“We used to say that Eloise was probably the only woman in the world who in just a year’s time made her debut, got engaged, married, survived the Titanic, became a widow, and then a mother.” This was how 1912 – the most turbulent year of first-class Titanic survivor Eloise Hughes Smith’s short life – was summarized by Z. Taylor Vinson, a cousin, for the Richmond Times-Dispatch on 15 April 1997.
I stood beneath the cloudless blue sky, coat wrapped tightly to shield me from the chilly wind blowing on that March afternoon in Huntington, West Virginia. My girlfriend and I had taken the three-hour trip that Sunday to try to locate the grave of a young woman who had come to dominate my long-standing interest in the Titanic disaster. Not only was Eloise Hughes Smith the most local survivor to my home in Virginia, but I found the tragic story of her survival, as well as her life following the disaster, to be thoroughly fascinating, worthy of a full-scale biography. As a writer with a penchant for history, I was unable to resist the urge to find out as much about her as I could.
With no plot coordinates to go by, we strode blindly through the older section of Spring Hill Cemetery. This was no small task as the cemetery – which is perhaps best known for its memorial to the 1970 Marshall University plane crash victims – contains thousands of graves dating back to 1874.
I was beginning to despair. There was always the chance the grave was unmarked. Then, my girlfriend cried out: “Found her!” And there, on a sloped hillside just off the road, behind a large monument marking the Vinson family plot lay Eloise. She is buried between her parents, James Anthony and Belle Vinson Hughes. The graves had a modest appearance I did not expect, adorned only by three plain, identical markers that gave not the slightest hint of the historical links of the people interred beneath them.
Eloise's grave at Spring Hill Cemetery
I found the fact that Eloise was buried under the name of her first husband, Lucian Smith, lost on the Titanic, a touching testament to the man who must have been the love of her life.
Mary Eloise Hughes was born on 7 August 1893 in Huntington, West Virginia. She was the first child of West Virginia Congressman James Anthony Hughes and his wife, Ida Belle Vinson.
Shortly following her eighteenth birthday, Eloise made her debut to Washington, D.C. society. It was January 1912. A brief article in the 7 January edition of The Washington Post introduced Miss Hughes as “a debutante of the congressional circle.” Her official introduction, so read the article, was to occur during tea-time at the Willard Hotel on Thursday, 9 January. Eloise Hughes had spent much of her early life in Washington, D.C., both sides of her family being involved in politics.
James Anthony Hughes, born 27 February 1861 in Corunna, Canada, had first come to the United States at the age of ten, where his family settled in Ashland, Kentucky. It was there at a young age that he took on his first job, as messenger for a local bank.
The future congressman first entered politics in 1887. In that year, while residing in Louisa, Kentucky, he became the first Republican elected as a representative in the Kentucky legislature, serving the counties of Boyd and Lawrence.
It was also during his time in Louisa that James met and fell in love with Ida Belle Vinson. The pair was wed on 28 December 1885 in the Piedmont Road Church in Huntington. Ida Belle Vinson was born 30 July 1868 in Hampshire, West Virginia to Samuel Sperry and Mary Vinson (née Damron). Samuel Sperry Vinson was somewhat a legend in Southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky. Born 14 April 1833 on the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River in Kentucky, he spent the majority of his life – which ended 19 June 1904 – in Wayne County, West Virginia. He is credited as one of Wayne County’s founding settlers. A book about Cabell County, West Virginia history, published many years after his death, referred to Samuel as “one of the most picturesque of all the pioneers of this region.” A veteran of the American Civil War, he was said to have been “robust, handsome in appearance, dashing in manner, utterly unafraid.”
In 1894, a year after the birth of his first daughter, Representative Hughes won the Republican nomination for the West Virginia State Senate. Three years later, like his father before him, he was appointed Postmaster of the city of Huntington, a position he would hold until 1900.
The Hughes family – James, Ida, and little Eloise – lived comfortably, dividing their time between Huntington and Washington, D.C. On 14 October 1895, the family welcomed a second daughter, Tudelle Vinson.
The little Hughes sisters grew into cultured young ladies. Not long following her January 1912 debut, Eloise, with her dark, attractive features, caught the attention of bachelor Lucian Philip Smith.
Lucian was twenty-four and a recent graduate of West Virginia University. Born 14 August 1887 in Dawson, Pennsylvania, he was the son of Norval Preston and Anne Houston Smith (née Cochran), a family with large coal interests. In 1912, he was residing in the home of his sister at 76 High Street in Morgantown, West Virginia. The home still stands, and is presently the location of Café Bacchus.
Local folklore claims Lucian first became aware of Miss Hughes when shown a photograph of her by a mutual friend. He quickly became smitten, and traveled to Huntington to meet the dark-haired beauty. Other sources claim Lucian was present at the Willard Hotel on the night of 9 January 1912, when Eloise made her debut to society. Whatever the exact circumstance of their meeting was, following a brief courtship, a wedding date was set for Thursday, 8 February 1912.
Central Christian Church
The event was held in Central Christian Church in Huntington, of which Ida Belle Vinson Hughes was a charter member at the time of its founding in 1894. The Washington Post featured a lengthy write-up the following day. Eloise wore “a gown of white satin trimmed with rare lace with a veil and orange blossoms and carried a shower bouquet of orchids.” Sixteen-year-old Tudelle, “wearing a gown of apple green chanteuse and carrying a colonial bouquet of pink roses,” was her maid of honor. Lucian’s brother, James Smith, was best man. Pink rosebuds were scattered in the path of the bride, and the article made note that the church “was decorated with flowers and an appropriate musical program was given.” A reception followed at the Hotel Frederick.
In typical Gilded Age upper-class fashion, the newly-wed Smiths would have an extensive honeymoon consisting of a trip around the world. They departed for their journey aboard the Olympic, under the command of Captain Edward John Smith. The voyage came to an unpleasant halt when, half-past four on the afternoon of 24 February 1912, the ship struck a submerged object, losing a portside propeller blade. The Olympic limped to Belfast for repairs.
The honeymooners undauntedly proceeded with their journey, visiting Egypt, where they rode camels and viewed the pyramids. I cannot help but wonder if the pair was in the vicinity of another couple whose fates would intertwine closely with theirs: Colonel John Jacob Astor and his young bride, Madeleine Force, who were also in Egypt at the time following their scandalous marriage the previous September.
Come early April, the Smiths were longing to return to the mountains of West Virginia. There is some speculation as to why the pair decided to return when they did. Popular consensus is that while in Egypt, the young bride discovered she was two months pregnant, though to my knowledge she did not break this news in her letters home. She wrote of their plan to return, noting that they were deciding upon whether to take the tried-and-true Lusitania, or the newest vessel of the White Star Line, Titanic.
They ultimately chose the new Titanic. Lucian Philip and Eloise Hughes Smith boarded the Titanic on Wednesday evening, 10 April 1912 in Cherbourg, France. With them came a wide assortment of personal property later valued at $8,431.40. Items claimed after the sinking included inlaid pearl furniture valued at $200, a diamond ring valued at $500, and a wedding trousseau valued at $1,000.
Lucian had written a letter to the Ritz-Carlton in New York while they were in London, requesting the same rooms he and his bride had stayed in two months earlier when they embarked on their honeymoon be reserved for their return. He also asked that a taxi and porters meet them at the dock when the Titanic arrived.
A belated romance of the Titanic
By Sunday night, 14 April, the newly-married couple had settled into a shipboard routine. They had dinner at 7:30 in the first-class dining saloon. In her affidavit, Eloise makes mention of the dinner party being held by the Wideners of Philadelphia in honor of Captain Smith, the same captain who had commandeered the Olympic on their initial crossing two months earlier. She noted, interestingly, that the dinner “did not seem to be particularly gay.” Shortly before nine, the couple left the dining saloon, retiring to the reception room to have coffee and listen to the band play. Eloise left at 10:30 to go to bed. Lucian stayed behind to partake of a game of bridge with three on-board acquaintances.
Eloise stated she was awakened by the collision with the iceberg, but was not particularly alarmed. She fell back asleep, only to awaken a second time when the engines stopped. Lucian arrived and informed his new wife: “We are in the north and have struck an iceberg. It does not amount to anything, but will probably delay us a day getting into New York. However, as a matter of form, the captain has ordered all ladies on deck.” The Smiths followed the order, Eloise donning heavy clothing, high shoes, two coats, and a warm knit hood. She also picked up two of her rings.
There was a delay in her leaving the ship, owing to the initial order that the passengers be loaded into the lifeboats from the promenade on A Deck. The problem was that, unlike on the Olympic, this portion of deck was enclosed by glass on the Titanic. The waiting passengers were ordered back up top. “That seemed to be the first time the officers or captain had thought of that,” Eloise later said.
Eloise was forced to depart from her love at Lifeboat No. 6. Once considered the first lifeboat to be lowered from the port side, judging from Eloise’s sworn affidavit, it seems to have actually been the second. “When the first boat was lowered from the left-hand side I refused to get in, and they did not urge me particularly; in the second boat they kept calling for one more lady to fill it, and my husband insisted that I get in, my friend having gotten in.” She does not identify her friend. At this boat, Eloise again refused to leave Lucian, insisting she would only go if he were also allowed a seat. Her statement continues: “Captain Smith was standing with a megaphone on deck. I approached him and told him I was alone, and asked if my husband might be allowed to go in the boat with me. He ignored me personally, but shouted again through his megaphone, ‘Women and children first.’ My husband said, ‘Never mind, Captain, about that; I will see that she gets in the boat.’ He then said, ‘I never expected to ask you to obey, but this is one time you must; it is only a matter of form to have women and children first. The boat is thoroughly equipped, and everyone on her will be saved.’ I asked him if that was absolutely honest, and he said, ‘Yes.’ I felt some better then, because I had absolute confidence in what he said.”
Whether or not Lucian in fact believed what he told his bride cannot be known. In any case, he succeeded in convincing Eloise to take a seat in the lifeboat, where she found herself in the company of a few of the more recognized names in the Titanic canon, including Margaret Brown, destined to be caricaturized as The “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, Frederick Fleet, the 24-year-old lookout who spotted the fatal iceberg, and Major Arthur Peuchen, the first-class Canadian yachtsman who swung down the falls as the boat was lowered to serve as a sailor.
Placed in charge of the lifeboat was Quartermaster Robert Hichens, whose actions – or lack thereof – on the night of the sinking have made him an infamous topic of debate over the past century. Eloise clearly detested the sailor. “Our seaman was Hichens, who refused to row, but sat in the end of the boat wrapped in a blanket that one of the women had given him. I am not of the opinion that he was intoxicated, but a lazy, uncouth man, who had no respect for the ladies, and who was a thorough coward.”
By 2:20 on the morning of 15 April 1912, barely two months after she recited her vows in Huntington, Eloise Hughes Smith was a widow. Lucian lost his life, but ironically, his three French bridge mates – Paul Chevré, Alfred Omont, and Pierre Maréchal – all found salvation in Lifeboat No. 7, launched from the starboard side early in the sinking.
Aboard the rescue ship Carpathia, a first-class passenger kindly donated her bunk to the young widow. Eloise was appalled by the manner in which Bruce Ismay spent the remainder of the voyage to New York. “I know many women who slept on the floor in the smoking room while Mr. Ismay occupied the best room on the Carpathia, being in the center of the boat, with every attention, and a sign on the door.” The sign was cordial, but quite blunt: “Please do not knock.”
Back in West Virginia, several local newspapers bolstered feelings of false hope that both Lucian and Eloise had survived the disaster. The April 17 issue of The Wheeling Intelligencer even reported that Mrs. Sarah B. Cochran of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, a maternal aunt to Lucian Smith, had received a telegram from the offices of the White Star Line confirming the rescue of both her nephew and his bride. Recent best man James Smith travelled with Mrs. Cochran by rail to New York to meet the Carpathia when she docked.
Also waiting anxiously at Pier 54 on the rainy evening of Thursday, 18 April were Congressman and Mrs. Hughes, as well as a maternal uncle to Eloise, Mr. Z. Taylor Vinson. The congressman had been staying at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. – the location of his oldest daughter’s debut to society months earlier – when he received the shocking news of the Titanic disaster. Younger sister Tudelle Hughes would years later recall: “President Taft very kindly telephoned father at the Willard offering the use of a naval vessel, if we desired it, to take our family out to meet the incoming Carpathia.”
At some point during the solemn remainder of the crossing to New York aboard the Carpathia, Eloise found a friend in fellow first-class survivor Robert Williams Daniel. Robert was a 27-year-old banker native to Richmond, Virginia, returning to his home in Philadelphia with a newly-bought French bulldog.
Contemporary accounts describe Robert descending the gangway of the rescue ship with Eloise in his arms and handing her over – “in a hysterical condition” – to Congressman Hughes. Her family then whisked her away to the Waldorf-Astoria without her making a statement to the press.
Over the following days, a number of interviews did appear in The Wheeling Intelligencer of Wheeling, West Virginia. One of the headlines described her story as “sensational,” and that word is quite an accurate description. In it, she allegedly claimed that the sailor placed in charge of the lifeboat she was in – which would have been Robert Hichens – was intoxicated, and because of his condition, the women were forced to do all the rowing. Though she never had any kind remarks to give of Hichens, she would later, as I quoted earlier, refute this claim. A further interview printed in the Intelligencer on 22 April was even more sensational. “It had been a gay night on the Titanic,” reads the interview. “Everyone on the ship seemed to glorify in the remarkable record being made by the vessel on her maiden voyage and in the dining room the members of the craft joined with passengers in a toast to the peer of all ocean liners. Captain Smith appeared to be especially gratified at the record he was making for the Titanic, and already a whole day had been cut off its schedule.” In another interview ran by a Uniontown, Pennsylvania newspaper on 19 April, Eloise is quoted as saying that Captain Smith was away at a dinner party when the collision occurred, leaving no one on the bridge. A further quote states: “When Captain Smith saw that the Titanic was about to sink, he shot himself.”
These alleged quotes, if they were in fact stated at all, are far-fetched at best, and one has to wonder if the young widow were not the victim of creative journalism, as many survivors were known to have been.
Her actual affidavit, subscribed and sworn-to one month after the disaster on 20 May 1912, is far less sensational. She makes mention of the alleged lights seen on the horizon by other passengers and crew, though she was skeptical about them being, as many of her boat mates believed, another vessel. “There was a small light on the horizon that we were told to row towards. Some people seemed to think it was a fishing smack or small boat of some description. However, we seemed to get no nearer the longer we rowed, and I am of the opinion it was a star.” She makes a similar judgment in the following paragraph of the affidavit: “Many people in our boat said they saw two lights. I could not until I had looked a long time; I think it was the way our eyes focused, and probably the hope for another boat. I do not believe it was anything but a star.”
Eloise made her way back to the family home in Huntington by train. Faced with the devastating fact that Lucian had perished in the disaster, the teenaged widow held out hope that his body might be retrieved from the North Atlantic and returned to her. So confident was she in the search effort, she began planning a lavish mausoleum for Lucian to be interred in.
Meanwhile, James Smith once again betook a journey to ascertain his brother’s fate. This time, he travelled to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he conferred with the captains of the Mackay-Bennett and the Minia, the vessels chiefly responsible for the recovery of Titanic’s dead, to discover whether or not the body of his brother was amongst their macabre cargoes. Sadly, Lucian Philip Smith was not one of the silent passengers who had been identified. With no body to place within it, plans for the costly mausoleum were abandoned.
At three on Sunday afternoon, 12 May, a memorial service was held for Lucian Smith in Central Christian Church. The event was made all the more somber by the fact that scarcely three months earlier, Eloise had stood and exchanged vows with her lost love at that very alter. The service was presided over by the Reverend C.H. Bass, the recently-resigned pastor of the church.
Congressman Hughes took an active role in the American inquiry into the disaster, and read his daughter’s sworn testimony aloud for the senate committee. On 28 May, Eloise and her mother were in the senate galley in Washington, D.C. when Senator William Alden Smith gave his report on the Titanic case and spoke in connection with it.
Following the closing statements of the American and British inquiries, daily reminders of the disaster in the press tapered down. Yet, seven months after she arrived back home, Eloise Hughes Smith would once again find her name in the headlines in connection with the disaster that took away her love.
On 29 November 1912, in a hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, Eloise gave birth to the nine-pound baby boy she had been carrying inside her when the Titanic – and the baby’s father with it – slid into the icy North Atlantic. As might be expected, she named the baby Lucian Philip Smith II.
As 1912 gave way to 1913, Eloise Hughes Smith was trying her best to piece together her life post-Titanic. But it wasn’t long before a second reminder of the disaster turned up: Robert Williams Daniel, her self-proclaimed savior from that horrific night. His role in her life, as we will soon see, was far from over.
“Lucian P. Smith, when alive in Huntington, was reputed to be possessed of considerable means as well as the heir to the estate mentioned above, so that it is not unlikely that his widow may receive a large bequest.” This excerpt from the 10 May 1912 edition of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph would prove to be overly optimistic for the newly-widowed young lady named Eloise Hughes Smith.
With the assistance of her brother-in-law, James Smith, the estate of Lucian Philip Smith was settled by January 1913. And while Lucian had indeed belonged to a wealthy and affluent family, it turned out that very little of that wealth was actually his. He had been the recipient of an allowance of $500 per month. The large bequest the newspapers had speculated about was not to be had.
Robert Williams Daniel, the young Philadelphia banker who had carried an inconsolable Eloise Hughes Smith down the gangplank of the Carpathia at Pier 54, began calling on the widow in 1913, much to the chagrin of Congressman Hughes.
Robert Williams Daniel was born in Richmond, Virginia on 11 September 1884. His father, James Robert Vivian Daniel, was a prominent lawyer whose great-great-grandfather, Edward Randolph, had been the first Attorney General of the United States. Robert’s mother was Hallie Wise Daniel (née Williams). Born 15 August 1859, Hallie Daniel was an active member of Richmond society and was one of the first members of the Richmond Women’s Club.
Robert followed his father’s footsteps to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, from which he graduated in 1903. The following year, on 26 November 1904, he lost his father. Robert was by this time employed in the traffic manager’s office of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad.
Around 1905, Robert entered the insurance business. He first became attached to the firm Williams and Hart, eventually succeeding Mr. Williams as the district superintendent for the Maryland Life Insurance Company. In 1906, he and a fellow Maryland Life district superintendent, Charles Palmer Stearns, formed the firm Daniel and Stearns.
By 1912, Robert Williams Daniel was a successful Philadelphia banker. Business often took him across the Atlantic. Shortly before his voyage home aboard the Titanic, he was staying at the Carlton Hotel in London when a fire broke out in the building. Robert managed to save the life of a friend also staying in the hotel.
Robert was en route back to Philadelphia with a newly-purchased French bulldog when he boarded the Titanic in Southampton as a first-class passenger on the morning of 10 April 1912. He survived the tragedy which followed, though the precise manner of his escape remains a controversial matter. Descriptions varied in the press that followed; in at least one account it was claimed he swam completely nude in the North Atlantic for a number of hours before being picked up by a lifeboat. It is possible – and much more plausible – that he simply boarded one of the early lifeboats launched from the starboard side of the stricken liner. His new dog was lost in the sinking.
On 18 August 1914, Eloise Hughes Smith married her fellow Titanic survivor in a private ceremony in New York. It would be several months before details of the nuptials would be revealed to the press, owing to Robert being sent to London for business shortly after the wedding and, with the outbreak of the Great War, being stuck there. The wedding, especially in comparison to the bride’s first, was a much more hushed affair, quietly taking place at the Church of the Transfiguration in New York. The engagement itself had been kept quiet from the press at the insistence of Congressman Hughes, who felt it would be unwise for his daughter to remarry while working through a lawsuit against her former in-laws.
Earlier in 1914, on 19 May, Eloise had initiated a lawsuit against Lucian Smith’s parents in an effort to recover for her son a larger portion of his deceased father’s estate. The author could find no further articles to determine whether or not the suit was successful.
Robert still found it necessary to cross the Atlantic for business reasons, and Eloise was often found to be in tow. When the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk in May 1915, Robert was forced to travel to Europe on business. Claiming Eloise would not allow him to make the voyage alone, both were booked in first-class aboard the Philadelphia of the American Line. The press did not miss the opportunity of getting the thoughts of two local Titanic survivors regarding the rising fears of ocean-goers following the sinking of the Cunard liner. Robert was quoted as saying: “I do not believe there will be any danger, because the Philadelphia is an American ship and carries the Stars and Stripes.” The couple arrived safely back in New York on 14 June 1915 aboard another American vessel, St. Paul.
A 1920 census shows Robert and Eloise Daniel residing in Haverford, Pennsylvania, along with her son, Lucian Philip Smith II. Early that year, the family sailed to Bermuda, arriving back home on 29 March aboard the Fort Hamilton of the Furness-Bermuda Line.
Robert’s mother was herself well-traveled. In 1924, she took an extensive tour, departing from New York on 21 June aboard the Saxonia. On her journey she visited France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, and Great Britain. It was quite an excursion for a lady in her sixties. She returned home on the Berengaria, departing Southampton on 10 October 1924.
Following a separation around 1920, Eloise was granted a divorce from Robert Williams Daniel on 20 March 1923 in a domestic-relations court in Charleston, West Virginia. In her claim against her husband, Eloise cited an “unknown blonde woman.” Robert did not protest the case. The decree obligated Eloise to not remarry for six months, and Robert for five years.
The “unknown blonde woman” may have been Margery Pitt Durant, daughter of automobile king William Durant, who formed General Motors in 1908, created Chevrolet in 1910, and founded the Durant Car Company in 1921. Despite the restrictions on remarriage imposed by his divorce, Robert apparently went ahead and married Margery later in 1923. The couple lived on the sprawling 4,500-acre plantation Brandon-on-the-James. The plantation’s history dated back to 1616, and it had served as the home of President Benjamin Harrison. The main house was reportedly designed by Thomas Jefferson.
Younger sister Tudelle Hughes married Harold Henderson Van Sant on 15 June 1915 in Wayne County, West Virginia. Harold was a lumber manufacturer, and served as president of Ashland Hardwood Lumber Company in Ashland, Kentucky. In 1919, the successful company would claim capital of $250,000. Eloise became an aunt in 1916, when Tudelle gave birth to the couple’s son, Vinson.
Not long following her divorce from Robert, Eloise would settle down with a third husband, Captain Lewis H. Cort Jr.
Lewis Haehnlein Cort Jr. was born on 24 November 1893 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. His father was the owner of Cort Tire & Rubber Company in Huntington. Lewis worked for his father’s company as a salesman before he went off to fight in World War I. He was a 1915 graduate of Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania. On 3 November 1911, he was initiated into the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.
Young Lewis’s draft registration card, filed on 1 June 1917, lists his address as 4th Ave. and Sixth St. in Huntington. He is described as being tall, of medium build, with brown hair and brown eyes. He listed his employer as the U.S. Government, and his occupation is rather cryptic, stated as “Candidate ORC 27.”
Following his experiences in World War I, from which he came away with lasting injuries, Lewis Jr. returned to his father’s company. By 1921 he was a sales manager. That same year, Lewis lost his mother, Elizabeth “Belle” Oskin Cort.
Eloise and Captain Cort would wed in a small ceremony in 1923 and continue living in Huntington.
Lewis Haehnlein Cort Sr. died suddenly on 24 February 1924 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. He was seventy years old. His son inherited the tire company.
In 1926, the Corts were listed as living at 3124 Dundale Ave. in Huntington. The couple also had a winter home in San Diego, California. This vacation home would be the scene of a terrible episode for the young couple on 24 February 1924 (the same day Lewis’s father would unexpectedly die), when an intruder drugged Eloise, robbing her of jewelry valued at $10,000.
In October 1928 and January 1929, Eloise Hughes Cort published two articles in The Life Boat Magazine of Hinsdale, Illinois. The magazine had its basis in the Christian faith, and the two articles Eloise wrote show the continued depth of her religious convictions and her trust in her Lord and Savior. The first article, “World in Need of Overcomers,” urges the faithful to trust in Jesus Christ to rescue them in times of despair. “It is necessary for all – saints and sinners alike – to be rescued again and again, as they meet with situations too much for their strength and endurance,” she wrote. The second article, “A Glimpse of Life,” reveals the strong faith of an old lady “from a fine old Virginia family” whom Eloise was apparently at least acquainted with. I wondered if this “great woman” were not Hallie Wise Daniel, her former mother-in-law.
Mrs. Daniel would live to a ripe old age, dying at the age of seventy-nine on 24 February 1937. Her cause of death was pneumonia, though she had been an invalid for more than two years after suffering a stroke at her vacation cottage in Virginia Beach, Virginia in August 1934. She was interred in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.
As with her first marriage, ended by the Titanic, death would shortly part Eloise from her third husband. After enduring lasting war injuries of an unspecified nature, Captain Lewis Haehnlein Cort Jr. passed away on 24 November 1929. It was his thirty-sixth birthday. He was interred in Woodmere Memorial Park in Huntington. Eloise Hughes Smith was once again a widow.
Scarcely three months after Lewis passed away, Eloise suffered another difficult blow. On the afternoon of 2 March 1930, Congressman James Anthony Hughes unexpectedly died while staying in a sanitarium in Marion, Ohio, where he had been “resting and receiving treatment” for several weeks. His death was attributed to a cerebral hemorrhage. The congressman was sixty-nine years old. According to the Roane County Reporter of Spencer, West Virginia, Hughes was said to have “recently shown a marked improvement in health” and “had been walking in the afternoon on the sanitarium grounds.” The article continued: “Returning to his room, he said he was tired and laid down upon his bed. With a sigh he turned on his side as if ready to sleep. Then, as a tide of crimson swept his face, life fled.” None of his family was present when he passed.
Eloise, Tudelle, and Belle Vinson Hughes had spent the afternoon of 27 February at the sanitarium visiting the congressman. Eloise and her sister were reportedly impressed with his evident improvement. “Mother, mother, it will only be a little while before I come home,” he told Mrs. Hughes.
He was right. In Huntington, a solemn ceremony was once again held in Central Christian Church. Pallbearers were members of the Republican executive committee of each of the counties comprising the Fourth district. Paying a last tribute were members of a congressional committee named by Speaker Longsworth of the lower house of Congress. Burial followed in Spring Hill Cemetery.
The fourth and final man in Eloise’s life was Charles Silliman Wright. Born 19 September 1895 in Ceredo, West Virginia, Charles was the son of Maxwelton and Emma Wright. He had graduated from Yale University, where he was a member of the Psi Upsilon Fraternity. He was for a time gainfully employed as the State Auditor of West Virginia.
Eloise Hughes and Charles Wright were wed on 20 December 1929 in Washington, D.C. They lived at Charles’s home at 2206 Washington Street, Charleston, West Virginia.
This marriage was also to be very short-lived, though this time, death did not intervene. On 19 April 1930, after only four months of marriage, Charles Wright filed suit for divorce in Cabell County circuit court. Eloise filed a countersuit. The reason(s) behind the divorce was not revealed in the press.
Charles Silliman Wright appears to have lived quietly for another fifty years. He was remarried by 1932, and his address was then given as 901 B in Huntington, West Virginia. This was likely an apartment. His World War II draft registration card, filed on 27 April 1942, shows that he had at one time been active in the U.S. Army, having served as Quartermaster at Fort Myer, Virginia. He appears to have died in July 1982, and was buried in Spring Hill Cemetery in Huntington.
With four marriages behind her, two ending in death and two in divorce, Eloise Hughes reverted back to the last name of her first love, Smith. While still young and very much active, the ever-beautiful Eloise Hughes Smith was entering the twilight of her life.
Four husbands had come and gone. The first – the one she had most loved – had been claimed during, of all occasions, their honeymoon. Lucian Philip Smith had seen his bride of only two months into Lifeboat No. 6 on the port side of the sinking Titanic, and had then taken his place beside other first-class men destined to perish in what would prove to be one of the most unforgettable disasters of modern times. In a way, though, he still lived on, through their son, Lucian Philip Smith II. Her second marriage, to fellow Titanic survivor Robert Williams Daniel, had ended in divorce and disappointment. The third man in her life, like the first, had died young. And the fourth, and ultimately final, spouse had divorced her after only a very brief union.
Eloise Hughes Smith had seen a lot during her life. And by the time of that last divorce, she was only thirty-seven. She was by this time living back in her hometown of Huntington, West Virginia. The only man in her life was now her son, who was seventeen years old when his third stepfather left the scene.
Following the opening months of 1930, the tides of Eloise Hughes Smith’s life appear to have largely receded. She lived in the family home with her widowed mother at 1140 Fifth Avenue in Huntington. She would on occasion visit Uniontown, Pennsylvania; a telling location, perhaps, as it was the birthplace of her first love, twenty years gone. Eloise appears to have also kept in contact with Lucian’s brother and best man, James Smith.
One would reasonably assume that Eloise tried her best to keep the terrible memory of the Titanic disaster out of her mind. Surprisingly, the opposite appears to have been true. During the last decade of her life, she gave many public lectures throughout West Virginia in which she discussed in detail the sinking of the steamship and her personal memories of it. Many of these discussions were probably held in churches. On 22 March 1936, she gave two lectures in the Union Mission Tabernacle in Charleston, West Virginia. It was even suggested that she was assembling material for a book about the disaster during this time.
But the book was regrettably not to be. Eloise Hughes Smith was rejoined with her first love at around 5:00 on the morning of 3 May 1940 in a hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. Several days earlier, she had travelled there by car to seek treatment following an “illness of several weeks.” Tudelle’s daughter, Jean Van Sant, was at that time studying nursing in one of the city’s hospitals; quite possibly the one her aunt succumbed in. Eloise was only forty-six years old. Her attending physicians attributed her untimely death to a heart attack.
When news of the death of his mother broke, Lucian Philip Smith II was in the sky. A pilot, he had left Lynchburg, Virginia a couple of days before his mother’s illness, headed for Miami, Florida in his private plane. On 4 May, J.W. Sembower, trustee of the estate of Lucian’s late father, began a hunt for the young pilot to inform him of his mother’s sudden passing.
Her tumultuous life over, Eloise was laid to rest in peace in the Vinson family plot in Spring Hill Cemetery alongside her father on 6 May 1940.
Fellow Titanic survivor and second husband Robert Williams Daniel would follow Eloise in death by only a few months. He succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver on 20 December 1940 in Richmond, Virginia. He rests there in an elegant crypt in Hollywood Cemetery along with his third wife, Charlotte Randolph Williams Bemiss. He was fifty-six years old.
On 16 December 1941, Eloise’s original brother-in-law, James Smith, passed away at the age of fifty-nine.
Harold Henderson Van Sant, Jr., son of Tudelle and nephew to Eloise, served in the Marines during World War II. The young corporal was killed in action on 18 September 1944 while fighting on Palau Island. He was buried in Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines.
In January 1951, Belle Vinson Hughes suffered a stroke at home. She was still residing at 1140 Fifth Avenue in Huntington. It was guessed the stroke was caused by arteriosclerosis, a chronic hardening of the body’s arteries. The elderly widow had also been afflicted with diabetes mellitus for at least five years. She ultimately succumbed to the effects of the stroke, dying at home on 15 February 1951. She was eighty-eight years old. She was laid to rest beside Eloise and Congressman Hughes in Spring Hill Cemetery on 17 February.
Lucian Philip Smith II divided his time primarily between Huntington, West Virginia and Sarasota, Florida. On 8 April 1966, nearly fifty-four years to the day after the Titanic disaster, it appeared Lucian might also die at sea. He and his family were aboard the Norwegian MS Viking Princess when the cruise ship caught fire in mid-ocean. Unlike his father, though, he was allowed to take a seat in a lifeboat alongside his wife during the evacuation. The ways of the sea had changed greatly since 1912, in no small part because of the event which had taken away his father and broke his mother’s heart.
Lucian Philip Smith II, who had made headlines nearly six decades earlier for the simple fact that he had been in utero during the Titanic’s sinking, died in Sarasota, Florida on 24 October 1971. He was fifty-nine years old.
Tudelle Hughes Van Sant would live to the age of seventy-nine. She passed away on 6 July 1975.
Through my work in the medical field, I was recently enjoying a lively conversation with a very chipper 97-year-old lady. I was intrigued to learn that she had spent the majority of her long life in Huntington, having relocated only in the past few years to help care for a sick sibling. The curious little historian who lives in my mind could not resist asking this near-centenarian if she held knowledge of her hometown’s Titanic survivor. I expected her to perhaps vaguely remember hearing the story, but this remarkable lady, who could quite possibly still remember her first day of school, shocked me. “Oh yes,” she said. “I know about that lady. Her father was in Congress. I went to church with that family.”
As it turned out, my new friend had not only been a member of Central Christian Church for over sixty years of her life, but she had also taught Sunday school there for a time. She offered only one point of disappointment for me: “No, I never met the woman who was on the Titanic.” I allowed my breath to escape, not realizing I had been holding it. “But I believe we had a Sunday school class in the church named after her. And they were still talking about her wedding when I was a little girl. How big and beautiful it was!”
Her memories of Congressman Hughes were clearer. When I presented her with a picture of the congressman, tears welled up in her eyes, and she grabbed the picture from my hands. “Senator Hughes!” she cried. “I remember him. That family was well-known. They lived over on the west side of town. They had a nice home.” Many more memories were brought forth when I showed her a picture of her sweet church. She recalled that up until sometime in the sixties, there had been a large bell tower attached to the main building. However, some of the local residents became irritated at the bells ringing on Sunday morning, and it was ultimately decided to demolish the bell tower.
Today in Huntington, there is an Eloise Street and Lucian Street, as well as a Vinson Street and Hughes Street. The memory of the young, pregnant bride who survived the terrible sinking of the Titanic obviously lives on in her West Virginia hometown.
And so the story has been told, yet details continue to emerge. I am still of the opinion that the life of Eloise Hughes Smith would make a very captivating full-length biography. Whether or not I, or someone else, will write it remains to be seen. But my research into her life does continue. She has come to symbolize for me all that is tragic about the story of the Titanic. Thinking back to her plain grave marker, I realize it may represent something that was so fleeting to Eloise during her life: serenity.
This article was originally published as a four-part series in the journal Voyage. As a result of ongoing research by the author, certain areas of this article have been revised from their original published form. These revisions include, but are not limited to, additional pictures and quotations.
Special thanks are due to Mark Chirnside for his confirmation of the February 1912 accident in which Olympic damaged her propeller. I am also indebted to the Reverend Kevin Snow of Central Christian Church in Huntington, West Virginia for searching the church archives for mention of the Hughes family.
The Insurance Times, Volume 39, February 1906
The Insurance Times, Volume 39, October 1906
Manual of the State of West Virginia for the Years 1907-1908, Charles Wesley Swisher, 1907
The Phi Gamma Delta, Volume 34, Issue 3, 1911
The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 7 January 1912
The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 9 February 1912
Log of RMS Olympic, 24 February 1912
The Daily Standard Union, Brooklyn, New York, 16 April 1912
The Wheeling Intelligencer, Wheeling, West Virginia, 16 – 22 April 1912
The Evening Times, Cumberland, Maryland, 17 April 1912
The Sun, New York, New York, 17 April 1912
Unidentified Newspaper, Uniontown, Pennsylvania, 19 April 1912
The Raleigh Herald, Beckley, West Virginia, 9 May 1912
Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, West Virginia, 10 May 1912
Sworn Affidavit of Mrs. Lucian P. Smith, 20 May 1912
Limitation of Liability Hearings, Claim of James A. Hughes (Lucian P. Smith)
Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, West Virginia, 29 May 1912
The Waterloo Times-Tribune, Waterloo, Iowa, 22 November 1912
New-York Tribune, New York, New York, 1 December 1912
The Raleigh Herald, Beckley, West Virginia, 6 December 1912
The Miami Metropolis, Miami, Florida, 3 November 1914
The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 6 November 1914
University of Virginia Alumni News, Volume III, Number 5, 11 November 1914
The Philadelphia Record, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 9 May 1915
The Twelfth General Catalogue of the Psi Upsilon Fraternity, Psi Upsilon Fraternity, May 1917
Hardwood Record, Volume 48, University of California, 1919
Charleston Daily Mail, Charleston, West Virginia, 21 March 1923
Thomasville Times Enterprise, Thomasville, Georgia, 16 July 1928
The Life Boat Magazine, Volume 31, No. 10, October 1928
The Life Boat Magazine, Volume 32, No. 1, January 1929
Charleston Daily Mail, Charleston, West Virginia, 12 January 1930
Roane County Reporter, Spencer, West Virginia, 6 March 1930
Unnamed Richmond Newspaper, Richmond, Virginia, 25 February 1934
Cabell County Annals and Families, George Selden Wallace, 1935
The Charleston Gazette, Charleston, West Virginia, 22 March 1936
The Charleston Gazette, Charleston, West Virginia, 4 May 1940
The Charleston Gazette, Charleston, West Virginia, 5 May 1940
Huntington Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, West Virginia, 9 May 1940
West Virginia State Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, Certificate of Death for Belle Vinson Hughes, 19 February 1951
Willard’s of Washington: The Epic of a Capital Caravansary, G. L. Eskew, 1954, New York
Virginia Plantation Homes, David King Gleason, 1989, Louisiana State University Press
Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond, Virginia, 15 April 1997
The Huntington Quarterly, Issue 29, Autumn 1997
Richmond Magazine, Richmond, Virginia, 11 May 2012
Archives of Central Christian Church, Huntington, West Virginia
West Virginia Veterans Database, Record ID: 8600
Descendants of Robert Williams Daniel via Ancestry.com
Descendants of Margery Pitt Durant via Ancestry.com
Descendants of Captain Lewis Haehnlein Cort Jr. via Ancestry.com