When the Titanic met its end in the icy Atlantic early in the morning of April 15, 1912, many very rich passengers went down with the ship.
Among them were Ida Straus and her husband, Isidor, the German-born department store magnate who had owned Macy’s since the late 1800s.
Ida and Isidor had an exceptionally loving marriage. After an iceberg ripped the ship and women were being urged into lifeboats, Mrs. Straus refused. “As we have lived, so will we die together,” she reportedly said.
“They expressed themselves as fully prepared to die, and calmly sat down on steamer chairs on the glass-enclosed Deck A, prepared to meet their fate,” wrote wealthy New Yorker Archibald Gracie, who was with the couple that terrible night.
“‘Mr. Isidor,’ as he was known, regularly walked the shop floor, a pink carnation boutonnière stuck in the lapel of his dark suit jacket as he greeted workers by name,” according to a 2012 article in The Jewish Daily Forward.
Straus felt a sense of responsibility to his employees. He created a mutual aid society, offered basic health insurance, and built a cafeteria that served up hot (and subsidized) meals.
After the news emerged that he was lost at sea, Macy’s employees “contributed what little they could afford to create a memorial plaque for their boss,” and his wife, reported the Forward.
The plaque was ceremoniously unveiled in June 1913 in the Macy’s cafeteria Isidor Straus built.
In attendance were 5,000 employees and the Straus’ surviving family members. A century later, the bronze plaque is still on display at Macy’s in an entrance on 34th Street.
“Their lives were beautiful and their deaths glorious,” reads the inscription on the tablet, described as “a voluntary token of sorrowing employees.”
[Third image: carnegiehall.com; fourth image: a Yiddish songbook “Sacrifices of the Ship Titanic”]