In James Cameron’s “Titanic,” Rose DeWitt Bukater, the devoted heroine, dramatically sacrifices herself to be with the man she loves, Jack Dawson. Cameron made up Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) when he wrote his script, but there was no need to fictionalize. Such a woman did exist, and (unlike Rose) she chose to drown at her husband’s side rather than live the rest of her years without him.
Ida Straus, the 63-year-old wife of Isidor Straus, 67, millionaire owner of R.H. Macy’s department store, made headlines around the world by refusing to take a seat on a Titanic lifeboat without her husband.
On Friday, to mark the 100th anniversary of the April 15 tragedy, Cameron is releasing a 3-D version of his film, which includes a brief tribute to the Strauses.
Although Isidor was offered a seat on a lifeboat due to his age and stature as a prominent philanthropist and former congressman, he declined, holding steadfast to the rules of the sea that insisted women and children be rescued first. And his wife and the mother of his six children was just as principled.
“I will not be separated from my husband,” other passengers heard her say. “As we have lived, so will we die together.”
Isidor begged his wife to go. “Please, please, dear. Go into the boat,” he said, stroking her head, but she resisted again and again, until the crew gave up.
“Isidor, my place is with you. I have lived with you. I love you, and if necessary, I shall die with you,” she said. With those words, she immortalized one of the great love stories in American lore.
She gave her expensive fur coat to her maid, Ellen Bird, who was given a seat on one of the lifeboats. “I won’t need this anymore,” Ida told her.
Those who rowed away to safety in the small wooden lifeboats saw the couple “standing alongside the rail, holding each other and weeping silently,” writes June Hall McCash in her new book, “A Titanic Love Story: Ida and Isidor Straus.”
Survivor Archibald Gracie said later: “When the ship settled at the head, the two were engulfed by the wave that swept her.” No one saw the couple again. Isidor’s body was recovered at sea; Ida’s was not.
In the wake of the wreck, they captured the nation’s imagination.
More than 6,000 people braved a rain storm to attend a memorial service at Carnegie Hall on May 12. Millionaire steel magnate Andrew Carnegie delivered a eulogy, along with the mayor of New York, William Jay Gaynor. A memorial park was dedicated to the couple near their home on 106th Street, and newspaper articles around the world heralded Isidor’s bravery and Ida’s devotion.