The “Baroness” was constantly editing and embellishing her background, but scientist Waldo Schmitt pieced together the likeliest version. During WWI she worked as a secretary in Constantinople, but then lost her job and had no idea what to do next. Eventually she found work in a cabaret, where she met a French merchant named Bosquet. They married and moved to Paris to live with the merchant’s mother, who did not approve of the union. She began introducing the Baroness to eligible bachelors, including Lorenz and Philippson, and the merchant filed for divorce. Having heard stories of settlers building a paradise on Floreana, the Baroness decided to join them. Lorenz and Philippson were both eager to accompany her.
During her marriage, the Baroness had operated a women’s clothing store, which she now sold to finance their trip. She also decided to keep the overstock of French lingerie to wear during long, hot days on the island. As soon as the Baroness arrived, she announced plans to open a luxurious resort and became a favorite subject in the American press, which dubbed her the “Empress of Floreana.” Bizarre stories began to circulate about her ever-present revolver, increasingly contentious romantic entanglements, and confrontations with fellow exiles. She enchanted American tourists and explorers alike.
Hancock, Schmitt, and their cohorts grew obsessed with Floreana’s residents and recorded their daily lives. “The Baroness curled up on one of the couches with gleaming, half-closed eyes and told, without encouragement, her romantic story,” reads one account in Schmitt’s papers. “She is dressed up like a baby in the same kind of rompers used by chorus girls when they are exercising… The Americans are crazy for her.”
Hancock was so enamored with the Baroness that he wrote and shot a short silent film in which she starred; this and other significant footage still survives. Titled “The Empress of Floreana,” the film depicts a newlywed couple (played by two male Smithsonian scientists) that becomes stranded on Floreana. The Baroness and her lover, Philippson, both playing themselves, discover the newlyweds and hunt them as prey—a sinister hint of events to come.