30- but again there are no further details given.
 
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