William Augustus Spencer

Jan 22, 2001
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I am looking for information on William Augustus Spencer, and so far I have found very little. This is what I have so far. He was a collector of rare books. He had visited the New York Public Library in 1910 and was very impressed, and as a result left his collection to the library in his will.

His brother,Lorillard Spencer, had died in March of 1912, so he may have been returning to New York in connection with his estate.

His nephew, Lorillard Spencer, Jr. was married to Madelaine Astor's sister, Katherine.

Can anyone help me with this? Thanks!
 
Apr 11, 2001
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Carole- you can't go wrong heading over to the ET passenger bio section here on the board. All the latest information is constantly updated,from many sources, here to share. Just recently I was laying out the bus tour for the Newport convention with Bill Harrison and he mentioned Lorillard (Jr. and Sr.) who rented many summer cottages over the years. In fact, at one point the Spencer "cottage" was right across from Clinch Smith's place. Nothing much original left of Clinch's cottage- just the gazebo. The summer homes were at the beginning of the fashionable Ocean Drive, not far from the Ida Lewis Yacht Club. I understand the Force Girls finally made a mark in Newport , with Katherine Force's marriage to a Spencer, and the sympathy generated by Madeleine's widowhood and expectant condition. Sorry I don't know too much about William but am sure there are some who may be able to offer more-I know there are not too many photographs of him. All the Spencers are buried together in Brooklyn- Katherine Force Spencer too, with just a memorial stone for William. I will scan the photo of the stone and post it tonight.
 

Ben Holme

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Feb 11, 2001
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Hi Carole,

William Augustus Spencer was born on 7th January 1855 in New York. You are correct in that William, like fellow passenger Harry Widener, was a indeed a noted bibliophile and book collector. At Spencer's bequest, The Spencer Collection of finely illustrated books and fine bindings was created in 1913 . In addition to bequeathing his entire collection to the Library, Mr. Spencer provided an endowment fund for which to purchase "the finest illustrated books that can be procured, of any country and in any language, bound in handsome bindings ... containing the original designs, drawings or paintings made by the illustrator."

Although both he and his wife, Marie Eugenie, were Americans by birth, they spent most of their later life in Paris as did a few other 1st class passengers. In 1912 he booked passage on Titanic in order to act as excecutor to his brother, Lorillard's will. As you know, William was lost and his body was never recovered. Mary and the maid, Elise Lurette were rescued, possibly in lifeboat #6. An interesting article appeared in the New Yort Times regarding his estate. He left property worth $4,218,650.00.
It appears he also had a sister who married an Italian nobleman.

I have quite a good picture of William Augustus who had a very distinctive appearence, which I would be glad to scan to you. I know of a lady who promised me a good one of Mary Eugenie, but it has yet to materialise.

Hope this helps,

Ben
 
Jan 22, 2001
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Shelley and Ben,

Thanks so much for the information and pictures. William certainly belongs on the ET list of bibliophiles. I have always wondered if he and Harry Widener ever met. So little is written about him, and he seems to have stayed out of the spotlight most of the time. I have been told that his wife Marie suffered from poor health, so this may be the reason. Her ET bio says she died in 1913, so whatever her illness was, her experience on Titanic must surely have hastened her death.

William's brother Lorillard was much more well known. He founded the Illustrated American Magazine and was the Commissioner from
Rhode Island to the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893. His sister Eleanora was married to Prince Cenci di Covaro and was lady in waiting to the queen of Italy. There was also another brother, Charles. When Charles died, he left two wills, and this resulted in a court battle, which William and Lorillard won, against Eleanora.

Another interesting item appeared in the New York Times of May 14, 1905. When William's mother died in Paris, he accompanied her body back to New York on the liner La Savoie. One of the first class cabins was turned into a mortuary chapel and the casket rested there during the trip. Was it common for wealthy families to send the body of a relative home this way?

Ben, I would like very much to see the picture of
William that you mentioned.

Thanks again,

Carole
 
Apr 11, 2001
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Here is one volume from the Spencer Library, specially bound in a rich burgundy leather hand-tooled with goldleaf motifs. You can see the words on the frontispiece at the bottom "The Spencer Press". The collection on the shelves must have been breath-taking. Mike Findlay can tell you more about the book (photo scan from TIS Archive)
 
Apr 16, 2001
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Hi everybody,

I would like to add to everyone's excellent posts - and would like to comment on the above pictured books.

This particular volume of the Count of Monte Cristo was owned by William Augustus Spencer, and was later bound in leather. I purchased the book in Manhattan at a book show a number of years ago and gave it to the Titanic International Society for their archives.

I must say that the Spencer collection at the New York Public Library is wonderful. Volumes and volumes of nineteenth century works (which W. A. Spencer was especially interested in) line the shelves. The library also has several pictures, and a portrait of William Augustus Spencer in their special archives department. Unfortunately, there are no photos of Marie Spencer known to exist at the library.

Marie Spencer was an ill woman, and it has been theorized that she had been in failing mental health for years - according to the present day Spencer family.

William and Marie Spencer were coming to the United States for two reasons: to be present for the reading of Lorillard Spencer's will (who died March 14, 1912) and to seek additional medical treatment for Marie's condition. Following William's loss on the Titanic, Marie Spencer was prostrated with grief. Interestingly, the devoted family maid, Elise Lurette, who also was saved from the Titanic with Mrs. Spencer, went to Halifax with other Spencer family members to search in vain for William's body.

Marie Spencer died on October 26, 1913 in Paris, but her death certificate makes no mention of a primary cause. The Spencers believe that she succumbed to her mental illness, and that her experiences on the Titanic drove her over the edge. I will investigate this further.

Just a small correction to your post, Ben. Marie Spencer was not born in New York, and never lived here. She was born in France, and married William Augustus Spencer after he had moved to that country. While William was born and raised in New York, he was educated in Europe and later made Paris his permanent home only returning to New York on occasion when circumstances called for it.

Most of the Spencers are buried at the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. Madeleine's sister, Katherine Force Spencer, is there in the family plot as well. Marie Spencer is NOT buried at Green-Wood but was interred in France. There is a memorial slab to William's memory in the family plot which sits high on a hill.

I will post additional material on the Spencers just as soon as I can access their file at home.

I hope this will be of some help.

Mike Findlay
 

Brian Ahern

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Dec 19, 2002
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Mike, I don't suppose you or anyone else out there knows what Marie's maiden name was? Were her parents French, or Americans living abroad?

-Brian A.
 

Brian Meister

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Mar 1, 2001
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Brian,
It was a huge surprise when I first discovered the grave marker for the Spencers in 1991 and found that William was included. That's the kind of thing that gives us researchers so much of a rush and so much pleasure. I remember the day well. And to think it had been right there under everyone's noses all along.

And Marie Spencer's maiden name was DeMeugeot, of French parentage.
 
Mar 15, 2005
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Was wondering if anyone knows any info about the Spencers in Paris...did they have any children? Would also be interested in seeing a picture of William Augustus.
 

Claude Roulet

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May 29, 2007
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Thank you all !

Finally I found a way in my research. I am the grand-grand nephew of Elise Lurette, the "devoted family maid" of the Spencer family. Elise worked for this family for over 30 years. She travelled with them through the world.

The Spencer had houses everywhere in the world. Out of New-York, they had a flat in the Avenue Marceau in Paris and the castle of the Drei Linden in Lucerne. They were very generous with her (as well as with all their staff). This means that now we have lots of items engraved or marked with the Spencer monogram 'LLSS" which was apparently the one of Lorillard Spencer Senior.

Elise wanted to retire after Mr. Spencer's death. So did she until William A. Spencer asked her to travel with him and his wife to New-York. It was said on our family that Mrs. Spencer was morphine addicted. This was the reason why William wanted Elise to accompany them to New York. Elise Lurette liked very much William A. Spencer so she accepted. She was 60 years old.

She was in her cabin when the staff knocked at the door to evacuate the Titanic. She put her coat over her night dresses and took Mrs. Spencer to go on the deck. In this coat was a map of the first class accommodation and a menu card of April 12th. These items are still in our family documents.

She rowed with other people until they have been rescued by the Carpatia. She said that it was a way not to freeze in the rescue boat.

After having tried to recognize the body of William A. Spencer in Halifax, she returned to France where she had lots of difficulties to obtain new ID documents.

According to the will of Lorillard Spencer, she got a pension form the Spencer funds. But she never more heard from the Spencer family. She died from an Alzheimer disease in January 1940.

Eleonora Spencer married the Italian Prince Vicovaro Cenci. She had two daughters Eleonore-Virginia and Beatrix-Florence. Once this daughter was attacked by a screwed man who thought that she was Beatrice Cenci from the 16th century who killed her father after having been raped by him !

I would like to know if there are any descendants of the Spencer family and where they live. So I thank you for any information.
 

Jason D. Tiller

Moderator
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Dec 3, 2000
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Hello Claude,

Yes, there are descendants of the Spencer family. A good friend of mine who lives outside of Detroit, USA is the great nephew of the Spencer's, but in order to protect his privacy I can't reveal anymore information.
 

Claude Roulet

Member
May 29, 2007
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Jason D. Tiller wrote : >>A good friend of mine who lives outside of Detroit, USA is the great nephew of the Spencer's<<

By the end of May I set you a private mail asking you to get in touch with your friend and to ask him if he would like to be connected with me. May be you didn't receive this message. That's why I send you now a public message. Thank you.
 
Mar 20, 2007
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This makes for fascinating reading...I've previously known very little about the Spencers.

They seem to have lived well and moved in illustrious circles. Am I correct in thinking that Die Dreilinden, the house in Lucerne shown in photographs on the biography page, was actually the Swiss home of the 'Titanic' Spencers?
 
May 9, 2008
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Does any one know if William Augustus Spencer & Marie Eugenie Spencer had a relative by the name of S. H. Spencer or S. L. Spencer who was a china painter? I may have one of their works
 
Jun 26, 2010
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Mrs Spencer was born Marie Eugénie Demougeot in Mussey (Lorraine, France)

She came from a modest background, her father was a boilermaker and her mother a seamstress.

She was a morphine addict. After the shipwreck, she returned to Paris.

My great aunt, Aurélie Chiron, who had worked for the Spencers, saw her again before her death. She was very confused.. She recognized my great aunt and could only say " my little Aurélie, my little Aurélie ".

My great aunt was supposed to leave with Spencer but her lover made her miss her train in Paris and so the boat in Cherbourg.

Aurélie was very attached to Spencer and couldn't bear to see any movie about the sinking of the Titanic. She said, before dying, that she would not have left William Spencer and would have died with him.

I am hoping to find a photo of William Spencer and Marie Eugénie Spencer.

Thank you for your help.