Virginia Ethel Emanuel

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Philip Hind
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Some pictures of Ethel's mother for comparison.
 

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Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
Esther Elise (later "Estelle") Martin-Emanuel was certainly a striking looking woman. Considering the times, she led a very tempestuous lifestyle, being involved with Walter Emanuel even when she was still married to John Martin. Even after she left him (taking little Virginia Ethel Martin with her), and went to live with Walter Emanuel, there is some doubt if the two were legally married. Nevertheless, Esther not only took on the surname Emanuel, she had it tagged on to Virginia as well.

Esther Elise returned from England after her singing contract was completed in August 1912 and soon left Walter Emanuel. She then married a journalist named Harold Binney and although the marriage lasted just over a year (due to his untimely death), Binney seemed to have taken a liking for his stepdaughter and made her a separate beneficiary in his will. Likewise, Virginia also benefitted from the will of her biological father John Martin; sadly, she lost both her fathers in the same year of 1914.

By 1924, Virginia Ethel Martin was in her 19th year and had adult access to benefits from both wills and it was about that time that she dropped off the public radar. Nearly 30 years later, the imposter Vera Hanson, probably working with her seedy lawyer friend L M Wilkins, unearthed a few facts about the genuine Titanic survivor and made that ridiculous claim of being the same person. She obviously did not research well enough and so that most of the "facts" with which she filed her claim were easily refutable. No wonder Walter Lord did not even see fit to respond to Wilkins' letter; Lord must have seen though the obvious fake.
 
Encyclopedia Titanica

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Philip Hind
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When Titanic survivor, Elizabeth Dowdell Fierer, attended the New York City premiere of "A Night to Remember" in February, 1959, she stated that she was still in contact with the young girl girl she cared for on the Titanic - and subsequently, saved. She stated that "I still correspond with the young girl I rescued from the Titanic, though she is now Mrs. Vera Hanson and lives in London."
I wonder if she was in touch with Mrs Hanson before her contact with Walter Lord? If this Hanson was an imposter is it possible that Lord introduced them. If not then is there another Vera Hanson? Perhap there is something in the Lord archives as per correspondence with Mrs Fierer?
 
Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
I think it was the lawyer Wilkins who first contacted Walter Lord and AFAIK, Lord did not respond at all. Also, there was only one Vera Hanson as claimant and she was an imposter.

As to what Elizabeth Dowdell said at the premiere, I have met a few people in BTS conferences who think that Dowdell merely said that her former charge was now a married woman living in London without mentioning any name but someone embellished her statement later. Others, (including one or two on ET moderation board?) think that Dowdell herself started the whole thing. I do not know the answer; it could be either.

BUT, I doubt if the imposter Vera Hanson had contacted Elizabeth Dowdell before she made her false claim. Had she done so, she would have made a better job of that claim. I realize that Dowdell was getting on in years by the 1950s but she would have clearly recalled that Virginia Martin was NOT a baby on the Titanic but a 6 and a half year old girl. Also, Virginia knew (and lived with) her maternal grandparents (the Weils), her biological father John Martin, her mother Esther of course and her stepfather Walter Emanuel - all of which Dowdell would have been aware. AFAIK, she never lived in any institution and after the Titanic disaster, but with her grandparents in New York and later with her mother in Paris and Park Lane, London. Esther and Virginia also crossed the Atlantic three more times together, at least once (most likely twice) in First Class.

Vera Hanson claimed that she was a baby on board the Titanic and was told that she was handed to a "Master of Dulwich College" on Lifeboat #13 via an anonymous letter dropped into her mail-box in the 1930s. Then she waited 20 years before making her claim just as Lord's research was rekindling interest in the Titanic.

The Master of Dulwich College in Lifeboat #13 was Lawrence Beesley of course and the baby he received was 10-month old Alden Caldwell, a BOY. Alden's parents were rescued on the same lifeboat, as were Virginia Martin and Elizabeth Dowdell.

It looks like Hanson, with or without Dowdell's collusion (I am inclined to think on her own), picked up a few salient points and tired to combine them into what she thought was a coherent, acceptable tale. In fact, she made a very bad job of it.
 
Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
There is this 1910 marriage record:

Name: Estelle Weil
Gender: Female
Marriage Date: 1910
Marriage Place: New Jersey, USA
Spouse: Walter Emanuel

Thanks for that. Therefore, the tagging on of the surname Emanuel to Virginia Martin's name would be justified to some extent; I wonder if Walter Emanuel legally adopted her.
 
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Philip Hind
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She then married a journalist named Harold Binney and although the marriage lasted just over a year (due to his untimely death)
Binney killied himself apparently accidentally from an overdose, her next husband also killed himself from an overdose, both after very brief marriages… is there a pattern emerging? By 1917 Elise had had four husbands with two to go… those we know about anyway! Elise’s later life is not so well documented yet. I wonder if she herself left a will as it might help lead to Virginia?
 
Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
Binney killied himself apparently accidentally from an overdose, her next husband also killed himself from an overdose, both after very brief marriages… is there a pattern emerging?
I knew Harold Binney died of an overdose but not that it was suicide. Can you please introduce me to the sources? I knew that Elise went though other marriages and relationships but have no details. But like you say, there certainly seems to be a pattern.

She certainly seemed to be easy with her favours to men that she fancied, even whilst married. For example, while on the outbound trip to England on the Olympic in 1911 (while still married to Emanuel), Elise travelled in First Class while her daughter Virginia and Elizabeth Dowdell were in second. Makes one raise eyebrows, doesn't it?

Incidentally, there is a record that Walter Emanuel had married a woman named Florence Abrahams in 1906, but they must have divorced by 1910 for him to be able to marry Esther Elise.

Elise’s later life is not so well documented yet. I wonder if she herself left a will as it might help lead to Virginia?
By 1924 Virginia was 19 years old and AFAIK was living in Paris with Elise till then. By then she had access to her father and stepfather's wills. This is an excerpt from the latter:

“A step-daughter, Virginia Martin, receives all my things in the nature of toys, including the silver ship of Hendrik Hudson, which was made in Holland. She receives $600 to be devoted to education or pleasure or whatever my executrix may approve.”

I do not know if Elise (who presumably also benefitted from Binney's will) could have been the Executrix under American Law.

It looks like Virginia might have left her mother's home in 1924 and apparently disappeared into the big, wide world. Elise's own parents passed away in 1930 (Celia Weil, mother) and 1934 (Solomon Weil, father), at which time she was still in Paris herself. But at some stage she moved back to America, very likely somewhere in California where she lived out her life, dying in 1959.

I personally am not convinced that Virginia Martin maintained contact with her former nanny after 1924 but am willing to change my opinion if there is evidence to the contrary. It certainly seems odd that the ageing Dowdell mentioned her former charge just when Walter Lord's book was a bestseller and the movie ANTR was being made; it was also then that Vera Hanson put in her claim to be Virginia Martin.

The mistake with which Vera Hanson shot herself in both feet is claiming that she had received a letter from the Department of Health advising her that she was not born in 1908 as she herself believed but in "1911 or 1912". In the first place, why would the DoH send out such a letter unbidden by the recipient? It looks like Vera Martin did shoddy research and found out that on Lifeboat #13, the same one on which Virginia Martin was saved, there was a Master of Dulwich College (Lawrence Beesley) who had received a 10-month child on board. Vera Hanson and her seedy lawyer friend Wilkins must have thought that they could get away with claiming that the baby was really Virginia Martin, later Vera Hanson. That would explain why Vera Hanson wanted it to appear that she was 10 months old in April 1912. That would have been a good reason for her claim that she did not know her real name or family or where she was actually from. Had they done their research better, they would have discovered that the real Virginia Martin was born on 6th October 1905 and so was 6 years and 6 months old on the Titanic and knew her family only too well. Also, the baby handed to Beesley was a boy - Alden Caldwell - and both his parents were also rescued on the same lifeboat.
 
Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
It may well have been accidental, I was just pointing out the coincidence.
If you mean the coincidence that Virginia Martin's biological father and one of her various stepfathers died in the same year, yes I believe it was just that - an unfortunate coincidence.

The exact dates are uncertain but Virginia's biological father, who had remarried a Texan woman named Maude Lawson, died in El Paso sometime in 1914. I think there is a copy of his Death Certificate in that link but it is difficult to read it; please let me know if it can be deciphered.

Her second stepfather, Harold Binney, died in his in-laws' house New York also in 1914; given the times and the fact that New York and El Paso are around 2000 miles apart, I think their deaths in the same year are just coincidence. Moreover, Binney died of a supposed "overdose" of painkillers but I think it could be more like a rare side effect. Bruce Lee (of the Enter the Dragon fame) died after taking a normal dose of Equagesic for a headache; autopsy showed severe cerebral oedema to be the cause of death. One of the ingredients of Equagesic is aspirin and although mild to moderate allergy to it is not uncommon, rarely some people might be found to be severely allergic to it. Binney might have been similarly severely allergic to aspirin, a common pain-killer used in early 20th century. Or, he might have had a fatal gastric bleeding from the aspirin, a rare but recognized complication.

But the bottom line is that Virginia Martin was in her 9th year in 1914 and so would have recalled all those events, as well as those related to the Titanic from 2 years earlier. As I mentioned, she was close to the Weils, her maternal grandparents and lived with her mother till 1924 in London and Paris and she benefitted from the wills of both Martin and Binney. Therefore the imposter Vera Hanson's claim that she could not remember her name, family or hometown and lived in various institutions made absolutely no sense. Obviously, Wilkins and Hanson decided to go down that path to avoid the need to answer awkward questions about her childhood. THAT was why she had to "become" a 10-month old baby on board the Titanic; when she made that claim, she did not anticipate that future researchers would unearth the fact that the 10-month old baby on Lifeboat #13 handed to the master of Dulwich College (Beesley) was, in fact, a boy named Alden Caldwell and both his parents were also rescued on the same boat.

I am really surprised that several people, including writers Andrew Wilson and Judith Geller, accepted Vera Hanson's claim without checking into it. Wilson even tried to make it sound poignant but it came across as very cloying.
 
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Philip Hind
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If you mean the coincidence that Virginia Martin's biological father and one of her various stepfathers died in the same year, yes I believe it was just that - an unfortunate coincidence.
No I was pointing out that two of Elise Martin's husbands (Binney and Davies... albeit the latter was probably a common law marriage) died within little more than a year of marriage and both died of an overdose and in each case Elise Martin was the beneficiary.
I am really surprised that several people, including writers Andrew Wilson and Judith Geller, accepted Vera Hanson's claim without checking into it. Wilson even tried to make it sound poignant but it came across as very cloying.
Vera Hanson's is an interesting story, her husband's perhaps more so... both are worthy of more research as are the circumstances that led Mrs Fierer to be reported as still being in contact with her former charge, but she can surely be discounted from the effort to trace the final whereabouts of Virginia Emanuel. On that front I think that the clues will come through her mother. Perhaps her death certificate or her will, or the details, if they exist, of the auction of her goods that took place after her death. There is every possibility that her daughter may have been mentioned as an informant or beneficiary.

Another possibility is through her two aunts who may have maintained contact into later life. She was living with one called Mrs Mayer in late 1912 on Long Island. The funny thing is that aunt appears to have lived at the same address in New Jersey both before and long after 1912 and it was the other sister Mrs Loeb that actually lived on at Long Island, about a mile from where Virginia was listed as staying and going to school. Incidentally these were sisters of Walter Emanuel rather than her biological father.
 
Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
An extremely interesting post, ET. Thanks for that.

No I was pointing out that two of Elise Martin's husbands (Binney and Davies... albeit he latter was probably a common law marriage) died within little more than a year of marriage and both died of an overdose and in each case Elise Martin was the beneficiary.
Well, I would go so far as to say that is rather suggestive but not beyond. Looks like Esther Elise Martin was promiscuous and lived a hedonistic lifestyle but that's far from considering that she might have done away with two of her many husbands and paramours. I mean, living such a life might be considered as morally unacceptable by some but is not really a crime. But the possibility that.............well, as I said, suggestive but I would prefer to have more information before thinking on those lines.

I knew nothing about Vera Hanson's husband till now and certainly that link is interesting. Sydney Hanson comes across as quite a colourful, opportunistic character and there were many of those in post-WW2 Britain. I wonder if he had any hand in the false claim that his wife put up, considering his past as a revolutionary, involvement in blackmail etc. As for L M Wilkins, I have seen other source information that he was a "poor man's lawyer" with very questionable ethics etc.

That link article about Vera Hanson is full of pointers about her silly claim and that she did not even bother to check facts.

Vera Hanson claimed that she had been brought up in institutions in England and never knew her background, the identity of her parents or true name and age (she believed she was born sometime between 1908 and 1911)
As you have pointed out yourself, The real Virginia Martin was born in 1905 and knew her background and family members very well. She never lived in any institution.

She also claimed to have received an anonymous letter in the 1930s insinuating that she had been handed "from A deck to Lifeboat 13" into the arms of a Dulwich College teacher, namely Lawrence Beesley. Vera enlisted the help of a solicitor, L. M. Wilkins to help determine her true identity and armed with the information about Beesley, Wilkins visited the retired schoolmaster who confirmed that he had been handed a baby in the lifeboat before handing the child to Hilda Slayter, a lady with whom Beesley shared a common acquaintance in Ireland
Personally, I doubt very much whether Beesley, then pushing seventy, even met Wilkins. But even if he had, Beesley might have admitted to the fact that he did receive a baby on board Lifeboat #13 and passed it to Hilda Slayter. The only problem is that it is now well known that the baby was Alden Caldwell, a 10-month old BOY whose parents were also rescued on Lifeboat #13.

Further research led Wilkins to a woman in County Kerry, Ireland, Julia Mahoney [some articles give her name as Julia Murphy], who stated that she knew that her friend Elizabeth Dowdell was chaperoning a child aboard Titanic; gathering the child's name as Virginia Emanuel from that information it was vaguely deduced that she and Mrs Hanson must be one and the same.
Personally, I doubt if this Julia Mahoney/Murphy even existed; a very common name in Ireland and so a search would be pointless. And I wonder who made that "vague deduction" based on the completely non-matching information?

Interviewed in the 1950s, Elizabeth Dowdell (then Mrs Harry Fierer) stated that her former charge was married and living in London
That wording is really interesting to me because in the 1990s, several BTS members that I spoke to insisted that was all that Dowdell said ie no name mentioned. My guess is that Wilkins, Sydney and Vera decided to embellish that information by adding Vera Hanson's name.

Whilst the identity of Mrs Hanson isn't entirely certain it can be assumed that she was either trying to piggyback on the hype of Titanic mania in the 1950s or that she truly did not know her own identity and was chasing a red herring
Given the known backgrounds of Sydney Hanson and L M Wilkins, I think it is the former ie the Hanson claim was a cheap piggyback on the sudden resurgence of interest in the Titanic. All this business about letters from the Department of Health and an anonymous one pushed though Hanson's mailbox and written in red ink has all the elements of a Penny Dreadful.
 
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Encyclopedia Titanica

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Philip Hind
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Found a couple of interesting photos in French newspapers. We know that Elise Martin was in Paris in the 1920s. In 1940 she claimed to be the sister-in-law of Lucien Rosengart, the famous French motor manufacturer. I wasn't sure whether to just consider this exaggeration on her part or if there was actually something in it.

The pictures show Elise and Virginia in the same Rosengart car. Considering the names and the name check in the 1940 article there can't be much doubt that this is the Titanic survivor.

Elise martin rosengart 1928 M2

Virginia martin rosengart 1928 M2
 
Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
Wow! That's some find!
In 1940 she claimed to be the sister-in-law of Lucien Rosengart, the famous French motor manufacturer. I wasn't sure whether to just consider this exaggeration on her part or if there was actually something in it.
Hold on a sec! Are we saying that this "French Socialite Marquise Elisa Della Fellisa" is the former Esther Elise Martin, the mother of Virginia Martin? If so, that would have been some socially upward mobility! Mind you, since Esther Elise went through at least 6 known husbands and several other relationships in-between (and during), I would not be surprised. But as she was born in Cincinnati and lived in New York in her youth, I am not sure where the "flawless British English" came from. I know that Elise lived for a bit in Park Lane, London but that would not given her the accent, but she could have fooled the LA reporter.

Incidentally, I did a quick Google search on her then husband (Marquess?) Enrico Vittorio Della Fellisa and came up with nothing.
The pictures show Elise and Virginia in the same Rosengart car. Considering the names and the name check in the 1940 article there can't be much doubt that this is the Titanic survivor.
I agree that the "Mlle Virginia Martin" in the car in 1940 more or less confirms we are talking about the same girl who had survived the Titanic disaster 28 years earlier. But this raises several new angles:
  • Virginia Martin, who would have been in her 35th year by 1940, was still in contact with her mother (contrary to what I expected) and apparently happy to be part of the latter's social shenanigans.
  • Although it does not prove that she had not been married before, the fact that Virginia is listed as still single in 1940 and using her biological father's surname is very interesting.
  • This further undermines Vera Hanson's claim that she was really Virginia Martin but without memory of her real name, family, relatives etc and having lived in "various institutions" till she was 18 years old. Considering her mother's lifestyle, Virginia seems to have had "adopted" relatives coming out of her ears and lived rather well.
  • BUT, if Vera Hanson or more likely her seedy lawyer friend L M Wilkins had seen a copy of that 1940 LA Newspaper in the early 1950s, it might have given her some ideas for her false claim. Apparently, the real Vera Hanson got married only in 1950 (although it might not have been for the first time) and so the fact that Virginia Martin had still been single at 35 back in 1940 would have helped her to build her ridiculous story.
Please post any more information about Virginia Martin as soon as you find it.
 
Steven Christian

Steven Christian

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Supposedly the first picture in the link below is her. I'm no so sure. But didn't see it posted on here unless I missed it. The quality is poor. The second link is of other women from Titanic. A bit off topic of this thread but some might find it interesting. Cheers.
 
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