Posts Tagged ‘Isidor Straus’

The tearjerker Titanic Memorial inside Macy’s

March 28, 2016

StrausportraitWhen 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.

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“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.

StraussunheadlineIsidor Straus’ death hit his Macy’s employees hard—which is almost impossible to imagine today, when CEOs are not exactly beloved by their underlings.

“‘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.

StraushebrewAfter 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”]

The Titanic love story of Isidor and Ida Straus

April 15, 2013

IsidoridastrausIf you’ve seen the movie, you might remember this tragic side story. But on the 101st anniversary of the demise of the unsinkable liner in the Atlantic, it bears another telling.

Germany-born Isidor Straus came to the U.S. in 1854. He got started in the dry-goods business, and by 1902, he and his brother co-owned Abraham & Straus and Macy’s, opening the famous Herald Square store that year.

Isidor and his wife, Ida, also a German immigrant, married in 1871. Successful and wealthy thanks to Isidore’s business efforts, they became generous philanthropists.

In 1912, after a trip to Germany, they were booked to return to New York on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. In the early morning hours of April 15, with the fate of the ship sealed and women and children getting into lifeboats, Ida Straus refused to leave Isidor.

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“Mrs. Straus almost entered lifeboat 8 but changed her mind, turned back, and rejoined her husband. Fellow passengers and friends failed to persuade her otherwise,” states Stuart Robinson in Amazing and Extraordinary Facts: the Titanic.

Strausparksign“She is reputed to have told Isidore: ‘We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go.'”

Passengers reported seeing the couple “standing alongside the rail, holding each other and weeping silently,” according to a 2012 New York Post article.

Isidor’s body was recovered, but Ida’s was never found. A memorial service for the two held at Carnegie Hall a month later drew thousands, including Mayor Gaynor, Andrew Carnegie, and other notable New Yorkers.

In 1912, the city renamed a park at 106th Street and Broadway Straus Park in honor of the couple, who had lived on 105th Street.

A monument dedicated three years later featured the biblical inscription, “lovely and pleasant they were in their lives, and in their death they were not divided.”

The sinking of the Titanic—in words and music

April 4, 2011

The demise of the Titanic—set to arrive at Chelsea Piers on its maiden voyage to New York—was shocking and traumatic.

And it didn’t take long after the ship went down April 15, 1912 for the city’s prolific music companies to release novelty songs about the ill-fated liner.

Maybe the songwriters were dealing with the horror of the tragedy through art, or perhaps they were simply capitalizing on a national disaster.

Either way, the lyrics were generally pretty melodramatic, like these from “The Band Played Nearer My God to Thee as the Ship Went Down,” produced by the Joe Morris Music Company on 31st Street:

“On a peaceful night
Thro’ the starlight bright
There a good ship plowed her way;
She was heading straight
For the port of fate
Ere the breaking of the day”

Some were aimed at specific audiences—like the music above, from the Hebrew Publishing Company on Canal Street.

The cover art features Isidor and Ida Straus, husband and wife who refused to leave each other as the Titanic was sinking. Instead, they urged their maid and other passengers to take their place in the lifeboats.

Isidor was the owner of Macy’s, and he and his wife were prominent German Jews.

“The Titanic Is Doomed and Sinking,” from the Mozart Music Library at 1431 Broadway, also lays the melodrama on thick:

“There are many aged mothers
In all the wide world o’er
Who will weep and wail in anguish
For some one who come no more”

[All images from the NYPL digital archives]