The Lusitania : Part 7 : Passengers of Distinction

The Lusitania is best remembered as the shipwreck in which author/philosopher Elbert Hubbard, theatrical producer Charles Frohman, and socialite Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt lost their lives. Yet there were many more passengers, in all three classes, who could have been described as leaders in their respective fields. Industrialists, actors and actresses, inventors, songwriters, real estate moguls, all found themselves thrown into the same life-and-death situation on May 7th, 1915. Their stories, not widely remembered after 1915, are as compelling as those of Hubbard, Frohman and Vanderbilt.


said the headline in the July 20, 1985 edition of the New York Times.  Abe Ellis had been well known in his day, as a frequently mentioned, behind-the-scenes character in the NYC nightclub and theatre world.  He had become wealthy by buying the hat-check concessions in first class nightclubs, theatres and hotels.  He paid Billy Rose $10,000.00 for the rights to staff, manage, and keep the profits from the coat room at the French Casino, and expended similar sums in many equally exclusive venues to expand his business. Buried deep in his obituary were the lines:

His big break came shortly after his marriage in 1926 to Yetta Samuel, the daughter of a turn-of-the-century Yiddish actor who died on the Lusitania. Mr. Ellis used $5,000 of his wife’s inheritance to buy the hatcheck concession at the Brooklyn Elks Club.

Abe and Yvette Ellis, whose true names were Abraham and Yetta Samoilesco Ellisburg, had divorced in 1946.

Yetta’s father, actor David Samuels, had indeed died aboard the Lusitania. His widow, Lizzie, had tenaciously pursued a case against Germany before the U.S. Mixed Claims Commission, and each of her surviving children had received a substantial settlement in 1926, making it likely that the facts related in the obituary were correct.