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“Surrounded by Mothballs and Memories”: Quigg Baxter & Berthe Mayne

"Surrounded by Mothballs and Memories": Quigg Baxter & Berthe Mayne

The Baxters--matriarch Helene, her daughter Zette, and her son, Quigg--were an affluent family from Montreal. They had been traveling Europe through 1911, after Helene had sold her property in Montreal to absolve herself of her late husband's embezzling. I guess that's what you get when you marry yourself a man nicknamed "Diamond Jim."

Zette, 27, was married, and defied her husband's wishes by traveling with her family.

Quigg was 24, and had been a lauded football and hockey player back in his school days, until he was blinded by a stick to the eye in 1907. He continued to coach, though, and even set up one of the first international hockey tournaments in Paris.

Whiling away in a cafe in Brussels, Quigg met a young cabaret performer named Bella Vielly. Her real name was Berthe Antonine Mayne, and she was "well known in Brussels in circles of pleasure."

Quigg was mad about her, and they quickly fell into a secret affair. When he learned his family was returning stateside, he pleaded with Berthe to come back with him. She relented, and he purchased a ticket separate from and unknown to his family, installing his lover in a first-class cabin on C-Deck under the name Mme. De Villiers, a throwback to a prior lover of hers named Fernand de Villiers, a soldier in the French foreign legion who was eventually sent off to the Belgian Congo.

Helene Baxter had spent most of the journey on Titanic laid up with seasickness and nausea, and suffered weakness as a result.

When Titanic struck the iceberg, Quigg sought to discover what happened, and in so doing came across Captain Smith and Bruce Ismay in the hall. Captain Smith told him everything was just fine; Ismay, on the other hand, demanded that Quigg get his mother and sister to the lifeboats.

Helene had an anxiety attack when Titanic ceased moving, having taken comfort in the constant turning of the engine. Quigg carried his mother in his arms to the boat deck, and loaded her and his sister into Lifeboat 6.

He then went to fetch Berthe, and in what must have been the world's worst time to meet your future mother-in-law, Berthe was introduced to the Baxter women.

She did not want to get into the lifeboat, but Molly Brown helped persuade her. Quigg asked his mother and sister to be good to Berthe, and handed his mother his silver brandy flask. Now, the Baxter children had been raised to speak English to their father, and French to their mother, but it's reported that when he gave Helene the flask to keep warm with, she started in on him,wishing he wouldn't drink so much. But Quigg cut her off to ask if she was alright, and then bid everyone fare well.

Quigg Baxter died in the sinking. His body, if recovered, was never identified.

Helene Baxter never fully recovered from Titanic, and died in 1923. Zette moved to California, and according to her nephew, lived "surrounded by mothballs and memories" until her death on the last day of 1954.

And Berthe, the benefactor of the family's last promise to dear Quigg, stayed with the Baxters in Montreal for some time before returning to performance in Paris. She never married.

As an elderly woman, she told fanciful, ridiculous stories about having sailed on Titanic with a tragic Canadian millionaire, which no one in their right mind would believe. Until after her death in 1962, when her nephew discovered a curious shoebox among her effects.



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