Mr Charles Emil Henry Stengel was born as Heinrich Stengel in Newark, New Jersey on 19 November 1857. He was baptised in Newark’s First German Presbyterian Church on 17 January 1858.
He was the son of a German father from Hesse, Jacob Stengel (b. circa 1829), a patent leather manufacturer, and a German-American mother from New York, Mary Elizabeth Stumpf (b. circa 1835). His father had first come to the USA in 1846.
His siblings were: Anna Elisabeth (b. 1855), Catharina Elisabeth “Lillie” (b. 1860), Charles (b. 1866), Mary (b. 1871) and Alfred (b. 1874).
Referred to as Henry Stengel on early census records, he and his family appear on the 1870 census as residents of an unspecified address in Newark; by the time of the 1880 census they were residing at 102 Walnut Street in the city and a 23-year-old Stengel had joined his father in the industry of leather manufacture, working as a leather splitter.
His father died on 1 December 1898 and his mother less than a year later, on 19 May 1899. Stengel inherited his father’s business, becoming a senior partner in the firm Stengel & Rothschild.
Stengel, who in later years was referred to as C. E. Henry Stengel, was married around 18881 to Brooklynite Annie May Morris (b. 1868). The couple went on to have three children, one daughter and two sons: 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 returned to Newark 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.
Around 1907 Stengel’s daughter Inez, a popular young woman in Newark social circles, 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.
No stranger to transatlantic travel, as per his 1909 passport, Stengel had brown hair. Blue eyes, a round face and chin, a high forehead and a regular nose. He stood at 5’ 8”.
In March 1912 Stengel and his wife 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); whilst aboard they occupied cabin C116.
On Saturday 13 April Stengel recalled placing a wager with other first-class passengers on the headway the ship was making; the following day, he stated, it was declared the ship had made 546 knots.
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 jar 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, being among some of the first people to arrive on the deck. After waiting a while Mr Stengel parted company with his wife as she left in lifeboat 5.
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!” Fellow passenger Abraham Saloman followed him in. Mr Stengel related:
“We had difficulty in lowering the boat, and it was by the merest chance that we were not all dumped out into the sea, as its painter stuck so we had to cut it with a knife in order to loosen the boat and permit ourselves to be lowered to the water.
Other boats were not half full. They did not seem to be filled to more than half their capacity. Some were too confident and others were too cowardly to forsake the big ship at that time and enter the small boats. There were three boats that kept together all the time until we were rescued. One of them had a green light and we followed.
All of a sudden we saw a light in the distance and we rowed toward it, believing that it was a ship, but when within 200 feet of it we discovered that it was an iceberg that reflected the Northern lights. Disheartened at this discovery we changed our course. All this time the Titanic was in sight. Some of us believed that dawn would see us back on her deck. We did not believe for a minute that she would sink. - Newark Evening Star, 19 April 1912
Stengel went on to say that the mood soon changed when four explosions could be heard from within the ship and soon the sound of mounting panic began to fill the air:
“The cries of distress that wafted forth on that wonderfully calm and starry night were filled with anguish and woe. It was awful, awful!” - Newark Evening Star, 19 April 1912
Reunited with his wife 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. Lifeboat 1 had garnered the moniker “the money boat” or the “captain’s dinghy” on account of accusations made by several members of the crew that the wealthy occupants of the boat had bribed the crewmen with cheques of £5 a piece not to return to the scene of the wreck. Crewmember Robert Hopkins was particularly vocal in the media about the alleged incident, with Stengel coming forth to brand the accusations as an outrage, accusing the crewmen in his lifeboat of inappropriate behaviour during the disaster. He stated on one occasion that a member of the crew in boat 1 hollered out to another crewman in a nearby lifeboat, asking him what his passengers were like. The other crewman responded “I’ve got a bunch of dagoes.”
“The crew wouldn’t stick to the oars. They lighted cigarettes, slid down the bottom of the boat and yelled jokes at each other. This is what really happened… the men weren’t working the way they ought to have done. Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon said ‘You take care of us safely and I’ll make you all a present.’ Lady Duff-Gordon, who wasn’t feeling well, added ‘I’ve quite some money myself.’ Sir Cosmo then gave each one of the sailors a cigar and afterwards on the Carpathia, an order on Coutts Bank, London.” - Newark Evening Star, 23 April 1912
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
Mr Stengel and his wife 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 attempted to settle back into normality and remained at their home at 1075 Broad Street, Newark. However their trip aboard Titanic would soon come back to haunt them.
Whilst en route to New York aboard Carpathia Mr Stengel happened to come into the acquaintance of two fellow-survivors, Edith Rosenbaum and a man who identified himself as “Mr Smith” (possibly Harry Homer). After conversing, Stengel gave Miss Rosenbaum his card and related how the young woman seemed to be circulating among many other first-class survivors, and in many cases coming into the possession of their cards, too.
A little later Stengel stumbled across George Brereton (aka Bradley or Brayton), who appeared downcast and out of sorts. Conversing with the individual, Stengel was surprised that the man knew him by name, although the two had never become acquainted before. Brereton told Stengel that all his money was gone and had no idea how he was going to make it back to Los Angeles. Stengel offered him the advice to claim the cost of his fare from the White Star Line, and the two men then parted. It was only later Stengel came to the conclusion that Brereton knew his identity on account of Edith Rosenbaum passing on her collection of business cards to George Brereton and Harry Homer.
A few days after reaching home Stengel received a telephone call from George Brereton to say that his suggestion had worked and that White Star would fund his passage to Los Angeles and he would be leaving very soon. Stengel invited Brereton to dinner at his home in Newark. During his time there Brerton related to Stengel that his brother-in-law, who worked for Western Union, would soon be concluding a deal in New York in which Stengel might be interested. A few weeks later Stengel went to New York where he Brereton and the brother-in-law met at the Hotel Seville. He was told that Brereton’s brother-in-law would be able to fix the transmission of horse racing results for a few minutes thus enabling bets to be made after the result was known. Stengel could stand to make himself $1000. Stengel was uninterested and the discussion ended in a scuffle, although the conmen escaped before the police arrived.
Charles Emil Henry Stengel lived only a short few years following the Titanic disaster. Almost two years to the day, on 13 April 1914, he took ill and his condition worsened over the following week. One of the first survivors to die, he passed away aged 56 on 19 April 1914, his widow later stating that physicians attributed his illness and death down to delayed shock. Mr Stengel was buried in a large private mausoleum at Fairmount Cemetery, Newark, New Jersey.