Lucile Polk Carter


Apr 16, 2001
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Dear Martin,

Thank you for he interesting article on Betty Blake - a fascinating read.

I am so glad to see and read that Elizabeth "Betty" Blake is still as active as ever. She is truly a fascinating woman, and equally gracious. I met her in Newport back in 2003 and spoke with her about the Titanic and her family. The Titanic is a topic she knows so little about - reason being that her mother never allowed the mention of the disaster to be raised in her presence. Betty said she wished she could offer historians and researchers more in the way of her family account, but because there was such a reluctance to even mention the very word "Titanic", and because her mother died when Betty was so young, there wasn't much to relate. Even though Betty's mother and other relatives were saved, she was raised in an age where one didn't discuss sad or tragic events - it was a subject better left alone. She believes the disaster truly effected her mother's personality. "How could one not be emotionally impacted but such an event?" Betty asked in 2003.

Betty is truly an inspiration for many - may she be given many more healthy and fulfilling years.

Kind regards,

Mike Findlay
 
Mar 20, 2007
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Hi Michael

Thanks so much for your contribution. It is so illuminating to have an insight offered by somebody who has actually MET the daughter of one of my favourite passengers. I absolutely second your sentiments and hope that Mrs Blake has many happy and healthy years yet in front of her.

Many survivors, it seems, tried to blot out the memory of their 'Titanic' trauma. I know that Florence Cumings, for example, who also made her escape in Lifeboat No. 4, dreaded the very mention of the disaster and never spoke of it to her family in later years. Julia Cavendish was similarly reticent - it was a considerable struggle for her to tell her sons as grown-ups about the father they had lost so prematurely.

All the best

Martin
 
Mar 20, 2007
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This is really a question aimed at those board-members who've been fortunate enough to visit Newport, Rhode Island - the so-called Queen of American Resorts.

During both her first and second marriages, Lucile Carter (later Brooke) was a very prominent member of the summer colony and hob-nobbed with all the great hostesses of the Gilded Age. For twenty years or more, her parties and lunches regularly made the Society columns and she constantly attended the very best, and most select, soirées. Her daughter, Betty Brooke Blake, has remained a presence in the town, providing a link to that vanished era.

However - despite the most exhaustive internet research on my part, I've been unable to turn up any really clear images of the houses Lucile lived in. After her divorce from Billy Carter, her address was, I believe, Cave Cliffs. This must have been a very swanky pad indeed, since it was flanked by Vineland, Ochre Court and The Breakers...three of the grandest residences in town. I gather that Cave Cliffs is still standing and is now on (or near) the campus of Salve Regina University, over-looking the ocean. Yet astonishingly (and frustratingly), it seems to be one of the few mansions in Newport not to have been properly photographed! Can anybody direct me to an image - or at least provide me with a first-hand description of what the house looks like?

Likewise, if anybody has a picture of Gwedna, the Carter estate at Bryn Mawr, I should be eternally grateful.
 
Feb 4, 2007
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Hi Martin, it's been several years since I visited Newport. If I remember correctly, "Cave Cliffs" is on the Salve Regina Campus, but is maintained as a private residence. It lies between Ochre Court, and Vinland (now called "McAuley Hall").

Aerial view:
http://www.salve.edu/virtualtour/

I am not all that familiar with Lucile Carter's later life (post Titanic), but I was of the impression that Lucile and George Brooke rented (as opposed to purchasing) a 'cottage' called "Morrell Cottage" (I think belonging to the former Col. Edward Morrell, also of Philadelphia) on Victoria Avenue. I don't believe "Morrell Cottage" was on the waterfront, as Victoria Avenue is inland opposite the Vanderbilt's "Breakers". I wonder which property it was?

Apparently, Lucile and George did quite a bit of entertaining at "Morrell Cottage", including the enormous outdoor dinner dance of Miss Lucile Carter on August 11, 1916.
 
Mar 20, 2007
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Thank you for that, Jason. Yes, from what I've read in the Society columns of the 'New York Times', Lucile was fairly peripatetic. Maybe Shelley, who contributed the photographs at the very beginning of this thread, can enlighten us a little further about the Carter/Brooke homes. One way or another, the various houses Lucile owned or rented must have been quite substantial, providing her with suitable venues for the entertainment of Newport's elite on a grandiose scale.

Anyway. Seek and ye shall find. Just when I had ruefully concluded that I was never going to find a decent image of the Carters' main home, Gwedna...I did! I think the method I employed was simply typing 'W.E. Carter' and 'Byrn Mawr' into Google - which pulled up the following website:

http://www.brynmawr.edu/cities/archx/gtp/gtp94on.html

This appears to be a collection of archive photographs of houses in Pennsylvania designed by George T. Pearson - which is not a name I recognise although, in that era which saw wealthy clients constantly building, rebuilding and renovating their homes, there must have been many architects ready to oblige them. Scrolling to the bottom of the link, you'll find a photograph of a 'dwelling for W. E. Carter', dated circa 1910. If, as I suspect, this is indeed Gwedna, then it is very much in the conservative style favoured by established Main Liners - impressive, but lacking in the over-blown flamboyance (one might almost say, the vulgarity) of certain of the Astor and Vanderbilt mansions. Stylistically, I'd say it is 'Colonial' and it rather puts me in mind of the sort of house Ralph Lauren used to feature in his ad campaigns. Although it is not easy to tell, Gwedna appears to be shaped like an 'H', with a wing on either side, a shingled roof with dormers, shuttered sash windows and a central range (probably containing the main entrance) with double-height columns. Presumably, there was also ample stabling nearby for Billy's polo ponies and hunters.
 
Mar 20, 2007
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I've also been finding out - or, at least, inferring - a little bit more about the time the Carters spent in England prior to their trip on the 'Titanic'. As Lucile wrote to Bruce Ismay in May 1912, she and Billy had been based in Leicestershire, quite close to Melton Mowbray (where the famous pork pies come from). As I've already pointed out here, and on another thread, this was ultra-fashionable hunting country; although there was no Melton pack per se (a fact I only discovered quite recently from a friend who hunts herself) the town stood at the nexus of several very prestigious hunts; the Belvoir, the Cottesmore and the Quorn. I don't know which pack Billy Carter rode out with that winter but he and Lucile rented Rotherby Manor and supplied it as their address when they booked their tickets for the return voyage to the States in the spring. Demolished in the 1920s, the Manor was located in a small, picturesque village in the east of the county and, re-built by its owners in the 1870s, it was evidently quite a substantial dwelling, with extensive gardens, a tennis court and - most importantly for Billy - stabling for twelve horses, besides a large garage (had the famous Renault been delivered yet, I wonder?) During their time in Rotherby, either that season or in a previous year, the Carters had employed a local man, Charles Aldworth, as their chauffeur and he sailed on the 'Titanic' with them. This is rather curious, since the Carters could presumably have engaged a chauffeur quite easily in Bryn Mawr. For whatever reason, they must have found Aldworth a competent and agreeable employee - whilst, on his side, the job provided him with the perfect opportunity to work for a while in the States, thereby bettering his financial prospects. Aldworth was definitely married, since Lucile wrote to Ismay about his wife after the disaster:

'...would you send her name into the fund? It seems ridiculous to bother you about such a trifle but I really don't exactly know how to keep her here. There was quite a sum raised at our home, Rotherby near Leicester, because the chauffeur was the only one lost from there...'

Interesting: so the bereaved Mrs Aldworth was in the States too (hence the 'I really don't exactly know how to keep her here') - although her former neighbours in England remembered the couple well enough to rally round and collect money on her behalf. One can't help thinking that her throw-away comment displays a singular lack of imagination on Mrs Carter's part - she might well deem it 'ridiculous' to write to Ismay over 'such a trifle'...but one can safely assume that the widowed Mrs Aldworth, stuck in a strange country, having lost her husband AND his livelihood, didn't find it so. I'd like to know if Billy and Lucile had met Ismay before the voyage, possibly during their time in the Midland counties. I do recall reading somewhere that his family maintained a seat in the area and hunted themselves - Bruce's American wife, Florence, was once seriously injured when thrown from her horse whilst riding out on Long Island.
 

Brian Ahern

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Dec 19, 2002
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Good work hunting up Gwenda, Martin!

I'd like to give Lucile the benefit of the doubt and assume that she merely expressed herself badly regarding Mrs Aldworth. I've often thought that it must have been difficult for survivors to face the families of lost male servants, particularly in the case of survivors like Bruce Ismay, Billy Carter, and Ella White, who were suffering no personal bereavement of their own. I've read, on this board, that Ismay and Mrs White were generous to the families of their manservants. I would think that it was well within the Carters' means to provide lasting assistance to Mrs Aldworth. Hopefully they took more trouble about her than Lucile's lines to Ismay would lead one to believe.
 
Mar 20, 2007
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Although it shouldn't really have surprised me - she did move in the highest social circles, after all, both at home and abroad - I was nevertheless pleased to discover today that Lucile Carter was presented to Edward VII and Queen Alexandra at the first Court Drawing Room of the 1906 London Season. This would have occurred either at the very end of May or in the first week of June. Further research in the archives of the London Times for that week ought to reveal who presented her, although it was most likely Mrs Whitelaw Reid, the wife of the American Ambassador, who was very popular with both the English upper-crust and the American ex-patriate community. It was Ambassador Reid who presented Clarence Moore to King Edward in 1908.

The year after the Titanic disaster, in the summer of 1913, Colonel John Jacob Astor's first wife, Ava, herself made an appearance at a Court Drawing Room of George V and Queen Mary. I haven't the foggiest notion how she contrived such a coup, since her divorce from the colonel would ordinarily have barred her from the palace. However, as the laws governing presentation were positively labyrinthine, it is quite possible that she was able to exploit some loop-hole or other. The idea I've derived of Ava's character is that she was not a woman to take no for an answer - even if that no were delivered by the Lord Chamberlain himself! Possibly, the colonel's death on the Titanic meant that she could now technically class herself a widow, instead of a divorcée. In certain circumstances, a dead husband (even a divorced one) was of more use than a live one!

To give some idea of the general splendour of the scene to which Lucile and Ava would have been exposed, it is perhaps worth recording the latter's costume, for she made 'a striking figure in snow-white velvet, patterned in a bold silver design, with a train of cherry-coloured satin'. She was accompanied to the Throne Room by the Duchess of Marlborough (née Consuelo Vanderbilt - it might be that she and Ava were able to bond over their negative experiences of the matrimonial state), who wore a 'rose and silver brocaded train which fell away from her shoulders...(with)...a robe of rose-coloured chiffon draped with silver and flesh-coloured tulle. The Vanderbilt pearls hung in long ropes from her neck'. Naturally, too, both women would have sported the requisite ostrich feathers in their hair.
 
Mar 20, 2007
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Further to what I've written above, the Lafayette Archive at the V&A is an invaluable source for those researching the great and the good of late Victorian and Edwardian England.

http://www.vam.ac.uk/vastatic/microsites/1158_lafayette/

If you scroll down to the section 'Court Dress', you'll pull up a broad range of images of men and women, tricked out for Court Drawing Rooms between 1890 and 1920. It is quite entertaining to see how fashion changed over time whilst the traditional core features - feathers, trains and long gloves - remained fixed and immutable. Click on the seventh 'screen' of images and you'll find a glorious photograph of the lovely Lady Crofton, engulfed in drifts of lace, silk-chiffon and tulle and holding the most enormous spray of lilies. Rather helpfully, this snap is dated 1 June, 1906 - the same date upon which Lucile Carter was presented to Their Majesties. So this is perhaps the nearest we can come to seeing what she herself would have looked like when dressed for the occasion. Who knows - perhaps she and Lady Crofton stood nervously in line together that evening?
 
Mar 20, 2007
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Reflecting still further on the above, it might be worth considering whether Lucile's enrollment of her young daughter at Wycombe Abbey was part of a long-term plan to acclimatise her to English life, prior to Court presentation and an entry into London Society. Possibly, she entertained a scheme, whereby an alliance was forged with a noble house. The outbreak of the Great War and the Carter divorce, which took place around the same time, would have put the kibosh on any such notion and, by 1915, Lucile Junior was making her first appearances at Newport, prior to her formal debut the following summer. I've always found it puzzling that the girl was sent to an English boarding school, since there were plenty in the States and a governess was always an option, too.

Whether or not the Titanic disaster played a decisive part in the break-down of the Carter marriage, it appears that the cracks had become sufficiently visible by the end of 1912 for the gossip columns to pick up on them. Billy spent Christmas that year alone in London - seemingly, without either Lucile and their children, since their presence went unrecorded. He put up at Claridge's (his favourite haunt when in town) and, on Boxing Day, was driven on Alfred G. Vanderbilt's coach from Reigate to Boxhill, where he joined the meet of the Surrey foxhounds.

Incidentally, and as might be expected from such a grand hotel, Claridge's was patronised by various members of the first-class elite. It had been the last European address of the Strauses, prior to their ill-fated voyage on the Titanic, and it was from there on 4th April that Ida wrote to their children back home that, whilst it was the third day of Passover, the hotel did not serve matzos 'and so we cannot do our duty'.
 
Mar 20, 2007
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I've been digging around to try and uncover some more information about the appearance of Lucile Brooke (as she was by that point, following her divorce from Billy and re-marriage the previous year) at Tessie Oelrich's spectacular charity soirée, 'Fashion's Passing Show', which she held at her Newport 'cottage', Rosecliff, in the last week of July, 1915.

http://tickets.newportmansions.org/mansion.aspx?id=1001

By all accounts, this was really the event of the summer season and all the colony's elite came flocking to help raise funds for French and Belgian war refugees. One wonders if the loss of one of their members, Alfred G. Vanderbilt, on the Lusitania a couple of months previously had done something to galvanise them in their support of the beleaguered Allied cause. Whether it had or not, Society was out in force, marshalled by Mrs Oelrich's fellow committee members, Mrs Whitney Warren, Mrs Ogden Mills and Mrs Condé Nast. Besides Lucile Brooke, guests included such Titanic personalities as Margaret 'Molly' Brown with her daughter, Helen, Mr and Mrs Vincent Astor and Eleanor Widener, accompanied not only by her son, George Junior, and her daughter, Mrs Fitz Eugene Dixon (nicknamed 'Dimple'), but also by her late husband's brother and sister-in-law, the Joseph E. Wideners.

The day's events fell into three parts. The first was the fashion show itself, which commenced at 4 o'clock promptly. If the description in The New York Times is to be believed, then this was so twee as to verge on the downright camp. The opening tableau was called 'Looking into Fashion's Mirror' and featured a number of professional mannequins bathing in the fountain on the lawn (shades of Busby Berkeley here) whilst impersonating the various daughters of Neptune, 'Sea Foam', 'Charm of the Ocean' and so on. There then followed several more coy little vignettes, supposedly representing the various times of a typical Newport day, each with appropriate costumes - 'Tennis at the Casino' (self-explanatory), 'A Girl and a Goal in Sight' (polo), 'Tea at the Trianon' and 'The Dauphin's Bride', which depicted a wedding party on the lawn, complete with organ and bridesmaids. After that was over, the 'Pageant of the Nations' commenced, with an assortment of Newport debutantes and young matrons personifying England, Holland, China, Japan, Spain, Russia, Italy, France (Mrs Howard Cushing as Joan of Arc, on a white charger) and Iceland (Miss Henrietta Post, throwing snowballs). As each 'country' made her entrance, the appropriate national anthem was played.

Adjourning temporarily for dinner (the Times noted that all the most fashionable restaurants in town were thronged), the guests then reconvened at Rosecliff at 9.30 in the evening, where they found the gardens ablaze with electrical effects and a marquee for dancing pitched on the lawn. Pink and red seem to have been the most modish colours that year - the hostess wore a 'pearl pink satin gown, draped in most becoming lines, with quantities of pale heliotrope tulle. The trimming was rhinestones and crystals and a large diamond baguette held a large aigrette on her head'. Miss Barbara Rutherford wore a chiffon and tulle gown in deep fuchsia shades and both her coiffure and slippers were studded with rubies. As I've already mentioned on this thread, Lucile Brooke was also singled out for special commendation in her gown of silver tissue and black lace, tastefully decked overall with diamonds. In the ballroom, the 'Pageant of the Nations' was repeated to great acclaim and a play, 'Her Ladyship's Wardrobe', was staged, with models parading in 'fascinating negligées'. Once that was over, there were harp recitals which apparently 'charmed' the audience, prior to a dance display on the white marble terrace by Miss Lydia Lopokova.

Apparently, this little affair kept Newport talking for days - or, at least, until the next party was given!
 

Ed Lawler

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Aug 5, 2013
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There's a bit about Lucille Polk Carter Brooke in The Passing Scene, Volume 13 by George M. Meiser, IX (Historical Society of Berks County, 2005), p. 225:

"George Brooke's mansion [in Birdsboro], dating from 1860, burned on Christmas Day 1917, the result of Christmas tree candles igniting nearby curtains. ... George Jr. married Lucille Polk Carter, former wife of William Carter and grand-grand niece of President Polk. Carter's family made a fortune electrifying Philadelphia's street cars--and in coal mine operations in Schuylkill County. William Carter and Lucille were Titanic survivors. Whatever the circumstances attended in that ordeal, they divorced soon thereafter. George Jr. and Lucille met at a social function held at the other home Edward [Brooke] II owned--in Philadelphia. They married in 1915. It was they who were living in George and Mary's old residence at the time of the 1917 fire."

The fire probably was another traumatic event. George and Lucille Brooke abandoned Birdsboro, and had architect Horace Trumbauer design them a mansion in Ithan (south of Villanova) on Philadelphia's Main Line. This is where Elizabeth Brooke (Blake, McLean, etc.) grew up.

The mansion is still there, now headquarters for InFaith Mission, at 672 Conestoga Road.
 

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