The Lusitania Resource > People > Saloon (First Class) Passenger List > Mr. Leo “Lee” M. Schwabacher

Mr. Leo “Lee” M. Schwabacher

Leo Schwabacher Saloon Passenger Lost
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Born Leo M. Schwabacher 14 January 1873 Peoria, Illinois, United States
Died 7 May 1915 (age 43) At sea
Age on Lusitania 43
Ticket number 14346
Cabin number B 60
Traveling with Henry Sonneborn (partner)
Body number Not identified
Citizenship United States
Occupation Millionaire
Residence Paris, France
Other name(s) Lee Schwabacher
Spouse(s) Seline ? (? - 1900, divorced?)
Leo "Lee" Schwabacher (1873 - 1915), 43, was a United States national from Peoria, Illinois, United States, living in Paris, France with his partner Henry Sonneborn. Schwabacher had inherited a large fortune from his father, as his family in the liquor business. Schwabacher often made trips across the United States and Europe with Sonneborn and were on one such trip when they met their deaths on the Lusitania. Schwabacher had bought a mausoleum that he and Sonneborn would be entombed together, but neither's body was ever recovered or identified.
  1. Two families
  2. Travels
  3. Lusitania
  4. The Mixed Claims
  5. Related pages
  6. Links of interest

Two families

Leo "Lee" Schwabacher was born on 14 January 1873 in Peoria, Illinois, to Henry and Virginia Schwabacher. The Schwabachers were liquor merchants and as a result were quite wealthy. How Lee Schwabacher moved from Peoria to Baltimore, Maryland, is not known, but in 1900, a Leo Schwabacher from Peoria, Illinois and born in 1872 was listed as living in Brooklyn with his wife, Silene. Lee Schwabacher's name appears again in the 1900 census as a border at the Sonneborn Tavern and residence in Baltimore. Therefore, Leo probably had a marriage that ended in 1900, and he moved to Baltimore, or there were two men with the same name, about the same age, and from the same hometown living on the East Coast in 1900. Maybe relatives. From the Mixed Claims Commission after the war, it seems that Lee and his family were not particularly close. His family had swore in court that he had moved to Baltimore in 1911 when he had actually resided with the Sonneborn family since at least 1900. By 1900 Schwabacher was working as a bookkeeper at the Sonneborn Tavern and boarding house on Light Street in Baltimore, Maryland. Here he became close with the Sonneborn family as if he were a son of their own. When family patriarch Philip Sonneborn died in 1903, Wilhelmina moved the family to a larger house at 896 Battery Avenue. Schwabacher moved to the larger house with them. Also around this time, Schwabacher's father, Henry, died, leaving each of his children $10,000.00 in income per year. With his disposable income, Schwabacher was free to travel and did so, starting in 1906, traveling with Henry Sonneborn. Throughout their travels, Henry Sonneborn and Lee Schwabacher mailed postcards from different places across Europe and from New York City, to Henry Sonneborn’s nephew Herman Praetorius. The postcards were always signed, "Love Uncle Henry and Lee". This 29-postcard collection is now in the possession of Praetorius' grandson, Mark, and is available for viewing at Gare Maritime. Sonneborn family historian Mark Praetorius believes that Lee Schwabacher and Henry Sonneborn were in a gay relationship with the full acceptance and support of the Sonneborn family. The two men had a great appreciation of culture, travel, and the finer things in life, and the mausoleum that they planned to share was evidence of their long-term commitment to each other.


In the first half of 1906 Lee and Henry went to Europe and returned to the United States aboard the Hamburg America Line's Kaiserin Auguste Victoria. They boarded the ship at Dover, England, and went through Ellis Island on 14 July. The two men disembarked together, as they are listed one after the other on the manifest. Schwabacher described himself as "single" and Sonneborn as "married". Sonneborn and Schwabacher traveled to Europe again in 1908, booking passage on the North German Lloyd liner Kronprinz Wilhelm. They returned to the United States on 15 September 1908 aboard the North German Lloyd liner Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, boarding the ship at Cherbourg. Schwabacher and Sonneborn moved to Paris, France in 1911. Sonneborn family historian Mark Praetorius speculates that the two men chose to live in Paris because the city was rather bohemian, and being gay there would not have been the issue that it was the United States. Also at this time, Schwabacher was allegedly sponsoring a singing career for Sonneborn, but no direct evidence of such ambition has survived. The two men returned to the United States in 1911 to visit Sonneborn's mother Wilhelmina in her new Queen Anne-style row house in Baltimore at 2209 Brookfield Avenue. Sonneborn and Schwabacher had booked Lusitania and were processed through Ellis Island on 13 October. Both men stated that they were married. The two men's claims of being married and then not when entering and exiting the country were probably meant to prevent people from asking questions about their relationship. When Schwabacher and Sonneborn visited Baltimore again in November 1913, they booked passage on the French Line's France (1912). At Ellis Island, they declared themselves as single. With the outbreak of war in the summer of 1914, Schwabacher and Sonneborn returned to Baltimore in October of that year, staying with Sonneborn's mother Wilhelmina. The two men arrived at Ellis Island on 9 October 1914 via Lusitania. Once more they stated that they were single. It was also during this extended stay in the United States that both men named each other as the sole beneficiaries of each other's wills, and Schwabacher purchased a mausoleum in which both men would one day be entombed.


Sonneborn and Schwabacher booked their return trip to Paris on the Lusitania for 1 May 1915. Before their trip, the two men stayed with Henry's younger brother Philip. With the threat of German submarines and the fact that the family was ethnically German, Wilhelmina made the long journey to New York to persuade Henry and Lee to cancel passage on the doomed ship. Henry dismissed his mother's warning, stating plainly, "A submarine? Don't worry - we'll send a telegram when we arrive safely". No account by anyone who knew the pair is known to document the final days of Henry and Lee aboard Lusitania. Researcher Jim Kalafus suggests that the two men observed by George Kessler, who kept to themselves and were rumored to be “German spies,” may have been Sonneborn and Schwabacher. Whatever the case may be, the two men died together when the Lusitania was torpedoed on 7 May 1915. Their bodies were not recovered or identified. Both Sonneborn and Schwabacher had German roots, and for the Sonneborn family to lose loved ones through an act of Germany may have been conflicting for the family. A 1915 news clipping in Mark Praetorius' collection states that Wilhelmina Sonneborn believed that Germany gave sufficient warning to all prospective travelers of the risk of being torpedoed while sailing on a British ship. The article also stated that Wilhelmina did not bear any ill will towards the country of her origin or the submarine and its crew that sank the Lusitania and killed her son. This opinion was supposedly also shared by Henry's sister, Mary Sonneborn Praetorius. This article brings into question whether the Sonneborns would have blamed Henry and Lee for their own deaths, and so soon after the sinking, no matter how proud of their German heritage the family was. Evidently Wilhelmina had thought it necessary to make the trip from Baltimore to New York to persuade her son and his partner not to take Lusitania in person. Furthermore, Henry's brother-in-law, Philip Praetorius (Mary's husband), designed dazzle paint schemes for US ships, which he would not have been able to do had his family been as pro-German as the article made them out to be. Perhaps the article was the product of a pro-German editor or reporter that had slightly altered the facts to cater to Baltimore's large German population at the time.

The Mixed Claims

Both the Schwabacher and Sonneborn families brought claims against Germany after the end of the war. Umpire Edwin Parker's summary gave the impression that Henry Sonneborn was of a "slender estate" and living off the fortune of the wealthier Lee Schwabacher, and that Lee was sponsoring Henry's pursuit in a singing career. While it is true that Lee was wealthier, Henry himself was not poor, making only $1,600.00 less annually from his coal business than Lee was making from his annual inheritance. Monetarily, they were roughly on equal terms and was not an instance of a poor man taking advantage of a wealthy benefactor. Furthermore, there is nothing in the Sonneborn family records to suggest that Henry and Lee's relationship was anything other than egalitarian. As for whether Lee Schwabacher was sponsoring Henry Sonneborn's singing career, the Schwabachers brought up that point in their claim against Germany, but any actual paper trail of such sponsorship has not surfaced. Historian Jim Kalafus postulates that particularly as the Schwabachers were not close to Lee, perhaps people had gotten Henry confused with his younger brother, Philip, who was an actor in New York City and may have needed sponsorship, or if reporters confused Sonneborn with the other Baltimore bachelor in his 40s, Charles Harwood Knight, who was a trained musician.

Related pages

Leo Schwabacher at the Mixed Claims Commission Henry Sonneborn at the Mixed Claims Commission

Links of interest

Gare Maritime - Lest We Forget: Henry B. Sonneborn: Correcting the Record Gare Maritime - Sonneborn and Schwabacher Postcard Collection
Contributors: Jim Kalafus, USA Mark Praetorius, USA (great-great nephew of Henry Sonneborn) Judith Tavares References: Kalafus, Jim. "Lest We Forget: Henry B. Sonneborn: Correcting the Record." Gare Maritime. Web. 19 June 2011. < > Mixed Claims Commission.  Docket No. 2040, page 502. Mixed Claims Commission.  Docket No. 2200, page 506.

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