April 06, 2020

Remembering the Titanic> Couple chose to go down together

James Cameron’s epic “Titanic” centers on a fictional love story between a young, spirited socialite from Philadelphia traveling first class and an artist who worked and drew his way through Europe and won in a card game his third-class passage on the ill-fated ocean liner.

Cameron’s powerful story that hooks and holds viewers for 3 1/2 hours may have been inspired, in part, by an equally poignant true love demonstrated on the deck of the Titanic the night of April 14, 1912, when the ship hit an iceberg off Newfoundland.

Isidor Straus, founder of R.H. Macy’s — the world’s largest department store — and his wife, Ida, were among the Titanic’s illustrious passengers, among them New York real estate tycoon Col. John Jacob Astor — then the richest man in the United States — steel magnate Arthur Ryerson and the “Unsinkable Molly Brown,” the poor Colorado mountain girl whose miner husband had struck it rich.

Donald Straus, a Somesville resident whose father, Percy, was one of Isidor and Ida Straus’ three sons, recalled last week the much-quoted anecdote about his grandparents’ last moments on the Titanic.

The Strauses were standing on the ship’s boat deck. The couple had been married for close to half a century. She refused to get into lifeboat No. 8 that was filling rapidly with women and children.

“She said, `We have been living together for many years. Where you go, I go’,” her grandson said, quoting eyewitness accounts.

In the chilly night, Ida Straus removed her fur coat and put it on the shoulders of her maid who was lowered away in the lifeboat.

“She said, `I think you will need this more than I will’,” Straus said.

The Strauses are said to have stood hand in hand on the poop deck where most of the remaining passengers clustered after the lifeboats had gone.

“They are said to have stood side by side, calmly and lovingly, as the ship went down,” Straus said.

The Strauses’ death made front-page headlines on the New York Times. Not only had the patriarch and his three sons developed Macy’s into a retail giant, but he and his wife were also great philanthropists who had established the Educational Alliance, helping immigrants like their own ancestors to learn English and become good American citizens.

The couple’s death was a great blow to their family.

“They were all devastated by it. My grandparents were tremendously warm people who were adored by their children,” Straus said.

Straus, a mediator and arbitrator by profession, and his wife, Beth, summered for years on Mount Desert Island before making it their year-round home in 1972. He is a trustee of College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor. She oversees the Asticou Azalea Garden in Northeast Harbor.

Both 82, the couple share a love of sailing that has spanned their long marriage. The loss of his grandparents at sea never deterred them from venturing, often alone, in their 38-foot Shannon cutter, the Sea Otter, around the Gulf of Maine. These days, they still cruise in a trawler-style power boat.

The Strauses say the Titanic’s sinking and his grandmother’s decision to go down with her husband after their long marriage never fails to crop up when the going gets rough at sea.

“He always reminds me of it when we are out in the boat and it gets terribly rough,” Beth Straus chuckled, gently chiding her husband.

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