When a German U-boat sunk the passenger liner Lusitania off the Irish coast on May 7, 1915, the daughter of Baltimore’s Bromo Seltzer inventor was in New York City, staying at a home that is now the site of the Bergdorf Goodman store.
Margaret Emerson Vanderbilt had married Alfred Gwynn Vanderbilt, one of the richest men in the world, four years before.
Even though the Cunard steamship line had declared that her husband had perished — he could not swim and died a hero by giving his life vest to a young woman — she said, “I will not believe Alfred is dead until I see his body.”
She chartered a tug to search off Ireland, but his body was never recovered.
Margaret Emerson, who had been divorced from Dr. Smith Hollins McKim before her marriage to Vanderbilt, would remarry two more times.
In 1923, she took her 10-year-old son, Alfred Gwynn Vanderbilt Jr., to the Preakness, where he made a winning bet on Vigil and was hooked on thoroughbred racing and breeding for life.
A few years later, his mother gave him Baltimore County’s Sagamore Farm — there was also a Vanderbilt-owned Sagamore Camp in the Adirondacks.
He was soon elected president of the Maryland Jockey Club and president of Pimlico, where he arranged for the match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral.
Margaret, his mother, died in 1960 at her Fifth Avenue home not far from where she received the news of the Lusitania. She was then known as Mrs. Emerson and her funeral was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.