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Titanic Love Story to Be Honored at Straus Park

Isidor and Ida Straus, in 1910, two years before they died side by side on the Titanic.
Isidor and Ida Straus, in 1910, two years before they died side by side on the Titanic.
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Straus Historical Society

UPPER WEST SIDE — Long before director James Cameron put the fictional Jack and Rose on the Titanic, two Upper West Siders lived and died a true tale of love and sacrifice aboard the doomed ship.

Their moving story will be celebrated on Sun. April 15, when Landmark West! and the Friends of Straus Park mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic at Straus Park.

Preservation group Landmark West! will host a 2 p.m. tour and history talk, and at 3:30 p.m. the Friends of Straus Park will hold a candle light vigil and tree-planting ceremony where music from the Titanic will be played.

The tiny triangular park on West 106th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue honors the larger-than-life story of Isidor and Ida Straus, prominent New Yorkers who gave up a chance at rescue and died together on the Titanic.

"It's such a beautiful story, and there aren't that many beautiful stories to come out of this," said historian Peter Salwen, author of "Upper West Side Story." "There were a lot stories of people shoving other people out of the way to save themselves. This was a really tender story."

Isidor Straus, a Jewish immigrant from Germany who was the wealthy co-owner of Macy's, was a first-class passenger on the ship along with his wife Ida and their servants. Isidor Straus was offered a seat on a lifeboat, reportedly because of his older age, 67. But he refused to leave while women and children were still aboard.

Ida Straus, 63, also could have escaped on a lifeboat, but she insisted on staying at her husband's side, reportedly saying, "We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go."

Ida handed her jewelry and fur coat to her maid, who survived, saying "You'll need this more than me." The Strauses were last seen on deck. Some say they were calmly sitting side by side in chairs as a giant wave crashed over them, others say they were standing with Ida's arms wrapped around Isidor, who was in poor health.

Isidor's body was recovered and he was buried in Woodlawn Cemetary in the Bronx. Ida's body was never found.

The story of their self-sacrifice struck a chord in New York, where the Strauses were well-known and well-liked philanthropists, Salwen said. Thousands attended their memorial service, synagogues honored them, and mayor William Jay Gaynor praised Isidor as a hero, according to newspaper accounts and the Straus Historical Society.

The Strauses and their children lived at West 105th Street and West End Avenue, and in the wake of the disaster, the city renamed the park at West 106th and West End Avenue, originally called Bloomingdale Park, in honor of the couple.

A committee held a competition and selected sculptor Augustus Lukeman and architect Evarts Tracy to design a bronze and granite tribute to the Strauses. The public donated $20,000 to pay for the memorial, a reclining female figure gazing at a reflecting pool, which was meant as reference to the Straus' sacrifice.

An inscription from the Bible on the monument reads, "Lovely and pleasant were they in their lives…And in their death they were not divided." It was dedicated on April 15, 1915.

The peaceful-looking figure, called "Memory," remains today, but the pool has since been replaced with a bed of flowers. The Parks Department renovated the park in the 1990s, and a nonprofit, the Friends of Straus Park, was formed in 1997 to raise money for the park's upkeep.

Friends of Straus Park president Al Berr said the monument's power endures because it represents an idea, not a specific person. The female figure isn't a portrait of Ida Straus, it's a symbol, Berr said.

Its message, Berr said, is simple: "They weren't separated in life and not in death. Love lasts forever, doesn't it?"