The second child born to Peter and Elise, Emma Romeiser was born in 1880 and was likely the darling of the family. She was brought up in high society, was said to be a gifted Soprano singer with much interest in music, and was even chosen Maid of Honor at the Belleville Flower Carnival in 1899. Despite being well-to-do and of marrying age, Emma did not wed until 1912. She was 32.
A chance encounter at the Opera in St. Louis led to her meeting John Pannes, a St. Louis native living in New York. They were both attending the opera alone and were seated next to one another.
Upon striking up a conversation, they discovered they had a mutual friend who was prominent “in music” in the West. John and Emma even shared the same birthday, September 14th. It was quite the “meet-cute” that every romance writer tries to recreate.
After their marriage, Emma moved with her new husband to their home in Plandome, Long Island, New York. John was also well off, working as the manager of the Hamburg-American Steamship Lines. They would go on to have two children, a daughter Nathalie first (1915) followed by a son, Hilgard (1917- a year after the death of both of her parents). You’ll remember that Hilgard was Elise’s maiden name.
They lived in a cute little bungalow on Long Island with their two children and, in later years, John’s ailing mother Hilda. In fact, the home is still standing… and has an estimated value of $1.9 Million. Check out the full listing and more photos here!
As manager of the Hamburg-American’s New York office, John Pannes was in charge of lots of details concerning transatlantic passenger travel. Part of this involved scheduling zeppelin travel, particularly the Hindenburg’s comings and goings out of Lakehurst, New Jersey.
In 1937, John and Emma made the decision to sail to Germany so that they might fly back home on the Hindenburg’s first North American trip of the 1937 season. It would be their third transatlantic flight, having been passengers on the Hindenburg twice the year before. I’m sure by now you’ve figured out that, unfortunately, it was also their last.
Emma and John Pannes both perished when the Hindenburg burst into flames on May 6, 1937. Their son, Hilgard, had traveled to Lakehurst to greet his parents and witnessed the disaster from the viewing deck. (Below on left are photos of John and Emma, then on right is John and Hilgard.)
Of the 72 passengers aboard, nearly half died. Those that survived went on to provide eyewitness accounts of those tragic final minutes. As it turns out, John had the opportunity to save himself, but insisted on finding Emma first. News reports from the day of wrote that, “One survivor of the disaster related Pannes might have escaped death had he not waited in an effort to save his wife. The survivor Otto Clemens said he was standing beside Pannes in the airship’s lounge and called upon Pannes to jump. Pannes replied, ‘Wait until I get my wife!’ There was not a second to lose. Clemens jumped and saved himself.” [Further research indicates that this would have been German Photographer Karl Otto Clemens, aged 27]
Friend and fellow passenger Margaret Mather wrote about the couple in the November 1937 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, writing about passing the time together and dining with John and Emma in the airship lounge. They ate sandwiches, looked through the mist so that Emma might point out their Plandome home to Margaret, and tried to bide their time while the weather cleared up enough to land the zeppelin.
Reports given indicate that as the Hindenburg approached the mooring mast at Lakehurst shortly after 7pm, Mr and Mrs Pannes were standing by the observation windows in the dining saloon. With the ship apparently just minutes away from landing, Emma decided to go downstairs to her quarters to retrieve her coat. She was never seen again.
At the time of the tragedy, John was 60 and Emma, 56. She left behind her children and four remaining Romeiser siblings (Theodore, Edwin, Corona, and Alvin).
In the years since the tragedy, articles, movies, tv shows, and books have all come out about or inspired by the Hindenburg. The Panneses are even featured in the pilot script for NBC’s show Timeless. One book is Time Loves A Hero which surmises that a time-traveling space scientist aboard the doomed zeppelin actually caused a rift in the space-time-continuum and altered history. Other publications propose that John and Emma did not, in fact, perish on the Hindenburg… but were instead abducted by aliens and are still alive today in alternate universe.
What we know for a fact is that yet more sadness and tragedy befell the Romeiser family even after the deaths of Roland, Petranella, Elise and Peter. But the stories don’t stop here… like we’ve said before, hours of research have gone into this house and this family. What follows is more speculation, more blurred storylines, more confusing heartache. All we can do is stop for a second and take pause to honor all the members of the Romeiser family, in particular a loving couple who met their fate too soon.
As always, stay sweet,
The Brick and Maple Fam <3
I hope with all your research you will write a book about the original occupants, the Brick and Maple and all the way to your family. I love all the blogs.
I’ve thought about that, actually, but broadening it to several families that built Belleville! Really going in depth into the family members and ancestry. 🙂