Else Hildegard Ploetz was born in Swinemunde on the Baltic Sea in Pommerania (now in Poland, but then a part of Germany), the daughter of Adolf Julius Wilhelm and Ida-Marie Ploetz. Else grew up close to her mother, and when her mother died of uterine cancer, she blamed her father, convinced that the disease was caused by untreated syphilis with which he had infected her.
Her father remarried soon after Ida-Marie’s death, and Else, detesting her stepmother, ran away from home to Berlin. In that city she participated in the circle of poets around Stefan George and had a three-year affair with the popular Bohemian artist, Melchior Lechter. She also had a passionate relationship with Ernst Hardt, which she broke off when she discovered that he intended to Mary a Greek diplomat’s daughter. Joining the “Living Marble Figures” revue of H. de Vries—a group of performers engaged in presenting tableau vivant—she toured several cities. When her relationship with Hardt ended, Else traveled from two years through Italy with the artist Richard Schmitz, with whom she described her relationship as platonic.
Upon her father’s death, she inherited a small stipend which allowed her to settle in Dachau, near Munich, where she took art lessons. There she met the famed architect August Endell, whom she married in April 1901. Soon after, the couple moved to Berlin where Endell designed the famed cabaret theater, the Überbrettl.
Two years after their marriage, Else left Endell, beginning an affair with his friend Felix Paul Greve. The three embarked from Hamburg on a trip to Italy, but Greve and Else abandoned Endell in Naples, traveling on to Sicily.
Later that year Greve was imprisioned for embezzlement. Greve, who had previously translated several writers into German, including Oscar Wilde, André Gide and H. G. Wells, worked further in translation and his own fiction. While Greve was in prison, Else began writing poetry, and when Greve was released, the couple spent some months in Switzerland, where Greve translated and finished his first novel, Fanny Essler, a thinly veiled account of Else’s Bohemian days in Berlin.
From Wollerau Greve and Else moved to Paris-Plage on the French Channel Coast, and by 1906 had returned to Berlin. In July 1909, Greve staged his suicide, in which Else played a dramatic role, disappearing from Germany. He sailed from Liverpool to Montreal, renaming himself Frederick Phillip Grove.
A year after Greve’s disappearance, von Freytag-Loringhoven followed him to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he had temporarily relocated. From there they moved to a small farm in Sparta, Kentucky. Greve, however, soon left her, disgusted with her open sexuality, and Else was left alone in rural Kentucky with a limited knowledge of English. Soon after, she moved to Cincinnati, where she modeled for artists.
Among the artists she is known to have posed for were George Biddle and Charles Sheeler. Hart Crane is reported to have claimed that the Akron photograph Herbert Minns also used her as a model. It is unclear when she made her way to New York, but by 1913 she had met and married Baron Leon von Freytag-Loringhoven in that city. It is through that marriage that Else came to be known as the Baroness, but little else is recorded of their relationship. Editor Margaret Anderson describes their marriage as a brief one, since the Baron returned to Germany with the outbreak of war and there, because of his dislike of war, shot himself.
Else resumed modeling and, soon after, met several influential artists, including Sarah Friedman-McPherson and Man Ray. She also published numerous of her Dada-like poems in journals such as the Little Review, Broom, the Liberator, and Transition. In the Little Review her poetry outraged some readers, and novelist Ev
BOOKS OF POETRY:
Subjoyride: Selected Poems (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2007)