Imagine the twinkle in a Father’s eye as he gazes upon his sweet children. Picture the care and devotion that went into nurturing tiny loves, joy felt in watching them reach milestones, the swelling of pride as they learned to read and sing and dance. Imagine an outing to a photographer in St. Louis specifically to capture those little moments forever. The year would have been sometime in the early 1890s- perhaps 1891 or 2…

I can see it now. Peter and Elise Romeiser rise for the day and, with the help of their house maid Lizzie, delicately clean and ready three crisp, white dresses, stockings, and hair ribbons. They bathe the three sweet, beloved Romeiser daughters and tie their hair in bows. Peter readies the carriage that will take them into St. Louis to photographer F.W. Guerin.

Fitz W. Guerin was a New York native and at the age of 13 set out for St. Louis to work for Merrill Drug Company. As a teen he joined the Union Army, later becoming the recipient of the Medal of Honor in the Civil War. On returning to civilian life, he became a successful society and celebrity photographer in St. Louis.

The Romeisers, being of high society, utilized his services on this day in the early 1890s. The photograph, preserved for over a century, comes to us via the St. Clair County Historical Society and the hard work of their curator, William P. Shannon IV. In meeting with him yesterday, he supplied this image that actually made me cry.

Photo Collection, St. Clair County Historical Society, Used with Permission

In the photo, you’ll see eldest Romeiser daughter Emma, born in 1880. She would be around 11 or 12 in this photo. In the middle is Petra, aged 8/9, and on the far right is Corona, who we haven’t introduced to you yet, dear reader. Corona was born in 1887, the same year Peter built this impressive house on Abend Street.

I look at these sweet faces and at once am both overjoyed and saddened. Overjoyed because I know how deeply they were loved. Saddened because I know of the harrowing and heartbreaking experiences they will encounter as they get older. Their life at this point is so charmed… I am comforted by the fact that they won’t yet experience the first of their tragedies for another 15-years.

It’s how I can also see this lovely photo of Emma from 1899 with still a modicum of joy. Also provided by Will at the SCCHS, this photo is dated and signed by Emma. Christmas, 1899. She would have been 19… she was living life as a new adult, enjoying parties, engagements, and life in high-society, even having been named to the court of the 1898 Belleville Flower Carnival.

Photo Collection, St. Clair County Historical Society, Used with Permission

Of all the Romeiser children, I feel a special connection with Emma. Perhaps in name, perhaps the fact that she’s the eldest of their three daughters, I don’t know why– I just know deep in my bones that I have to tell her story. Tomorrow (Friday, April 27th), I’m meeting with a reporter from our local newspaper so we can put forth a special article about Emma ahead of the anniversary of the crashing of the Hindenburg. (To read my full post on Emma’s life, click here!)

It’s the first step in a long, thought-out process of getting Emma’s story published, of securing her place in the annals of history, of ensuring that no one ever forgets what happened to her and her family.

But for now, I can gaze upon these sweet faces and think about what their lives might have been.

Endless thanks to Will Shannon and the entire staff of employees and volunteers at the St. Clair County Historical Society. They work tirelessly to preserve these pieces of history and we could not be more grateful.

Stay sweet, be grateful, hug your babies. Take their photo today and cherish it.
The Brick and Maple Family ❤ 

Meet Emma Romeiser Pannes

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.

plandommehouseThey 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.

Pannes at 1936 HAPAG with arrow
John Pannes (arrow) at a meeting between officials of the Hamburg-America Line and the Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei in summer of 1936.

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. s-l225They 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 ❤