Mrs Annie May Stengel, née Morris, was born in Brooklyn, New York on 2 May 1868.
She was the daughter of Charles E. Morris1 (b. 1828), a “cartman,” and Amanda, née Ripley (b. 1843), natives of New York and Augusta, Maine, respectively who had married in Boston on 4 April 1866, this being her father’s second marriage. One of her ancestors was Robert Morris (1734-1806), an English-born merchant and one of the signatories of the US Declaration of Independence.
She had one known sibling, brother Edward (b. 1875) and four half-siblings from her father’s first marriage: Thomas (b. 1855), Frank (b. 1860), Emma (b. 1861) and Joseph (b. 1864).
Annie first appears on the 1870 census, listed with her family at an unspecified address in Brooklyn. By the time of the 1880 census they were residents of 311 Hoyt Street, Brooklyn.
Annie was married around 18882 to Charles Emil Henry Stengel (b. 1857), who worked in the manufacture of leather, later becoming a senior partner in the firm Stengel & Rothschild. They had three children: Inez (b. 3 November 1888), Henry Ivan (b. 3 October 1891) and Karl Raymond (b. 9 July 1895).
By the time of the 1900 census the family were living in the Spring Lake Borough in Monmouth, New Jersey; by 1905 they had moved to Newark, Charles’ birthplace, and were living at 1192 Broad Street in that city. Later, at the time of the 1910 census, they had moved to 1075 Broad Street, Newark. The year previous the Stengel’s daughter Inez had married; around 1907 she had become involved with Georgia-born Lieutenant Paul Jones Horton of the US Army and shortly afterwards announced her engagement to the young man. Her parents, for reasons unclear, were strenuously opposed to the match and forbade it, forcing the young woman to break off the engagement. Mr Stengel wrote to Horton to make clear his objections to any marriage and to reassert that he would not be welcome into the family; this letter went unanswered. In defiance of her parents, Inez and Horton were married in a clandestine ceremony in Newark’s Central Methodist Episcopal Church in November 1909, the news soon filtering back to Mr and Mrs Stengel via acquaintances. Inez and her husband went on to have two children, Henry and Inez.
In March 1912 Mr and Mrs Stengel sailed for Europe; for their return to the USA they boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg as first-class passengers (ticket number 11778 which cost £55, 8s, 10d) and whilst aboard they occupied cabin C116.
On the night of the sinking, the Stengels were in their cabin; Mr Stengel was asleep but was in the midst of a dream and was stirring and moaning, disturbing his wife; she snapped at him “Wake up! You’re dreaming.” Just as Mr Stengel came out of his sleep he felt a slight crash but he paid no attention to it; it was only after the engines stopped that the pair became alarmed. Throwing on whatever clothes they had nearby, the Stengels left their cabin to investigate and went to the boat deck where they saw only a small number of people gathered; following a quick reconnoitre they descended to A-Deck. Whilst there they saw Captain Smith come up from below; he looked very grave, prompting Mr Stengel to remark to his wife that the situation may be serious. With orders beginning to circulate among the passengers to get lifebelts and go up top, the Stengels returned to their cabin and fetched theirs before heading up top again where Mrs Stengel escaped in lifeboat 5.
“When I got in the lifeboat,” she said “there were three stokers at the oars who knew nothing about controlling the boat. There was an officer with us and two or three other members of the crew. It was necessary for the women in the boat to work at the oars, for the three stokers lay in the bottom of the boat, helpless. The women kept the boat moving and stuck to the oars until they were rescued by the Carpathia.
It is disgusting now to think of it that we women had to row the boat while those cowardly stokers and others who falsely said they were able to man the lifeboats, lay helpless at our feet - Newark Evening Star, 19 April 1912
After seeing his wife off in a lifeboat, Mr Stengel casually walked forward to lifeboat 1; he spotted the Duff-Gordon party aboard and noticed how the boat contained just short of a dozen people, mainly crew. He asked the officer (Murdoch) if he could get in and he was told he could, the officer replied “Jump in.” His attempt at boarding, however, was less than dignified: having to mount a waist-high railing, Mr Stengel stumbled and rolled into the boat, causing the attending officer to laugh heartily and exclaim “that is the funniest sight I have seen tonight!”
Speaking of the sinking Mrs Stengel said:
“We could see the big liner not a great way from us as she sank slowly and first at the bow. After we had been in the lifeboats for some time we heard four explosions from the Titanic, and after that she began to sink rapidly. She was listing greatly to port as she sank, and as she foundered her stern lifted high in the air. As she did so I saw many persons jump into the sea and disappear in the darkness. The cries from the distressed passengers who had been left on the ship and who did not fully realise that they were lost until after the explosion took place, were horrifying. I can’t forget it. Those wails of distress keep ringing in my ears.
After the stern of the gigantic liner was lifted high in the air as she turned her nose toward the bottom of the sea, which was to provide her resting place, she soon dropped entirely from sight. That was the end. She didn’t make a ripple. It was pathetic in the extreme. It was indescribable.” - Newark Evening Star, 19 April 1912
Reunited with her husband aboard the Carpathia, Mrs Stengel is quoted as saying “The nearest thing I’ve ever known to Heaven on earth was meeting my husband again on the deck of the Carpathia.”
Both Mr and Mrs Stengel were contemptuous of the actions of Bruce Ismay, stating that although they did not see him during the evacuation, once aboard the Carpathia he secreted himself in a private cabin with a sign on the door which stated “Don’t Knock.” Mr Stengel went on to say of Ismay:
“If he had been a man he would have gone among his passengers and have offered them some comfort or solace, such as he could. He never went near them to give them any assurance or help of any kind. There were the wives and children in utmost distress, helpless and ignorant of what to do. But Ismay never went near them, so far as I know.” - Newark Evening Star, 19 April 1912
Only days later, though, Mr Stengel had to take to the newspapers to defend himself and his survival in lifeboat 1, the controversial lifeboat whose few occupants had been gaining a feeble reputation as more and more details of the disaster surfaced.
The Stengels are believed to have brought several other survivors with them to their home, including Mrs and Miss Minahan and the Miss Newells:
It is thought that C. E. Henry Stengel, a Newark leather manufacturer, who managed to get a wireless message through from the Carpathia to his son Ivan yesterday, intends to bring with him to his home, 1075 Broad Street, one of the survivors, Miss Daisy Minahan, who may be ill or injured. His message yesterday was: “Both on Carpathia. Have two automobiles to meet Carpathia. Have some survivors with us. Henry Stengel.” This was confirmation of the reported rescue of both Mr Stengel and his wife. It was followed by a telegram delivered at the Stengel home from R. E. Minahan, of Green Bay, Wis.” - Newark Evening Star, 17 April 1912
Mr and Mrs Stengel received a card from the Misses Margaret [sic] and Madeline Newell, of Lexington, Mass., who were rescued with them, and who Mr Stengel had agreed to care for in his home here. The card stated that in the crush at the pier they were lost, and they sent their thanks to the Newarkers for the efforts they had put forth in their behalf. - Newark Evening Star, 19 April 1912
Mrs Stengel and her husband looked rather dishevelled when they arrived home and were interviewed by several local newspapers. Mr Stengel also went on to give evidence to the American Inquiry into the sinking.
Following the disaster Mr and Mrs Stengel settled back into normality and remained at their home at 1075 Broad Street, Newark. Sadly however Mr Stengel died suddenly on 19 April 1914, his widow later stating that physicians put this down to delayed shock. Mr Stengel left a considerable estate and his widow was handed an annuity of $15,000.
Annie attempted to quell her sorrows by immediately going on a holiday to Europe, eventually returning to the USA aboard the SS Espagne in August 1914. WWI intervened on further pursuits but when peace came a few years down the line Annie was ready to set sail again.
When the census was conducted in 1915 Annie was still living at 1075 Broad Street, Newark with her two sons and widowed mother. However, in October 1919 she obtained a new passport (she got another in October 1921), stating her address as 109 Lincoln Park, Newark (the address of a sister-in-law). She was described as standing at 5’ 3”, with medium blonde hair, blue eyes, a high forehead, an oval face and with a medium nose and thin lips. She and her son Karl were going to travel on a deluxe tour of Europe, setting off on SS Rotterdam on 1 November 1919, their travelling destinations listed as: France, Belgium, Italy, Sicily, Spain, Algeria and Tunisia. After this, Annie was barely in the USA and spent much of the next twenty years globetrotting. However, she did manage to appear on the 1930 US census, then residing at 55 Harrison Avenue in Montclair, New Jersey, the home of her daughter.
Other ships that Annie sailed aboard included: Araguaya (1923), San Lorenzo (1925), Majestic (1927), President Cleveland (1928), Columbus (1928), Reliance (1928), California (1929), Leviathan (1932), St Louis (1937), Kungsholm (1930 and 1937) and Europa (1938).
In later years Annie Stengel laughed off any suggestions by a journalist that the Titanic had been her last ocean-going voyage. In a 1953 interview she stated:
“Since then I’ve been to Europe many times and always something out of the ordinary has happened.” - The Miami News, 24 April 1953
By September 1938 Annie had spent several weeks recuperation in Bad Nauheim, Hesse, Germany when she was advised to get out of the country as soon as possible; only by some contrivance was she able to board the Europa and escape the ever-growing political instability and hostilities. That was to be her last ocean crossing.
Upon her return to the USA, in 1940 Mrs Stengel settled in Miami, Florida whilst still maintaining a summer home in Spring Lake, New Jersey, the latter of which was said to have contained many priceless relics belonging to her ancestors. It appears she spent much of her time with her unmarried son Karl Raymond, a handsome man who was openly gay. Her other son Henry married and raised a family whilst her married daughter Inez had died in the 1930s.
As age and infirmity took hold, wealthy widow Annie Stengel became a pawn used between her two sons and her granddaughter Inez Horton Gay, her wealth to be divided evenly between them upon her death.
Inez Gay and Henry Ivan Stengel launched a suit of custody over Mrs Stengel, the pair alleging that Karl Stengel was planning to kidnap her and bring her to Mexico. During the hearing of the case various eye-watering tales of their private lives emerged.
Karl Stengel had never worked a day in his life, instead devoting his time to caring for his mother. The Miami home he shared with his mother, valued at $52,000, was purchased with her money but in his name and he willed the house to one of his young male lovers whom he referred to as his husband. He also admitted that he did the spending of his mother’s yearly income, she merely signing batches of blank cheques for him. Mr Stengel also admitted that another young man who had visited he and his mother at their home in New Jersey had stolen $86,000 of uninsured jewellery which had been kept in a box under her bed. Confronted with letters and pictures in court, he admitted he was the recipient of love notes from numerous young men, and identified himself as one of the subjects in several lewd pictures. Those letters and pictures had been stolen from his home by his niece Inez who had jammed open a window to obtain her evidence against.
Other son Henry Ivan Stengel confessed that he had blackmailed his mother and threatened to file a suit to have her declared mentally incompetent after she refused to buy him a boat and a house. This was despite the fact, he acknowledged, that she had purchased him three houses previously.
Annie’s granddaughter by her late daughter Inez, Inez Gay, was an actress, model and amateur lawyer who, since the late 1940s and early 1950s had initiated a bizarre crop of lawsuits against her own father, her husband, her stepmother, both uncles and grandmother Annie Stengel. One New Jersey judge labelled her a nuisance whilst another threatened to throw her in jail if she ever opened her mouth near a courtroom again. Despite her litigious past, in this case Inez claimed to be acting out of love for her grandmother, expecting no monetary benefit.
Asbury Park Press, 5 June 1959
Judge Holt, presiding over the case, did eventually rule that Annie Stengel was mentally incompetent as two psychiatrists who examined her found her to be senile and incapable of managing her own affairs. Karl Raymond Stengel was deemed unfit to have custody of her and the judge named Daniel Neal Heller as curator of the Stengel estate, Karl being ordered to sign over a deed for his home and a new Cadillac, which had also been purchased with Mrs Stengel’s money. He didn’t do so but instead disappeared, along with jewellery, silver and his vehicle, later winding up back in New Jersey. He was found in contempt of court and sentenced to 30 days jail, but never served his time.
Although the court also questioned the motives, characters and suitability of Henry Stengel and Inez Gay as custodians, both were named guardians of Mrs Stengel, and the elderly widow was placed in Sun Ray Sanitarium, Miami. Within a week Mrs Gay attempted to have her grandmother’s annual $15,000 income diverted to her own pockets instead of the curator of her estate, raising alarm bells with the authorities who swiftly took action.
Although Mrs Stengel soon began to fall ill, and against the advice of medical staff at the facility where she was cared for Inez spirited her away from Miami and on a long journey to New York. Inez was also later found in contempt of court and sentenced to 60 days jail, which she never served. She went on to launch other legal battles, including against the judge and lawyers who had presided over the case.
Annie Stengel spent her final days living in Montclair, New Jersey with granddaughter Inez. Whilst on a visit with her to Norwalk, Connecticut, Annie took a turn for the worse and died aged 88 in the Fairfield State Hospital on 22 January 1956. She was buried with her husband in Fairmont Cemetery, Newark. Several years later Inez Gay successfully sued her uncle Karl for the costs of the funeral.
Despite all the battles fought previously, Annie’s $400,000 estate was, as originally intended, divided equally between her two sons and her granddaughter.
Karl Raymond Stengel died in 1973 whilst Henry Ivan Stengel died in 1971. Inez Gay, née Horton, died on 23 October 2015 aged 94.