In Huntington, intersecting streets choreograph a story of privilege, love and loss lived more than a century ago.
Parallel streets named Eloise, Lucian and Vinson connect to Hughes Street. The family name of Vinson marks the neighborhood Westmoreland with the Vinson Middle School, Vinson Memorial Christian Church and Vinson Memorial Stadium.
The love story
Mary Eloise Hughes was born in Huntington on Aug. 7, 1893. She was the first child of West Virginia Representative James Anthony Hughes and Belle Vinson Hughes, a member of a politically prominent family. When the young dark-haired beauty made her debut in society, Eloise attracted the attention of Lucian Philip Smith, a graduate of West Virginia University and son of a wealthy family with coal interests. They met in January and wed in February 1912.
The families celebrated the event at Central Christian Church in Huntington in the glittering style befitting their social status. Newspaper accounts described the bride’s white satin gown trimmed in lace with a veil and orange blossoms. The bridal party scattered pink rosebuds along her path. Eloise’s sister Tudelle served as maid of honor. Lucian’s brother James stood by him as best man.
In the fashion of the time, the couple departed for an extended honeymoon trip around the world. They boarded the RMS Olympic luxury liner to tour Italy, France and Egypt. By April, the newlyweds decided to return early to West Virginia. Some historians say the couple became homesick for the West Virginia hills. Others claim it was because they realized that happily Eloise was “in a delicate condition.”
They booked passage on the maiden voyage of the largest luxury liner of its day and on April 10, boarded the RMS Titanic.
On April 14, Eloise slept in her cabin as her husband James played bridge with three shipboard acquaintances. Near midnight, a noise woke Eloise. She quickly settled back to sleep. She woke again when her husband Lucian turned on the cabin lights and urged her rise quickly, dress warmly and go the deck. No cause for alarm, he reassured her. The ship had hit an iceberg and just as a matter of form, the captain wanted all ladies on deck.
Many passengers did not realize how dire was their situation until the Titanic launched distress rockets and officers began loading women and children into the lifeboats. Several women refused to part from their husbands and had to be forced to go. Lucian reassured Eloise that it was just the usual cautious practice for women and children to board the boats, that the ship was fully equipped for the situation and all would be safe. She joined Lifeboat 6 — along with Margaret Brown, later known as the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown.
Regulations in that era required the ship to carry only 16 lifeboats, but the Titanic exceeded that standard by having 20. Fully loaded, the boats could have carried up to 1,178 people — still short of what would have been needed for the approximately 2,224 passengers and crew aboard. Survivors stated that most of the lifeboats pulled away with only half their capacity.
Reports tallied 710 people saved. An estimated 1,514 passengers and crew perished.
Eloise survived. Her husband Lucian did not.
She delivered their son, Lucian Philip Smith II, on Nov. 29, 1912.
Eloise married fellow Titanic survivor Robert W. Daniel in 1914. They divorced in 1923.
She married again, this time to Capt. Lewis H. Cort of Huntington, in 1923. He died in 1927.
Her fourth husband was C.S. Wright of Charleston in 1929. They divorced.
Eloise returned to Huntington and her first married surname of Smith. She became active in politics and was considered a gifted speaker.
In May 1940 at age 46, Mary Eloise Hughes Smith died of a heart attack.
For more information, please visit the Goldenseal article from the Huntington Quarterly here