Titanic and Carnegie Hall: A Memorial for Straus
Our series marking the centenary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic continues with a focus on the memorial service for Macy's co-owner Isidor Straus and his wife Ida, held at Carnegie Hall less than one month after their deaths.
In the very early morning hours of April 15, 1912, as the RMS Titanic lay crippled and sinking in the eerily calm waters of the North Atlantic, her poorly prepared crew struggled to load too many passengers into far too few lifeboats. The Titanic carried 16 wooden lifeboats which could hold between 40 and 65 people each. Additionally, she carried four collapsible canvas boats in reserve, each designed to hold 47 people. Altogether, if all were properly launched and loaded, they would hold about 1,100 people—barely half of those aboard the ship. So high was the confidence in the Titanic's "unsinkable" design that only one lifeboat drill had been conducted, while the ship was still docked. There had been no drills at all since leaving Southampton four days earlier—in fact, most of the passengers initially thought they were being put through a routine exercise that night.
The well-established custom of "women and children first" led to many anguished family partings, with wives and children being separated from husbands and fathers. On the port side of the ship, Isidor Straus, co-owner of Macy's department store, saw his wife Ida to Boat No. 8. Witnessing her extreme reluctance to leave her husband, others suggested that the old gentleman join her—an exception to "women and children" could be made because of his age. He refused, reportedly stating, "No, I do not wish any distinction in my favor not granted to others." Ida resolved to stay with him, saying, "I will not be separated from my husband. As we have lived, so we will die ... together." Several survivors, recounting the Titanic's final moments, recalled seeing the Strauses together on the boat deck, either sitting calmly in deck chairs or holding each other and weeping as they were engulfed by the icy waters.
Isidor Straus's body was found the next week—along with 305 others—by the cable ship Mackay-Bennett, which had been hired for the somber retrieval task by the White Star Line, the Titanic's parent company. Ida Straus's body was never recovered. At a Carnegie Hall memorial service held on Sunday, May 12 and attended by thousands, the couple was eulogized by Mayor William Gaynor and Andrew Carnegie, among others, who remembered their kindness, generosity, and dedication to community service. "Many lessons in the past have we been taught by these friends," said Carnegie, "but their final lesson—it is impossible for any of us ever to forget it. Their devotion ... their consecration to each other, seems to raise us for a moment to their divine height."
Isidor and Ida Straus
Headline confirming the loss of Isidor Straus, John Jacob Astor IV, and W. T. Stead, The Sun, April 17, 1912
A report on the Carnegie Hall memorial for Isidor and Ida Straus, The Sun, May 13, 1912
Related: Hall History