The Complex case of Mrs. Cassebeer
Court documents reveal tempestuous marriage.
Reflecting back on his research, Walter Lord said in an interview with the Titanic International Society, “… Finding the survivors was difficult, because when the Titanic sank and the Carpathia reached New York and unloaded its 705 [sic] survivors… they all scattered to the four winds.”
He was right, and it has taken hundreds of people to tell the stories of Titanic’s passengers and crew and their fates. Many researchers have spent hours, days, months and years to track down the survivors. One of the most elusive has been Mrs. Eleanor Genevieve Fosdick Peak Cassebeer. Piecing this puzzle together has not been easy, but through the efforts of her family and researchers who have offered their assistance, her story now appears in print for the first time.
Eleanor’s story does not begin with her birth. It begins in 1620 when her seventh great-grandfather on her father’s side, Edward Doty, boarded the Mayflower for a new beginning in America. Her father was Dr. William Fosdick, born in June 1849 in LaPorte, Indiana to John Strong Fosdick, a Union Army captain during the Civil War, and Emily Smith. Her mother was Louisa Vernette Brewer, born in New York State in March 1854 to Riley and Celia Brewer. Her family moved out to Indiana as Mr. Brewer was an engineer with the railroad. William and Louisa were married on October 29, 1872 and settled in Franklin Street in LaPorte. They had three children: Maude Vernette, born September 1873; Eleanor Genevieve (her mother had a sister Genevieve), born November 29, 1875; and William Yale, born in November 1879. Dr. Fosdick, a local dentist, provided the family with an upwardly mobile middle class existence in LaPorte. Located on the shore of Lake Michigan, it was known as “Maple City” due to the maple trees planted up and down its avenues.
Eleanor was sixteen when she met Lewis (sometimes spelled Louis) McCall Peak, a dancing instructor. He was the son of William, a musician, and Lydia (Harris), a dressmaker from Niles, Michigan. His charm and facility on the dance floor no doubt masked a troubled soul. He had initially worked his way up at the grocery firm of Reid, Murdock and Fischer. However, due to his excessive drinking and gambling, he lost that job. This would be a pattern throughout his life. With her father’s permission, Eleanor and Lewis married on May 1, 1892 at her family home. They set up home in South Bend, Indiana. That same summer on August 10, 1892, her sister Maude wed William Wilkerson. However, by that time, Lewis’s alcoholic tendencies had become readily apparent to Eleanor.
A formal portrait of Eleanor Genevieve Fosdick, taken in Chicago c. 1878.
Courtesy of Henry Aldridge & Son
Shortly after Thanksgiving and in the final months of her pregnancy, Eleanor and Lewis moved to Michigan, where his parents were living. He had lost his job as a dance instructor due to his drinking and gambling. Their son, Lewis Frank Peak, was born December 24, 1892. Reflecting on those tumultuous times, she said, “He was an every day spreer [sic]. There was hardly a day that he didn‘t have a drink in his stomach. Always drinking… He would get so drunk that he was obliged to be taken home, and brought into the house unconscious, with his face all bleeding and in a very bad condition.”
Very quickly, the young wife went to work to help support herself and her infant son. “I was obliged to do work, fancy work, fancy linen embroidery, to help sustain my husband and my husband’s family, and take care of my child. And my husband was addicted to habitual drunkenness, and gambling; he was out always at night.” Lewis remained jobless throughout the next several months, and her mother-in-law helped until the young mother took her son back to LaPorte to live with her father in March of 1893 and stayed for approximately four weeks. Promising a fresh start, the couple moved to Chicago, Illinois. She got a job at a linen factory doing embroidery while her husband was employed by A. P. Little’s Typewriters. Sadly, after a while, he lost that job also to his addictions. “He had a very good position there, but he wouldn’t attend to business at all; he was out in the city drinking, he drank all his money up and all the money I could earn.” On August 3, 1895, he then took off for Michigan, leaving his family on its own. Eleanor was grateful for the help from her father. “Mr. Peak never bought an article of clothing for the child…. With my father’s help I have supported the child.” Feeling sickly, she left her Vernon Avenue place and moved home to recuperate. Wanting to try to support her family again, she went back to Chicago, moved to 198 Cass Street and continued her embroidery work while Dr. Fosdick took his grandson to live with him.
Eleanor's older sister Maud, around 1878
Courtesy of Henry Aldridge & Son
Henry Cassebeer shown in uniform prior to his marriage to Eleanor.
Courtesy of Andy Airriess
Word would reach her that Lewis would take more jobs, but would lose them just as quickly. Having enough, Eleanor began divorce proceedings against her husband in Illinois. He was found in Colorado and was served, but failed to appear in court. Two witnesses came forward to testify on her behalf. William Comstock, proprietor of a hotel, stated, “I had known Lew for some time, that is, his people lived at Niles, and he would come home for a while and then was away. He came home and I asked him where his wife was, and he said she was at home, he was having a little hard luck. That was the story he told. I said to him, ‘If you will quit your drinking I will let you run the billiard room and give you a chance to make some money.’ That was the billiard room in my hotel. I put him in, and for a short time he was first rate, and then unbeknownst to me, when I was away, he got to drinking so that the boys had to put him to bed and then they would have to open up in the morning. I took the room away from him, but after that I gave him a position as clerk; he said he hadn't drunk anything for quite awhile, but it only lasted about ten days until he had another spell….” William Johnson, who boarded with the couple, told a similar story. The court trial ended in October 1897 and Eleanor was granted a divorce and retained custody of her son. Oddly, when one reviews the divorce papers, she is listed as “Eleanore” with an “e.” Having lived periodically with her father and her sister Maude, she decided on a fresh start, and moved to New York City to begin life anew.
Determined to support her son, Eleanor recalled doing, “Anything I could do, until I learned to do manicuring.” She secured a job at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and did quite well for herself there. She sent her son to boarding school at Dobbs Ferry, New York, but stayed in constant communication. Her brother William was also living in New York and married Ida Levy in June 1902. However, not all was well with Eleanor’s health. Initially she was to be a patient of a Dr. Lockwood, but he was on vacation. “I was sent to Dr. Cassebeer for treatment for nervous stomach trouble…I think it must have been about 1903. I first met him as my physician, in his office. His office was on 44th Street, number 12; I believe it is called the Mansfield.” Dr. Henry Arthur Jacob Cassebeer, born August 5, 1874, was the son of Henry and Anna Louisa (née Ziegler) Cassebeer of New York. His father was a druggist who founded his own pharmaceutical company. His mother was descended from Henry Steinway, founder of Steinway Pianos. They had three other children: Julia, Edwin and Charles. His formative years were spent at the St. Paul School and from there he graduated from Harvard and Columbia.
A romance developed between the doctor and patient. They called each other by their middle names. He was her “Arthur” and she was his “Genevieve.” As her personal life seemed stable, her parents announced they were divorcing. The papers in March 1907 told of how Louisa Fosdick had filed suit on the grounds of “extreme cruelty.” She alleged that he was “too attentive” to certain patients. Furthermore, she was upset that he did all the marketing and that when she prepared a meal, he refused to eat it. Otherwise, all seemed to be going well for Eleanor: She was leaving service at the Waldorf-Astoria to open her own manicure shop on 42nd Street in the Bristol Building, she was engaged to be married, and her son was doing well in boarding school. She received a terrible shock one day by letter. “He jilted me before I was married. I was engaged to be married and then he broke his engagement to marry another girl, Miss Alysia MacFarland.” His new engagement did not last long, and as Eleanor ruefully noted, he came back to “the old love.” Shortly afterwards, he insisted she give up her business and she just maintained her apartment at 14 East 60th Street.
The couple decided that Lewis should study abroad. Henry recalled, “I put him in the house and home of a professor of German in the French Sorbonne, I think, or the Elysée, I forget which, where he had a home, and I paid for his tuition and board for four or five months.” At that same time, the couple took a trip to England on the Kaiserin Auguste Victoria, which arrived September 18, 1909. There was a disagreement as to the circumstances of their marriage there. Her version was that, “Yes; we had a terrible discussion in London, my husband and I, because I didn't want to get married…. I begged not to get married, and I had no intention of being married when I went to London. He said he had told all his people he was going to be married; I knew nothing about it, knew none of his people at all, and we stood at St. Paul’s in London, and I stood there and cried for about an hour. He was forcing me to go and attempting to force me to be married in the Registrar’s Office. I said, ‘No, I will not be married at the Registrar‘s Office,’ and I said, ‘If we are to be married, you must marry me in church,’ so he started around and found this minister at St. Mary's in the Strand, and my divorce papers were filed there. And the doctor knew I had my divorce papers and knew all about it.” He would claim it was the fact she just wanted a church wedding. The bride was given away at the altar by her son. However, this disagreement set the tone for the rest of their marriage. They stayed through early December and arrived in New York on the Kaiserin Auguste Victoria on December 20, 1909. They temporarily moved into the Hotel Seville, and just after the New Year, they took residence at the Alwyn Court on West 58th Street.
Henry and Eleanor Cassebeer traveled to England in 1909 aboard the Kaiserin Auguste Victoria
They lived quite luxuriously in their new home. It cost $333.33 a month and was furnished with expensive furniture. Their living expenses were estimated to be about $1,000 a month. His sister Julia and her husband lived a few floors above them. With his stocks in Steinway and his medical practice, Henry began playing the stock market. Describing his gamble in stocks, it appears he had a compulsion similar to that of her first husband. “First I started to win and then I lost. I was very unfortunate at that time. Things commenced to look bad in the United States…. The markets were going down and I was still optimistic. I sustained losses and my expenses were very heavy, so I had practically no cash account left.” He unfairly blamed Eleanor for his loss of money. He believed it was her spending that was putting a heavy burden on them; her clothing, furniture for their apartment, even food for dinner were among the complaints. “When we first came home I allowed her $300 a month. Cover all her expenses, all her clothes and every expense except household expenses was to be out of that. The first year it was very pleasant. And like all young couples, we had our differences of opinion, which was mostly brought about by the bills being too big. I always remonstrated with her; I told her that it wasn‘t necessary to have asparagus in mid-winter or strawberries. The bills were very high. The first of every month was a rather sad time. I would ask her to reduce and not buy everything. I would tell her that she mustn’t buy things that she didn’t need. I told her to be more economical. She said she would try.”
Pains in her arm became a persistent problem. It was feeling numb, and almost lame. She decided to take time away from the problems in her marriage. “I was at Ridgefield Springs for maybe ten days or two weeks. It seems to me it was the last of August at that time,” and her husband sent a woeful letter.
Aug. 10th, 1910.
Seventh Avenue and Fifty-eighth Street.
My own darling,
I have just received your two letters and post cards — I am just down and out when I think of your suffering, you poor, poor little one.
I will write to Richfield at once and make all arrangements necessary. Yesterday I wrote to Mr. Sterry whom I have been trying to see personally asking him to direct his manager to give you some personal attention and see that you are comfortable. I was so happy when I received your last letter telling me you had no more pain in your side and now your misery is worse than ever and I suppose until the 13th-17th when your period is on you can expect no relief. Your bitter attitude towards our home fills me with despair and I would give everything I possess, my life, too, if I could wipe out the sorrows of that last unhappy day of miserable misunderstanding. It is in moments like these that the same gloomy thoughts of life — and the easy solution of all this sad trouble by ending it — comes to me likewise — perchance to dream! Ay there's the rub. It is hard for me to make you understand my position you do not seem to be able to grasp the bitter necessity I am under to constantly be on the alert and never be away a moment from my prison task. Perhaps, if I explain a bit, you, while not forgiving may at least extenuate my being away that last day. To begin with in casting up my accounts I find that since Sept. 1, 1909 to Aug, 1910 — 12 mos. — we have spent over $31,000 — to make as much as this I have only had 8 mos. to work in as we were away about 4. Things went well at first — then badly — this has been a terrible year — March, April & May I fell steadily behind our heavy expenses eating up everything I made. June we were quite even & July we got ahead a bit. In the meantime we had spent more than we made and our surplus was constantly dwindling this darling may have made me morose taciturn peevish and small when I spoiled your pleasure by criticizing the expenses. But at times grim despair was in my heart — your health and suffering unnerved me and the fear of poverty besides filled me with horror for the future. I stuck grimly to my post — gave up lunch with you — wore my eyes out glued to the tape was an abject bound slave from 10-3 and (am now) knew I could not escape. Then came the grand crisis the 26th 27th & 28th were days of panic on the exchange everyone was distrustful plausible rumors of failure among big stock exchange houses was in the air, the Pearson Farquhar syndicate failed for $60,000,000. J. Rogers Maxwell, former President of the Jersey Central, was wiped out lost $40,000,000. Gaffey of Pennsylvania failed for $17,000,000 everything was feverish and excited nerves were on edge near the snapping point. The weather and lack of sleep added to my sense of gloom. I had a big stake in the market to win or lose them meant safety or ruin. I had to stick to business — I could think of nothing else. I tell you the game is one of life and death when so many big men even fail — look at the papers of those days and read of the confusion worse confounded — realize I had to earn in 8 mos. $31,000. The income on a fortune of $620,000. I tell you I could not stop watching one second. I am driven by the flail of necessity an abject slave from 3 to 10 and a mental slave the rest of the day trying to work out next day’s battle. He who plays this game without all his faculties and devoting all his time will fail utterly. I cannot fail and live — no I must have success. It is not that I love money or what it procures — I need but little — but — I must win or lose my self-respect my manhood. You have told me again and again you could not have any respect or love for a man who was a failure — a man who was simply content to amble along about as successful as the average — you want you need an unbeaten man. My fault lies that I could not do all this and keep sweet and considerate — could not keep my nerves from jingling, could not refrain from being peevish irritable and probably pitiably small at times because you did not seem to understand the terrible battle of modern life “earning a living" — and then I failed and my failure has been greater than my success, you were sick and needed mother father nurse and lover all in one — and the hideous god of necessity — called Mamon, claimed to much of my time. I failed — I am a failure and the knowledge of it bears me down with grief and shame. I strove for greatness and achieved miserable smallness. I am afraid you can hardly understand what all this a means — A woman’s ideals so pure and unworldly prevent her from seeing in man’s struggle for success anything but the mean and sordid lust for gold — she cannot realize the feeling a man suffers when defeat stares him in the face and as a result she thinks his silence coldness, his moodiness and neglect love for another woman a mortal never realizing it is the fickle Goddess Fortuna sitting on her swift-running wheel of chance that is her rival whom her lover is trying to capture, and for whom? Why for her sake to maintain the home to clothe her and give her rest and ease in her old age. Can you understand what I am trying to aim at — what my apologies mean. Can you forgive and sympathize with my aspiration and realize that my attempted conquest of Fortuna is for your sake and not a disloyalty to you. Oh darling if you could only read my heart and see how no name but yours is written there if you could only grasp and understand the magnitude a mere outsider by his own short wits trying to fight with the financial giants who steal and lie and cheat and even try to deceive, you might pity me a little and your heart might soften to me and you would once more say to me I love you Arthur dear. I do so hunger to hear those words once more.
Your devoted lover and husband as always,
The couple effected a reconciliation, but the pain in her arm persisted, as did his financial woes in playing the stock market. She took more trips to find a cure for her persistent pains. “I went to Hot Springs in Arkansas with my husband’s father and mother.” She returned in early March 1911, but she perceived things were not what they should be. She claimed, “I found some very incriminating evidence — wrongdoing in my husband's office and in my own bedroom. That evening I walked into my own bedroom, we had a custom of having our coffee served in the living room, and I walked towards the living room. And I trod very lightly, and as I got to the door I saw my servant girl leaning over my husband's chair with her arms like that (indicating). I was startled and wondered what it meant, and I asked my husband and he said he did not mean anything. And the next morning my servant girl was smoking a cigarette in my bedroom, and I was very much disconcerted about it, and my husband did not pay very much attention to it.”
Henry and Eleanor Cassebeer (right) during their October 1911 visit with Mrs. Seymour (left) in Nutley, New Jersey.
New York Supreme Court, Eleanor Genevieve Cassebeer v. Henry Arthur Cassebeer
Her marriage was about to unravel in a big way. It began when she asked Henry to dismiss the servant, Katherine O’Leary, for “impertinence.” He agreed, but she soon received a letter asking for a letter of recommendation, which she refused. However, she did meet with the girl and her sister. Her story of the end of her marriage is a disturbing one. “When I got back into my own home afterwards, I was in the butler’s pantry having something to drink, and my husband came in at the time, and as he came into the dining room I said, ‘Arthur, sit down in that chair,’ and I said, ‘You don't feel very comfortable in the chair?’ And he said, ‘What do you mean?’ And I said, ‘Katherine told me that this is the place where you had intercourse, in this chair,’ and pointed out the stains in the dining room furniture, and she told me my husband did not love me and it happened in my bedroom when I was away. So after I told him he said, ‘Well, you are not a Sherlock Holmes. You had to be told,’ and he said, ‘I shall call Moses Ely; he is a woman-hater and he will fix it so that you will probably be blackmailed the rest of your life.’ He did not try to console me or anything. He said I shall probably be blackmailed the rest of my life. I was very much upset and hurt, and he was walking around and behaving very badly. Well, as you know, of course, my husband did everything in his power to persuade me that the girl had not told the truth. He used every means that he could to persuade me it was not the truth. He would deny it one minute and affirm it the next in a very peculiar way. He would say to me, to annoy me — once I said, ‘What would you do if I had caught you?’ He said, ‘I would probably pray on my knees to keep quiet for my family’s sake.’ He has a very large family.”
The mood became unbearably tense at Alwyn Court. She had an ally in her son, who now lived with them. His stepfather had gotten him a job at Steinway & Sons. On the surface, when with company, everything seemed fine, but in private, it was hellish for both of them. One of the more insidious accusations she made was that he threatened to poison her. “He said he had a young friend at Harvard that had taken cyanide of potassium, and it was a little medicine that you put on your tongue and you are instantly dead. He said, ‘What would prevent me from putting a little bit of medicine on your tongue at night? Nobody could prove you did not take it from my office….’ He told me he would put me in the insane asylum.”
Yet, they still shared the same bedroom, but under very different circumstances. “He forced me to keep the same room with him… He said I had to. The door from my son's room led into the hall and our door led into the hall. My son's door was left open and our door was left open, because I was very ill and it upset my son very much, and he said from that time on those doors would be left open, so they were left open. We only had the two bedrooms in the apartment… I would be in my bedroom and he would come in and struggle with me, push me over to the bed and coax me to have intercourse with him, and I would refuse, and he would say, ‘Well, you are too old: I don't suppose there is a good one in you,’ and he would leave me that way and I would spend the day crying.”
The stress became too much and in June 1911 she asked Lewis for help. “I was so terribly upset that I complained to my son, and I was taken to a sanitarium, Dr. Bulls’ sanitarium, for about two weeks.” Returning home, they only spoke when absolutely necessary. “My husband never changed. We never spoke to each other. There was no conversation. We had no servants. The house was all upset. We went out together and sought every restaurant in New York City for dinner. We went to these places for five or six months. We never had any servants and never had any home life, and we went first to one restaurant and then the other all during the summer. The last servant we had was a German girl that my husband hired himself, and she could not speak English at all, and she took all the orders from him.” For appearance’s sake, Eleanor joined him at his 15th Harvard reunion; they spent the 4th of July together at Briarcliff and returned to normal marital relations. That fall, they visited with their friends in Nutley, New Jersey, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Seymour. The final social visit was in name only and they occupied separate rooms. By then, Dr. Cassebeer wanted her to sign a legal separation agreement, drawn up by his friend Moses Ely, which she refused to sign.
Surprisingly, the marriage came to a final end due to a perceived snub. Henry’s sister Julia invited them all to a dinner party, but Eleanor had other plans. “I had arranged for my son to spend a year in Europe, and as he was a young boy I thought it was a shame for him to leave his home with any ill-feeling, and unhappiness, and as his boat sailed at eight o’clock in the morning, I arranged he should pass the night at the Holland House [a Manhattan hotel], and we had our dinners at the Plaza, or some place, and Lewis went back to his restaurant. So I came back and that evening my husband’s sister was giving a dinner and she had invited me and, of course, I could not go. I came in after having my dinner with my son and I was in the living room and my husband came in, and he reprimanded me for not being at Julia’s dinner and asked me what I meant by it and was dictatorial to me, as much as to say it was a very terrible thing that I did not attend Julia’s dinner, and I said that Lewis was going away. So he seemed to be very much upset and he said the place for me was in an insane asylum, and I did not say anything, and he began getting more angry and he said, ‘I will tell you what I am going to do with you. I am going to put you out. I said, — I think he was beside himself — I said, ‘You don’t mean to put me out at one o’clock at night?’ He said, ‘Yes, I do,’ and I said, ‘I cannot go alone,’ and I went to the telephone and called my son on the telephone. He was there at the hotel. He said he would come at once, and Lewis came to the apartment and he said, ‘What is the trouble, Mother?’ I said, ‘The doctor has forced me out of my home.’ My husband was right there, and my son said to the doctor, ‘Do you mean this, that you are going to put my mother out at one o’clock at night?’ He said, ‘Yes, I do,’ and Lewis said, ‘Very well.’ He sat down and had a long talk with the doctor, and the doctor took my bag down out of the closet and put some of my things together. I said, ‘I have no money,’ and he gave me twenty dollars, and my son took me out of the house at one o’clock at night. I went over to 14 East 60th Street, where I had lived before.”
The next day, Lewis sailed for Europe on the Kaiserin Auguste Victoria, the family’s favorite ship. Eleanor talked to her husband and he told her she was able to get her things from the apartment. “I had my own key to come in, and he was not there when I arrived. He finally came afterwards, and while I was busy packing my things together to go away, he would come in occasionally and talk and plead with me to believe him, that it was not true. So I got my things packed and went in and sat down in the living room and talked with him and before I left I sat down on the arm of his chair and sat on his lap and put my arms around his neck and I said, ‘I probably may never see you again,’ and I said, ‘Between you and I, as two people that we have been so many years together and have known each other so long, you know I have not added one word to this story or made it out any different than it is,’ and he said, ‘No, I know that you have been a very wronged woman.’ That is the last words from him, that he had wronged me very much.”
The agreement he had previously drafted was now put into place.
Sept. 12, ’11.
This is to certify that whereas my wife Eleanor Genevieve Cassebeer desires to leave me and establish a separate home for herself that I consent thereto and will not consider it desertion on her part. I however hereby emphatically protest that I am absolutely guiltless of her charge — to wit — that I have committed adultery with one Katherine O’Leary, a former servant in our home, and also maintain that she has presented absolutely no proof to substantiate her story. Nevertheless, in spite of my innocence and evident wrong done my reputation, I will allow to my wife the sum of $200 per month, and likewise permit her to take such household goods as she may desire to fix up her new home.
Witness Signed — H. A. C
She then went on to visit with her mother in Binghamton, New York for the Christmas season. Her mother, Louisa, was the matron of the House of the Good Shepherd there. By February 1912, she was on her way to Europe to join her son. “I had a friend in Tiffany's that was one of my customers at the Waldorf that I had known and he was very much interested in my son and said that he would help me to get him a position with Vandam, the diamond people, and I went to London and met Mr. Morse and Mr. Vandam who came from Amsterdam, and talked over my son's career.” By April, she received word that Henry was not well, and combined with the ill health of her mother, she decided to come home. Not having enough money, she asked her friend Andrew Hyatt to lend her fare for first class passage for the new Titanic. The booking agent issued her the ticket number 17770, which cost £27 14s 5d.
Eleanor Cassebeer occupied cabin D-31 aboard Titanic. Known as a "Bivvy cabin", the long passageway allowed interior rooms to have access to a porthole for natural light and air.
Titanic: The Ship Magnificent Vol. 1
Her accounts from 1912-1960s are essentially the same, but differ in some regards. The following will be the best reconstruction of her fateful voyage on the Titanic. She boarded in Cherbourg and according to her 1932 account (translated from French to English by Charles Provost and published in its entirety in The Death of a Purser by Frankie McElroy) she witnessed Noël, Countess of Rothes saying goodbye to her parents who were only cross-channel passengers. “The entrance of the ship opened on a large and beautiful hall where dozens of butlers were welcoming the new passengers on board.” Her first stop was the purser’s office. Getting in line, she nearly collided with Benjamin Foreman, who graciously let her get ahead. Just ahead of her was one whom she assumed was a Jewish man who was taking a great deal of time getting the table assignment he wanted. Eleanor turned to Foreman and said, “I hope I don’t get next to that Jew.” He smiled at her and said nothing. She asked for a stateroom upgrade and paid only a few pounds to be installed into D-31, which was right next to Henry Sleeper Harper and his wife. Jokingly she asked Purser Hugh McElroy if she could be seated with Captain Smith in the dining room. He replied, “I’ll do better than that,” and seated her at his own table for eight.
Stockbroker Harry Anderson sat next to Eleanor at the purser's table on board Titanic and escorted her to the lifeboat.
She was seated between stockbroker Harry Anderson and spiritualist William T. Stead. Also at the purser’s table were lawyer Frederic Seward, his client J. Montgomery Smart, and finally a widow, Mrs. Mary Compton, and her two adult children Alexander and Sara. At the next table were ship’s designer Thomas Andrews, Mr. and Mrs. Albert Dick, Dr. William O’Loughlin and his assistant Dr. John Simpson and Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Hoyt. In some accounts, Mrs. Cassebeer claimed to have sat with them. One can assume she meant she was invited to join them for one night, or perhaps there was open seating at luncheon, or perhaps she actually just meant they conversed before or after dinner.
As they talked during dinner, she and Harry Anderson “quickly got along well.” She described him as “elegant and discreet.” Being a card player, she would often join Anderson in the “very large, all green” lounge with Virginia Clark. As the ship was leaving Queenstown, she saw Mr. Foreman walking along the promenade deck. Eleanor asked him to walk with her, but he “laughed and shook his head. ‘You don’t want to walk with me. You said you didn’t like Jews and I’m one, too. ‘” Very flustered, she invited him into an alcove of the lounge to sit and talk. He started off introducing himself and talking about his embroidery business in Switzerland that had taken him away for a long time and that he was looking forward to going home. They discussed her comment on Jews and he explained to her like anything, there were good Jews and bad Jews, but that it all depended on the individual. It changed her whole outlook. Now that they were friends, she lent him her book of epigrams to read. But he would jokingly chide her about her suits, which he felt were sternly tailored.
Speaking with Thomas Andrews one day, she was surprised to learn the Titanic was not finished. “Mr. Andrews told me so himself and said that the only reason they allowed her to go when they did was that the sailing day had already been fixed they simply had to start.” Looking about her stateroom, she did notice that there was an empty frame, but no printed notice about where to find her lifebelt.
The final night she wore a white dress with an ermine collar and her pearls. As she walked by Thomas Andrews, he said to her, “Now that’s the way a lady should look!” Mrs. Compton usually came by and complimented Eleanor on the dress she was wearing which she found to be “touching.” Stead and Seward kept her entertained with stories and myths, while she and Anderson talked to everyone about their European adventures. Purser McElroy took the time to set her watch. Following the concert in the reception room, Mr. Anderson escorted her to her cabin and bid her goodnight. The porthole was found to be ajar and it was very cold; she rang for someone and a stewardess came in and assured her it was alright to turn on the heater for the night, which she did. She then proceeded to change into her nightclothes. In one account, Eleanor said she was playing with a ball bearing while in bed, while in another she said she was brushing her hair before the mirror. She described the shock of the ship striking the iceberg as “It sounded as if something were grinding and tearing away the very entrails of the ship.” Looking at her watch, she saw it was 11:44. She donned her kimono and slippers, stepped outside her door and found the sickly Mr. Harper. “Oh, it’s alright. We’ve just bumped a berg.” A steward assured her it was nothing, but since the engines had stopped, she decided to go on deck to see for herself. Mounting the stairs to A Deck, she met Mr. Anderson and they walked around “two long stretches of empty deck.” Soon a crowd gathered and as they looked down towards the bow and the forward well deck, they saw people having games with the ice. A few first class passengers jokingly called down to them for ice and playfully, the steerage threw them some snowballs. Briefly she stood with Thomas Andrews who assured the crowd that the Titanic was unsinkable and could, “break in three separate and distinct parts and each part would stay afloat indefinitely.”
One of the last photos of Hugh McElroy, seen here aboard Titanic at Queenstown
Father Francis Brown / Frankie McElroy
Moving into a lounge, they met Purser McElroy, who stood in the doorway and asked them to go below, dress warmly, don lifebelts, bring blankets and come back upstairs to the lifeboats. Harry Anderson turned to her and asked if she was frightened and she replied, “No.” Down they went with Mr. Anderson going to his E Deck cabin. Eleanor changed into a warm suit and a sable coat with a matching hat and muff. When lifting the lid to her trunk, she noticed it felt odd and realized it was because the ship was down at the head. Just as she was buttoning her shoes, Anderson came to her door. He insisted that she wear a lifebelt, but they could not find it. A passing steward helped them and it turned out to be under her bed. Climbing the stairs again, she saw Andrews once more, but he was so busy he passed her without saying a word. She noted that the elevators were no longer running. Standing outside, the cold and the noise of the steam were too much. Anderson took her inside the gymnasium where they sat near the Astors. They heard the officer’s whistle and went back on deck. She found two officers and Mr. Ismay standing near the boats, beckoning people to get in. To her, the Titanic seemed to be listing in an “alarming” manner. Anderson took Eleanor by the arm and escorted her to boat 5, stumbling on ropes lying on the deck as they edged closer. She had trouble hearing him over the releasing of the steam, but when she asked him why he didn’t join her, he told her, “Women and children first.” She spied Benjamin Foreman standing by the rail and asked him to get in, “Come on in, there’s plenty of room.” Like Anderson, he told her it was “Women first.” She looked up at him one last time and he smiled at her. She noticed the book of epigrams she had given him was sticking out his pocket. The lifeboat was commanded by Third Officer Herbert Pitman and jerked downwards to the water. Counting about 37 in her boat, Mrs. Cassebeer stated it could not have fit anymore. It would have “buckled and broken in two from the extra weight the moment it was swung from the davits.”
She was seated in the stern next to Mrs. Anna Warren, whose husband was still aboard, and as the boat sank lower and lower, Mrs. Warren clutched Eleanor’s arm until she lost circulation. Another woman clung to her waist. “We saw the Titanic when it made the final plunge. The lights were burning to the very last moment and it was a spectacular as well as awesome sight.” She noticed Pitman take off his hat and place it to his chest. The sounds of the “people struggling in the water crying piteously for help” rang in her ears. Pitman, she said, ordered the boat to return three times, but was prevented by objecting passengers who grasped the oars the seamen were holding. Finally, he gave in to their wishes. Despite the bitter cold, she felt warm due to her heavy sable coat and the blanket she had. A few hours later, the Cunard liner Carpathia came into view and the grateful survivors rowed over to her. Once aboard the rescue ship, she was handed some broth. When Harry Anderson walked into the room she was sitting in, she was overjoyed, as she had hoped he hadn’t gone down with the ship. Later that day, Renee Harris was seated next to her. Like most widows she was in shock. Mrs. Cassebeer saw her teeth chattering and her body shivering as she spoke of the jewelry she left behind, yet silent about the loss of her husband. Eleanor had a room with May Futrelle and while lying there, she heard May complain that Jacques, “had $300 in his pockets and never turned it over.” She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She described Mr. Futrelle as a “marvelous” man. Encountering Colonel Gracie, whom she described as an old family friend, she helped him walk the decks and he clung tightly to her for support. While aboard, she sent a telegram to her son, so he wouldn’t worry.
Her husband saw the name “Cassebeer” on the survivors list, but claimed he didn’t know if it was she. Not wanting to encounter his estranged wife, he phoned her brother William who lived nearby. and said he should meet her at the pier, which he did. Once she sufficiently recovered, she traveled to Binghamton to be with her ailing mother. From there, she declared she was going to tell her story in Washington, D.C. before the U. S. Senate committee. Years later, she claimed Dr. Cassebeer told her she should not. She kept in touch with Mr. Louis Ogden, a Carpathia passenger, and he made her copies of the photos he took of the Titanic lifeboats approaching the rescue boat. Eleanor was reunited with her son when he came home on the ship Canada on July 22, 1912. She moved from her place on East 60th Street to Riverside Drive. Eleanor initially made a claim for several thousand dollars for her belongings that went down on the Titanic, but then apparently withdrew the claim. Around February 1913, Eleanor was still not feeling well, and her doctor ordered her to go to California to regain her health. A new battle loomed before her. Dr. Cassebeer insisted to Brooks Brothers and François the milliner, among other companies, that she was responsible for her own bills. Taking her to court, he had her monthly payment reduced so that the bills would get paid.
Looking for an escape, she left California for New York in August 1913. She sailed for Paris and when she arrived, she wrote this letter-
Paris, Wednesday Sept. 3rd, ‚1913.
My dear Mr. Clayton:
Here I am back in my beloved Paris, the spot I love best on earth. I had a very pleasant trip across the sea, via a German boat, everyone on board paid me great attention, looking after my comfort, and falling in love with... I had one beautiful love affair on board. I am awfully hard hit so is he. I expect him in Paris very shortly, he is wonderful over six feet tall, and the handsomest looking somebody you would care to see. Oh! He is simply adorable – I hope this will find you and yours enjoying the very best of health. I do hope you will find time to write me a line occasionally.
Very best regards from
ELEANOR GENEVIEVE CASSEBEER
She had been overseas and was staying in London when war was declared. Arranging a draft for $120 to pay for the voyage home proved difficult, as her husband thwarted her by refusing. She instead appealed to Herbert Hoover and eventually got a ticket for the Mauretania, which arrived on September 25, 1914. Her passport gave Victoria, Texas as her home. She was going to be with her son for an extended stay. Lewis was living there and working on the King Ranch as a cowboy. From there she made visits to New Orleans and Colorado before heading back to California. Henry sent her another letter, frantically complaining about further stock losses, but again placing the blame for his failures on Eleanor. He ended it by saying, “I can only send you $50 this month. If Revillon Freres win their suit against me, I am completely bankrupt and we can both starve. You see therefore that you have succeeded in ruining me the same way you did Frank’s father.”
Eleanor executed this emergency passport application while in Europe, wishing to return to the U.S. It provides details about her physical attributes.
National Archives and Records Administration
By this time, her monthly alimony was reduced to $50. Her son joined her and became her principle means of support. Her parents both remarried in this time period. Louisa married John Bigler in June 1915, and a year later, Dr. Fosdick wed Julia Ziegler, who was 28 years his junior. The father whom Lewis never knew died October 11, 1921 at age 49 of bronchial pneumonia.
For a while Eleanor taught music in their home while Lewis worked as a telephone operator, a hotel clerk, and a rice grader before he finally landed a job with the railroad, where he worked his way up to ticketing agent. They moved about frequently in California: San Francisco, Stockton, Modesto, and Sacramento. She did her best to earn money as well. “Four months of the year I would be able to sew. I sewed as long as I could. I could not sew regularly because of my arm.”
When her estranged husband cut off payments completely, Eleanor had had enough. Lewis arranged for a round trip ticket to New York and she hired the law firm of Curtis, Fosdick & Belknap to take on her case. Mr. Cassebeer hired his old friend, Moses Ely of Pavey, Ely and Aldcroftt to defend him.
The cover page of the Cassebeer action in the Suprme Court
It is apparent from reading the court testimony that Ely feared he would lose the case. He tried to argue the Cassebeer marriage should be annulled, claiming the Peak divorce was not legal. Even if her accusations were true, he argued, too much time had passed. The Honorable Justice John Ford presided over this acrimonious case. Cassebeer portrayed himself as a loving husband, and produced flowery letters supposedly from their marriage; One said, “My dear Honey…remember I love you as much as ever and want no one but you, but you must love me also without reserve and in perfect faith with my honesty and clean life. Many kisses…” Ely set out to smear Eleanor by saying she was “high strung,” “nervous,” and “jealous.” They went one step further; Henry testified that Eleanor lied about being a widow!
“Well, I gave her an engagement ring and she always maintained she was a widow; [she] told me all about the harrowing details of her husband’s death. When I became engaged, she broke down and cried and said she had deceived me and was not a widow but a divorcee, and I said it would make no difference. I knew when I married her she was not.” She forcefully denied this claim. His story of their final moments together was told to put himself in a more positive light. “I sat in the living room and she came in from the room where she was packing, and she sat down on the arm of my chair and put her arms around my neck and began to weep and said she didn’t believe the story of the maid. I said, ‘If you don’t believe it, why leave; all you have to do is to tell me you have no proof against me and you do not believe what was said and that you believe in my innocence,’ but she couldn’t do that; she couldn’t give in to say that.”
Justice Ford was not impressed with the defense’s case and theatrics. He did not allow evidence they had assumed would help their case. While testifying, Eleanor looked over at her Henry and became upset at what she saw. “You know, your Honor, when I look over at my husband and he looks up to me, he says, “You lie.” He has done this twice to me.” Her son also testified and backed up his mother’s claims about the turn of events in her marriage. Henry was asked about his finances, deals, inheritance and stocks, which showed that he was not as poor as he claimed and that his many stock losses were a major factor. They also showed he was an equal participant in household spending. Justice Ford made his final decision in January 1927 and found that Dr. Cassebeer had abandoned his wife and that he was to resume paying $150 a month in support. Afterwards, he mostly lived with his sister Julia and died on December 29, 1941.
Eleanor's son Lewis with his only daughter Jeanie in 133, soon after her birth
Courtesy of Jeanie DiGiacomo
Lewis and Eleanor had resumed living in New York. Their new address was on the Mosholu Parkway in the Bronx and he got a job as a ticketing agent at Grand Central Station. Love was to enter Lewis’s life in the form of Jessie Lindie. She was the daughter of Adam and Jessie (Patterson) Lindie and born in Scotland on October 28, 1908. She emigrated to the U.S. in 1923 on the Adriatic. She and her family lived in Brooklyn where she worked as a hotel cashier. They married as Lewis turned 40 and set up home on James Street in New Milford, New Jersey. In the fall of 1933 they had their only child, Jeanie. Dr. Fosdick, who helped raise Lewis as a boy, died almost two weeks later on September 24. Eleanor became a frequent visitor to the Peak home. She had resumed traveling and Jeanie remembered, “Grandma Cassebeer” showing up with her steamer trunks, fresh from Parisian trips and ready to stay for an extended period. Jessie and Eleanor did not see eye-to-eye, and these long visits caused a strain. One unusual gift for her granddaughter from her travels abroad included a Japanese parasol. From Paris she brought an exquisite lace made by the nuns in France. She bypassed customs by sewing all these into her slips! “Grandma” Cassebeer was also fond of making curry for the family. Sometimes she would take Jeanie into New York City to window shop along Fifth Avenue or to visit a ballet company, where she knew many of the people. Jeanie also remembers her grandmother teaching her how to sew. Deciding on a change in the 1940s, Eleanor moved to Hilldale Avenue in West Hollywood, California, where her neighbor was Vikki Lee’s family. Lee said in a post on Encyclopedia Titanica, “My father, who was a German immigrant, lived next door to Mrs. Cassebeer, who was a first class passenger/survivor. She gave my father some lumber which was in her yard, my father built a bed out of it and it became my bed when I was a little girl.”
This photo of Lewis Cassebeer taken in Florida, c.1940 is the only known photograph of him by himself
Courtesy of Jeanie DiGiacomo
The Peak family moved to Manhattan and resided at 3 West 102nd Street, Apt. 4 West, and Eleanor soon joined them. It was just off Central Park and Eleanor frequently would go to the park, sit on a bench and do her sewing and mending. While living at this address, she began her correspondence with Walter Lord, the author of A Night to Remember. Some parts of her story had changed over the years, such as claiming Officer Pitman did not want to return to the wreck, but the basic story stayed the same. He sent her a copy of his book, which was lost in the mail, so he sent her another copy. She attended the Titanic movie premiere with other survivors and was photographed at their get-together. She then moved to 130 West 82nd Street. Walter Lord continued his correspondence with Eleanor and asked her more about her experiences. She didn't agree with people saying it sounded like a football game cheer. To her, it was “a dirge.” It had an “older, more dreadful, haunting cry.” She noted it slowly faded into a hum and then was silent.
Eleanor stands slightly behind her daughter-in-law Jessie, while her granddaughter Jeanie rides in the baby carriage
Courtesy of Jeanie DiGiacomo
Lewis retired and it was decided that he and Jessie would move to Deerfield, Florida. His wife made one stipulation: His mother could not live with them. Nevertheless, the bond between mother and son remained strong with frequent letters. While still living in New York City, Jeanie took her grandmother out for lunch. She remembers Eleanor as always wearing a French beret and holding a silver-headed cane. Sadly, in January 1968, Lewis passed away. Jessie found the current address for Eleanor and had her nephew Raymond go break the sad news. He came to the West 89th Street building, a rooming house for the elderly, but was refused entrance. He went straight to the police station and officers brought him back and forced the owners to let him see Eleanor. Raymond put her on the train for Florida, where she made Lewis’s funeral in time. Jeanie caught up with her and found her to be in good health and of sound mind. She then brought her grandmother back to the train station and saw her off to New York. That was the last time Jeanie heard from her grandmother. Jeanie and her mother moved to California where Jeanie married and started a family. Jessie died August 28, 1989. Jeanie, now living and working in a small town in western Pennsylvania, used to tell people she had that her “Grandma” survived the Titanic sinking, but people didn’t seem to believe or were not interested. That has since changed with heightened interest in the ship. She has seen various movies of the sinking and pictured her grandmother eating in the elegant dining room or walking up and down the grand staircase.
A remarkable gathering of Titanic survivors at the 1958 New York premiere of ther film A Night to Remember shows Eleanor (front row left) conversing with May Futrelle. Also in the front row are Renee Harris, Elizabeth Dowdell Fierer, Marguerite Frolicher-Schwarzenbach, Richard Pfropper and Julia Smyth. In the middle row are Margaret Devaney O'Neill, an imposter survivor, Neville Coutts, unknown and Katie Gilngh Manning; and in the back row are Washington Dodge, jr., unknown, Walter Lord and William MacQuitty.
Courtesy of Gavin Bell
It has been believed Eleanor died between 1969 and 1970, most likely at the rooming house. She was the recipient of Lewis’s death benefits from the railroad. A few small pieces of the puzzle remain missing. Her family was never informed of her death by the rooming house. The exact address was lost, so it set up a roadblock to finding out. Since they did not have the family’s permission, the rooming house staff most likely made the cheapest funeral arrangements; probably cremation. It is known by Jeanie that her grandmother kept the bulk of her possessions in storage and would talk about the fees it cost her.
A break occurred within the Fosdick family. Eleanor’s mother died in July 1946, but no mention of Eleanor was made in her obituary. Her brother William died in 1958 in Ridgewood, New Jersey, but Jeanie never knew she had a great-uncle who lived ten miles from where she grew up. Eleanor’s sister Maude died in 1955 in Michigan.
One of two researchers known to have discovered Eleanor’s final whereabouts had called Jeanie several years ago to talk about her grandmother. He didn’t reveal her date or place of death, but made the claim that Eleanor had two sons, though Jeanie says her father was an only child. Was it being implied Eleanor had a stillborn son? A godson? An illegitimate son? He did not explain. The 1932 letter translated from French and published in the McElroy book was addressed to “My Son.” This letter was not in Jeanie’s father’s possessions, so what could the claim of two sons mean? Although contact with the Railroad Retirement Board could bring Jeanie, now a grandmother herself, the answer she desires, it is hoped this researcher will make contact again and give her the information she wants to bring her family story full circle. In the end, helping families and recording history is what it is all about.
Special thanks goes to Bob Bracken who helped with many areas of this article and to Jeanie DiGiacomo, the granddaughter of Eleanor. She generously gave many interesting details about her family as well as pictures. In her letter accompanying those pictures, Jeanie wrote, “Hopefully these photos will add to your knowledge of Eleanor G. Cassebeer. What I have learned from you and Bob has given me some insight into the dynamics that shaped my childhood.”
Thank you also to Shelley Dziedzic, Gavin Bell, Jim Kalafus, Daniel Klistorner and Mike Findlay.
Sources: Ancestry.com; Binghamton Press; Walter Lord Collection, National Maritime Museum; Death of a Purser by Frankie McElroy; New York Supreme Court, Eleanor Genevieve Cassebeer v. Henry Arthur Cassebeer, Case on Appeal; and the Fort Wayne Daily News.
Related Biographies:Eleanor Genevieve Cassebeer